When talking to 24-year-old Simon Porte Jacquemus from his studio in Paris, there is one word that keeps popping up in the conversation: naïve. “I think it’s my taste. I’m obsessed with naivety. I’m self-made in fashion, everything I’ve done is very spontaneous,’ he says.
Don’t be mistaken though, this isn’t the naivety of a misguided fashion student doubting their ability; it’s the refreshing attitude of a young designer who chooses to defy the status quo and not take fashion too seriously in a country notorious for its steely-faced approach to sartorial codes. Perhaps this naivety is born from his idyllic childhood. “My family are a farming family; we grow fruit and vegetables,” he says, “I grew up in the south of France between Marseille and Avignon; it was a very peaceful childhood.”
Despite not being directly exposed to fashion in his formative years, Jacquemus moved to Paris at the age of 18 to go to fashion school, but it was only after losing his mother a year later that he decided to start his own label, and the Jacquemus brand was born. Crop tops and coats with exaggerated silhouettes, oversized shapes, usually based around circles and squares — another playful nod to his youthful approach to design — and purposefully-picked fabrics such as neoprene and nylon are signatures throughout his collection, though he never designs with any particular girl in mind. For him it is more about telling a story: “I don’t just do clothes, I write a story and then come the clothes. I write a script with characters — what she’s going to do, what kind of perfume she wears, what kind of place she bathes in…”
The notion of having a story around the clothes he designs is very much in-line with the ideology of Rei Kawakubo, someone Jacquemus learned a lot from when working in the Comme Des Garçons store in Paris as a student. “They supported me at Dover Street Market from the beginning. The way she acts, she’s always very calm… I’m not Rei Kawakubo, but I recognise some traits in the way she acts. I can understand her,” he says.
Simon Porte Jacquemus’ clothing is for a new type of customer: young, open and not confined to past ideals of luxury dressing. Jacquemus is keen to dispel ideals of the Parisian girl, complete with Breton stripes and perfectly dishevelled hair, and put forward something different. “For me, there is such a cliché around the Parisian and I don’t like it. I’m obsessed with French, not Parisian.”
Jacquemus’ modern view of his surroundings, as well as his desire to expand his audience’s horizons extends to his runway shows. “I always try to have something special, because I don’t want to have a show that’s like a look book, I’m not into it.” Breaking with convention, Simon has previously put the fash pack in show settings as unique as swimming pools and arcades, making his 360-degree-take on storytelling a must-see event during Paris Fashion Week.
Music and film play a major part in the way Jacquemus looks at the world, with influences from Serge Gainsbourg and Jacques Tati to obscure references from his teens, but this doesn’t seem to alienate his global fan base. With 80 stockists worldwide, and counting, Jacquemus looks set to cement the brand’s place alongside the Simone Rochas and Marques’Almeidas of the world — they’re young designers who know what consumers their own age want and who create their own contemporary luxury brands, a freedom made possible by remaining independent: “I’m totally free to do what I want every season. I don’t have a collection plan, and I started my business with maybe 2,000 euros when I was 19. I think what’s exciting today is to be free.”
The brand’s growth has been organic, buoyed by the power of social media and the osmosis of images on Tumblr and Instagram. “When I was 19 it was crazy to see how much images were shared on Tumblr. We don’t wait for press, they can say if they like something just by sharing a post, that’s exciting.”
Carving a niche for himself in sea of hungry design talent, Simon Porte Jacquemus designs for the chic yet brazen non-conformist, bucking the trend for much meticulous pre-planning, and going completely on gut instincts. “I’m 24 right now and everything is very good,” he says, “I don’t question myself, I just try to be as honest and spontaneous as I can.”