INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHE LEMAIRE & SARAH-LINH TRAN
Following this period of isolation and refocusing imposed by the pandemic, Lemaire has created a simplified, pared-down wardrobe. How does one “lighten” a wardrobe, and why do so?
Christophe: The lockdown pushed us to further pursue our convictions. The pause in time confirmed our intuitions and led us to be more confident—radical, even—in the direction we have been taking for years now. A question emerged which informed the entire collection: What do we really need? What makes a piece of clothing desirable, useful, or becoming? For us, the answer is always comfort and freedom. A series of simple questions immediately comes to mind. What makes a good summer jacket? What is a T-shirt? A good collar? The right length for this sleeve? The right proportions for a pair of trousers? The answers all come into view, drawing a clearer, crisper line that separates what needs to be taken out from what is essential.
Sarah-Linh: We lightened the wardrobe. The shapes are more relaxed. We also seem to need clothes that are more modular, convertible and hybrid, along with colors that can be paired easily, and the ability to alter the volume of a piece over the course of the day.
Christophe: Those are all avenues that we like to explore, rather than to seek out a new story to tell each season. We don’t aim for the showy, the new, the spectacular, let alone for ostentation or disguise. We try to find original twists, to focus on the details, to make clothing that is more befitting, long-lasting and reassuring, which ages with informal elegance. So our wardrobe is an ongoing line that expands from season to season with the arrival of new pieces.
Sarah-Linh: There are always recurring shapes, and things that we try out one season and then reach their final form three seasons later. What interests us is expressing the full breadth of our grammar: our shapes, materials, textures and colors.
Christophe: We write the same story, but cast in a different light. It’s a bit like a camera set up on a street corner across from a metro entrance and a café patio. Every day, rain or shine, you film passersby and there is always a moving, elusive silhouette that is, to quote a Verlaine poem, “neither quite the same, nor quite another,” gliding from one situation to the next with the same style and assurance.
What clothing habits, types and ways to dress inspired this overall deceleration?
Sarah-Linh: When you wake up in the morning and open your closet, you can dress simply, assembling an outfit more freely and with greater immediacy. Everything needs to be more composite, accessible and modular— outfits should come together easily. There are shapes common to all the seasons and each collection is created as a continuation of the last. We have opted for materials and construction that offer more f lexibility—the collars are convertible, the volume can be adjusted, and light hoods offer protection from the sun and rain. For example, a loosefitting hooded dress can be worn at the beach, as an evening dress with a belt, or as a housecoat. The materials still look pretty when wrinkled.
Christophe: The idea isn’t to give up on looking chic, but that contemporary elegance can also arise from surprise—the potential to transform a garment, a loose-fitting piece that creates a space for us, which we can tie and tighten, with a button that alters one section…We are able to glide into a new situation, feel at home in the clothing, take it along with us, and always strike the right tone
Sarah-Linh: When our sleeves are a bit too long, we want to roll them up, which gives us a certain attitude, an assured and relaxed demeanor. A collar that is a bit too loose around the neck exudes a certain nonchalance, a chic, a sensuality, and an unexpected fragility. We believe that clothes in which and with which we have space—neither too rigid nor too tight, which we forget we’re wearing— act as a second skin.
Christophe: It’s also clear that people who are very different morphologically and culturally wear clothes in very different ways.
How would you define the Lemaire grammar?
Christophe: There is indeed an alphabet, a vocabulary that stays with us each season as we recreate the off-kilter chic that we adore— imperfect beauty and patchwork, irreverent elegance.
Sarah-Linh: loose fits, folds, sections, offset buttons, layering effects, pairings, overlaps, asymmetry, stretched proportions, convertible shapes, matte textures, materials with a certain irregularity, oversize collars, work clothes, martial arts garments…
Christophe: …Clothes that age nobly with wear. The effect of time. Washed-out, worn, dry silks, poplin, denim, stitching and polished leather. A bit sartorial for the girls and a bit f lowing for the guys, mixing genders, unisex. Hanging belts, ambiguity, fabrics that folds and highlight the chest, which suggest the body rather than define it.
Sarah-Linh: Narrowing the volume by adjusting a single section. We pinpoint a specific part of the silhouette and let the rest f low. Sometimes comfort means clothes that are held up by the hips and not the waist. And that creates a garment that fits in a different way—a better, more natural fit. It’s a “suggestion” that leaves the body very free. Like the intimate space between your shirt and your skin, the personal space that seduces the wearer and the person who catches a glimpse.
Christophe: All these things, from the little details to the big picture, have been present for years and emerge gradually in ranges and variations. And ultimately, once a piece of clothing has been made—our work is complete at a certain point—the way that it’s worn is the finishing touch which creates the style and elegance. Our job is to offer clothes which make that possible, which set the stage. It’s also a way of making clothes that are becoming, something that’s humbly f lattering and “looks good on you,” which fits you and suits you, without being haughty or performative. “Becoming” is a word that sounds a bit dated, but it expresses exactly what we try to create—it’s our take on contemporary style.
Let’s return to a manufacturing technique that you’ve used for a long time: garment dyeing. Why that method? What colors do you have an affinity for?
Christophe: That’s true. We always have pieces that are made up without color, assembled, manufactured—with a raw fabric, one could say—and then only at that point are they dyed, immersed in color. We do so regularly. It’s nothing out of the ordinary but it’s really philosophical for us. I don’t want to speak in too grand of terms, but it’s almost spiritual, a matter of integrity. It’s an important process for us because the clothing ages differently—the fabric appears timeworn. For example, the stitching absorbs less dye than other areas, which creates tiny irregularities. It’s often very difficult to recreate the charm of clothes that you’ve worn countless times. The dyes and stitching bear the marks of time and the colors are wonderfully washed out—muted and a bit faded. Garment dyeing gives you a bit of that.
Sarah-Linh: Colors seen in full daylight but also at dusk, in humid countryside warmed by the orangish yellow sun. Lichen and saltpeter tones. Herbaceous, mossy shades. The colors of cooking spices. Urban, zinc tones, or the color of asphalt beginning to dry after a downpour. Color is also a matter of the adjacent shades and layering. Overlays can be used to create colors determined by the depth of each successive layer. We’re fond of the image of an onion with clear layers, just as we layer pieces of clothing which each have a different function. You peel them off or put more on over the course of the day, in natural, consonant tones with varying degrees of intensity, depending on whether they are close to the body or out in the open, in the light of day.
How are the notes specific to each collection incorporated into this framework that exists outside the seasons, which spans seasons? What imbues the collection with the “spirit of the times,” the zeitgeist?
Sarah-Linh: The proportions and lightness of the materials. There are also the marbled prints inspired by the technique used to create marbling paper for bookbinding. The pigments are placed on oil in large trays. We shift the trays and guide the color with combs or drip it, to create random patterns on the paper. These abstract, pointillist motifs sometimes resemble landscapes and form stripes or veins. We enlarge them and print them on fabric, viscose and cotton.
Christophe: The spirit of the times is an elusive concept. We also decided to pay homage to Joseph Yoakum, a self-taught American artist who drew and painted. His work is considered art brut, or folk art, in the sense that he didn’t have formal training and depicted both real and imaginary places. He painted landscapes, geological strata, oneiric layers, mountains, vales and forests in a palette of natural colors, with a transparent quality.
Sarah-Linh: We crafted the story and the construction of the garments to allow for his work to unfurl, on “transformable” pieces that unfold, open and reveal the entire breadth of the landscape. We will also be showing works during the season, to share the artist’s work and life with the public.
Interview conducted by Stéphanie Hussonnois in June 2022 in Paris
All images courtesy of Lemaire