Isabel Marant; image via The Telegraph.uk
At a social gathering in November last year someone asked me what I wear when I’m not dressed up. I am usually dressed for work or for a special dinner or for a party, and so the question got me thinking about how you present yourself to the world in a casual way. In my case, because I like a uniform, I stick to a general formula: top plus pants plus nice shoes or sneakers plus jewelry plus bag. I find many women, who pull off casual day dresses with great conviction and style, prefer them to pants when they’re not dressed up. While dresses do away with the stress of puzzling over what separates go with what, I favor pants for the everyday. The few dresses I own are vintage and belong to the category of special occasion.
Although I resist each year making any New Year’s resolutions, the weekend after the holiday, I spent time pondering the question of casual clothes. What constitutes a put together, or in today’s fashion parlance, effortless look? In evaluating the situation I had no choice but to confront my doggedness. You see, dear reader, when I find a contemporary designer who suits my silhouette and my sensibility I stick with them. You might suppose the realization of this fact in the new year of 2015 to mean I have come to reassess my intractability regarding designers. Not at all. From the holiday sale period to the current arrival in stores of the new spring collections, I have continued to be squarely focused on one designer: Isabel Marant.
Since 1998 when the first Isabel Marant store opened in Paris in the 11th Arrondissement, I have been obsessed with the label. Why does the Parisian designer attract me in this unfaltering way? Why when I’m not dressed up, am I wearing the designer responsible for spawning such trends as studded boots, the high top sneaker with the concealed wedge heel, lace dresses and Navaho print jeans? I had moved to the 11th with my husband in the fall of 1997 and so my first encounter with the designer’s clothes was at the original shop on Rue de Charonne, a few streets away from our apartment. (Humble beginnings for a brand that currently has stores in many cities throughout the world and is frequently photographed on celebrities.) That academic year in Paris, as a relatively poor twenty-seven year-old graduate student, I never dared purchase anything from the designer’s compact shop with the wooden interior. When I regularly passed by the window, occasionally stopping in, it was only to wistfully admire the glamorous bohemian appeal of the collection.
But for some twelve years now, with few exceptions, I have been wearing Isabel Marant. Her clothes strike the right note of casual chic: singular garments that do not call out for attention. All the same, can one have too much of a good thing? In considering the issue, I have come to realize that what I admire about Isabel Marant is her ability to evoke a particular mood. The pieces I am drawn to are never the wildly successful editorial ones. Instead, I am enticed by the quieter garments that emerge each season – the uncomplicated shirts and pants that mix easily with my wardrobe. In referencing disparate eras like the 1950s or the 1980s, and by reworking certain iconic American pieces like the t-shirt, denim, the military shirt, and the cavalry coat, Marant has a knack for elevating workaday clothing through cut, fabric, and print. These clothes rouse in me a nostalgia for clothing I owned at various stages in my life, or for clothing that is reminiscent of the understated wardrobe worn by French actresses in certain films I admire. I appreciate too the transparency of her aesthetic: her collections are clearly indebted to such venerable designers as Yves Saint Laurent and Issey Miyake. And like these heroic designers of the past, Marant consistently works with natural fibers. With so many contemporary brands in the same price point making clothes from synthetic fabric, her garments are produced in cotton, rayon, linen, wool and silk. Fashion today prizes disposable clothing but Isabel Marant’s pieces wash and wear beautifully over the years and can be easily found for resale on Ebay.
There is a nagging thought in my mind that someone who champions vintage clothing as much as I do should not be seduced by a contemporary brand reinterpreting American sportswear. But this is the rational mind at work – the old desire from that year in Paris is still in me, my regard for the label arising from the past, from youth. I cannot not shop for Isabel Marant. In this new year of 2015 I have learned that no amount of self-awareness or reflection can change what our hearts admire.
Playing in the dressing room at Isabel Marant, Los Angeles
Fall 2008 Ready-to-Wear
Fall 2010 Ready-to-Wear
Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear
Spring 2012 Ready-to-Wear
Emmanuelle Alt wearing Isabel Marant denim shirt; image via la modella mafia
Emmanuelle Alt wearing cavalry coat from Fall 2012 Ready-to-Wear