We live in an age where new fashion items emerge on daily basis, only to be buried away in information. Proactive self-promotion has become an urgent task for fashion brands. In a world like today, the Lemaire brand is a rare breed that continues to gain solid support, not via marketing buzz or attention-seeking activities, but by confronting the true essence of their creations. The two discreet designers of the brand rarely appear in print media, but fortunately agreed to be interviewed by us. “We want to distance ourselves from the ugliness, confusion, and foolishness of the capitalist religion of materialism,” was Christophe Lemaire’s reply to my question: is there anything that you strive to keep simple in your approach and attitude to manufacturing? Lemaire’s answer was strong and full of determination. He went on to say, “I’m very careful about how I incorporate technology—I’m especially suspicious of social media. I try to take time to step back and think, to breathe and open my mind; take my eyes off the screen and feel the Earth beneath my feet—the rhythm of the seasons. I question things that are accepted amongst the general public or imposed on me, and I look for things that are in good taste.”
30 years have passed since the brand was founded, but its core minimalism has remained unchanged. Sarah-Lihn Tran, who joined the atelier in 2009 and has been designing with the brand, describes Christophe’s daily outfit: “He seemingly wears the same things every day, but there are variations that are barely noticeable at a glance. Perhaps his serenity and wisdom can be found in his style.” Lemaire is known for highlighting the individuality of the wearer. This is an important philosophy of the brand, and the reason why their creations are free of any pretentious claims. Their items are modern and classic, yet they are not the kind of nostalgic designs where people enjoy hunting after the original sources. The two designers, however, assert that they learn a great deal from history.
“In fashion, as in architecture, art, design, or any other creative work—it would be unwise to try to create from scratch without learning from the past. To properly understand the present and create the future, we need to understand the past. We’ve gained a lot from the history of fashion: from high fashion and street fashion to workwear and military. However, it’s important not to be excessively respectful—we should stay playful while referencing to the past,” explained Christophe. Sarah-Lihn continued, “We’re very much interested in the history of fashion; it helps us understand how deeply design is tied to people’s customs. From the shape of the pockets and the type of stitching, to the shoulder lines and the colors—each choice has a meaning and function. That’s why it’s important to learn.” When asked about her own wardrobe, her answer seemed to illustrate this point of view: “Lemaire, Lemaire, Lemaire, vintage, Lemaire, vintage (laughs). Then there are some soft colored items that can be combined easily.”
The duo is constantly improving their creations by fitting and evaluating. Through such trial and error, elegant and beautiful color combinations and refined, no-frills designs are born. However, as Lemaire keeps embellishments to a minimum, the materials themselves inevitably become more important. This is particularly evident in their leather accessories series called ‘Molded’.
Some of you may be familiar with the iconic designs such as the ‘Camera Bag’, whose name is derived from the shape it imitates, and the shell-shaped ‘Carlos Bag’. These items are all handmade in a specialized factory in Ubrique, a city in southern Spain. Ubrique is one of the world’s leading meccas for leather manufacturing; it is known for its skilled artisans, and many fashion houses produce their leather goods there. As Sarah-Lihn says, “The Corona pandemic has made us focus on the essential aspects of our brand more than ever.” This commitment to quality is essential to the elegance they seek. The ‘Suminagashi’ collection for this fall/winter is a good example of what can only be achieved through the skills of craftsmen.
Lemaire has been developing original prints derived from marbled paper and watercolor since 2015. This season’s marbled prints are especially inspired by Japanese prints. Originally, the traditional method of suminagashi (Japanese ink marbling) is to transfer the print by gently placing the paper on the surface of water with ink floating on it. Lemaire has printed the pattern on cotton poplin fabric instead and incorporated it into three items, including women’s coats and dresses. These items were made with the help of Frédéric Pelletier, who works with Atelier La Folie, a studio located in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris near the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where old books are restored. The work has been carried out for the past seven years. In the workshop lined with pigments, brushes, boards, and other tools, Frédéric says, “This indigo apron and an old cloth used to wipe brushes are my work clothes. I usually work barefoot and in silence,” looking undoubtedly like a true artisan.
This season’s installation movie, which engulfs products that emerged from their aforementioned background, is an unusual change from their past runways. Instead of being gently lit by the sun, models of various genders, ages, and origins intersect in a pitch-black world, appearing and disappearing from the darkness. Regarding her intentions, Sarah-Linh explains, “This is a condensed city. Blackness projects the silhouettes and energetic aspects of people’s daily lives, like strolling along or being lost in deep thoughts, as an abstract screen. The street or people’s charisma give life to our clothes; the color black creates space for imagination.”
The more I listen to their words, the more I am reminded that the protagonists of the brand Lemaire are not the clothes, but the people who wear them. The designers have a distinct vision and obsession and strive to give shape to their ideas. However, they don’t gloat over their efforts and commitment behind each piece, nor do they get absorbed in the value added around things; rather their creative process is neutral and grounded. If the people who work with their hands to treat leather or create original graphic designs are called ‘craftsmen’, then the duo continuing to pursue pure, high-quality clothes should also be referred to as such. What is necessary and what is superfluous? They can see clearly, I’m sure.
At the end of the interview, Sarah-Lihn quoted Yasujiro Ozu’s words as a message to fans in Japan: “I am a tofu maker, and a tofu maker can make abura-age (deep fried tofu) and ganmodoki (fried tofu fritter made with vegetables), but not pork cutlets.” This phrase, packed with her literary humor, gives us a glimpse of their attitude as creators.
|Photo Osma Harvilahti
|Interview & Text Rui Konno||Edit Takayasu Yamada
Translation Akiko Watanabe & Rei Matsuoka