“I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and think, okay, you’re not too bad for this planet.”
Valentine Gauthier’s studio is on the top floor of a beautiful old building – of course, we are in Paris – on Rue Charlot. Her Atlas collection, full of sandy colours, leopard prints and feminine suits – and one enticingly tough looking greyish blue jacket we desperately need to save up for – invites us to speak to the designer today.
Working as an assistant and model in Martin Margiela’s artisanal studio, Valentine is continuously inspired, and finally starts her own brand in 2007 after winning the first price in the International Festival of Young Fashion Designers in Dinard. She then opens her first flagship boutique in Le Marais.
What we’re here for today is getting a feel of Valentine’s unique world: starting with those steps in the lobby, leading you upstairs with a slant so intense we actually feel a bit drunk. We want to talk about Valentine’s detailed approach to her sustainable fashion, see how she perceives the world, find out about new collections and, in all honesty, touch some of those fabrics.
Imprint: You’re working on you’re A/W 16/17 collection. We heard you were inspired by Moroccan culture?
Valentine Gauthier: Yes. It’s all inspired by Marrakesh and Morocco, but I didn’t make the collection there. When I can, I try to produce the collection in the same place I buy the fabrics, in the same place I get inspired, so everything flows naturally.
Imprint: Would you say you work ecologically that way?
VG: It’s very difficult, it’s my collection so it’s very hard to explain how it’s eco. I don’t want to say ‘I’m like this’, or ‘I only work like this’, that doesn’t make sense to me. I’m a fashion designer, so of course the style is very important. It’s all about compromise. I’m very interested in fabric. Sometimes I just want to use very delicate, natural and ecologic fabrics. I’m especially interested in raw, handmade fabric. Uncrafted.
Imprint: Is it not your priority to use natural fabrics? It’s mostly just a coincidence?
VG: Sometimes, if it’s fabric from Italy or France. It’s not always possible to use organic fabrics. I love to work with them, but it’s not a must for me. I’m too limited if I only work like that. Mostly, a fabric needs to be beautiful. I went to Morocco for this one, to a beautiful blue house, do you know it? Villa Majorelle, and all the palm trees. Yves Saint Laurent’s holiday home.
Imprint: We do know the house, it’s amazing! Do you travel specifically to be inspired for new collections?
VG: For this collection, yes, but not for the one inspired by the Atlas. Sometimes it’s very interesting to have a reflection of just your imagination. And it might be better to be creative and intuitive, to stay close to yourself. Your own mind. But! The Majorelle was very beautiful so I’m happy I went there, haha.
Imprint: You worked at Martin Margiela, too. Did you get something out of that? An idea, a mind-set?
VG: Absolutely not on the style, nor for the print, nor for everything. But it’s very interesting. For me, the concept of Martin Margiela and his House was perfect, the way people collaborated and how very natural, simple and friendly he was. No hysteric fashion. Slow life, slow time. I think it’s fascinating to look at fashion like that. For me, he’s a very creative designer. He thinks of fashion as a contemporary art form, but it’s not the same for me as I’m a girl. For Margiela the women’s collection was very experimental. I want to make things I can wear. Like he did, with his men’s collection.
Imprint: When did you decide to go sustainable?
VG: When I was very young. There was a big oil disaster and that really shocked me. There was this man who was a well-known activist… I think it’s my generation, too. For me it’s absolutely normal to think like that. I try to create beautiful work, but when I wake up in the morning I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and think, okay, you’re not too bad for this planet. And for my son, of course.
Imprint: Are you thinking of expanding your techniques?
VG: This is how I work: in the beginning I seek for inspiration in… I don’t know, somewhere. So this time I really like this tiny chair, or this movie and this flower and this, I don’t know, it keeps moving. It’s different every time. Then I connect it all in a sort of red line in my mind, because it can be chaotic there.
I try to test a lot, to see what fits my ideas. After that I give my ideas to all the people who work for me: my boyfriend does the shoes, and I work with an Indian factory. I handpick the people I work with. The Indian people are very different in their view of the world. They are more spiritual, so it’s hard to present to them my ideas and speak about ecology, because their view is so different. They have beautiful fabrics, a beautiful country, and you say let’s use these beautiful fabrics but then they say, but polyester is better right? And I have to explain everything, my view. I spent three months in India, explaining.
Imprint: Did you learn the language?
VG: A little. I speak English like that, so you understand that the Indian Tamil is very complicated. And they try to understand French too. After that we worked with Parisians, and in Bourgogne, in the centre of France. In Bourgogne we make every pullover and every knit. And in Paris we make things like jackets. The shoes are produced in Spain; in a company where about 18 people work. It’s not too big and they work there pretty nicely. Normally they make men’s shoes, but for me they try to make some women’s shoes as well. Using the same tradition as with the men’s shoes.
Imprint: So you make the clothes at the same place you find the fabric, mostly. You also worked on a collaboration with Vila. What do you think about that collaboration, especially with a bigger label?
VG: It was winter two years ago. They found me, and I was like, yes okay, sure, I want to work with you! It was very simple. It’s like India, you know. I think it’s important to not work JUST in Paris, where everyone thinks the same way. Maybe other brands in other countries can work like me too. Just so you can explain your own ways to new brands. So I can tell them: please work with organic cotton. That’s why it was interesting to work with Vila. I had them look for organic fabrics. They weren’t very happy with that in the beginning because it’s a lot of work, but then after a while it was better. I can say this now. Laughs. Because the contract is finished. It was a very good experience for me, for us.
Imprint: Bigger brands might be a bit irritated working organically. Although, it’s not your goal to make a statement, because the process feels only natural to you, right?
VG: Right. Bigger brands have better PR so it’s good to work with them from time to time and share how I feel about collections and the process.
Imprint: Do you feel like it’s hard to work the way you work?
VG: It’s very hard, we’re only a little team and it’s difficult to produce the collection the way we want to. We have to change things all the time because fashion is so fast. We make everything ourselves. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s very important: it’s my life. We’re very difficult in doing the photoshoots and the collection in the way we want to create them. We have high standards, and I’m happy like this. It’s more personal.
Imprint: Thank you for your time, Valentine.
She decides to take us into the shop to show us the clothes and so we can feel the fabrics, and asks us what we think. It’s all praise. We walk around mumbling ‘lovely’ as Valentine explains that her boyfriend wasn’t so sure about the new project.
“He was like, you’re crazy. Don’t go there. That is strange.”
“Maybe we’re strange too,” we laugh, “We like it a lot.”
“Yes, when he saw the final results I proved him wrong.”
We all whoop about the boyfriend who was wrong. The collection is stunning. We bicker about what to take photos of.
“It’s so cute,” we say, “We actually love everything. How can we take one picture?”
The floor is so sloped that if you have an office chair with wheels here it will just roll down to the other end by itself. Valentine says it’s very dangerous when you drink too much here. We try to convince her to come to Amsterdam. She attempts to thank us in Dutch. It doesn’t completely pan out. But that’s okay, it’s a very odd language.
We think of Valentine in this small, curved atelier, inspired by her own intuition and the wonders of the world. Working ecologically doesn’t always happen easily, but we’re sure she’s making the efforts to be one to watch. Very carefully.