For almost twenty years, Jérôme Dreyfuss has been putting the finishing touches to the outfits of women across Paris, with his extremely distinctive handbags and shoes. This season, the Nancy-born designer continues his quest to make women look and feel their best, while preserving the world around them. Find out more in our interview.
MONNIER Frères: You started creating handbags for your friends and your wife. Was it this same motivation that saw you launch your footwear range a few years later?
Jérôme Dreyfuss: No. I started designing handbags as a favour to my female friends because they could never find any bags they liked on the market. All the bags had huge logos, and were very heavy. So I simply tried to respond to a need. Footwear came as an addition to the bag. It was really driven by a desire to finish off my outfits. I started with the garment, then I created handbags, but I was missing the shoes.
M.F.: You have often called your brand feminist. Why is that?
J.D.: Because I try to design my pieces with respect for women. I have never tried to dress up my fantasy. For me, creative work in fashion is about meeting needs. I struggle to get my head around things like three-legged trousers with feathers... It's actually much trickier to design a piece that meets a woman's expectations on the very day, in the very year she needs it. So she can adopt the piece in a very natural way, as if she had always had it. The idea of functionality is really essential for me. I don't like to put restrictions on women. I like to support them, certainly not to restrict them.
M.F.: You are also very committed to the environment. How does this translate into your work?
J.D.: Ecology is a bit like respect for women. There's respect for women and there's respect for nature. It is very important because I don't think fashion has always respected women. Nobody ever admits it, but this image of the skinny woman, the woman as an object, is created by women, at the head of magazines. It raises a lot of questions and, personally, it bothers me a lot. I prefer to see a girl who is happy in her skin, who is curvaceous... I was a scout when I was a child and the first commandment is: "You will respect nature".
It's something that's always been ingrained in me. And I'm from the countryside, I've always lived there, I've always been attentive to nature. Today, at Jérôme Dreyfuss, all our animal skins are from outdoor, free-range farms and the food industry. 80/90% of the tanning is plant-based, which means they are made from tree bark and the colours come from plant-based dyes. Fashion is the number 2 most polluting industry in the world. We need to wake up or we simply won't be able to continue to consume!
M.F.: Ah yes, tell us about your partnership with Coeur de Forêt…
J.D.: The plan was to help a village to become more self-sufficient by planting fruit trees. The problem with all these villages on the edge of the forest, whether they be in Indonesia or in any country bordering the Amazon, is that the villagers sell their wood to live because it's all they have. We go there, we plant fruit trees and hives and we teach them to take care of them. It gives them vegetables, fruit, honey they can sell. Once they are self-sufficient, we replant the forest. Between now and Christmas, we hope to have planted 4,573 trees and helped 50 beekeepers and 50 farmers. It's a natural thing to do, we should all be forced to do it. It's not very complicated, a euro is added to each bag. This euro is donated to the charity, as are the back margins. It allows us to fund this partnership, which we are delighted about.
M.F.: Do you have any plans to work with other charities?
J.D.: We are already looking into what next year's project will be. This campaign was called "Yes Future", as a contradiction to the "No Future" of the English punks of the 60s. I realised that we could also take a more glass-half-full approach and that it could actually all be positive. I think we're the first generation since the end of WWII that's being told, "OK kids, you need to reinvent the world". But rather than saying "Oh God, it's so awful", what if we said to ourselves "Brilliant, let's do it!" » ? We can do it and we can capitalise on our little reputations, us, as fashion designers, to make it happen. But you have to do it with sincerity. We have to stop doing it to make more money, there's no point.
M.F.: So, in a way, are you hoping to educate your customers?
J.D.: I hope to be able to make a difference in the medium-term anyway. Fifteen years ago, when I talked about this, everyone laughed. Then suddenly, it's fashionable, so everyone's talking about it. Which is a good thing! But we should learn to anticipate things a bit more. It's great that we're succeeding now, but it's important not to wait until the house is already on fire. For now, the ground floor is burning. And we'll have to put it out before all the floors catch fire.
M.F.: You and your wife are both at the head of reputable brands, popular among Parisian women. How would you describe your customer?
J.D.: She's the girl in the street! I believe that the typical French woman is a girl who is happy in her own skin. To me it's a laid-back - almost neglected - French style. I love it! The French woman is natural, she is fairly cool and that's why she remains a global fantasy. There was Brigitte Bardot... and I'm quite a fan of Catherine Deneuve. She the classic femme française: she's fab! She is super classy, she is super beautiful... The French woman is cultured...
M.F.: You design functional fashion, often seen as a contradiction in terms. How do you come up with pieces that are both beautiful and practical?
J.D.: My job is to look at people's issues and try to find solutions. You can't think too hard, just come up with the right answer at the right time. Being ten years ahead of time is pointless. Being ten years behind is outdated. You just have to be in the moment. I have been very lucky because when I first started out, mobile phones didn't exist. The emergence of new technologies has changed the way women operate, and that has been very interesting. Because as someone who loves to look at women, I suddenly realised that they weren't moving in the same way, and that they needed new solutions.
M.F.: Do the girls in the office always test the bags in production?
J.D.: Yes! It's important to get feedback: it's rubbing, it's scratchy, it's too heavy, the shoulder strap is too short... The style is not all that matters for women. That's what fashion claims, and fashion is far too pretentious. It's so old-fashioned to impose an aesthetic on women. I'm talking about real women. Women who are 50 years old, feel fabulous in their trainers, and look beautiful.
M.F.: What's more important: bag or shoes? And why?
J.D.: It depends what she needs! I think the most important thing for a woman is to be loved, who cares about bags and shoes?!