Def­i­ni­tion of chic

She won’t do evening­wear or work for any­one else. but af­ter 20 years, and with vast queues for her new range at Swedish multi­na­tional re­tail-cloth­ing com­pany, H&m, French de­signer Is­abel marant has burst her niche.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - STYLE - By JESS CART­NER-MOR­LEY

FRESH off the Eurostar from her home in Paris, the fash­ion de­signer, wrapped in fur, takes a seat in her cen­tral Lon­don May­fair bou­tique and sips her cof­fee. But no, erase that men­tal im­age: Is­abel Marant may be the buzzi­est fash­ion de­signer of 2013, but she is noth­ing like that sounds. In flat black suede boots, skinny leather trousers and a grey cashmere crew neck lay­ered over a white T-shirt, she looks less like a Paris fash­ion week diva than a chic yoga teacher. The fur jacket she is wear­ing sells for sev­eral thou­sand pounds, but she tugs it around her shoul­ders as if it were an old blan­ket; she likes the salt-and-pep­per colour, she says, be­cause it matches her sil­ver­ing hair, which, at 46, she does not dye. On the shopfloor, de­signer arm­chairs have been re­gally placed at ei­ther end of the im­mac­u­late cream rug, punc­tu­a­tion points in­tended to em­pha­sise this grand ex­panse of top-dol­lar real es­tate. Marant picks one up, drags it to­wards the other and sits down, hands around a mug of cof­fee, lean­ing to­wards me be­tween her knees as if we were be­side a camp­fire.

Marant’s clothes have been a fash­ion in­sider’s ob­ses­sion for a decade, but this year the brand went global. Since the la­bel’s in­cep­tion in 1994, fash­ion has been in­creas­ingly dom­i­nated by multi­brand, global pow­er­houses such as LVMH, but Marant has bucked that trend, grow­ing steadily while re­main­ing in­de­pen­dent. The clothes are now sold in over 800 bou­tiques and depart­ment stores world­wide. With her re­cent H&M col­lab­o­ra­tion, Marant joined a roll­call that in­cludes Ver­sace, Lan­vin, Martin Margiela, Stella Mc­Cart­ney and Karl Lager­feld, and the pub­lic­ity around the range has strength­ened her place in the fash­ion con­stel­la­tion. The newly opened Lon­don bou­tique is just a few hun­dred yards from the H&M stores where, three weeks ago, crowds queued overnight for the chance to buy the fringed an­kle boots, stud­ded rock-chick jeans, washed-out sweat­shirts and slouchy cardi­gans that are sta­ples of Marant’s brand.

Marant is cheer­fully un­snob­bish about em­brac­ing the high street.

“I was flat­tered that they asked me, ac­tu­ally. Very proud, be­cause H&M had worked with so many of the best de­sign­ers that to me this meant I was a real es­tab­lished de­signer.”

Marant de­fines her brand as “a sil­hou­ette and an at­ti­tude”. I ask about her clothes, fab­rics, in­spi­ra­tions; she an­swers me with a ges­ture or a pose, rather than a de­scrip­tion of colour or style.

“A jacket should be a bit ... you know”, she says, fill­ing the gap with a loose-limbed wrig­gle of her shoul­ders; or “when you wear jeans you feel ... cool, you know” with a cross­ing-and re­cross­ing of her slen­der legs.

“I want my clothes to be per­fect – but easy-per­fect, you know?” she adds, pluck­ing briefly at the cuffs of her sweater, to show how they fin­ish at ex­actly the right point. French women are dif­fer­ent from English women, she says, in that they will “pre­tend they are not pay­ing at­ten­tion to how they look, but re­ally they are. I dress the same ev­ery day, but I love ev­ery­thing that I wear. A nice, leather trouser, a nice flat shoe, a nice linen T-shirt, cashmere, fur.”

There are two tra­di­tions of French chic, of course: the lap­dogged and coiffed, cou­tured and gold-but­toned Av­enue Mon­taigne type, and the bo­hemian, Rive Gauche strand. Marant is the lat­ter; her smile makes her look a lit­tle like Jane Birkin. She has a mar­vel­lously Her­cule Poirot dic­tion (“my eye, it is trained, of this I am cer­tain”) en­hanced by her low, raspy voice. (She smokes roll-ups.) Her hair is in a messy bun fixed with a black elas­tic tie – but she is care­ful to restyle it be­fore she has her photo taken. She wears al­most no make up, per­haps a smudge of eye­liner.

Marant de­signed the pro­to­type for the con­cealed-wedge high-top train­ers that be­came her best-sell­ing, most-copied prod­uct when she was just 11 years old.

“I was a tomboy, so I would never wear heels. I wanted to look taller, but I wanted to look cool, so I put pieces of cork in­side the sneak­ers. I just think it’s the coolest thing, to be in sneak­ers, but to be taller.” The wedge trainer – copied so widely, Marant says, it is “dis­gust­ing!” – cap­tures the DNA of her brand:

Is­abel marant Fall 2013 col­lec­tion.

‘The col­lec­tion is in­fused with this kind of eas­i­ness and at­ti­tude,’ says French de­signer Is­abel marant about her col­lab­o­ra­tion with high street fash­ion la­bel H&m.

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