“After the decade of Mugler and Montana, Paris mainly welcomed
young designers from elsewhere.
Today a new generation is finally emerging.”
OSCAR HELIANI — Why did you settle in Paris?
MARINE SERRE — It wasn’t really planned. It just happened. I was living in Brussels — a wonderful city, by the way — but I was starting to get bored. When I got this job at Balenciaga, I found a tiny studio in Paris. You know how expensive the rent can be! On the whole, I’m more linked to people than to cities, but I do enjoy the melting pot of people and the huge opportunities that Paris offers.
OSCAR HELIANI — What is it like to start a business here?
MARINE SERRE — I never tried to do business in another city, so I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere. I could have chosen to start the brand in the Netherlands because my partner is Dutch, but, legally speaking, it was easier to do so in France, although I consider the brand an international one. I’m very happy with this decision, and I intend to stay in Paris and let the brand grow here.
OSCAR HELIANI — Do you feel a resurgence in the French capital?
MARINE SERRE — I do. I keep receiving job applications from people around the world willing to move to Paris and work in fashion. I’m not sure it would be the same in Lisbon. Who hasn’t dreamed of the Parisian way of life? Paris is a big city, without being huge. It is built in such a way that almost everything is happening in the centre. People usually complain when you invite them somewhere far away, and they pretend that the transport network is bad, and so on. I have to disagree. Major things are happening everywhere, especially in the nearby suburbs. Before settling here in the second arrondissement, we searched for offices in Aubervilliers [a suburb north of Paris] but couldn’t find anything big enough. We’re moving soon for something bigger, and it happens to be in the north of Paris.
OSCAR HELIANI — Do you see any disadvantage to moving to Paris?
MARINE SERRE — The rent is so high that you’re stuck in small spaces, without any possibility of expanding your business or even your team.
OSCAR HELIANI — What is your favorite neighborhood in Paris?
MARINE SERRE — I live near Porte de Clignancourt, and I really like it. Both the 18th and 19th arrondissements are cool for hanging out, taking a break, or biking.
OSCAR HELIANI — What is one of your secret places in Paris?
MARINE SERRE — Well, it won’t be a secret anymore, but I really enjoy going to Mala Bavo, a Kurdish bar in the Rue Saint-Denis. The mood there is nice, and people are totally relaxed. My team and I usually watch a soccer game, and I learned a traditional Kurdish dance the other day.
OSCAR HELIANI — Is there any link between your collections, the city of Paris, and French fashion?
MARINE SERRE — My collections have references, but not to Paris or French fashion, which, for me, mainly concerns the established houses.
OSCAR HELIANI — But isn’t casting Amalia Vairelli, Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic Somali model, for your “Hardcore Couture” show also a way of paying homage to French fashion?
MARINE SERRE — Not only does Amalia evoke French couture, but she’s also definitely a killer with her sharp hard-core attitude on the runway. I first got in touch with her because I love the way she walks, but as I got to know her, I discovered what a wonderful person she is. She understands the whole design process and knows how a garment works. There aren’t models like her anymore. If that’s what you mean by French fashion, then I’m definitely buying it!
OSCAR HELIANI — What is your approach to casting?
MARINE SERRE — The casting for my “Hardcore Couture” show took me more than three months. Seventy percent of the models were nonprofessional. I met each and every one, listened to what they had to say about feeling good wearing the clothes and being confident when walking the runway. Obviously, I’m not changing models every season. There is no expiration date, so why would I do it?
OSCAR HELIANI — You presented your first show at Calentito, Blanca Li’s dance studio in the 19th arrondissement, and your second show at the Jardins d’Éole, an outdoor setting in the same area. How do you choose your venues?
MARINE SERRE — For my “Manic Soul Machine” collection, I wanted a square space that had a raw concrete feeling without being too underground. When it comes to venues, the challenge is to find an affordable space matching all your criteria. The best solution is to reach a compromise, finding a location outside the area where all the fashion shows are held. Besides, I liked the studio’s neighborhood, and I used to practice contemporary dance myself, so I may have been unconsciously attracted to Calentito. The whole collection was related to movement: models were asked to walk in a choreographed way, and the fabrics were flowy, which was a perfect match. While working on the “Hardcore Couture” collection, I was walking one day with my sister on this long bridge under a beautiful sky, and it hit me: “Isn’t this the perfect spot for a show?” A huge catwalk crossed by all types of people: a guy on his bike, another one playing music, men exercising, and people taking a Tai Chi class. The day of the show, people in the garden could also watch the collection. I wanted everyone to be part of this experience. The only reason I decided to show outfits on men and children (who, by the way, walked with their real parents) was that I was seeking some realness. People never complained that these two locations were too far away.
OSCAR HELIANI — How would you describe your style?
MARINE SERRE — I don’t think of myself as an artistic director. I try to have a global vision for the brand, from design to production and merchandising. As fashion is always evolving, I would rather refrain from any definition of identity or style and avoid getting stuck there. But I can give you a hint about what I’m trying to achieve. I want to bring to my customer, who is between 18 and 65 years old, a very shaped silhouette with all the means to be free. I focus on proportions, and I pay close attention to shoulders. But if a woman wearing my design feels uncomfortable, this means I missed my goal. The women in my team and I try on all the pieces to ensure that everything is comfortable.
OSCAR HELIANI — Are you suggesting that other designers are not always down to earth?
MARINE SERRE — I have no comments to make about other designers. I would add, though, that we have to find a balance between the designer’s dream and the reality of the garment. Dreaming is important, but one should keep a sense of irony, too.
OSCAR HELIANI — What are some of your most popular designs?
MARINE SERRE — Our “Green Line!” It was really challenging to design. Having a limited quantity of fabrics, I had to think constantly about whether we had enough upcycled scarves to go into production. But the added value of this line is huge, and every piece is different from the others. The customer understands the time we spent collecting the fabrics, assembling and finishing the garment. And, above all, the final product is nice. I don’t want the customer to look like a clown. When we started the “Green Line” for the “Manic Soul Machine” collection, I didn’t tell anyone about the process. I wanted to check if people really liked it or not, without having in mind that it’s upcycled fabrics, so they should like it. We did it again for the “Hardcore Couture” collection. The “Green Line” pieces were the best-selling ones. It was the perfect time to launch this line. I’m lucky because five years ago, I’m sure that it wouldn’t have been as successful.
OSCAR HELIANI — If you had one fashion statement, what would it be?
MARINE SERRE — Keep your eyes wide open.
By Oscar Heliani for Purple Magazine