Yseult Never Shies Away From a Fashion Risk

Photograph by Fred Gervais

The French musician and model Yseult spent Paris Fashion Week walking two of the biggest shows of the spring 2024 season. There was Balenciaga, where she donned a glittering, draped black gown; and Alexander McQueen, where Sarah Burton—who has championed Yseult’s modeling career since it began in 2018—sent her down the runway in a sheer scarlet red dress. At the former, it was a historical moment: the first time a plus-size model appeared on creative director Demna’s runway. “I believe in change,” Yseult tells me from her new home in Paris. “It’s very slow, but I have faith.”

The Aisne, France native (who is of Cameroonian descent) is well-acquainted with infusing fashion into her music career, which started in 2013 after she made it to the finals on the singing competition show Nouvelle Star. In fact, her latest release is the music video for a song called “Perdue,” out October 6. In it, she’ll wear two dresses Burton brought out of the McQueen archives exclusively for the star. “I got here because I am always myself,” Yseult says. “I know it’s cheesy, but I don’t want to hide. I don’t want to mask my personality.”

What was the fitting process for the Balenciaga look like?

Balenciaga knows me well, and they know what I like. We worked together to create a dress that would fit my body well. The fitting was in Paris—I saw the sketch of the dress first, and then I saw the fabrics they were going to use. At first, it was in a gray fabric. They asked me, do you prefer gray or black? And the thing is, I love all-black clothes. So they changed it. They also added more décolleté for me.

Yseult’s look for the Balenciaga summer 2024 show.

Courtesy of Balenciaga

It sounds like it was a collaborative experience.

Yeah. My experience in fashion is different [compared to other models] because I’m a musical artist—and because my body is unique. It’s very interesting to interact with designers about how we can think about fashion week differently. I don’t want to say it’s difficult or it’s complicated or it’s a challenge to dress a body like mine—because it is possible. They just need some keys to fit the pieces to my physique. For most of the brands bringing plus size models on the runway, it’s new for them.

Some folks were saying there was a lack of body diversity on the runways this season. Did you think so?

I am trying so hard right now to think more positively about fashion. Five years ago, to walk on a high fashion runway was not possible at all for me. Even if we still feel some resistance from some brands, a lot of progress has been made. It’s important to be focused on the future, to think about what is the next step now that we have more representation in fashion. I think the next step is accessibility to people, to the public. For instance, Paloma [Elsesser] just did a capsule collection with Ganni. It was cool, but it didn’t get the amount of noise and attention it deserved. But if Ashley Graham does a collaboration, and Precious Lee does a collaboration, and I do a collaboration, and Jill Kortleve... we’re going to be more and more accepted in the fashion industry.

Yseult on the Alexander McQueen runway for Sarah Burton’s final spring 2024 show.

Courtesy of Alexander McQueen

Yseult wearing Alexander McQueen at the Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny red carpet during the Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2023.

Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage

Alexander McQueen has been championing you for years, casting you in campaigns and outfitting you in gowns for the red carpet. You walked in Sarah Burton’s final show as creative director during Paris Fashion Week. What was that like?

Sarah is so punk and so strong. I love her so bad, we are very close. She cares about me in real life because she loves humans—and she is clearly the legacy of Lee Alexander McQueen. Backstage, it was so emotional. So intense. Everybody was crying—like, everybody. Even Naomi Campbell!

Tell me about how you decide what look you’re going to wear on a red carpet. Are there certain silhouettes that you favor or gravitate toward?

It’s all about taking risks. I know my body very well, and I want to see how far I can go with dressing it. I think I like to feel the discomfort around me when I walk into a room with a dress with huge roses, or a Schiaparelli booby coat. People are questioning me: why? And I’m like, Why not?

Yseult wearing Schiaparelli to attend the screening of ‘Three Thousand Years Of Longing (Trois Mille Ans A T'Attendre)’ at the Cannes Film Festival.

Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

How did you arrive at the Schiaparelli look at Cannes?

The story behind the Schiaparelli coat was that it was my personal one—I bought it from the brand. I decided to wear it instead of looking for a dress. I came out to Cannes with my coat, with the boobs, and the bag with a Black man’s muscles on it. Everyone was like, what is she doing? Is this the Met Gala or is this Cannes? In my opinion, Cannes should be the Met Gala of France!

I read an article from a few years ago in which you said you’d rather be naked than wear clothing. Where do you think that sense of freedom comes from?

First off, I’m a Leo. Since I was a child, I always felt positive and free. I love life, I have faith in life, and I have faith in myself. Even if I’m reading [negative] comments about me, I don’t give a F. And it’s been like this since I was younger. This particularity of my personality was always a problem for people who didn’t have confidence. Nobody around me was like, be confident. Everyone was more like, can you just shut up? Can you stay in your place? Can you be less loud? In general, we are programmed to be less and less and less, and eventually, we’ll be nothing. So I say: I like my belly, even though sometimes, it bothers me. I love my body, I love my skin color, and I love my hair.

Let’s get into the Style Notes questions. What was your fashion sense like as a teenager?

My style was emo. I wore all black, which I still do. When I was younger, I hid myself. I wore an Afro so people couldn’t see my whole face. Now, it’s paradoxical because I love to show my body and myself.

Do you remember your first major fashion purchase?

In one day, I bought five bags, every bag I dreamed of: I bought my first Birkin—black leather with silver details—and my first Chanel bag. I bought another Chanel bag for my mother then I bought my first Dior saddlebag in black, and my first Yves Saint Laurent bag. I’m crazy, I know!

What is the most prized possession in your closet?

The last dress that Sarah Burton designed for me for my new music video. She took two dresses from the McQueen archive, the first collection she ever designed for them, and she recreated the pieces in my size.

What’s your daily uniform?

Black clothes: black coats, black t-shirts, black bag. For me, it’s a uniform. Even my kitchen is black right now. And to be naked is cool!