Isabel Marant just opened a new store in New York on Broome Street and we cannot ignore it with all the buzz created around the opening! She is one of the latest brands of French prêt-à-porter to cross the Atlantique after Le Comptoir des Cotonniers, Zadig & Voltaire, Jerome Dreyffus and establish themselves for the most part in New York City and more precisely in Soho ..
They all have in common a certain sexy, laid back look that does not quite exist on this side of the Atlantic. Women certainly dress differently in France. I remember researching an article for Madame Figaro on ” The working women outfits”, interviewing powerful women from the president of the RATP, French equivalent of the MTA, to CAC40 executives. Most of them were quite interested in fashion having personal shopper to save time. Very conservative work environment forced them to wear non casual clothes, but none of them talked about the pressure of a uniform, the colorless, shapeless, -and should I say boring uniform – you see most commonly on the fast train to downtown during rush hours in New York. So yes, French prêt-à-porter may have a word to say.
Or rather had a word to say. A pessimistic view was whispered in my ear by iconic French fashion designer Irene Van Ryb (http://www.irenevanryb.com)who started her first collection in 1971, reigning on women’s pantalon and other attire. She was recently stranded in New York like thousands of fellow countrymen and we had time to exchange on French fashion. Irene has been a fashion insider during the heydays of French prêt-à-porter when Agnes B was still focusing on her cardigans bouton pression, when Thierry Mugler was empowering women with broad shoulders and eccentrically tiny waists, when Emmanuelle Kahn, hiding her eyes behind over sized glasses was equally and elegantly hiding women bodies behind robe chasuble. Dorothee Bis created by Jacqueline and Elie Jacobson and of course Pierre Cardin … French prêt-à-porter was home-made before manufacturing was outsourced, with a very singular style before the uniformity of globalization.
Where does French prêt-à-porter stand today?. According to the NYT ” What’s in the label say it in French” by Cintra Wilson (www.nytimes.com/2010/04/22/fashion), “French labels may aspire fashion consciousness but can they really create fashion”. Is it really worth its high-end price? was the concluding statement. It is a rather harsh comment that Isabel Marant will probably not like. For those who really like French prêt-à-porter and like myself have been collecting it over the years, it is the right question to be asked.