Courrèges's New Artistic Directors Are Transforming an Iconic Brand's Legacy
Meet Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant.
Early one blustery morning last fall, during Paris Fashion Week, a select group of editors bundled into the Opéra Bastille to witness the second coming of Courrèges, the iconic Parisian label whose jaunty, Space Age sensibility set the tone for much of the 1960s. As the show started, the newly appointed co–artistic directors, Sébastien Meyer, 27, and Arnaud Vaillant, 26—both fresh faced and preppy—took to the stage with a microphone, paying tribute to André Courrèges, who passed away at 92 this January, and his wife, Coqueline, before modestly explaining their intentions. What they referred to as the “building blocks” of their new vision for the house then emerged in quick succession: 15 sharply cut pieces, in 15 different materials and colors, each minimally styled over a white knit bodysuit. The proverbial clean slate, if you will. Every Courrèges archetype was accounted for—the miniskirt (which André claimed to have invented), a natty leather jacket, and the A-line shift dress among them—and yet, the retro references were spare. This was fresh, simple, and very much of the now.
When looking back to move forward, Meyer and Vaillant clearly recognized that the same youthful exuberance the Courrèges customer appreciated in the ’60s and ’70s would still fly today—with one essential difference: “No one wears full looks anymore,” Vaillant tells me. “And because André Courrèges was at the forefront of ready-to-wear, we wanted to focus on garment construction and shape. We spent hours and hours on just one jacket, then we did the same with the miniskirt.”
Vaillant, Meyer, and their enviably fashionable muse–cum–style director Lolita Jacobs are seated at the Courrèges headquarters—newly refurbished and positively gleaming with reflective white surfaces—located, where it has been since 1965, in a Haussmannian-style building on the Rue François 1er, in the Eighth arrondissement. Below, on the ground floor, is the original flagship boutique, and above, occupying multiple floors, are the house’s extensive archives. Surrounded by such history, Vaillant and Meyer certainly had a lot to work with—or, depending on how you look at it, contend with. “The DNA of the brand is beautiful. It’s about modernity and architecture—things we can play with and that inspire us,” Vaillant says. “But our goal is to make that aesthetic feel desirable and cool.”
It is not the first time they’ve put forth such a vision. In 2013, the duo, partners personally and professionally, launched their own label, Coperni Femme. Celebrated for their artistic approach to Minimalism, Vaillant and Meyer took home, after just three short seasons, the 2014 ANDAM Fashion Award and were selected as finalists for the LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize the following year. That was when Jacques Bungert and Frédéric Torloting, who had purchased Courrèges in 2011, came knocking. “We hesitated, of course, because Coperni was an exciting project, and it was growing,” Vaillant recalls. “But at the same time, this was Courrèges!”
Six months in, their revamp already extends well beyond their auspicious ready-to-wear debut: They’re currently in the process of redesigning the boutiques, and have relaunched Bonjour Courrèges. The in-house publication that once featured images by legendary ’60s photographer Peter Knapp is now an ambitious Instagram project with portraits by the British rising star Oliver Hadlee Pearch and a collage series by the New York artist Kalen Hollomon.
But if they have a secret weapon, it’s Jacobs, whom they brought with them to Courrèges from Coperni Femme, where she had started as a model and ended up as a consultant. “I’m the cherry on top,” she says with a laugh, oozing chicness. “Most male designers fantasize about what women want to wear. We believe you always need a woman’s eye.” More than just a sounding board and a stylist, Jacobs takes care of the brand’s visual image, while Meyer, who is touchingly shy, designs, and Vaillant, who is always well groomed and elegantly dressed, is the master of operations. Together, they make a formidable team. “We definitely feel like we have something to say for ourselves,” Jacobs notes. “And it’s radical.”