Un­der­state­ment of the year

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

It’s a tes­ta­ment to the not-sofrag­ile En­tente Cor­diale that when asked who, for her, typ­i­fies Parisian chic, Vanessa Bruno in­stantly names two Bri­tons – Char­lotte Ram­pling and Jane Birkin.

She says it’s be­cause there’s some­thing spon­ta­neous and slightly rav­aged about them, al­though to An­glo-Saxon eyes both women look pol­ished on a Gal­lic scale. And that, per­haps, is the magic for­mula the mod­ern Parisian seeks to copy. “Cather­ine Deneuve’s an in­cred­i­ble woman,” says Bruno, “but in her early days she was too done, too blow-dried. It’s not cool.”

As it hap­pens, the Birkins are fans of Bruno. Jane’s daugh­ter Lou Doil­lon has mod­elled for the la­bel; her other daugh­ter, Char­lotte Gains­bourg, wears the clothes. Kate Moss has one of Bruno’s deep-green Cabas bags and I once spot­ted Ju­lianne Moore shop­ping in one of the Paris branches. But I think Bruno, who moves like a lan­guid sea nymph and has the choppy white-blonde hair of a West High­land ter­rier, draws her main in­spi­ra­tion from her­self.

She wouldn’t be the only one. She was barely in her twen­ties when the de­signer Daniel Hechter asked her to head up his stu­dio, mainly, it seems, be­cause he liked the way she wore clothes. Grow­ing up, she lived fash­ion through os­mo­sis. Her Dan­ish mother, Dorothee, was a star model for Nina Ricci. Her Ital­ian fa­ther bought the fash­ion house Em­manuelle Khanh. Mar­tine Sitbon, the de­signer avidly fol­lowed by ev­ery ac­tual and hon­orary Parisi­enne in the Eight­ies and Nineties, used to pop around and take a small Vanessa roller skat­ing.

Not that Bruno was ever that small. At 15 she be­came a house model. “Mod­el­ling wasn’t so se­ri­ous then, I just did it for some pocket money and to get out of the house,” she says, shrug­ging. While strik­ing a pose, Bruno was covertly look­ing and learn­ing. “I’m a self-taught de­signer, so ev­ery­thing I know, I learnt from ex­pe­ri­ence and ob­ser­va­tion. In the early days as a model, it was my job to say how the clothes felt.” That proved highly in­struc­tive, as did watch­ing the pat­tern cut­ters and look­ing at women in the street – their pos­ture, how they moved, fig­ur­ing out which pro­por­tions worked.

Three decades years later, some of Bruno’s most trea­sured pieces are del­i­cate an­tique blouses. The one she’s wear­ing here is a vin­tage-in­spired num­ber from her own la­bel. “When I look back at pic­tures of my mother, she still seems very mod­ern. There are so many women who change their look com­pletely ev­ery few years, but why would you do that? It’s much bet­ter to put your en­er­gies into find­ing a style that works for you so that you don’t have to de­vi­ate too far from it.”

The clothes Bruno de­signs are el­e­gant, sim­ple yet so­phis­ti­cated, with a whiff of the an­drog­yne about them and priced, in the tra­di­tion of Daniel Hechter and Em­manuelle Khanh, at the af­ford­able end of lux­ury. That’s im­por­tant to her. Hav­ing had this sec­tor of the mar­ket more or less to her­self since she launched her la­bel in 1992, she is now see­ing oth­ers crowd into it.

Ex­tremely mod­est, she be­gins the de­sign process, she says, not with grandiose themes (that’s prob­a­bly why women love her) but al­ways with beau­ti­ful shoul­ders. “Not too strong or ag­gres­sive. I don’t like things to be fit­ted or so tight they change the way I move. Carine Roitfeld in a pen­cil skirt – I love it, but not on me.” She’s not crazy about ex­ag­ger­ated vol­umes ei­ther. “The over­sized trend in vogue now is hard for any­one who isn’t re­ally tall.”

If this sounds too sen­si­ble to be in­ter­est­ing, that’s be­cause I haven’t men­tioned Bruno’s knack for spin­ning clas­sics into (un­der­stated) state­ments, a knack that at­tracts all ages. Bruno, an ethe­real-look­ing 45-year-old, says, “Fo­cus­ing on age is bor­ing. It’s much more in­ter­est­ing to think about style.” She doesn’t lay down de­crees about what should and shouldn’t be worn at a given age. She still wears shorts (with those legs, of course she does) and tries to be lais­sez-faire with her 17-year-old daugh­ter Lune. “Lune has great style, but some­times at night – whoo, it’s a lit­tle bit much. But in the end, it’s like, ‘OK – go ahead: you have to learn for your­self.’”

As Bruno rea­son­ably points out, she wouldn’t have built a busi­ness of 30 stand-alone bou­tiques and 10 shops-with­in­shops by lim­it­ing her col­lec­tions only to what she would wear (jack­ets – she has at least 20 on the go) or wouldn’t (skinny jeans and calf-length skirts – nei­ther, she says, looks right on her). Nev­er­the­less, the line is an ex­ten­sion of her­self. Stella Ten­nant, face of the most re­cent cam­paign, is a brunette, Scot­tish ver­sion of Bruno. Even the bags are per­sonal – one of the clas­sic styles is called Lune.

Bruno’s is the not-too-done ap­proach. She drinks a bit, ex­er­cises a bit – Pi­lates and cy­cling ev­ery­where – likes club­bing when she’s on hol­i­day and eats even when she’s not. “Only French women at the heart of fash­ion don’t eat,” she claims. I’m not sure about that. But hers is the Parisian life of fan­tasies: mar­riage to a charm­ing art dealer with a stylish, sprawl­ing-yet­min­i­mal­ist apart­ment in the third ar­rondisse­ment (a short bi­cy­cle ride from her stylish, sprawl­ingyet-min­i­mal­ist of­fices), a re­treat in the Ca­mar­gue and just enough in­se­cu­ri­ties to make her love­able.

Un­pol­ished per­fec­tion: French de­signer Vanessa Bruno, main, drew in­spi­ra­tion from Lauren Hut­ton for her au­tumn-win­ter col­lec­tion, left

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.