& Sarah-Linh Tran
There is a sense, when in contact with a piece of Lemaire, of something that was born rather than made. From a distance, the smooth lines of the Parisian label’s carefully considered work jackets and structured handbags could seem so coolly restrained as to feel impenetrable — yet in coming closer, in feeling the fabrics and leathers settle easily around the body, nothing could be more personal, organic, or human. Because in entering the life of the wearer, an Egg Bag has a full life already behind it — laboriously hand-lasted against hard wood in the heart of Tuscany — before its life of use begins.
Perhaps it is this feeling of life within Lemaire that makes it so different from the vast and often chilly space of fashion today — so densely populated, as it is, with so many carefully calculated (and yet recklessly executed) brands. Where others shout, Lemaire speaks in a serene sotto voce, inviting those who care to hear to step forward and listen.
Given this cacophony of voices in competition, along with an unyielding pressure to constantly reinvent both one’s self and the proverbial wheel, embracing steady subtlety seems like it shouldn’t work for a fashion company today. Yet with an international reach and successful collaboration with Uniqlo, that approach has seemed to treat Lemaire rather nicely. We caught up with designers and partners Sarah-Linh Tran and Christophe Lemaire to suss out the roots of their particular finesse.
To begin — Sarah-Linh, you design more on the womenswear side, while Christophe, you design more on the menswear side. How are the Lemaire woman and the Lemaire man different? How do they inform each other?
There is no one Lemaire woman, there are many!
We are more interested in what they share: A certain steadiness, consistency, a care for quality and ease, sensuality, strength, a precise point of view (so a taste), a search of timeless style, curiosity, and open spirit.
What has been inspiring you lately? Are there any books, films, artists, or musicians you turn to in times of creative stagnation?
En vrac [in English: “In bulk”]... poetry, love, Père Ubu, Areski & Brigitte Fontaine, Camberwell Now, Sun Ra, Paul Gauguin, Nadja by André Breton, Max Ernst, Public Image Limited, the label Sublime Frequencies, Tolstoy, Bunuel, 80’s Japanese style.
It is always difficult to name precisely an inspiration. They are multiple and intertwine constantly.
Lately, I have been moved by an exhibition currently showing in Paris [at the Musée national de l'histoire de l'immigration], Monde tsiganes, la fabrique des images, on the representation of Tsiganes, Roms. etc. It raises many questions on our capacity to live with the elusive and the reproduction of prejudices via its representations.
Alain Tanner’s Une flamme dans mon coeur, is a very strange movie, but the main character interpreted by Myriam Mézières is breathtaking.
The Femininities: Portraits of Parisian Women 1976-1983 by Liu Hanabusa is always inspiring.
Clarice Lispector’s first book, Perto do Coração Selvagem (“Near to the Wild Heart”) is life-giving.
And listening to the track “Mary” from 1983’s European Rendez-vous by Chris and Cosey. It makes you want to walk fast. And get lost in the street. That is always a good idea.
What does every person need in their wardrobe? What is something people think they need that they don’t?
I do not know! It is always changing!
Every person needs a good pair of pants, of boots, and a good coat that fits and make you feel good and confident wearing it. Good “wardrobe friends.”
In your ready-to-wear, you refrain from very visible branding. Meanwhile, many of your accessories — for example, the striking, structured curves of something like the Camera Bag — are instantly recognizable. How have you approached building the visibility of Lemaire?
The bags are very specific, but the clothes need to be communicated with a lot of softness because they do not shout. Sometimes we need to force people to actually wear it because when they do they realize it is not just a T-shirt – the shoulder is a little bit dropped, the fabric is very fine...
For me, the beauty of Lemaire is in thoughtful details like that. Can you speak a little bit to the process of creating some of your more technically challenging pieces?
Some say the devil is in the details, some say God is in the details…
We wear our clothes, a lot. And our entourage too. So you get to know the clothes, how you move in it, how it can be improved. It needs time.
We spend a lot of time on fabrics. This season we thought a lot about how fabrics could age beautifully. Leather, also, is a living material; even when it is dead, it moves. That’s the beauty of it, it’s a different personality each time.
What went into making the prints this season? Is there a story you wish to tell with them?
We have worked for a few seasons with a marbling artist — one reference was that marbling you see in the first and last pages of leather-bound books. Everything is a bit random; it’s a very old technique but one that we work in our own way. We make and then remake and remake again.