pfw fall 2019

Can a Great Designer Still Start From a Small Apartment in Paris?

Alexandre Blanc may prove that he can.

Photo: Imaxtree. Illustration: Lauren Tamaki
Photo: Imaxtree. Illustration: Lauren Tamaki

Among the big names presenting at the Paris collections was a talented unknown: Alexandre Blanc. I “discovered” him through his former boss, Alex Bolen, the chief executive of Oscar de la Renta, who in an email praised Blanc, 36, as someone “with a clear idea of where he wants to go.” Blanc has also worked as a design assistant at Yves Saint Laurent (under Stefano Pilati), Balenciaga, and Carven. He continues to work as a part-time “ghost” in the industry, using that income to pay for the samples in his collection, and also two freelance helpers (one for sales) and an atelier in Italy.

“I’m really reasonable,” Blanc said the other day, in a small borrowed apartment near the Place de l’Opera, which he had decorated with a few of his own possessions. “I have this amount of money every month and I can make this amount of clothes.” Judging by the fit-and-flare silhouette, the fluid fabrics, the organic construction — as opposed to things looking forced — and the impeccable finishing on his clothes, Blanc does indeed know what he wants.

He chose the silhouette because it’s not so common and because most women, regardless of body type, have a waist. The shape is flattering, as are the jackets and double-breasted coats — in wool and felted jersey — with portrait necklines in Blanc’s collection. Skirts have an off-centered split that might be filled in with a panel of lingerie lace or piped in a contrasting color. They’re designed for movement; so is a micro-pleated version with panels of a flat fabric. Colors include navy, tobacco brown, deep red, purple, and cream. Blanc’s prints — for a few dresses and separates — are inspired by Bakst.

Photo: Courtesy of Alexandre Blanc

“I wanted to do things my way,” he says. “That means — okay, I’m not a big guy who’s really good at networking. I’m not going out. I just know good factories and good people, and I love my job. The designers whose work I like are no longer around. Azzedine Alaïa, Alber Elbaz, and, not for a long time, Yves Saint Laurent. I was such a huge fan of Prada. I still love it, but not as much as before. I still have around me a lot of girlfriends who inspire me. I have all these actresses in my head and they exist. They’re still here, and I want to dress those kinds of women. And I want you to see the women, and not my clothes. That’s the most important thing.”

Photo: Courtesy of Alexandre Blanc

He is mainly inspired by the movies and paintings, as well as watching women move. “The way the cinema used to teach people how to dress is something I miss,” Blanc says. “Nowadays you have influencers, and I don’t relate to them.” He would like to one day present his clothes by making a short movie with an actress: “It will make the story round.”

Meanwhile, Saks, Bergdorf’s and Net-a-Porter were by to see his first solo effort, though he is not certain if any will place orders.

Alaïa started his career in a small apartment in Rue Bellechasse. Does Blanc still think that model is possible?

Photo: Courtesy of Alexandre Blanc

He nodded. “People are looking for a connection with a designer and for value. What we have seen with the food industry, how people want to eat in a different way — less is better — I think we can take this direction also with clothes.”

It’s always a pleasure to discover a new talent, perhaps especially in a season where big shows seemed out of touch with real lives. And while Blanc’s clothes are polite and pretty, they’re far from that new catchall — “bourgeois.”

Can a Great Designer Still Start in a Small Paris Apartment?