It’s two days out from Isabel Marant’s fall 2019 show in Paris and the designer is in her element. “This is the most peaceful moment in a collection — it’s like a holiday,” she says with a smile. “The clothes are done, and now is the time I get to see everything worn on the girls.”
We’re in her studio, just off the Place des Victoires in the First Arrondissement, studying a pin board that is covered with model cards. There’s a mix of the familiar faces that make up Marant’s troop each season: Anna Ewers, Gigi Hadid, Catherine McNeil, Binx Walton — who was in her last campaign — and Julia Nobis. “I’ve been working with her for 12 years,” she says of the Australian model. “She’s so chic.”
Having staged her first show in 1994, Marant has her fashion week routine down to a fine art. The last pieces of the collection arrived two days ago (early by industry standards), and she’s yet to pull a late night. “I can’t handle working in stress, it’s not my style,” she says. The mood in the studio is palpably convivial. Marant jokes with her staff, sips her black coffee and regularly lights up a cigarette (inside) while they wait for the models to trickle in for fittings.
Each season, the Parisian designer relies on the same cast of close friends to pull the show together — the producer Alexandre de Betak, Ariel Wizman, who does her show music, and the French stylist Geraldine Saglio, with whom she’s collaborated for six years. The two women, with their distinctly Parisian air, seem like easy comrades as they fit the American model Cara Taylor with her look for show day. On her way out, Taylor hands a Post-it note to Marant. “I’ve written the name of the song here,” she says, referring to the 2014 song “Cocaine Model” by ZHU, which name-checks the designer. It’s not the first time she has been immortalized in the charts. “I was mentioned in an ASAP Rocky song once, and I think there might be others but I don’t remember,” Marant says, looking more bemused than anything.
In many ways Marant, though undeniably fashionable, isn’t a slave to the culture around fashion. She’s built a brand that has never chased fads and yet always seems to be on trend. When something has waned (like the Bekett, her polarizing stacked sneaker) she’s subtly shifted course while still staying true to her signature aesthetic — a mix of boho and rock ’n’ roll. Marant’s collections regularly consist of easy-to-wear items like printed blouses, draped dresses, quilted jackets, chunky knitwear, high-waisted skinny pants and retro-inspired boots. It’s a look Marant herself wears like a second skin.
Two days later, a few hours before the show starts, I find Marant in the same outfit she was wearing when we last met. Only today, she’s pulled on a pair of the slouchy leather boots from the new collection. “I’m lazy,” she says, laughing when I ask her if she’s made it home to change. “I wear the same thing all week — I literally pick the clothes up off the floor and then put them on again.” Backstage, hair and makeup are in full swing. Marant walks about greeting everyone, lit cigarette in hand, and settles into a makeup chair for her own touch-up. When it comes to her hair, she just flips her head upside down and brushes it downward from the back before pulling it together into her signature topknot.
As show time approaches and many of the guests start taking their seats, five models have yet to arrive — they’re on motor taxis coming from the last show, Off-White. Marant doesn’t break a sweat, but as the Lithuanian model Giedre Dukauskaite rushes in and embraces the designer, Marant does an air punch and shouts, “One!”
Gigi Hadid arrives next, with a swarm of photographers in her wake, and within 15 minutes, all the girls are present and getting into the lineup. As a driving beat announces the start of the show, everyone starts whooping. Marant stands behind the curtain, right where the models take their exit onto the runway, and shouts, “Be strong, be beautiful and remember, I love you!”