#SuzyPFW: Rebooting Chloé for the Woman of 2018
“I love Chloé!” announced Natacha Ramsay-Levi at our third meeting – just as she had done when we were chatting in Paris earlier this year about her work at Balenciaga and her four-year-old son; and then again in February when there was a Chloé party in New York with 130 young, lively, and interesting women from the worlds of art and music.
We talked together again in London’s Selfridges store, where she was doing a meet-and-greet for clients with Chloé CEO Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye.
And, of course, Ramsay-Levi, 38, is the mirror image of the kind of clothes she sent out this week in Paris – her second outing. The look of a woman who walks fast forward – which is fitting in the current fashion climate. As I entered the Chloé Autumn/Winter 2018 show, news came in that Riccardo Tisci has been appointed Chief Creative Officer at Burberry, replacing Christopher Bailey – yet another big move.
“For the first show I wanted it to be a mosaic of what I believe is really relevant for Chloé and what I like to work on – little chapters, two or three looks – a lot of layers, and a lot of different things,” she said. “But I really wanted this second show to be my point of view. It’s much more focussed.”
The Autumn/Winter 2018 show opened with a dress in a mix of chestnut and burnt orange – 1970s colours – seductive in the deep V front and with tinges of North Africa in the chunky jewellery. Later, the Maghreb feel became stronger and throughout there were round, metallic heels and bags with straps and rivets.
“Every femininity with a bit of Arabic and a bit of bourgeois – I think it is a good mix,” Natacha said, as her son sat cheering her on.
How does she feel about being in the limelight – at last – after working with Nicolas Ghesquière (who was for the second time cheering her from the front row) first for the transformation of Balenciaga and then as the creative go-between at Louis Vuitton? Is there a sense of freedom?
“I love Chloé, which is important,” she says. “It’s always been on my radar and I think it is very interesting to have a frame. I am such a ‘fashion kid’; there is nothing that I don’t like. I have learned, growing older, not to say, ‘No! Never!’ You can always change your mind and I like the fact that it is an ongoing conversation – a bit like taking the past to make it into something that is relevant to the future. I am not using the past as a ghost, but the way sci-fi uses it: taking the past to make the future.”
Her first Chloé show last September had a statement in her notes that claimed: “Chloé girls have a suave mix of sophistication and humility – they are timeless but never conventional. It sounded rather like herself, and I gave her full marks for a modern and very French take on the whimsical ‘flower child’.
“I really wanted to focus on silk skirt dresses,” said the designer, who had clearly delved into Chloé’s back history, including the influence of French films.
But the strength of the show was in its sense of movement, as skirts all flared outwards and even the trousers were either nonchalantly soft and loose, or cut like jodhpurs. This new season suggests both more delving back in the house’s history – but also a stronger and less ‘girly’ woman for today.
The Western ‘horsey’ feel present in the appliqués on silk shirts and dresses may have come through from Ramsay-Levi’s love of movies, the Creative Director explained after the show, “Thinking about cinema and how it has a very strong connection with Chloé through Stéphane Audran, a French film actress from the 1970s.
“The first show was very broad and about a multiplicity of women, but now it is more psychological – about getting into a play of selves,” she explained. Then adding, “And for me, the Chloé girl is very French but for a lot of people she is very English – because all the designers were.”
Ramsay-Levi was referring to a string of British designer names at Chloé including Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo (who just left Céline), and Clare Waight Keller, who has now joined Givenchy.
And what about Karl Lagerfeld, who – at the time – was the hardly-known designer who put Chloé on the map, back in the 1970s?
“My first idea about Karl is the way he is totally connected to French cinema,” the current designer explained. “It was a very 1970s house, very bourgeois and perfect in a way – but with Karl, it became a bit scandalous with the things he was playing with. And he was there for 15 years!”
“Really, when I started my research for Chloé, the Karl Lagerfeld years blew me away. They were incredible, because they could be for a woman of today.”
As someone who remembers the Karl show at Chloé when he had torrents of water from a ‘shower’ worked in embroidery on the back of a slim evening dress, I hope to see some of these ideas re-made.
de la Bourdonnaye, who has arranged exhibitions of Chloé photographed in its early years by Guy Bourdin, has tried throughout his tenure to keep the spirit of the brand’s original founder, the late Gaby Aghion, who had Egyptian origins. But like any other fashion company founded in history, there has to be a constant refreshing.
So who is the Chloé woman in 2018?
“I think it is not just one woman, but women,” Ramsay-Levi says. “The principle of Chloé is to be a brand that comes into your life in an organic and natural way. There really is a sense of appropriation – and that is very important. In the advertising campaign, for example, we worked on different personalities. We had five different ones.”
I ask Ramsay-Levi if she thinks that there could be a single Chloé woman today, or perhaps two – one boyish, the other ultra-feminine – and the designer comes up with her secret weapon in her search for the Chloé girl.
“There is still a divide between mannish and feminine – I definitely see it,” she says. “I would say that my step-daughter is on the boyish side. She is feminine and doesn’t want to look like a boy – she is gorgeous and sometimes puts lipstick on; she is 13 – but yes, she wants to be comfortable and likes the idea of being dressed the same way as her boyfriend. In this idea of equality, there are girls who have already stated equality by the way they dress.”
And her own life? How does she feel about being a working mother to her young son?
“First, being a mother is at the centre of it,” she says, “but also to accomplish what I want. I have been raised with the idea that you also work.”