XULY.Bët brings Quality Street chic to Paris Fashion Week

The renegade protagonist of Paris’ underground fashion scene in the 90s delivered a joyful, deeply personal collection.

by Mahoro Seward
09 March 2021, 6:02pm

As you’re no doubt well aware, ecological sustainability and the fight to address systemic social inequities are the current hot topics in the fashion industry. Long before they became in vogue, though, these values served as the bedrock for Paris-based designer Lamine Badian Kouyaté, the founder of XULY.Bët. Founded just over 30 years ago, the brand made its name as a protagonist of the French capital’s underground scene in the 90s — a joyful, renegade force to be reckoned with, and known for guerilla presentations staged outside venues of the well-heeled fashion shows du jour. SS93, for example, saw a parade of exclusively Brown and Black models storm the courtyard outside Jean Paul Gaultier, boomboxes in hand and clad in sinuous dresses, patchworked from upcycled fabrics and held together by exposed scarlet seams.

The label rose through the ranks of Paris and New York, where it was warmly received by celebrities including Grace Jones and Cardi B, before taking a lengthy hiatus. A year ago, XULY.Bët returned to the city’s fashion week schedule at a time when its long-held values have never felt more prevalent in the wider industry. It took fashion three decades to catch up with XULY.Bët.

Now three seasons into its revival, the AW21 collection that Lamine presented yesterday one of his most personal to date. It was intended as an ode to the Malian designer’s late mother, Dr. Henriette Kouyaté Carvalho d’Alvarengo, one of Africa’s first female gynaecologists. You won’t, however, find any nods to white coats or scrubs here; rather, the collection is an eccentric panoply of poppy, shiny finishes and prints; fluoro faux fur and puffer coats, recomposed metallic lycra leggings and electric blue lurex knits. These bright hues hark back to a particular childhood memory. “When my mother came home from work, really exhausted, Quality Street chocolates were her little moment of relief at the end of the day,” Lamine reminisces. “It’s one of those memories that you really hold on to from your childhood, but which can be quite hard to figure out where it comes from. It’s hidden beneath layers like a Russian doll.”

Much can be said for the clothes themselves, with bright, bulging outer layers peeling off to reveal poplin tunics and svelte collaged pieces beneath, the skin-cladding lycra swatches they’re composed of offering a sense of tightly embraced security. “We wanted to bring a sense of support, protection and shelter to the collection,” Lamine says. Those qualities may seem particularly salient in these uncertain times, but, with AW21’s playful layered silhouettes and candy-wrapper palette, what we see here taps into the emotion that has propelled XULY.Bët across three fickle decades of fashion history: an unrepentant sense of joy.

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Paris Fashion Week