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In Conversation With Couture Designer Sophie Theallet

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Despite dressing some of Hollywood’s most glamorous celebrities, French fashion designer Sophie Theallet’s sense of style is not sparked by the flashing cameras of paparazzi or the extravagance found atop the red carpet but rather, is inspired by the same sort of simplicity she came to know as a girl growing up in the South of France. An inherent value of craftsmanship, deep appreciation for authenticity and old school sense of work ethic make up the foundation on which Theallet is building a formidable fashion empire with unmatched modesty.

Tell us a bit about your background, how did you get your start in the fashion industry? 

I grew up in a small town in the Pyrenees Mountains in the South of France. I have sketches of mine when I was 5, little outfits and magical dresses of fairy tales. My father was a country doctor; I discovered fashion flipping through magazines in his waiting room, but my real eye-opening experience was when as a teenager I would spend my summers in London at my cousin’s house. They introduced me to the punk and reggae underground scene there and I felt completely in love with the fashion, music and rebel attitude.

Did you always want to have a career in fashion? If you weren’t designing what would you be doing? 

I did not know at the time that you could have a career in fashion. When I was around 17, I read in the newspaper about a stylist that was dressing French pop stars, I actually found her number and called her; she suggested to go to the Studio Berçot, it was the best Fashion School in Paris at the time. I applied the following year and was accepted!!! If I was not a fashion designer; I would have most likely been a Public Lawyer or Activist, something in that vein that protects the weak and innocent.

You have won many fashion accolades one being the CFDA Award, explain to our readers what that award means to designers. Would you say it’s like the Grammy’s to music and the Oscars to movies? 

For me, it was an honor to be recognized by the CFDA/VOGUE Fashion Fund. Firstly, as an immigrant from France, also as a woman. It solidified my presence in America and also provided funds to keep growing. I guess, Yes it is like winning a Grammy or Oscar for us designers.  

What are you most excited about from your upcoming collection? What makes your collections unique and stand out from other designers?

What excites me now, is to focus on craftsmanship, being authentic to everything I believe in and with the ethics behind the work. I was privileged enough to have worked alongside Azzedine Alaïa for over 10 years. At this point in my career, I am not interested in fame, I am truly interested in making the woman the “Star”, not myself. I am not looking to revolutionize fashion, but actually to improve my work and create timeless luxurious essentials. Ethically made at an accessible price above all. Everyday luxury!!! 

Where do you pull inspiration for your collections?

I am inspired by people, by what is happening in the world, by the street, books and by the different cultures of our world. I love the work of the past couturiers for their rigor, the glamour, and craftsmanship, I also have always been inspired by traditional and tribal cultures; where symbols, dresses, and colors provide an actual meaning and signification for the people. 

What was the inspiration behind ROOM 502? We love that it’s a holistic luxury brand. Please tell us more about what that means and how the concept came about? 

It is a reflection of my partner and husband Steve Francoeur. Also, the current state of fashion designers becoming celebrities, celebrities becoming designers, influencers, red carpet stylists …etc – For my part, I am not fascinated or excited by that. I still believe in the noble work and apprenticeship involved to be a real designer. There is too much of everything out there… an overdose of product which results in waste and environmental catastrophes.

A holistic luxury is a balancing act, we need to consider all the moving parts within the whole to be mindful of the people that make the clothes, the fabric we choose, packaging, how we ship….etc and at the same time to offer something with substance, well designed that actually fits a woman’s body. Do less but better; limited production, no sales, no middleman and to give back a portion of our proceeds to charity (Epic Foundation ) 

Will you continue to design for both Sophie Theallet and Room 502? 

Sophie Theallet is now uniquely for my private orders and couture pieces. ROOM 502 is a breath of fresh air for me, it is where I put my know-how & knowledge to serve a clientele that is looking for well-made ethical fashion – timeless essentials like a uniform to make life easier, my democratic approach to luxury.

What designers are you most inspired by?

I am inspired by the originals couturiers – Azzedine Alaia, Claire Mc Cardell, Cristobal Balenciaga, and of course Yves St-Laurent.

What was it like dressing FLOTUS Michelle Obama for 8 years? How did that come about and what was that experience like for you? 

As you can imagine; It was such an honor and a privilege to dress a special woman like Michelle Obama. I remember the first time she wore a dress from us, I was a little depressed working in my apartment (studio) at the time looking at the website Mrs. O and started screaming and jumping, everybody was wondering what was happening… It was so special, especially that it was for the unveiling of the Sojourner Truth bust in Washington.

Duchess of Sussex Megan Markle recently was seen wearing one of your lovely designs from ROOM 502 during her African tour. Which dress was she wearing and what was that moment like for you and your team to see beautiful Megan wearing one of your dresses from your new collection? 

She is wearing model 2 “Stephanie” of series 1. As you can imagine we are honored, but we are also very humbled to watch HRH the Duchess of Sussex wearing Room 502, while discussing the urgent need to address sexual violence against girls in schools. 

Do you know if we can expect to see the Duchess of Sussex wearing any more beautiful designs from Sophie Theallet or ROOM 502? 

We sure hope so!!!  It would be terrific!!!

Is there anyone you would like to see wearing your collections?

It is always a pleasure to see a celebrity wearing my dresses, but I actually derive as much joy from seeing a woman that is not in the public eye. In the end, all women are important and we deserve to look our best.  

Where do you see fashion design headed in the next 5 years? 

I am not sure, I think that things are going in opposite directions in a lot of industries. I am on the side that supports businesses that stand by their values, ethics. Brands that care about people and the environment. A return to a certain kind of authenticity in Business.  

Why do you think it’s taken brands/designers so long to grasp the importance and power of inclusivity?  

I think it is crazy to even still be talking about this in 2019 – I mean??? In the end, it is the consumer that has the power. Not only for fashion but in everything in general. If people vote with their dollars, we encourage better practices and eventually weed-out the people that we don’t stand with.

Azzedine Alaia was a genius that will live on forever. How did you get to work alongside him? 

The studio Berçot sent us to Alaïa to help dress the models for a show, I had Janice Dickinson to dress, she was such a trip in a good way!!! Azzedine loved me from the start. I later went to work with Jean-Paul Gaultier, but a few years later, I found my way back with Azzedine. He became everything to me, my master, mentor, father figure, but we could also fight like cats & dogs when the pressure was too much, In the end; it was never a long dispute. We would travel to Italy together, sleep in the same room. We were family, I miss him very much!!! LOVE & RESPECT.  

What is one vital thing you learned from him that you have infused into the DNA of your creative process?  

I learned rigor, respect for the craft and the people working with you. Azzedine was a true perfectionist and humble enough to keep learning and evolving even when he was considered a master. He changed my eyes forever when a millimeter would actually matter, he could spend a year working on a jacket and more if he was not completely satisfied. That was another time, not a collection every month!!! The product and product did not make any sense for him. The only problem is that he gave me a permanent disorder; I now see ill-fitted clothes everywhere.

What are your top 5 wardrobe nècessitès?

Personally, I am a jeans, tunic, a t-shirt person. That said; I think that it is better to have less but well-cut clothes. The great no-brainer dresses- shirt dresses, kaftan, bustier dress, and vests. Never forgot a good pair of shoes, bag, nice hoops, necklaces, and rings.

What are your beauty nècessitès? 

I have always protected myself from the sun, take care of my skin at night, drink water (and wine : )  ) My skin is in Dr.Adam Geyer’s hands. He always makes me feel amazing.

What is your self-care regime?

Unfortunately, I am the type of person that shifts between being strict with my diet and then letting go and just enjoying life, eating and drinking wine. It has been a constant theme in my life, That said; I live a mostly healthy lifestyle. I love walking outdoors and taking long baths to stay sane. 

Best advice you ever received?

My husband has always been an anchor for me, I am very French, passionated, electric!!! He introduced me to meditation, walking in nature, stretching and to learn to breathe correctly.

What advice would you give those looking to have a career in fashion?

This is a hard question because the meaning of fashion is different for everyone now. It is very subjective – As I told my students at the University – take time to study & learn about fashion history. Be original, have a point of view. Try to get an apprenticeship with the best – watch and learn. Stay humble!!! Even the best know that there is always more to learn. 

 

 

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