Christelle Kocher's debut show for Koché, was one of the highlights of Paris Fashion Week last October. Deep in the bowels of the busy Les Halles shopping center her show featured both models and girls scouted from the street.
Christelle Kocher, who is also the Creative Director of couture supplier Maison Lemarié, likes to mix things up. Her streetwear-meets-couture label is one to watch in 2016. Born in Strasbourg, Kocher is a fashion graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins. "I was fascinated by England at the time," she says from her office in the two story Koché studio, in a quiet back alley of the Paris Belleville neighborhood. "I loved designers like McQueen and Galliano, and I was into British contemporary art and music. London was calling me, and so I went. I stayed for almost four years, and there was always something going on.
Kocher went from London to Milan, where she worked for Emporio Armani, and then to Paris at Martine Sitbon, Chloé and Sonia Rykiel. In Antwerp she worked for Dries Van Noten. "Dries is one of the few independent designers today with a vision - a spirit. I adored working with Dries, but at the same time I missed my friends in Paris. I had also got used to the work pace at bigger brands. Dries only does two women's collections a year. It's a slower rhythm." Kocher, it should be noted, has no qualms about the heavy workloads in the fashion industry. And sure enough, back in Paris, she accepted two jobs, designing the women's ready to wear and pre-collections for Bottega Veneta with Tomas Maier, and heading up Maison Lemarié, a Chanel-owned haute couture supplier. Since 1880, Lemarié has produced luxury feather and flower creations, as well as smocking, pleats and ruffles, and is known for Chanel's camellias.
Taking over Lemarié may have been the bigger challenge. "It was my mission to dust off this venerable house. I brought in new techniques, a more contemporary approach, and a younger staff. I decided that you don't really need to do everything by hand when a machine does the job just as well. I've tried to mix things up, to introduce something new while maintaining the tradition and savoir-faire. Lemarié employed seventeen people when I arrived, six years ago. Now we are ninety, mostly young people between 20 and 35. It's been an incredible experience."
Last year, Kocher decided to use her various experiences to launch Koché, her own fashion venture (she has since quit Bottega Veneta, but remains Creative Director of Lemarié). "After 13 years of working for the big fashion houses, where I gained experience, maturity and a method, it felt like it was time to do things my way, without having an investor or anyone else telling me what to do. It's a challenge, but one that’s manageable. Finding ways to lead your own house, like Rei Kawakubo or Dries Van Noten have done in the past, is a creative act that I find very inspiring. You need to create clothes and your own style, but you also need a business structure that reflects your personality and your image."
"My work at Lemarié is all about revisiting the heritage of haute couture, and that was also the starting point for my own brand, where I take that heritage and mix it with streetwear and sportswear. I wanted to create this blend of genres and styles, and develop a brand that targets a younger market, while still using the savoir faire of houses like Lemarié, Lesage or Montex, that are usually associated with couture or high-end ready-to-wear. I see to it that some of the pieces, t-shirts for instance, remain affordable, but others are practically couture, and therefore more expensive. That said, I don't really make a distinction between them. The attitude is the same."
"I constructed my first show in a way that is similar to my clothes. The setting, in Les Halles, seemed obvious from the beginning, because it brings together everything I stand for. The shopping center is in the heart of Paris, and with the train station underneath, it also functions as a connection to the suburbs. It's a real place, with real people. It was important for me to have the show open to the public. I didn't want it to be elitist. It took us a lot of time and effort to get permission. I used top models, and real girls with average bodies that we found on the street. I wanted it to be real, but at the same time, I also needed it to be high fashion. Looking back, there was a lot of positive energy. We had this momentum. People got goose bumps. They were moved. I want my next show to be in the same vein, somewhere exciting, and open to everyone. It might be more difficult after the November attacks, but the people at City Hall are helping me. I am convinced that creativity can also be a response to violence and terror."
Text by Jesse Brouns