The Future Starts Now According To Courrèges

SSENSE Visits the Design Duo Before Their Fall/Winter 2016 Runway Show

The future is a target that never stops moving. 26-year-old designers Arnaud Vaillant and Sébastien Meyer, on the eve of presenting their second collection for Courrèges, are in a unique position to reflect on the shifting parameters of the avant-garde. After learning their trade at the Mod'Art International School in Paris, stylist and designer Meyer and business graduate Vaillant teamed up on their brainchild Coperni Femme in 2013. The label’s stripped-down and feminine designs, freshened up with deft geometric accents, earned them accolades including the prestigious ANDAM First Collections Prize in 2014. And then the invitation came to sign on as artistic directors and reboot Courrèges.

The look of 1960s futurism leads directly back to André Courrèges. His white vinyl miniskirts, go-go boots, and space age shapes were like nothing ever seen before—soon to become the uniform of a young, empowered, and technologically advanced generation rocketing into the future. But after decades of the brand lying dormant, the challenge of keeping Courrèges’ legacy of futurism up to date fell to Vaillant and Meyer. For the practically-minded pair, the answer is simple: modernity means less concept, more clothes.

As they conducted fittings days before their Fall/Winter 2016 runway presentation, there was a palpable energy in their Paris studio of a new beginning. Elisabeta Tudor talked to the one-of-a-kind design duo, who explained how they’re making Courrèges stand for simplicity and the here and now:

Elisabeta Tudor: Tell me more about your past. How did you two end up working together?

Arnaud Vaillant: We've never asked ourselves this question, because there are really no rules that apply to our collaboration, it's all so natural. We met seven years ago, so we've learned to trust each other ever since. We worked for each other on our respective projects for a while and then, at some point, we decided to create our own womenswear label, Coperni Femme. We won several contests soon after revealing our first collections—and here we are now, at the helm of Courrèges! It's unbelievable, even for us!

Why did you decide to put your own brand on hold and dedicate yourself exclusively to Courrèges?

AV: Well, because it's Courrèges, it's worth it. We're young, 26 years old, so it's hard for us to divide our thoughts into two separate halves, with one creative identity per brand. The CEOs of Courrèges had been looking for a creative director for a few years already, long before we were on their radar. We met them several times and they ended up choosing us—and we have had so much to do ever since! Courrèges is such a wonderful brand, it deserves 100% of our time and attention. We work on the brand's collections, its creative image, its shop, its website—we work on absolutely everything.

Revamping a brand like Courrèges is a great challenge. What were your first steps in doing so?

Sébastien Meyer: The brand was caught in a bubble for a long time. It was stuck in the 60s. So our first challenge was to blow off everything, kind of, to open the doors—to make the brand desirable again. The media attention and the commercial success that we’ve had since our first season at Courrèges reflects all this.

AV: We didn't have a design studio, so our first challenge was to recruit people, to create an atelier, to develop our own way of working—our own take on designing collections—because our approach to fashion design is a little different from other fashion and luxury brands. We work with product categories.

It's true, Courrèges is about highlighting key pieces, not total looks. Your approach to fashion is at the opposite of what we usually expect.

AV: Yes, exactly, and there are three reasons why our approach is different. The first reason is that Courrèges' legacy is so legendary, so symbolic, that it implied that we start working on reviving André Courrèges' key pieces immediately—the miniskirt, the biker jacket, the shift dress. We've found wardrobe pieces in the brand's archives that are of incredible and unparalleled modernity. The brand's heritage has guided us towards simplicity, towards these so-called "product categories." Our second reason that explains our particular approach to fashion: there is so much fashion out there already, so many strange, complicated, and extravagant looks, that we felt the urge to purify and to free fashion from all this abundance, while keeping simplicity on our minds. The third reason is very simple: we want to fulfill the desires of women who live in the here and now. Women who love fashion nowadays are very knowledgeable, very up-to-date on anything and everything. They do not want to dress in total looks. They want some tools to play with, some space to mix and match clothes at their convenience. Hence the idea not to offer complete outfits but key pieces to our customers.

What is "simplicity," according to you?

SM: The idea of simplicity at Courrèges is to return to the very heart of clothing, to return to the essence of fashion design. Let's create product categories, let's have fun by discovering how we can improve the clothes we design. For us, simplicity means that our clothes are rooted in the here and now, that they can be understood and worn as soon as they are out there. Simplicity also means that we do not like to invent concepts for the sake of inventing concepts. We want our fashion to be very thoughtful, very constructed, very well done, but first and foremost, our fashion needs to be understandable by everyone—this is of paramount importance.

What are your references and inspirations for this Fall/Winter 2016 collection?

AV: This season's most important element came from André Courrèges' archive. It is a detail that we've spotted on one of his diamond dresses—a diamond pattern that we've reproduced on our dresses by "emptying" it, by making it transparent in the shape of a cutout. In fact, the words of André Courrèges himself inspired us: he once said that his dream was to "bring light into clothing design," and that's exactly what we've tried to do with this dress.

The brand's legacy might inspire you. However, you seem to draw a lot of inspiration from your own generation.

AV: We try to shape our own generation and to understand our society, to feel the energy we live in, to look at the youth and to look into the future of fashion. One thing is certain, Courrèges is a futuristic brand and this is precisely what we love about it. André Courrèges had a considerable impact on his own generation. So much so that his brand is assimilated to the 60s, but the DNA of Courrèges was all about avant-garde, modernity, and innovation. We try to keep this spirit alive when we work, and this desire to innovate also explains why a third of our latest collection is already available for purchase.

Nowadays, the fashion industry is arguing whether immediacy in the way we produce and consume is really necessary—but this seems quite trivial to you.

SM: Yes, for us, immediacy is quite self-evident. We don't see any point in showcasing a collection and waiting up to six months to find it in stores. It's absurd and it doesn't make sense any longer, not to our generation. We're seeking a kind of comfort, a comfort that expresses generosity above all—that's why we showcase clothes that can be purchased straight after they've been on the runway.

Is there anything other than Courrèges' avant-garde philosophy that inspires you today?

AV: To be honest, we are quite anti-inspiration. I'm not saying it is a bad thing, but it's not for us. We will never go on a trip to India and return from our holidays with an Indian collection! What we really want is to imagine staple pieces, to design a woman's wardrobe from A to Z.

The relationship between fashion and technology was of great importance in your latest collection.

AV: Yes. We started to think about the future of fashion, because design needs to work hand in hand with technology if we want fashion to evolve. The way we make clothes needs to evolve if we want more comfort and well-being. So we designed a tailored winter coat with an integrated thermo-active system, which is neither visible nor palpable, and which can be recharged by plugging it into an iPhone—so you can basically heat up the back of your coat, the sleeves and the pockets. It's our response to reality, to our daily needs. However, even if it gets technical at times, we never forget to dream!

Speaking of dreams, why is Courrèges still making us dream today?

AV: Because of his audacity, his design vision, his willingness to take risks, the one-of-a-kind modernity of his collections. Back in the day, it was not easy to be a visionary—to rethink fashion and to go against a whole culture. His desire to make you feel good in your clothes, to make you feel free when wearing them—he revolutionized fashion and ready-to-wear, to say the least.

Interview: Elisabeta Tudor
Photography: Quentin Saunier