For our Sep/Oct 21 issue’s “Femme d’Affaires” feature, we sat down with fashion icon Inès de la Fressange, who has cultivated a long and varied career – first as a successful model, then as the head of her own fashion label.
Check out an excerpt of the interview below!
You’re most famous as a Chanel model and muse to Karl Lagerfeld when he became the brand’s creative director in the 1980s. What did it mean to be part of this exciting reinvention?
When I signed with them in 1983, Chanel wasn’t especially desirable, which is almost unimaginable when you look at it today!
I was 26 and thought it was a fun challenge to be the face of a brand – in the way that models were in the 1950s. As the Chanel ambassador, Karl sent me abroad to do public appearances. Today, that’s a necessity to ensure success, but back then, it was a real first.
We also didn’t see the effect of the runway shows and press straight away. It’s not like social media today, where you take a photo and get millions of likes in a few seconds. There was something fresh about it because Chanel’s new direction was completely unexpected.
What Karl did with style was truly revolutionary. At the time, to put a white T-shirt underneath a Chanel tweed jacket was absolutely unthinkable; it was uniting two pieces from completely different worlds. He changed the face of Chanel from that moment on.
What did you learn during this time?
So much! It was such a rich apprenticeship. I was close to Karl, and I remember drawing next to him at his desk and him critiquing my sketches.
The more time I spent with the brand’s talented couturiers, the more I saw how things should be cut and designed (like how crucial it is to put pockets in the right places!) and how the ateliers functioned. Chanel was the best possible school for me as a young model. Essentially, I learned how to create a collection.
Today, your daughters are about the same age as you were when you joined Chanel.
Yes. My eldest went to École Normale Supérieure, one of the hardest schools to get into in France — even our President didn’t make it in! As amazing as this is, I was even more impressed when she decided to drop out to pursue her passion for theater.
My youngest also managed to get into another difficult school, even though everyone tried to dissuade her, saying that it wasn’t possible. Despite this, she wrote a letter explaining why this school was her preference, and she got in! Now that her studies are over, she’s writing a book. I’m impossibly proud of them both.
What do they think of your career?
They grew up very much a part of the fashion world — knowing Karl, being photographed, hanging around the office — but they only really saw interviews and photos of me when they were old enough to use Google. To them, I’m just maman!
Where does your creative side come from?
As a girl, I went to a boarding school in the countryside, which meant being in the middle of nowhere. You had to create your own activities. I learned to knit, draw, sew paint… this practical side has stuck with me ever since.
I became really interested in fashion around age 13; I loved reading magazines and learned the names of all the brands and designers, and I had a taste for clothing, instinctively knowing what I liked and didn’t like.