A Designer With a Low Profile Is Ready to Raise It Up
She upholstered the walls with her signature moon-print fabric, and set up a tableau of mannequins in outfits to match. Here and there were a few eccentric touches: One mannequin was supplied with a plastic bottle of water; an iguana peeked out from beneath the skirt of another.
But in fashion, discretion like Ms. Serre’s — she speaks softly, arrives gently and doesn’t even hold a fashion show to showcase her work — is not normal. She has worked or interned for years, learning from many of fashion’s stars, including Matthieu Blazy during his time at Maison Margiela, Raf Simons at Dior and, currently, Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga.
She has been quietly sawing away on the sidelines for years, a “Star Is Born” story without the usual glitter. The LVMH Prize is a sudden and high-wattage spotlight (though it is worth noting that the award, inaugurated in 2014, has a mixed track record in sustaining the labels it anoints).
Ms. Serre comes from the Limousin region of central France, where she grew up in Cévennes, a village she described as “five houses and a lot of dogs.” She left home at 14 for art school near Limoges, the porcelain capital, and found her way to Marseille, where she began studying fashion.
“No one thinks that you can study fashion there, but you can,” she said. “It’s quite a shock when you arrive. A lot of rebellion; the people are quite tough. It’s, like, apocalyptic.” (She subsequently received a degree from La Cambre, in Brussels.)
There’s something quite tough about Ms. Serre’s designs, albeit in a softer way than many of her punk- or street-leaning compatriots. She draws heavily from historical designs, often from the 19th century, then jolts them into the present by incorporating details, cuts and fabric from athletic wear. (She was a competitive tennis player until the age of 16, a fact that now comes up in most of her few interviews, she said.)
“I don’t want to do a historical collection,” she said. “It was really important to take it out of that.” She said she “sponged” contemporary and historic influences and put them together anew.
So her moiré skirts have the heft and oversize silhouette they might have had a century or so ago, combined with a stretch sports top that you might see on the court at Roland-Garros. A sporty tank dress is patched with carpet pieces hand-painted in Iran.
The crescent moon symbol that Ms. Serre has used is often taken as a symbol of Islam (and comes from her research into 19th-century Moroccan design). But she downplayed any explicit political significance, though she acknowledged its presence.
“I’m just proposing something that is there,” she said. It might suggest Islam, or it might suggest a sports logo. Either way, she said, it is a banner under which to unify.
Ms. Serre is keeping a low profile during Paris Fashion Week, showing privately to interested parties, but she is planning to begin showing next year. She is also preparing to exit her day job: Next week’s show with Balenciaga, she said, will be her last.
“Over the years, we’ve been to hundreds of young designers’ apartments and studios to look at their collections, but to find a designer this good is a very rare thing,” said James Gilchrist, the general manager of Dover Street Market New York, at a dinner in Ms. Serre’s honor during New York Fashion Week. “We’re extremely proud to be introducing her to New York.”
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