I LOVE Isabel Marant’s clothes. I can’t afford them and I’m probably too old to wear them, but I adore their youthful vibe of insouciant chic. The 46-year-old designer’s brand is an international mega-hit. Her clothes hang in the closets of fashion models, movie stars and the well-heeled all over the world.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“The Cult of Isabel Marant” by William Van Meter), she talked about the fall-out from an off-hand remark about being “anti-consumerist.” Apparently, this comment had caused quite a little tempest in a théière. “How can she say such a thing?” “Quelle hypocrisie!” “If she feels that way, why doesn’t she just give her clothes away?”
Actually, I would be willing to bet that what Ms. Marant meant to say was that she was “anti-conspicuous consumption.” It’s an educated guess on my part, but one based on a lifetime of experience with and observation of the French.
Drawing by Elizabeth Graeber
Ms. Marant is French and she is an artiste whose creative gifts have made her extremely successful. The French attitude towards success is ambivalent, to say the least. They are, quite frankly, suspicious of it, particularly if it makes you rich, not that anyone will actually admit to being rich. There’s something slightly unpleasant about the odor of money to the French. It’s the one subject that is never discussed at dinner parties. Remember Napoleon’s famous put down of the British? He called them a nation of shopkeepers.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to have expensive things, but they should look as if they’ve always been there – handed down from generation to generation, not purchased by you with that stinky money. “Oh, the Mondrian over the mantel? Oh, that’s been in the family for simply ages and ages. I think it was a gift.”
Ms. Marant grew up in one of the wealthiest suburbs of Paris, Neuilly-sur-Seine, surrounded by beautiful, sophisticated people, in what Americans would call a blended family (mother, step-mothers, siblings, half-siblings, etc.) -- all very upscale Bobo (Bohemian Bourgeois) chic.
|wc au fond du jardin|
The French also have a romantic attachment to la France profonde, populated by noble, beret-wearing farmers who eat off the land and live by their own sueur (sweat). In the France of today, while that image is more myth than reality, it still occupies a special place in every Frenchman’s heart – no doubt as a result of his having been forced to read Le Contrat Social by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) in school.
Photo by Angelo Pennetta
In November, Isabel Marant will unveil her collection for the moderately priced, international clothing chain H&M.
This is a huge risk for a designer of Marant’s international stature and reputation, but the payoff could also be huge (sniff, sniff….do I smell the odor of money?). The French do not have a reputation for being risk takers, but 90% of her sales are outside France, with 25% in the US, so a clothing line with mass appeal may be a risk worth taking.
And…………this could be my chance to pop down to the local H&M and add an Isabel Marant piece to my wardrobe. Here’s a sneak peak of what we can expect.
Hmmm. Yeah, well, I think I’ll have to pass on this one.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if the collaboration between Isabel Marant and H&M will be a marriage made in heaven or one headed for the rocks. Either way, I applaud her audace.