Charles de Vilmorin: Les Nouvelles Années Folles
Is Charles de Vilmorin about to be the next big thing in French fashion? The omens seem propitious and judging from the collection video he showed Wednesday evening during Paris couture he certainly has the design chops.
Barely 24 years old, de Vilmorin’s birthday is on Christmas day – another good omen. The designer burst into the fashion filament this fall when he was chosen for GucciFest, taking that mini festival of young designers by storm, with his Count Dracula reinvented video entitled Repugnamtam.
What also sets him doubly apart is that in an era where many creative directors boasting hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers can barely draw like potato diggers, de Vilmorin is a great illustrator. And he does have a coolly dark side, seen in GucciFest and in this collection he unveiled online Wednesday.
Charles spray-painted his opening ideas in his latest video clip; where the models have the most marvelous makeup – canary-yellow faces; green eye shadow and blue lips; their heads topped with swatches of gros-grain ribbon and mini chandeliers.
Two acrobatic spirits lift a diaphanous black silk dress off his one beauty to reveal a phantasmagorical jacket and pinafore all printed with Charles’ dramatic drawings.
Shotgun in hand, the couturier briefly turns around to mock-shoot at two more ladies: one dressed in a fantastic floral gown, as if a Niki de Saint Phalle statue had suddenly come alive. The other like a latter-day Reine Margot in balloon frock then starts sewing thread into the pal’s flower-patterned fabric breast.
Young men appear in his quilted and hooded courtier’s jackets with dragon motifs or surreal butterflies. Charles even constructs a one-meter-long fan with a great sketch of a naked Grand Guignol dancer.
“I like fantasy in my illustrations, my references are people like Tim Burton. I like in my work the idea that you don’t know if it’s a human or a demon,” says de Vilmorin, whose other influences include Klimt, Symbolist painter Odilon Redon and Picasso.
He recalls that a wall of rapid sketches done on newspapers or scrap paper by Picasso in his museum in the Marais, “really stunned me and that’s where my monsters came from.”
Got to hand it to de Vilmorin -- he has a singular vision. And a great sense of color. And a born sense of the theatrical, like having a Brazilian parrot fly into the video, in colors that appear in the collection.
Before ending his video posing – with red and gold face paint - before his cast of 14 beauties. Talk about A Star is Born.
It also doesn’t hurt that Charles is the spitting image of Yves Saint Laurent; make that a grandson of Yves given the age gap, a resemblance that does not irk de Vilmorin.
“People have been this saying for years. Especially when I wore leather jackets like him when I was a teenager. And I don’t terribly mind the likeness. It’s actually quite flattering. Looking like one of the true icons of fashion doesn’t seem like such a bad thing,” laughs the bespectacled de Vilmorin, over coffee two days before his show video.
Born in Saint Germain-en-Laye, and brought up in the provincial city of Compiègne, he originally wanted to be a theatre director – loving the mix of sounds, lights, costumes, and the attitude of people wearing them. He even wrote some early plays as a teenager. But had began starting to sketch at the age of five.
His father was a financial director of a mass fashion brand, and explained to him the ropes of the industry and how a dream could be become a métier. Eventually entering the Chambre Syndicale school of fashion when he was 18.
“I was less interested in how to make a perfect seam, that experiment with volume,” he muses.
Apart from doing a one-week summer internship with Alber Elbaz’ Lanvin, upon leaving college he launched his own marque.
“It was not really planned. After doing my masters program I was meant to do six months’ work study, but when I finally got around to looking, all the houses had their interns. So with nothing planned, my folks said either find a job or come home. But by hazard a private collector bought most of my graduation collection, and he wears them with nonchalance. So I stayed in Paris,” recalls this soft-spoken yet self-assured young man.
He still has not staged a runway show, nor a presentation. But he did show in GucciFest. And now he is a bona fide Paris couturier. Meteoric is an understatement.
In short, his work recalls the energy and optimism of the Années Folles, the last time the West emerged from war and a huge pandemic known as the Spanish Flu.
“Launching myself into couture was never planned. But I loved the idea of artisanal, unique pieces,” says de Vilmorin, whose fashion heroes are all Anglo-Saxon – Galliano, McQueen and Jacobs.
Like those stars who rose from fashion bohemia, de Vilmorin doesn’t even have an apartment, and has been staying with friends in his favorite triangle – from Pigalle to Opera to the Marais.
“I like their idea of presenting clothes with a narrative. It makes everything more coherent. And I’d like the audience to find the video a little bubble of positivism and fantasy,” insists Charles, brushing one of his wavy locks of hair away from his face.
Just like Yves.
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