Paris Haute Couture Week. Late afternoon in January. The last part of a dynamic Parisian day, and the streets are slowly going to fall asleep.
I arrived at 47, rue de Paradis not being aware I was just about to enter a paradise: busy atelier of real French couturier where precious high end luxury garments are being made by hands of one of the best craftsmen in Paris today. It felt like I suddenly entered Disney’s movie where everyone is happy and working hard to make Cinderella’s dress magical! My head started spinning. I could not believe I actually found it: this is where it happens! Julien approaches me enthusiastically and apologizes for the atmosphere. No need to apologize! When it comes to fashion, this is exactly what I love to see: the process of making it; designer’s sketches, fabrics flying around, precise cutting, delicate stitching by hand, fine finishings, beautiful details you can only see this close… This is what makes it luxurious and unique. This is what makes a garment precious.
Julien Fournié is a not only a great couturier, he is a great person, too. As soon as we started talking, as if touched by a fairy wand, the friendship was born. Sharing the same values, sharing the same ideas about the new world where all the cultures will live together in peace, where children will play without worries, where everyone will have equal opportunities. And we were born the same year.
Needles to say I was impressed by the story Julien told me was the inspiration for his SS20 haute couture collection.
Julien named the collection First Conquests. He was inspired by great female adventurers who go through the history of humanity and female emancipation. “Explorers, ethologists or archaeologists, they prove themselves capable of roaming jungles and dancing waltzes,” says he. “Their curiosity about the world, their thirst for independence and the quest for their own truth include the courage of disobeying social codes.”
Whether they are discovering South America’s pre-Columbian civilizations, Africa’s script-less tribes or the Sahara’s Berber and Tuareg arts, they give up nothing and neither reject the society from which they come, nor contradict the worlds they are exploring.
These remarkable women are finally being far from the masculine values that led to predation, via colonizing or evangelizing. These women’s conquests advocate mutual discovery, acceptance of differences, mutual aid, sometimes at the cost of their own life. In addition to the expedition they have planned, organized and financed, they are constantly seeking the hidden meaning of the world, beyond appearances, genders and borders. Combining phlegm, enthusiasm and compassion, these women adapt to everything: collect jewelry, tools, pottery, let nature transform them, and blend into the landscape without losing any panache.
Mastering the cut, the French couturier builds statement silhouettes around more casual attire, adorned with talisman-like embroideries or amulets as if collected from previous encounters and locations. Shapes are often structured with multiple strap belts, including bags or bandoliers which symbolize, for the discoverers of new territories, together with braid, an essential equipment. Far from any precise identification with a single geographic or ethnic origin, these ladies mix the elegance from their original lifestyle together with the fantastic treasures they have found on the way, in a personal interpretation, as far from communitarian ardor as from any indoctrinating spirit.
“Haute Couture and female explorers do share a taste for experience, pragmatism and encounters which established dogmas hardly encourage and often despise,” says Julien Fournié. “I am convinced that the search for freedom is our common point in order to imagine the world off the marketing of fame’s over-beaten track, as a way to save the planet and mankind.”
TB: What made you decide to start your own couture house?
JF: I have worked in many Haute Couture and luxury ready-to-wear brands as a Creative Director, or as a designer. It was a great experience but somehow frustrating as I could not follow my own choices in terms of design, style and business. In my own Haute Couture house, I can. This makes a real difference.
TB: What does it take nowadays to have your couture house?
JF: Having your own Haute Couture house, one that bears your name, has to be your choice for life. Its success is my main goal in life and the most rewarding one, beyond money, beyond any type of leisure, beyond anything else.
TB: Who are your designers role models?
JF: I don’t really like role models. You have to create your own legend and not satisfy yourself trying to follow someone else’s track. There are couturiers I admire though. Charles James for one, for his architecture in big dresses, Jacques Fath, for the admirable shoulder line in his designs and Claude Montana, particularly when he was the Creative Director of Lanvin Haute Couture. His sense for the cut was incredible.
TB: Which textile do you prefer working with?
JF: Silk Drape. I love its weight and the way it falls down, its matte aspect - my favorite of all.
TB: You work closely with French Luxury producers (Maison Lemarié and Maison Lesage for embroidery, with plumassier Julien Vermeulen, Hermès cuir précieux provides you with the exotic leather and Maison Lognon pleats your fabrics). In your SS20 collection you experimented with techniques and materials.
JF: I opened this collection with a silhouette in fabric which is not woven but braided. This technique allows you to play with volumes in the making of the fabric itself. I have used this kind of material in various silhouettes in this collection. I have also asked a weaver of classic tweed who provides it for Chanel to work on natural straw in two natural shades. This weave is stunning: the texture is very soft, the fabric has an incredible roundness and it is very soft on the skin. Many people at the show thought it was a very thin wool, but it is much more adapted to the summer than wool. For the first time, I have also found a fabric in a specific natural fibre called viscose which is made in a particularly eco)friendly way. best of all, it is both matte and delicately sheer. I have loved using this in several embroidered easy-to-wear long dresses.
TB: Take us through your design process: from the inspiration, earliest ideas to production process.
JF: I sketch first and I drape on the mannequin to optimize the volumes, or in some cases I drape first and I sketch later… it all depends, because sometimes the energy has to follow the specific quality of the material I am using. There is no rule, sometimes I have a design idea and then will look for the right material for it, sometimes I will first fall in love with a specific fabric. I have only one rule: to always have, before I start to design, a purpose, a statement to make, expressed through textile art. Designing a dress just to design a mere dress or suit is not enough for me, if I do not feel that, somehow, it can change the world.
Of course, I could also mention something specific now which has evolved in the past three years. Now, I have given up all paper, paint, pencils, crayons… I am just sketching always on iPad Pro. It took me some time to adapt but I can always carry it with me, wherever I am with all the colors and textures I want. It is also very easy to email or Whatsapp my customers for an original design they ask from me. I can use it on the planes, and in my office, at home and on holidays… it’s just perfect!
TB: What does creativity mean to you?
JF: Being a story teller. Each collection opens up a new chapter in the same book. Telling stories and sharing them with women is my obsession. You keep on telling the same story but with a different approach for every collection.
TB: Favorite fashion trend of all times?
JF: I have always loved big evening gowns. And, honestly, I think flat shoes are just in for the moment. I cannot help but remain fascinated by high heels.
TB: Favorite historical fashion period?
JF: 1940s and 1950s, Paris haute Couture and Hollywood movies of this time.
TB: Are there any references you always return to?
JF: Apart from the grand couturiers I have already named (Jacques Fath, Charles James, Claude Montana), I would say also many Hollywood actresses like Ava Gardner, Veronica Lake, Hedy Lamarr.
TB: What are you most passionate about besides fashion?
JF: Movies and TV series, classical music (particularly Gustav Mahler), Walt Disney cartoons, Movie soundtracks, Manga characters…
TB: What is the best part of being independent designer?
JF: Absolute freedom.
TB: What is the most difficult part about it?
JF: Absolute freedom. It takes guts to be in charge of all choices in design, management and business strategy. But I love it.
TB: Who is your biggest support in your life and your career?
JF: The incredible people right around me in my wonderful team, my fantastic close family members, and my very few genuine friends.
All clothes : JULIEN FOURNIÉ HAUTE COUTURE
Photos by: Delphine Royer, assisted by Cyril Marqies
Hair: Cristian Pignatta, assisted by Kelly May for Neville (London)
Make-up: Fanny Martin, assisted by Romain Melchior
Models: Solomiya Zhoda @Metropolitan and Gabrielle Paradis @Select
Location: Disneyland Paris
*This story first appeared in the March 2020 issue of L'Officiel Arabia.
Author: Tanja Beljanski