i-D Magazine

i-d.co is best viewed using a newer browser

We recommend you choose one of the following for the best experience possible. Click to download:

I don't mind. Take me to i-D.co anyway

the secret of isabel marant

Today Isabel Marant's supermodels were transformed into nomadic tribes-women from the most glamorous depths of the unknown, where French nonchalance and perfect understatement reign supreme. Karlie Kloss, Anja Rubik and Edie Campbell strutted out in furry boots, oversized hooded coats and sheepskin gilets. We caught up with the designer over a cup of perfect French coffee.

Related topics

See all the looks from Isabel Marant autumn/winter 14 here.

Isabel Marant pulls up outside her rue de Saintonge store on a moped, and hurries inside pulling an orange helmet off her head. She’s wearing grey skinny jeans, a simple grey cashmere jumper and an oversized army green parka complete with fox-fur collar trim. “I’m so sorry I’m late,” she blurts. She’s also wearing black strappy high-heeled sandals, on a moped, no make-up and hasn’t fixed her hair but she still looks beautiful in that ‘French nonchalance’ way she also uses to describe her clothes. “My style is about a way of being, of mixing things, to achieve a cosy, chic look,” she informs settling down with a mug of coffee in the back room of her boutique, which complements the clothes housed within; simple and understated, yet unquestionably stylish..

Isabel made her first foray into fashion as a teenager, designing grunge inspired basics for herself and friends. It wasn’t until she and Christophe Lemaire sold a few of their collaborative pieces to a small Parisian boutique, that Marant decided to pursue fashion professionally, enrolling on a design course at Studio Berçot in Paris. From this foundation, she went on to assist Michel Klein, swiftly followed by assisting Art Director Marc Ascoli at Yohji Yamamoto, Martine Sitbon and Chloé, before launching her own collection of oversized jewellery in 1989. This soon led to an accessories collaboration with 80s i-Con Claude Montana, followed by her own line of knits, called Twen, and then the first Isabel Marant collection in 1994.

“I don’t like wearing make-up and I don’t do my hair, I prefer really natural. I want the people who see my shows to feel like they could be one of the girls in the clothes.”

Isabel’s role within fashion has always been to design real garments for real girls who are unfazed by statement dressing and more interested in pure unmitigated, effortless style. “I don’t like wearing make-up and I don’t do my hair,” she states simply, “I prefer really natural. I want the people who see my shows to feel like they could be one of the girls in the clothes.” While there’s little chance of mistaking ourselves for Karlie Kloss, Anja Rubik or Edie Campbell anytime soon (just a sprinkling of the big name supermodels that walk for her) there is a stripped back honesty to everything Marant does, which means you can picture yourself slipping on a pair of her slouchy pants and boyish blazers regardless of age, height or body-shape. It is all about, as Isabel states herself, “doing the right clothes for the right girl, with the right proportion, the right fabric, and the right colour.”

Immaculately sourced fabrics are key to Marant’s aesthetic, ensuring her clothes are as snug as a second skin, but also perfectly enhance the curves of the body. “I put a lot of care into the choice of my fabrics, on the cuts and the proportion,” she reveals. “It’s the little tiny things, that put together really give something special, which is not too out-spoken or too far-out.” Marant sources the majority of her fabrics in India, a nation famed for its craftwork. “A lot of designers go to India for good prices, I don’t go there for that, I go there to research the right weaving and great cutters,” she informs matter-of- factly. Adding, “For me 50% of the garment comes from the fabric, then the colour, then the shape.” Her use of natural fibres such as cottons, linens, washed silks and boiled flannels have secured Marant’s reputation for bohemian perfection. While her resolve to be as ecologically sound as possible has further enamoured her fan base. “Most of the fabrics are made by people in villages in India’s countryside, so it is organic because it’s very natural and done in a crafty way,” she explains. “But a lot of people are claiming organic when it’s not at all. I’m not claiming this because I don’t want to take profit with this kind of fashion but my way of behaving and doing things is really close to this ecological way of working.”

Uninterested in the show-stopping theatrics, bright lights and celeb packed catwalk shows favoured by some of the French super-brands, Marant works hard to keep her shows honest, without fanfare, pomp and circumstance. She styles her shows without hair and make-up, recruiting instead the help of best friend and French Vogue Fashion Director Emmanuelle Alt to help cultivate her too cool to care aesthetic. “Emmanuelle and I have known each other for more than twenty years,” Marant informs finishing her coffee and lighting a cigarette. “She is perfect to style my show because we share the same view. We both like the androgynous look, with a touch of femininity that’s always quite sharp but never girlie.”

Isabel Marant’s cult following includes the ever-growing number of devoted supermodels walking in her shows. Girls flocking to walk for her, despite the no make-up policy and her unfortunate positioning directly after Dior (meaning the majority of big names have to run between the two shows), is true testament to her appeal. “I’ve always had amazing girls,” Marant confirms. “It makes me very happy because I really feel like I’ve reached a certain point of recognition in the fashion world and now the agencies are following me and giving me the girls I really want.” The girls Marant handpicks are vital to the portrayal of her brand and she has more than a few faves. “You always find new girls that are wonderful, but there are always the main characters you really want to have in your show, who are really representative of the type of girls you would like to wear your clothes.” 

In addition to her signature collection and accessories line, Marant provides the lower-priced, but equally as covetable Etoile line (meaning French for Star) as well as a children’s range, a result of having a little boy six years ago. “I don’t want to expand and sell out, I just want to be at the right place that resembles me,” she states. “I don’t need to have my name in lights.”

As Isabel stands up to leave she pulls her fox fur parka tighter around her shoulders, and waves me goodbye. I notice she is wearing the sample of her latest collection. “It’s so comfortable I don’t want to take it off!” she confesses. For that is the secret of Isabel Marant, it is so comfortable you don’t want to take it off, EVER. And long may it continue.