Roland Mouret's SF Debut

Roland Mouret knows women. This much is clear when you see the glove-like fit and perfect proportions of the timeless dresses and elegant skirt suits created by the dapper London-based, French-born fashion designer. Known for his signature draping technique, good looks (he started out as a model), and iconic Galaxy dress made famous by a curvaceous Scarlett Johansen who sported the frock on the red carpet, Mouret has been steadily garnering a following among Tinsel town A-listers and fashion editors alike since he launched his first collection during London’s Fashion Week in 1998. I sat down with Mouret recently on his first visit to San Francisco for an invite-only Fall 2008 trunk show and luncheon at Neiman Marcus, where he dished about his childhood dreams, how he gets creatively “unstuck,” and why he thinks like a woman.

Images courtesy of Aubrie Pick for Drew Altizer.

You come from a background where your father was a butcher. Were there any early signs that you’d end up in fashion?

I think it was the first thing that could give any information is I love to draw. I think it was quite important for me when I was a child. I wanted to escape at a young age. My parents were fantastic and gave me everything I wanted. But I had a bigger picture in my head. I wanted to go to Paris and see the world. What made me see the world is all the values my parents and my father gave me. I’m a better designer because I learned to work with my dad.

Tell me about your collection for Fall 2008.

It’s my second winter collection. I wanted to come back with a kind of really ‘40s atmosphere. Actresses like Lauren Bacall with a new urban feel. I tried to do clothes you can wear jewelry with. I asked a lot of questions of myself. What kind of elegance can I give next winter in that moment we’re talking about a recession? Something quite austere and sexy at the same time. I wanted something with a double meaning.

The dresses are body conscious and go to the mid-calf, which is the new length of the season. On the back there’s a big zip and it gives a sexiness to the dress. I don’t know, it was something really specific and I’m really catching it in the color code. I like to mix black with bubble gum pink. Or the yellow is mixed with a skin tone color. It really has an atmosphere in my head. It’s funny because you can see it in your head and until you make it, only then you realize you’ve achieved it. I really nailed it. I really nailed what I wanted to do!

What do you do when you are about to design a new collection and you get stuck?

I don’t design, I drape everything. When you get stuck, it’s simple. You start again. You start again. And you start again. Like an artist, sculptor or painter, you repeat the same movements. Then, you try to bring it somewhere else. For example, if you’ve been working a lot on the shoulders, then you say, ok, let’s work on the legs.

I try to think all the time what women don’t already have in their wardrobes. If they’ve been buying this already all season, what else is going to be their need. What would make a woman wear a new coat when she already has 15 in her wardrobe? That type of thinking will help you.

Why do you drape fabric first?

I’ve never been to a school. What I love about my work is I created my own technique. It allows me all the time to do something that’s different from someone else. I don’t copy others’ work. I work from the fabric. It’s good to avoid the easy reference. I think that’s why I’m quite lucky.

How has fashion changed since you started in this business?

Fashion has changed so much. The rules are completely destroyed. Now you sell jeans with expensive gowns. Colors are very important. You can’t rely anymore on casual or safe fashion. The rules are completely disturbed and deformed. You can’t have any blueprints, and you have to take risks with yourself. Black is selling, but black by itself doesn’t sell anymore. You have to challenge yourself. It’s not easy.

How has the London fashion scene evolved?

The scene has grown up so much. It’s more professional. More relevant. More present in the market. More polished. I think everything which was reported years ago about late delivery, bad quality—it’s gone. You can expect a London designer to be a breath of Fresh air. The store that doesn’t work with a British designer is missing something. They can’t call themselves avant-garde. They need a designer like Stella McCartney, or me, or the young ones like Jonathan Saunders or Christopher Kane. You need that fresh air for the future.

You quit your original label Roland Mouret, which dissolved after you separated from your former business partner. What was your goal in launching the RM collection?

My goal was to make a come back. It’s never been done with someone losing their name and going again to be successful and be present in the market and be a leader. That for me to come back with RM, it was like ok, these are my initials, but the clothes will be so visible with who I am that the name won’t need to be in the outfit. It will be all around the outfit. You’ll smell it on the outfit.
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