Hailing from Lyonnaise bourgeoisie, Mabille has deep roots in French fashion, his ancestors having made their fortune producing silk in the region during the 19th century. “I spent my childhood foraging through my aunt’s collection of antique family clothing,” he says, describing the huge stash of fabrics, trimmings and buttons he accessed to create costumes. From there, he began making clothes for family and friends, and by age 15, he had established a local bridal business, dressing roughly one bride per month.
To this day, Mabille likes to pull from a hodgepodge of eras, fabrics and genres, juxtaposing old-school English tweeds, say, with a pair of silver glitter pants within the same collection.
He also blends rough fabrics with refined ones. “It’s almost bourgeois in essence, but I like to play with lengths and proportions to give it a twist,” says Mabille, demonstrating an aggressive cut on a Prince of Wales–check hunting suit, lined with bloodred silk.
Despite his sudden arrival on the runway scene, Mabille has hardly been toiling in seclusion. He worked for more than 10 years as the costume jewelry designer for Dior. (While there, he befriended some of John Galliano’s inner sanctum, including famed hairdresser Odile Gilbert and model Morgane Dubled, both of whom worked on Mabille’s show.) Currently he collaborates on Yves Saint Laurent’s costume jewelry.
“I had a burning desire to get back to making clothes,” says Mabille, whose first solo foray was with a line of unisex pants, presented in fall 2005, followed shortly after by the bow tie line that has since become his theme. For the latter project, Mabille morphed the after-dark accoutrement into a versatile fashion accessory that can be worn in the hair, pinned around the body or cinched around the waist. “They were kind of a joke to begin with, but ended up going down well with retailers,” says the designer, who is rarely seen without one pinned to his lapel.
A full unisex line, playfully chic in its allure, was presented in the midst of the men’s fashion and couture weeks in January 2007. Then Mabille showed at the fabled Parisian taxidermy boutique Deyrolle. For the event, Mabille wrapped bow ties around the necks of stuffed ostriches and giraffes, and pinned others alongside gleaming butterflies in glass cabinets, wittily echoing the insect’s forms.
Mabille claims to be a nocturnal creature, creatively speaking, and he frequently designs into the wee hours. Shut-eye has never been his thing, he maintains, and roughly five hours of rest suffices. During the rare times he does lay the needle to rest, hobbies include scouring the Porte de Vanves flea market in Paris for antique mirrors, glass tableware and old French linens. He also reserves each Sunday morning to watch two movies in a row. “I haven’t missed a single Disney movie, and I love anything that’s a bit weird, like The Lord of the Rings,” he says. Another favorite: Jean Cocteau’s rendition of Beauty and the Beast.