Prior to arriving at JACQUEMUS‘s AW13 presentation at Paris Fashion Week, I was aware that the collection was thematically centered around “La Piscine”—or French for “the pool.” As I approached the venue in the Bastille neighborhood, I could see from the street that the overly eager fashion crowd were congregating at the entrance of an actual pool. And it wasn’t some fancy private pool for rich people, but a considerably run-down public pool that was probably constructed in the late ’70s or early ’80s. The “catwalk” was literally just the tiled area surrounding the pool, with the models emerging from the locker room (a.k.a. “backstage) one-by-one and walking around in a giant square.
As guests went they were hit by the intense smell of chlorine, they were also handed a pair of blue sanitation booties which they were then required to slip on over their Louboutins. As the majority of these people had probably invested a significant amount of time into selecting their shoes for this event and/or endured a considerable amount of pain or discomfort to get them there (myself definitely included), forcing attendees to sacrifice whatever look they had curated for themselves that day is a risk for any designer to take. However, anyone who knows Simon—the young designer behind JACQUEMUS—knows that it is just this sort of playful act of rebellion that encapsulates the light-hearted, impish spirit that is the very essence of the label.
Simon Porte Jacquemus is one of those people who has become incredibly successful at a very young age. Despite no formal training, Simon began his career as a fashion designer at age 19. By 21, he had his designs on sale alongside Lanvin and Céline in London’s Commes des Garçons concept store at the Dover Street Market, as well as at Opening Ceremony. Now at 23, he’s amongst the youngest designers to ever be on the main schedule of Paris Fashion Week and has his work on sale in more than 25 stores worldwide.
While this collection was certainly contiguous with previous collections, there were also striking departures. A trademark of JACQUEMUS is a very specific kind of fun, youthful minimalism. Usually entire collections are made from a single kind of material (e.g. linen), with each piece itself being a single color selected from a small palette, often inspired by uniforms of some sort (uniforms have been an obsession of his since childhood). Simple and clean, never any prints, images, or mixing of materials.
Fashion writers will often attempt to use words like ‘simplicity’ and ‘minimalism’ as a euphemistic cloak to avoid confessing directly that the clothes up for discussion are just straightforwardly fucking boring. But what lies at the heart of the success of JACQUEMUS, as a label, is Simon’s unique ability to make remarkable use of repetition without succumbing to redundancy, creating consistency without monotony. When I ask Simon directly what the difference is between “simple clothes” and “boring clothes”, he responds, “Boring clothes have no story behind them—they are empty. I always start with the story and not with the clothes. There is always a narrative driving my work. I have a story in my mind and then I create the costumes for it, never the other way around.”
Given this history, you can imagine my shock when the first model walked out in a pinstriped suit of white and navy paired with a black beanie hat and nondescript poolside sandals. STRIPES?! Woah. But the surprises continued—and increased in their severity. Transparent PVC jacket? Amazing. The grande finale was a semi-transluscent mesh white top inscribed with the words “LE PULL MARINE” in blue lettering. (A reference to an Isabelle Adjani song of the same name written by Serge Gainsbourg, which was a mega-hit in France in 1983. The video is characteristically ’80s, aquatic-themed melodrama at it’s very best).
Even within the parameters of these relatively radical departures, there was a palpable consistency of vision permeating the entire collection. What’s more, La Piscine, with its strictly patriotic red, white, and blue color pallet and clean construction, maintained enough of the aforementioned classically JACQUEMUS traits so as to not pose a threat of alienating his previous work.
When I ask Simon what his secret is for anchoring his voice as a designer from season to season (something that even the most seasoned of designers often find difficult), he explains that this, again, is largely owed to his narrative-driven creative process. This narrative, as it happens, is always about the same person, a young, sporty, effervescent character that Simon has created in his head. And although this girl who has inspired every JACQUEMUS collection to date is purely fictional, she does occasionally get embodied by various French models (mainly Simon’s muse Caroline de Maigret) in quirky fashion films created in collaboration with Paris-based creative, Bertrand Le Pluard.
“I come to Bertrand with my stories and then we exchange a lot of ideas, images, and music etc. We don’t make lookbooks because a real collection isn’t just pictures of good clothes. This is not fashion to me. I don’t wake up in the morning excited by the details of a shirt. A real collection is based around a story, and I think that film is the natural mechanism for telling that story. A dress might look nice on its own, but it is not interesting. People are interesting.
So there you have it. What is the magical secret behind JACQUEMUS? It’s the realization that the best fashion is never purely nice clothing for the sake of nice clothing; it’s about the person wearing it. It’s always the girl that makes the dress come to life, and never vice-versa.