A “New Couture” Approach, From A Designer Perched Between Ready-To-Wear And Haute
Before striking out on her own, Bouchra Jarrar was behind the scenes for the rise of Balenciaga’s ready-to-wear as well as the twilight of Christian Lacroix’s couture. When she launched her own label in 2009, she opted to show her collections during Paris’ Haute Couture week, in testament to the couture-style approach she favors. But she’s always been part of the ready-to-wear world, too: Her line is stocked at enviable retailers like Ikram, Jeffrey, Bergdorf Goodman, and Kirna Zabête. Now, thanks to that growing international presence—and one very visible credit, on the cover of French Elle—Jarrar is keeping her slot on the couture calendar, but adding a version of her namesake show to the RTW week, too, with a handful of new pieces and a bag thrown in for good measure. Style.com checked in with Jarrar at her new atelier and boutique to discuss the old and the new, what she learned under Nicolas Ghesquière, and the eternal allure of the little black dress.
Tell me about seeing your dress on the cover of Elle. Was it a defining moment for you?
I did not know that was going to happen. At all. It was a tremendous moment for me. I felt it was real encouragement. Fashion is hard work. Creation doesn’t just fall from the sky. And it was really powerful to see the magazine place a bet on the future. But it’s not like you’ve arrived; the bar is constantly placed higher, and you have to reach it. Anyway, we got a lot of calls about that dress. Funnily enough, we did not sell any in Paris—we sold a lot in the U.S.
Will it become a recurring piece in your collections?
Yes, but in any case I don’t kill off my collections. We’re a small house, so we leave the door open in case a client wants it. For us, this “new couture” approach is very of the moment.
That’s interesting. So many designers today are going the opposite direction, promoting branding and mass distribution—more, more, more. You’re harkening back to an older model.
I feel at home with the notion of being a fifties-style couturier, who likes to work with the fabric and sew in general, enjoys the process of thinking through “one fashion.” We function like a couture house; half of what I do is artisanal and that implies lots of time. In that sense I feel like I am swimming against the current. But that’s also reassuring because I feel like I am working with profound respect for women. It’s not about power, prestige, or money. The idea of taking a magnificent name, filling it with fast fashion, and calling it luxury says nothing to me. Personally, my definition of success centers on the human aspect.
Did this all come naturally?
You never create a story all alone. I learned how a fashion house functions because at 26 I found myself studio director at Balenciaga, Nicolas [Ghesquière] had just arrived, and we all learned by doing. I spent ten years in a house that started from nothing. All of us grew with it. Nicolas is a true talent, which is rare. I worked for him, but I formed myself. Then I had the incredible experience of working with the best couture ateliers in the world, thanks to Christian Lacroix. At the big houses I learned about fashion in all its profusion—second lines, capsules, the whole locomotive—and 20 years later it brought me to what I’m doing now.
What is it about the past that you find pertinent today?
I think that it was a certain idea of couture, a vision of elegance that wasn’t uptight or rigid. It was simply about loving a dress because it was beautiful, because it expressed femininity, and because it conferred a certain allure. The little black dress is so simple and elegant. Today, I think we’ve broken with that. So I just have to reach back in time a little to express “my” fashion. It was such an incredible experience to work on re-editions of Cristobal Balenciaga. Courrèges was so fresh and light. Chanel. Saint Laurent. Their generosity was what made me want to work in the business when I grew up.
Would you like to branch out into other categories—like, say, menswear?
Working with men is totally different. I’d love to work a beautiful suit, a trench, a coat—what I like about men is that when they like something, it’s forever. I think I take the same sort of tack for women, actually. I used to buy a lot of Margiela, and then I realized I was always buying the same thing because I had found the right shape for me. And then one day they were out of stock so I asked if I could order one, and they said no. And it was so disappointing. What a fabulous surprise it is to find the right dress. You don’t waste any more money. You know where you’re going. I still wear them, of course.