Simon Porte Jacquemus can’t quite recall the first time he visited the beach at Calanque de Sormiou – a precipitously walled inlet on the coast of the Calanques National Park near Marseille – where he debuted his menswear line on Monday. “When I was 11, 12 perhaps?” he says. “I could lie – it would make a beautiful story, eh?” Stories – deeply personal ones – have informed Jacquemus’s designs ever since he established his namesake brand almost nine years ago. He describes his womenswear collections as “biographies” – their very bedrock is the memory of his late mother, who was killed in a car accident when the designer was 18 – and the menswear collection is a continuation of this legacy.
“A year ago I fell in love and it pushed me to speak about men and realize my first menswear collection – it was very spontaneous,” he told Vogue at a studio in Paris three days before the show. In the thick of castings and fittings, there was something of Philippe Halsman’s portrayal of Jean Cocteau in the 28-year-old designer that day as he calmly managed numerous tasks. Between compiling looks, answering questions from his core team beavering away in a corner of the room, recording stylings on an iPhone, and snacking on fresh cherries, Jacquemus slipped in and out of his own designs. “It’s really important to me to be a menswear designer who wears his own clothes,” he says. “I want to be sincere in all I am sharing and selling. I don’t buy expensive pieces for myself, so we are starting with low prices, the same strategy as how I started with the women’s – low prices, strong image.”
In the months before announcing the launch of his menswear at his fall show, Jacquemus’s use of #newjob on Instagram fueled rumors that he was destined to head up the likes of Celine or Versace. The appointment wouldn’t have been unwarranted. Despite having no formal training he has built a brand reputed to have generated over US$5 million in sales in 2016; in 2015 he received the LVMH Special Prize for young designers (Grace Wales Bonner and Marine Serre have since received the accolade consecutively), and he found the ultimate mentor in the president of Comme des Garçons and Dover Street Market, Adrian Joffe. Although he insists he hasn’t created bespoke pieces for celebrities (“It’s not because we don’t want to, but it’s a lot of money and time which we don’t have”) his dresses have, nevertheless, found their way onto the backs of Penélope Cruz and Kim Kardashian West.
Jacquemus menswear, the French designer says, is “sans chichi” or “no blah blah – it’s straight to the point”. In the designs, this colloquialism manifests itself in a variety of different characters. There’s the “sports guy” in a white marled cotton tracksuit with Jacquemus’s signature embroidered on the left side of the chest; other athletic wear, such as hoodies and football bibs, have been reimagined in luxurious knits and silk. Emulating an almost Wes Anderson eccentricity, the “mountaineer man” wears a bucket hat styled with knee-length cargo shorts, classic button-down shirt and a trademark Jacquemus neck pouch in dove-grey leather. Then, at the other end of the formality spectrum, there is the “bourgeois boy” in matching slate-colored blazer and shorts with a moss-green sweater worn underneath.
In contrast to the Jacquemus woman, who especially in recent collections – “La Bomba” (Spring 2018) and “Le Souk” (Fall 2018) – is the definition of what Diana Vreeland would have called “pzazz”, the Jacquemus man of the debut collection (entitled “Le Gadjo”, a gypsy word for non-gypsy males), is at a very different point in his life. “They aren’t together,” he asserts. “She is sophisticated and sensual, he is much younger and more naive but in a good way; it’s about colorful, simple, and easy clothes.”
Swimwear has a prominent role – blue trunks are paired with a billowing white trench coat and surf shorts are cut from fabric bearing a Matisse-inspired leaf motif in orange and yellow. But highlights of the collection are a shirt printed with illustrations of sunflowers (Jacquemus’s favourite flower) and a sweater that looks like it has been cobbled together from patches of traditional bleus de travail, which ensure the collection is the gust of fresh Provençal air one would hope for.
As we descend down the serpent’s spine of road to Calanque de Sormiou before the show, the Mediterranean sea and sky merge leading one to question what is next on the horizon for Jacquemus. In a month where Dries van Noten – a designer renowned for his independence – and family business Missoni have sold majority and minority stakes in their businesses respectively, might Jacquemus be tempted to do the same? Or there’s the slew of inaugural menswear collections, including Kim Jones at Dior Homme, Kris Van Assche at Berluti, and Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, to serve as a reminder that creative or artistic directorship of a major house is also an option.
After all, as the designer himself implies, there have been offers to substantiate the rumors. “When you get a call from a big house and they offer you €12 million per year, it makes you think “what?” he explains. “But I want to be independent, someone who is doing his own thing like bringing people to Marseille – that’s what makes me happy. There are so many designers I admire so much, and it’s hard to say. But I would hate to have their life,” he adds. “My big house is Jacquemus – it’s my mother’s name – and that’s clear for me.”
Below, a conversation about his Jacquemus menswear debut with Vogue.com’s Mark Holgate.
Tell me why you decided to launch menswear.
I did my label Jacquemus for my mother, to not only tell a story about women, but also to keep speaking about her. For me to do men’s . . . it felt right to do it because of a sincere reason, something that happened in my life. I am not just doing it because I am already doing women’s. I have to feel it; it’s not just a business thing. I mean, it is partly for business, of course, because we are developing a line, but it is very special.
What are you calling it?
Jacquemus. Just Jacquemus. I say L’Homme Jacquemus always on my Instagram so I can be precise that I am speaking about that, but the label will be Jacquemus.
What’s going to be the attitude, the spirit, of the men’s?
For me, it is someone, like, very Mediterranean; that’s really important. That’s also why I finally decided to show in the South of France and not in Paris or New York. Being there will really give this Mediterranean idea of the brand. More and more, for every [women’s] collection, I keep speaking about the Mediterranean; you know, last summer was Spain and a bit of Brazil; this winter it was Morocco; but next summer [women’s] will be something else about the South of France.
Can you tell me a bit about where and how you’ll show?
I was unsure about where it would be, but I always had this beach, a calanque, in Marseille in mind and I did not give up on this idea even if it turned out too complicated to organize, so we did everything possible to make it happen. For me it’s one of the most beautiful and inspiring places that I know, so it was important to start the first menswear collection in this place.
What kind of mood and feel did you want to evoke with the location of the show?
I was looking for something very natural and easy. Of course, it’s a paradisiacal place, but it’s not fake paradisiacal, nothing like a luxury place. It’s really a spot where all the families from Marseille go on the weekend. A very popular place, not a private beach. For the collection I wanted to get [somewhere that was] this beautiful and paradisiacal [location], but at the same time a popular and simple family environment.
You’re working on it with Woolmark, and I hear that it really helped make the show happen.
It’s been our third season working closely with Woolmark. Wool is mostly seen as a winter fabric, but I always like to use it in summer. Woolmark has been a great help with finding new fabrics, manufacturers, and techniques; all the pieces realized with Woolmark will carry its label together with mine. Through this amazing collaboration, my dream to show my first menswear collection in Marseille came true!
What does your southern French inspiration mean in terms of the clothes?
I mean, it could be a lot of clichés about the Mediterranean, but in my own way. It could be like, comme l’a dit, like a badass: a full sweatshirt look, with the bad cap, the bad bag, the bad [neck] chain, or the guy in a suit with the wrong shirt under it, or no shirt under it. It could be like the swimmer, or the fisherman, or the guy in pajamas on the beach. The first collection is going to be le gadjo, what you call the guy in the . . .
Does it mean, like, a dude?
Yes, but it comes from the gypsies in the south; they call all the guys who are not gypsies les gadjé. It’s something that people use. It’s like bomba; it’s a way to speak about someone.
Can you give me some more details on the clothes?
There’s going to be a floral, very Calder, very Matisse. And we have a lot of wheat prints, very yellow, very Arles, very Provençal. [In a way it speaks to the women’s . . . ], but it’s much easier. My thing is I really want to be able to wear everything that I design. That’s my goal. And the prices . . . they’ll be half of the women’s.
Yes, I am aiming to make it very affordable. I know how men think in a shop. We won’t sell a €800 shirt, but [one at ] €270 we will. I am really into dressing guys, but it’s hard for me, because I have to find a simplicity that is not too simple, but not a simplicity that’s available everywhere else; I can’t just do a polo shirt and I can’t just do craziness. It’s a balance. If I don’t think I can walk in the street in it, we won’t sell it.
It’s that thing of you want it to be fashion but not fashion . . .
I don’t want it to get . . . it’s hard to say, because, I mean, I am working in fashion, I am doing fashion, but I don’t want to do a fashion line [for men]. It’s weird to say that, because I know I am doing it in a way. And when I see the shoes and the bags—there are more bags than in the women’s collection! But I don’t know—I want to keep it very accessible.
Do you have a favorite piece or look?
The hoodies, but they’re done in knitwear; it’s a special technique. And we’re doing a total sport look, very Lacoste, but we are doing it in silk.
It’s interesting; we’ve seen so much fashion of late that’s aimed at blurring gender boundaries, whereas your approach is the exact opposite of that.
Yes. You see the first guy I published [on Instagram]? He’s over two meters; he’s 125 kilos. He’s also the type of guy we don’t see in fashion right now, a big guy like him. If you are using muscle guys, you’re bad, you’re a bad brand. But me, I’m not saying: Oh, the models are going to be all muscular. Non, the guys are going to be healthy. That’s the mood I want to bring. Even in the women’s, I want to have more shape—a healthy shape, more of a sports shape, like we could find in the ’90s; models who were just healthy. And it’s the same with the men’s. I do sports three times a week, it’s the most important thing in the week . . . so I want the guys to be healthy, not super-muscular, not super-beautiful. Very sunny. That’s what I want.
Who was that guy you shot?
Yoann Maestri. He is a rugby player, a famous one; he plays for Toulouse and the French national team.
How did you reach him?
I called him, and he was very happy [to be involved]; he wasn’t surprised. He said he loved the brand; he told me he had discovered it when I did the swimming pool show. I said that the picture I wanted to do [on Instagram] was inspired by Respiro, an Italian movie set by the sea, with Valeria Golino, and he told me that it was one of his favorite films. He has an art gallery in Toulouse. He is so curious about everything. I don’t know what I expected, but he’s a nice guy. He has like a mental force; you can feel it. He is really the Jacquemus man.
Are you working with models or casting ‘real’ people?
I am working with models. I am also trying to find models who are a bit older. To work with real guys, it’s hard . . . the clothes are made for one [size]. A lot of people are commenting, Why don’t you work with a different kind of body? And I am like, it’s already hard to do one size for a young brand; it’s already so hard to do one size for the fit. The gradations of the sizing . . . it’s a nightmare already to have to fit with what the agencies have. But I, of course, will try to show someone healthier.
Did you care about how you dressed when you were growing up in the South of France?
I was obsessed with yellow and stripes, which are still something I care about a lot. If you look at pictures from my childhood, you always will see me in full yellow in the middle of the classroom. I was obsessed by the sun, so much. My mother was always doing my closet in two parts. One was to stay home, because we lived in the countryside, so you can destroy those, and then fancy things for school. She’d say, ‘Today you are staying in the garden, in the fields, so don’t dress up,’ and I’d say, ‘No, I am not dressing like a farmer!’ I was really obsessed. Already.
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Additional reporting by Mark Holgate. Originally published on Vogue.co.uk and Vogue.com