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Franck Sorbier

May 17, 15 Franck Sorbier

Couture dresses shine on red carpets in Cannes and the next haute couture season is just around the corner: a perfect time to talk to a very unique designer about the past and future of the haute couture and the ways to maintain its traditional exclusivity and independence.

What role plays Sorbier Endowment Fund (Fond de dotation Sorbier) in the fashion house?

[Our first question is answered by Bruno Le Page, development & communication manager]

The Fund was created in 2011. Its mission is to maintain and perpetuate the creative heritage of the designer Franck Sorbier by bringing a wider audience to his art. In other words, by becoming members of the Fund, companies or individuals can acquire the right to attend to our shows.

Such approach is a win-win: on the one hand raising the funds we need for our work and on the other hand partaken people to the art, not forgetting about the material side like tax exemptions.

The first fall-winter 2011-2012 fashion show, which we organized with the participation of the Endowment Fund in the Winter Circus of the eleventh arrondissement of Paris, was a huge success. We had invited more than 250 members of the Fund who were delighted by the show. After all, as you know, in addition to clothing, Franck Sorbier creates around his shows a whole world, a special atmosphere, akin to a theater performance, not limiting to a banal passage of models on the catwalk.

Frank is not only a talented designer but an art teacher, whose task is to transfer his skills, savoir-faire to students (for example a unique “compression” technique of sewing, invented by Franck Sorbier himself, in which a “compressed” fabric forms a new material). Raised funds also help us with this task.

Also do not forget that we do not belong to any group: Franck Sorbier fashion house is owned by the founder, and such luxury is quite difficult to afford in the modern world. The creation of an endowment fund, among other things, was aimed to a search for potential investors.

[Mr. Sorbier joins us]

Your last collection bears the name of your little feathered companion – Pirate parrot that inspired you to create it. Tell us about him.

The task we set to ourselves while creating the collection was to achieve lightness and freedom. The image of a bird perfectly embodies these ideas. Meanwhile “Pirate” left us. Thus the collection is also a tribute to the memory of this particular bird that had lived with us for almost 15 years.

Pirate was very modern parrot; he even has his own Facebook page with a lot of friends that appeared long before the one of the famous “Choupette” cat of Karl Lagerfeld.

The black dress, the only one in the collection, which opened the defile, expresses mourning; while following it wide white coat symbolizes the heaven, to which flew off Pirate. Then come dresses – pleasant memories of events that occurred to Pirate in his life.

Franck Sorbier Franck Sorbier

You are in haute couture world from 1987, how did it change since then?

I started in a luxury ready-to-wear. But even in my very first collection there were elements of haute couture, in the sense that everything was made in unique pieces and those collections were to some extent experimental. I created six collection of this kind that has not been commercialized but, thanks to the good reviews in the press, the public learned about me, and I got my first customers. The first “commercial” luxury ready-to-wear collection we created in 1991, while the first haute couture collection was presented in 1999.

Regarding the changes, I think the whole fashion underwent them. When I started, international groups owning several fashion brands simply did not exist. Independent designers worked for their own houses, under their own name. Today to remain independent, not belonging to any group is a bit crazy. At the same time, a certain proportion of madness and “abnormality” is an integral part of our profession. This is akin to the presidency: one must be insane to decide to undertake such an adventure.

Studio Studio

Do you believe in the future of haute couture?

Certainly. One just needs to understand that the world of haute couture is inherently extremely closed. In France there are 13 houses of haute couture and 4 correspondent members (3 Italians and 1 Lebanese). The haute couture label is assigned by the Ministry of Industry, and it is not very easy to get.

The future of haute couture will exist as long as it brings something special. Many designers can create a beautiful evening dress nowadays, no need to be a genius for that; eventually you can just copy something that already exists.

On the other hand, a unique privileged relationship is established between the designer and the client who ordered an haute couture dress. We meet and discuss her wishes, then follow the fittings, the number of which can go up to six. At the same time a ready-to-wear designers don’t know their customers, they are impersonal. A woman comes to a shop, tries on a ready-to-wear dress once and buys it if she likes it.

Being a client of an haute couture house implies having a certain style of life, because today not all the women who can afford haute couture pieces would buy them. Because, perhaps, on the one hand they are not willing to wait, and on the other prefer to wear a dress that loudly announces their spending capacity, something … more visible than special.

Your presentations resemble more theatrical shows than classic fashion defile. Considering that, does creation of theatrical costumes attract you?

Why not? I participated in the creation of costumes for the “La Traviata” opera. In 2006, I came up with concert costumes for Mylène Farmer. They say she is quite popular abroad. Also, I did the costumes for Johny Hallyday, who is probably less known in other countries but is incredibly popular in France.

Do you have a muse? What inspires you?

A lot of things. It can be a novel I read, a painting, a photo or something that happened to me or someone else. For example, you know, at the Parisian subway there is a “Spring of Poets” campaign right now, where I read a phrase of Vladimir Mayakovsky:  “One must snatch gladness from the days that are” (HCN: “To Sergei Yesenin”, 1926), why not a source of inspiration? I immediately called my assistant and asked him to write down this sentence. In general, each season for the press release of my collection I choose one phrase which to some extent reflects its content, provides an incentive original idea, the story I want to tell.

Right now the black reigns catwalks. That, however, reflects the spirit of the times: the economic and political crises, unemployment… That is why I wanted to give people an opportunity to “breathe”, to give hope, to make a collection in color. So I took out from it the only black dress, in which, apart from the color, I did not like the fabric, since all the other looks were made of organza. But then I realized that a black outfit opening the show may be a beginning of a story. As a result, I remade the dress and kept it in the collection.

At the same time the black color, in my opinion, is very common for Parisian collections. Or could it be that this ‘rule’ applies less to the haute couture …?

Why would it be, black – is the basic color of haute couture, just recall the little black dress of Audrey Hepburn made by Givenchy in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or classic black smoking suit of YSL. At the same time, considering the number of fashion shows which take place within and outside (HCN: so called “defile off”) of haute couture fashion week schedule, that to be interesting to stand out from the crowd, not be afraid of to taking risks, including color experiments.

Atelier Atelier

Do you have a favorite fabric?

Silk. This fabric can be incredibly diverse. The degree of processing makes possible to vary the thickness from virtually weightless to quite dense. From a transparent organza to satin that thanks to its density and strength is sometimes called “satin leather”.

Of course I do not limit my collections only to silk. Such original materials as raffia or even a ‘shopping’ plastic also come into play: that amuses me.

And a silhouette?

I prefer fitted, because I find that a woman’s body is very harmonious. By emphasizing the waist and highlighting the hips we make a woman more beautiful.

A dress or a suit?

Last season, as you can ascertain, dresses were reigning on the catwalks. We, in our turn, paid a great attention to the costumes in the beginning, in our first line of luxury ready-to-wear. I would note that the making of suit is technically more demanding than dresses. And since all that we present, we produce ourselves in this same studio, therefore for the moment, for various reasons we prefer to focus on dresses.

And the question that we just have to ask a French couturier: what is the famous French elegance?

Frankly, I think that it no longer exists. In our time, this term rather refers to a collected image of a Parisian woman, which can be of any descent.

You know, one of my clients from America, trying on a dress, said: “I look like a real Parisian!” I told her that Parisians, in the sense that she puts in her words, no longer exist. To which she replied: “Of course they exist! It’s me.” So we are talking about a state of mind, the myth, once created around the image of Parisians. This is an image of a “cocotte”, which appeared at the beginning of the XX century: Sarah Bernhardt, Cleo de Merode … courtesans, often actresses, bright and free from moral constraints women that dressed elegantly and behaved independently.

As for me, Inès de La Fressange is a modern example of a “real Parisian.” She is spontaneous, with a smile that never leaves her face, she’s got a certain playfulness and lightness; it seems that she does not take herself seriously, and at the same time, she is definitely elegant. But her elegance is natural, innate.


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