On a Monday afternoon in mid-March, in the mezzanine office of her studio near the Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris, the French designer Christelle Kocher pauses briefly to re-bedazzle her blue acrylic nails. She carefully pulls a diamanté out of a pile and, using tweezers, daubs it with glue and then applies it to her nail bed. “I have to touch them up, as a few have fallen off,” she says.
Kocher, who founded her eponymous line, Koché, in 2015 — and who also currently serves as the artistic director of the Parisian Métiers d’Art feather and floral embroidery house, Lemarié — is known for her mastery of rich embellishment. At Lemarié, she collaborates with luxury houses such as Chanel, Dior and Valentino, festooning their haute couture garments with feathers. For Koché, she brings her hands-on crafty sensibility to streetwear-inspired ready-to-wear, finessing nylon sports jackets with lace inserts and encrusting catsuits with studs and Swarovski crystals. “I love the culture of couture, and I am fascinated to see how I can continue the story and make it more contemporary with a relaxed attitude,” she says. “To create a new vocabulary between these worlds.”
Her fall 2019 collection, presented in Paris last month, was perhaps her most apt mash-up yet — a pastiche of iconic sportswear fabrics and racy graphics mixed with evening wear in the form of bias cut gowns assembled from deconstructed soccer jerseys (representing 19 soccer teams all around the world) and bike shorts paired with a sequin-and-satin tuxedo jacket. Some of these looks heralded Kocher’s new collaboration with Nike, a partnership that reached full bloom at a sports-star-studded fashion show last week, at which Nike unveiled 14 national team soccer kits for their sponsored women’s teams, ahead of the Women’s World Cup in Paris this summer. Featured alongside the new team uniforms were 13 one-off looks — dresses, jerseys, track pants and bodysuits — that Kocher designed and spliced together from an assortment of Nike women’s soccer jerseys specifically for the occasion.
An alignment with Nike seems like a natural fit for the designer, who was an avid athlete throughout her teenage years in Strasbourg. She played in the French Junior League for handball from a young age; now, she runs in the nearby Buttes-Chaumont Park almost every day. “Sports really helped me to develop my personality: I was a very shy kid, and it gave me this sense of team spirit,” Kocher says. “I liked the comfort of the clothes as well, and I think that has influenced me a lot.”
Still, high fashion, not sportswear, has been the constant on her CV. After studying at Central Saint Martins, Kocher clocked up experience at Chloé, Dries Van Noten and Bottega Veneta — the latter while also juggling her role at Lemarié, where she has honed her skills in applied crafts. “The history is so interesting because it developed through women who obviously were always working on it from home,” Kocher says of the art form. Though there was a moment when she was tempted by a cleaner aesthetic, she has stayed her course. “I read a lot about the feminist art movement of the ’70s, the work of Louise Bourgeois and Sheila Hicks, and I realized they used craft as a medium for emancipation and empowerment,” she says.
After the Nike World Cup show wrapped at Paris’s Palais Brongniart, Kocher describes how proud she was to have U.S. soccer star Brandi Chastain, the 10-year-old British skateboarder Sky Brown, the German boxing champion Zeina Nassar and the South African track-and-field gold medalist Caster Semenya modeling her garments. “We wanted to bring together different athletes of different nationalities, generations and disciplines, and this is very much the same message I have at my show: this diversity and inclusivity,” she says.
The following day, we’re in the decorous salons of the Mona Bismarck American Center, an exhibition space in Paris, which Nike has taken over for the day. Here, guests are invited to follow Kocher’s lead and customize their own soccer jerseys using an array of hardware, fabrics and patches. The space hums with a sense of excitement — adults given leave to dabble in craft — and Kocher, decked out in a patchwork tuxedo suit with satin lapels from her fall 2019 collection, roams around the room offering up tips. Though she works on 12 collections a year (eight for Chanel and four for her own brand), it is here, when she’s fixated on the minutest details, that she seems most in her element.