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Vanessa Seward: Sensible Luxury Crusader

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Vanessa SewardFollowing five collaborative capsules with Jean Touitou’s A.P.C., Vanessa Seward is taking things to the next level and launching her own brand with the financial support of A.P.C. She’s already begun working on her first collection, which is set to debut in Paris for the Fall ’15 season, and a series of stand-alone stores are already in the works. Here, Seward, an alum of Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and, most recently, Azzaro, talks to Style.com about her vision of sensible luxury, why low-waisted jeans are the worst, and what we can expect from her new line.

How did your collaboration with A.P.C. start? Was it kind of an experiment?
It was not even an experiment: Two and a half years ago, it was a one-shot, because [A.P.C. owner Jean Touitou and I] knew each other, we liked each other, and I missed working. So he said, “How about doing a collection with us?” And because I loved the brand, I was really happy to. It was a brand I bought and used and understood, so it was a nice challenge.

Did it come as a relief after doing so much high-fashion?
In a way, because when you’re doing high-end fashion, it becomes very difficult to do casual because it’s always a bit overpriced. And somehow it never looks as good. The couture houses have a wonderful hand for evening dresses, but casual is more complicated. What looks cool is when you combine the two. With the very first [A.P.C.] collection, I did things with couture fabrics combined with jeans and Irish sweaters. That was a relief for me. And I think a couture sensibility with jeans made for a really good fit. They sold out really quickly.

Your catchphrase is “sensible luxury.” Could you define it for us?
Even when a woman earns a good living in France today, luxury is still very inaccessible—and among the more accessible brands, there is a heavy connotation: You’re either boho or rock-chic, etc. It feels like a disguise. In previous generations we consumed less—you bought something a little more expensive that would last for years, and that really speaks to me. Even if they’re not as expensive, clothes are still an investment, and a nice sweater or skirt should last and make you look good without making you look like a fashionista.

What do you keep in mind when shopping? Is there anything you’ve bought lately that you love?
When you buy something, it’s important to be able to see yourself wearing it ten years into the future, and knowing you won’t feel stupid when you look at it in a photo. I don’t like over-designed clothes. I like clothes that are simple, that have a nice fit, that make you look good and don’t have too many details. Your personality is what counts. Then, luxury has to come in the finishings, in the cut, in the color, and material.

What have you bought lately?
I love my new Michel Vivien sandals because they fit with my notion of sensible luxury and they are also timeless. I get an “old Saint Laurent” feel from them. And at the same time, they will not look dated. I could give you a whole list of what I bought at A.P.C. For example, the Victoire jeans from the last collaboration are an homage to my friend Victoire de Castellane. I’ve known Victoire since I was her assistant at Chanel, and she has always been a big inspiration.

Are you doing the muse thing?
Yes and no. Victoire, her sister, and the friends around me are all big inspirations. For me, the danger lies in always designing [for oneself]. The collaboration with A.P.C. is a bit like working with a publisher. I try to design things that appeal to a wide range of women.

Are you—like many of us—relieved to be getting away from low-waisted jeans?
Oh, my God, so happy. There’s nothing more depressing, there’s nothing that makes me feel fatter than low-waisted jeans! There was a whole period when I would just not wear jeans anymore. At every house I worked with, and especially with Mr. Azzaro, I learned a lot about respecting the body. I like things that make you look good without crossing the thin line into overtly sexy.

What’s your take on Parisian style?
It’s about knowing how to balance an effect. Those who grow up in a family culture of sensible luxury will hold on to an Hermès bag they inherited, or an old jacket, and they are good at mixing couture with jeans. If they are going to be really dressed up, they won’t wear much makeup and their hair won’t be too done. That makes it cool.

What can we expect from your debut collection?
I’ve started working on the collection and it’s almost like psychoanalysis. I’m basically reviewing my whole life: I was brought up in London, and my family is Argentine, but they are a bit English, and there’s a lot of Paris, too. Then there’s all the time I spent working at Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Azzaro. When I was working with those brands, I was thinking about their codes. Now I am creating my own. Just thinking about what my staples are is really exciting. What we call “affordable luxury” is just about the price; what I am trying to do is broader than that. I want to do something seductive that plays on bon chic, bon genre with a little naughtiness, and I think I can do that in a way that is mine.

Photo: Tung Walsh

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