The New Chloé Girl
“Natacha utterly embodies my idea of the Chloé girl,” he continued. “She is creative and daring, refined and sophisticated, beautiful and with a fierce point of view. She is cool; she is streetwise and very French in her approach. Also, she is extremely well trained in the art of couture and has extensive experience of the pressures of working for a big international brand.
“This is a moment of crucial importance for the house,” he said.
The Richemont-owned brand recently unveiled ambitious expansion plans, including a rollout of new stores (12 this year alone) and a broader product range (Ms. Ramsay-Levi’s purview includes all ready-to-wear, leather goods and accessories lines.)
Although Richemont does not release individual brand results, Luca Solca, head of luxury analysis at Exane BNP Paribas, has estimated that Chloé’s sales have surged by double digits in the last three years, and calculated its current annual revenues to be around 450 million euros ($535 million).
An impeccably stylish single mother of one son and a stepdaughter from her relationship with Olivier Zahm, the photographer and founder of Purple magazine, whom New York magazine once called “fashion’s most libidinal editor”), Ms. Ramsay-Levi was born and raised in Paris.
She initially dreamed of being a historian, and has an edgier profile than her predecessor, Clare Waight Keller — or, indeed, many of the other designers who came before: Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo and Hannah McGibbon.
They all built on the image of Chloé as a house that saw the world through a gauzy lens, with clothes full of the easy, breezy bohemian sensibility of the 1970s. (The Chloé woman, historically, has been a (very) expensively clad free spirit, a playful flirt in lashings of flounce, suede and guipure lace.)
Ms. Ramsay-Levi, by contrast, has spent most of her professional career as a disciple of Mr. Ghesquière, a devotee of an aesthetic defined by resolute modernism and absolute cool. While she was at pains to stress that she would not bring black PVC and sexually charged androgyny to Chloé, it is hard to imagine that some of that futuristic grit will not make its way into this next chapter for the house.
Fanatical about art and sculpture (her Instagram account is full of trips to the Louvre and works by the likes of Irving Penn and Ai Weiwei), and pragmatic about the juggling acts required to be a modern working woman (“My kids, cigarettes and French cinema are what tend to keep me sane,” she joked), there is a determined realism and rigor to Ms. Ramsay-Levi’s character that has not been lost on the industry.
“I think that Natacha will add some intellectual ‘rive gauche’ depth to that kind of ‘unbearable lightness of being’ typical of the Chloé girl,” Virginie Mouzat, the fashion and lifestyle editor of French Vanity Fair, said.
Mr. Ghesquière was even more emphatic about the potential of his former protégé. “I have watched her grow into the determined and talented woman she is today,” he wrote in an email. “She has always been a reliable and strong presence. Natacha is a strong and inspiring woman and a true friend. It is going to be very exciting for all of us to see her rise and create her signature.”
Ms. Ramsay-Levi was well aware of the expectations, but said she was not especially nervous about industry reaction; instead, she was excited.
Indeed, she called Chloé “her dream job and frame” upon which to hang her first visions as the head of a maison, adding that she had created “a bible” from the archives of looks and moments that she felt could have contemporary relevance.
Key Chloé pieces, like capes, blouses and long dresses, will all play a part in her collection, she stressed, only with a more contemporary, structured twist. Creation, for her, is “an urban thing; cities like New York and Paris are always where my best moments of inspiration come, when I can watch women around me,” she said. “And there is nothing I love more than seeing a woman in my clothes in the street.
“I could never do my own label, never,” she continued. “I like to have a strong frame around which to adapt. Without it I don’t know where I would go; I like to respond to something that already exists. And what inspires me here is that there is no one Chloé woman; there have always been many, right from the very start. And I love that. It gives you infinite possibilities, and many ways to enhance the personalities of those who wear your designs.”
As the sun set in the studio, and her staff members made their way home for the evening, Ms. Ramsay-Levi retreated to her office next door, a sanctuary of floor-to-ceiling windows and books, soft low sofas, and art.
Chloé is not a stereotypical French fashion house, she said, with crazed hysteria or egomania; people work hard but still live normal lives, and she does, too. That said, she added, she planned to stay late that night. There was still much to do ahead of the first show, scheduled Thursday.
“At the beginning, inside, I was constantly thinking: Will they think this is Chloé? Is that idea Chloé enough? But those questions, they aren’t there anymore,” she said. “I actually think what we have done is very Chloé, and it is also very me. So I feel very relaxed, which is good, as I can’t work when I’m anxious.
“At times, it has felt to me like the last 18 years of my life have been building up to this moment.”
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