To get to Jerôme Dreyfuss’s atelier, as with many studios in Paris, you have to enter an ancient hôtel particulier — a mansion with a walled courtyard — and climb several flights of concrete steps. Which is why I wasn’t prepared for the airy, modern feel of his studio — nor to find the designer on hand to walk me through every single piece. Dreyfuss, who happens to be married to Isabel Marant, is Paris’s go-to bag and shoe designer — if you don’t believe me, just look at every cool girl in this city. This season, for his ‘60s-inspired lineup, complete with rainbow-hued chevrons and fringe, “I tried to imagine Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, and Jim Morrison driving a van trying to find a good wave. You always have to find a story for a collection.” He holds up a floral top-handle bag whose pattern recalls old-fashioned wallpaper. “This print is the curtains — you know those old fabrics from our grandmothers’ [generation] that the hippies have in their van, all the old cushions?” Tie-dyed hobo bags and sneakers were inspired by the era’s surfers in south Morocco. But Dreyfuss didn’t actually make a pilgrimage there, saying with a shrug, “I don’t like traveling so much. Each time I’m working on a country [as an inspiration], it’s more my fantasy. I’m not interested in doing something that exists already. I’m not a surfer, I’m not Moroccan, but it’s all about a feeling.”
When I mention the ubiquity of his designs in Paris, I learn that Dreyfuss might be the first designer to worry that his wares will become too popular. “You don’t sell a bag that is too cool,” he says, “and I don’t want to make too-chic pieces; it’s not my cup of tea. I don’t want to be a guy making “It” bags. I think it’s too dangerous.” Instead, he thinks “it’s really important to be seduced.” (A verb that the French apply to everything, from food to perfume.) Dreyfuss, by his own account, doesn’t shop that much, “but, you know, sometimes you pass by a window and you’re like … ” He makes a screeching Road Runner noise. “It has to be mine!” Among the seductive features of the collection: Each bag is given a French man’s name, meaning Dreyfuss has actually gotten letters from women that say, “I was with Bobi for a long time, and now I’m cheating on Bobi with Nicolas!” Says the designer, “I think it’s really important to make women laugh. It’s just handbags. This is not serious!” Another in-joke is that this season, he’s affixed embroidered patches shaped like eyes to many of the pieces. When I mistake it for a Turkish evil eye, he laughs, explaining that it’s actually based on the symbol that ran on French TV when the stations were on strike. “In France, we are always on strike,” he quips. (As every editor who tried to get between Milan and Paris knows well.) On the more practical end, some styles have a built-in flashlight — no more rummaging in your bag by the weak light of your iPhone to find your keys.
You won’t find Dreyfuss taking in the street-style scene outside this week’s shows, however. He says, “This is the reason that one day I will not work in this business anymore, because this is the opposite of the dream I had. I was 15, it was the time of Gaultier, Mugler, Montana — all these people who had such strong personalities. They didn’t care what people think about the way they were dressed. Today, it’s like, you have to wear the total look from Fendi — normal people around me, they are all laughing at it. They’re like, this is a carnival. And these [normal] people are my clients.” That’s why Parisians, with their iconoclastic approach to fashion, appeal to him so much, “Maybe it’s what we call the French négligé — at the end of the day, they [don’t care.] Fashion is just for you to feel good, not for anything more.”
And it looks like we might be soon see a Marant-Dreyfuss fashion dynasty springing up: The couple’s 10-year-old son Tal might soon be getting into the biz. A few months ago, says Dad, “We went to a flea market in Pisa, I gave him 5 euro, he came back with a sewing machine.” Once he began offering his sewing services, Dreyfuss jokes, “He had a lot of girlfriends this summer.”