Just 10 months ago, the French fashion designer Marine Serre was toiling over garment patterns on her bed in the 160-square-foot apartment that she shared with her boyfriend in Paris’s 18th Arrondissement.
A few days out from her Paris Fashion Week debut, however, the 26-year-old is presiding over a team of more than 10 people in her new, 1,400-square-foot studio near the city’s original garment district.
Her dramatic change in circumstance is largely thanks to last year’s LVMH Prize — which she won with only her graduate collection from La Cambre in Belgium — making her the first designer to ever secure the prestigious award without having officially established her brand.
“This space is not exactly what I wanted, it’s too posh and Haussmannian,” Serre says of her light-filled headquarters, which feature parquet flooring and florid ceiling mouldings. “I wanted to go in the industrial area of Pantin and get something much bigger.” Plus, she adds, she and the team are working past midnight most nights, and the neighbours have been complaining. “These old floorboards are noisy, but they’re nice about it,” she says.
In the centere of Serre’s studio in Paris’s 18th Arrondissement are dresses made of draped vintage silk scarves.
Serre’s face, framed by a tousled pixie cut, flushes with pride as she looks about: the studio is a hive of activity. Bodies, workbenches and machinery are crammed into four rooms that flow into one another. Serre and her boyfriend, Pepijn van Eeden, who serves as the brand’s general manager, share the corner office; their desks are at opposite ends, their backs turned to one another. A few plants are placed haphazardly about. To the side, a rack overflows with a jumble of loudly printed garments, most of them vintage or found in Moroccan souks.
The new samples — for Serre’s fall/winter 2018 collection — are yet to arrive. They’re behind schedule, she says, because she only assembled her team (almost all of whom are older than her) late last year. “Building a team took me a long time. It’s not exactly like a family, but you have to trust the people around you,” she says, “The most important thing was to get the ‘feet’ right before we started to walk, because falling after just one season would not be ideal.”
Serre sourced around 1,500 vintage silk scarves to use in her fall/winter 2018 collection.
While her new collection, which she has titled “Manic Soul Machine,” might be considered her third collection to date (following her graduate collection, and a capsule for spring/summer 2018), Serre sees it as her official debut — a chance to make a statement. “There needs to be hybridity, functionality. It’s about ‘What do we need today?’” she says of the collection. “It’s a lot about how I feel, as a 26-year-old woman, and what I want to say. What is the basis of Marine Serre? We make fashion, but why?”
The answers to those questions began to take shape in her graduate collection — a 13-piece starting point that she titled “Radical Call for Love” and infused with functionality, sportswear tropes and themes of multiculturalism. Designed after the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks, the collection introduced a print starring a crescent moon (commonly associated with Islam) that has since blanketed everything from catsuits to ankle boots. “It’s an official logo now,” Serre says of the motif. Remarkably technical and defined by bold juxtapositions, that graduate collection caught the eye of Demna Gvasalia, of Vetements and Balenciaga, who recruited her to work in the latter’s design studio post-graduation.
A mix of custom prints and vintage silks make up the fabric swatches from the collection, which she has titled “Manic Soul Machine.”
Since branching out on her own, Serre has been mostly concerned with a proposition she calls “Futurewear.” “It’s the idea behind what we do,” she says. She points to a photo of a khaki jacket, pinned to one of the corkboards stacked next to her desk. “What is a jacket today? It’s about being practical, for real life,” she offers. The jacket features a multitude of pockets: there’s one for a water bottle, one for lipstick, and even one to hold a metro pass. It looks like a well-tailored, post-apocalyptic survival kit.
“The utilitarian mood in the collection alludes to this idea of protectionism,” she says, pointing out other everyday styles: a leather biker jacket, which she has toughened up with padding, and a denim jacket with a cinched silhouette modelled on the Dior Bar jacket. “It’s elasticised at the back, so it’s fitted, but you don’t feel restricted,” she says. “I wanted to bring back the feminine shape in outerwear, but I didn’t want to do it in a cute way, at all.”
Last minute touches with one of Serre’s team members, ahead of the show.
This kind of rationale is typical of Serre, who has never shied away from sociopolitical influences. “I think everything is political: the mood is still there, and not for no reason,” she says standing in front of the Polaroids of the collection’s final looks — which she calls a “crescendo” of dresses. They show her love of volume play: fitted bodices adorned with multicoloured printed vintage scarves that she has draped to form flared or balloon skirts and even djellabas. She has sourced around 1,500 vintage silk scarves so far and will buy more for production, which means that every style will be unique. “Almost all the fabrics on these styles are recycled and we want to develop this further,” she says, “We’re small, so we are able to do a project like this.”
While her designs are both thoughtful and thought-provoking, Serre is equally comfortable with irony. Familiar sportswear elements are ever-present and it’s clear that she has fun with this. A former pro tennis player (when she was in her teens), she has mined everything from equestrianism to gymnastics (Lycra catsuits festooned with Swarovski crystals) and water sports (wetsuit bodices) for her fall/winter 2018 collection. The bag of the season is even a literal riff on a gymnastic ball: its rubber form, sliced in half, is customised with a vintage scarf that serves as a strap. “We thought, if we do one bag, it should be fun and maybe a little crazy,” Serre says with a grin.
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