Photo by Wikkie Hermkens. Produced by Biel Parklee.
Last season at New York Fashion Week, designer Jean Touitou of the Parisian label A.P.C., touched down to teach us all a lesson about sportswear. “I know the streets of New York can be very relaxed with this yoga pant thing, but it’s bothering me a bit,” he said at the brand’s presentation in partnership with the local activewear label, Outdoor Voices. “This should be changed. I think you should wear ballet flats with your yoga pants.”
It's no secret that the French have a disdain for American's love of yoga leggings and slouchy sweatpants, but designer Etienne Deroeux is an exception to the rule, and loves everything about the active, yet leisure style. On Saturday, he will bring his own Spring 2017 activewear collection to New York Fashion Week for the first time ever. Touitou, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found. Perhaps this is a sign that athleisure really has gone global.
"No matter where she’s from, no matter her age, if she’s active, urban, and independent, my clothes are for her," said Deroeux the morning after getting off a plane from Paris, where his design studio is based.
Born in the North of France near Belgium, Deroeux studied at the Antwerp Royal Academy and went on to work for Peter Pilotto in London. He started his namesake brand five years ago, and Spring marks his tenth collection. So, this year in particular felt like the right time to bring the brand abroad — for both personal and political reasons. Disheartened by the current refugee crisis in Europe as well as Brexit, Deroeux looked to New York for a sense of community.
"As corny as it sounds, I’m really inspired by New York City’s open-mindedness. It’s a city of immigrants; people gather in one place and leave happy, together. There’s so much culture with people coming from different backgrounds. And it’s working. Being a New Yorker is sometimes more of an identity than where you’re from. Especially when we’re in such a troubled time in Europe; I wanted to reflect on that with my clothes," he said.
In keeping with this idea, Deroeux brought together seemingly disparate materials like Japanese denim and French lingerie silk. He also incorporated the polyester material used to cover boats as well as a shimmering gold, which references the blankets doled out to keep refugees warm once rescued.
"How do you create a new dress code to serve a new way of thinking and group of people who are actually willing to live together?" Deroeux asked himself. In order to answer these questions, he turned to American sportswear designers of the past, like Claire McCardell, who is widely credited with liberating women's dress codes after World War II ended in the ‘40s. Needless to say, his French references were few and far between.
"I would say that average French fashion is more about eveningwear and is more formal, but I’m interested in daywear" Deroeux said. "That point of view is very interesting to me because I really believe people should live in their garments and not just be on Instagram with them."
The French take on American athleisure didn’t exist in France five years ago, especially with an affordable price point. Deroeux said it's officially made it's way to Paris, however, but only in small doses — not enough to sustain an exclusive European customer base.
“I felt like I should go where my customer actually is, and America has been my best market by far since the beginning of the brand," Deroeux said of coming to New York this season. "I’ve always wanted this brand to be a bridge between Paris and New York."
Soon, it seems, athleisure will mean the same thing in English and French.