Isabel Marant Doesn't Think What She Does Is Actually Fashion

Photo: Courtesy of Barneys/Matthieu Salvaing.
This interview can be found in Barneys New York's debut issue of The Window In Print, which gives Barneys fans — we're looking at you — a look at what the retailer itself is most excited about. With photo shoots featuring the newest products, and interviews with some of your favorite fashion people, The Window In Print can be found at Barneys' New York flagship, as well as for download on the Barneys New York iPad app.

"Fashion is not important." The sentence, delivered in a slightly gravelly, French-accented voice and followed by a laugh, is a little surprising coming from the fashion designer Isabel Marant. After all, this is the woman whose shoe designs routinely inspire wait lists, whose recent ad campaigns have starred mega-models Gisele Bündchen and Daria Werbowy, whose runway shows are a highlight of Paris Fashion Week. 

And, despite the laugh, she is sincere. What she does, in her opinion, is not fashion (at least, not capital-F Fashion), but rather that very everyday thing: getting dressed. If she wouldn’t wear it, she doesn’t make it — a mindset that goes back to her school days. 

“When I was studying fashion, I had a very brilliant teacher who told us that you should never design something that you wouldn’t wear yourself,” she says. And though her collections have plenty of those pulse-quickening details that make customers fall madly in love, they are also full of pieces that deliver everyday functionality. 

“Sometimes, it’s difficult to really wear too-beautiful clothes,” Marant says. “You wear them for a particular occasion, but you don’t feel like yourself. I always try to do things that you can pick up from the rack and wear it, and it looks like you’ve had it already for ages. Someone once told me a very nice compliment: She said that for her, my clothes were like old friends.” 

Marant’s down-to-earth approach to dressing reflects her personal life. She may make her living in a so-called glamorous industry (alongside her husband, Jérôme Dreyfuss, handbag designer with equally coveted wares), but the duo is rarely spotted air-kissing on the party circuit. They prefer to spend weekends with their son in their cabin outside of Paris — sans electricity, heat, and plumbing. “It’s true that we quite like to have our life outside of fashion,” she says. “It’s very easy for me to have another life.” 

Of course, an Isabel Marant wardrobe is ideal for both of those lives: perfect skinny leather trousers, sweatshirts that drape like you've already broken them in, oversized jackets. “They’re clothes with a certain allure, with a certain attitude,” she says of her collection. “I would say that there is something quite androgynous but feminine about it at the same time. There’s a reinvented classicism, and it’s always quite contrasted with different inspirations.” 

The spirit of the season, as always, is new — but like all her collections, there is something unmistakably, inherently Isabel about it. She started her label in 1994, and though passing a 20-year mark is a milestone for any designer, that sureness of identity is something that many much older fashion houses continually struggle to achieve. The secret to her success comes back to her steadfast point of view. 

“I’m doing everything with my heart and all my soul,” Marant says. “I don’t really have a huge design team; everything is really coming from me. I think that’s what keeps it together. It’s a story that is written from season to season, but it’s coming from the spirit of one person.”   
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