inside designer vincent darré’s surrealist parisian world
From his wild nights at Le Palace in the 80s (when he worked for Yves Saint Laurent) to his second career as a designer of whimsical interiors, Vincent Darré’s life has always gravitated towards the eccentric and glamorous.
French designer Vincent Darré has an instantly likable impishness. The dandy-about-town has been infusing his theatrical approach into fashion, design, and other creative projects for over four decades. In the 80s, his partying days at the iconic Le Palace club in Paris led him into the world of fashion; he kicked off his career as an assistant designer at Yves Saint Laurent. Later, he worked for Claude Montana, did the first ready-to-wear collections for Prada, had a brief stint at Chloé, worked at Fendi, became the head designer of Moschino, and exited fashion after a (self-avowed) failed run as artistic director at Emanuel Ungaro in 2004.
In 2008, Darré shifted to interior design and inaugurated Maison Darré, with collections referencing Alexander Calder (see: a colourful multi-level modular table) or the Cubists (armchairs and sofas with purposefully wonky silhouettes). His most recent gig was creating the six eccentric suites that make up the reworked Le Montana hotel in Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. He integrated pieces from his own collections, as well as Hermès wallpaper in the corridors, armchairs in reissued 1940s fabrics, and frescos by illustrator Antonio Pippolini in the bar.
Darré's other projects have spanned from designing wacky wallpaper for a legal office to creating private quarters for his Italian socialite friends and a boutique for optical label Thierry Lasry — not to mention the fact that his own house doubles as his ever-shifting laboratory. Recently, Darré sat down at the Montana to discuss his former career in fashion, the importance of a fresh approach, and his absolute indifference to pragmatism.
What's your take on fashion today, having stepped back from it for a few years?
It's funny, because when you're in fashion you're always in this mode of "the next collection" — and when, all of a sudden, you remove yourself from that, it becomes totally foreign. I couldn't ever have imagined having such a detached regard for this milieu — I worked in the business for 20 years! Now, there are things I like and don't like, but I'm not implicated in it.
What do you like?
I like Schiaparelli, because it's close to my universe: it's surrealist. And I decorated their salons. I found it very fresh, and very pretty: croissant-shaped straw embroideries, langoustes. And I love that someone in fashion uses cuisine as a starting point, which is a taboo since no one in fashion ever eats. I found that very amusing. I think what Valentino does is delightful. I think Karl Lagerfeld... his impact and the way he manages Chanel, it's an event, it has such a connection to society — and every time, he manages to be surprising.
Whether out of curiosity or sentimentality, do you follow labels you used to work for?
I'm still very attached to the Fendis. I was at Moschino for four years — I was delighted that they took Jeremy Scott. For once — in fashion right now, people are switching designers like chess pieces — they found just the right person. Each couture house is like a math problem that you're given. If you can solve it, it's perfect. When I was at Ungaro, I was at the wrong maison; I didn't have the right taste for it. Whereas at Moschino, I felt good — it's a little subversive, it was a guy who was doing the opposite of what was in fashion, derisive of Saint Laurent, Chanel, and all that. There was a sense of humor. When I saw Jeremy Scott I thought, bravo! And I have no regrets. When I saw Peter Dundas at Ungaro — it's perfect. Coming from Versace, Cavalli, he had the right taste for it. I didn't.
How did you transition between fashion and design?
What interested me in fashion was how it would be presented. I saw collections as small-scale film scenarios. At school I wanted to be a set designer and do theater costumes. I continued to think like that: someone creating a décor and making clothes, as a whole. Sometimes it didn't come out in the clothes, but in the behind-the-scenes of the way I worked. At Moschino, each défilé was a kind of a "happening": models came onto the set on all fours, or they did a marathon and would beat each other up. And that was when I was most in harmony with my work. Then, when I did Ungaro, it was a catastrophe! But thanks to that, I stopped, and I addressed this project that I'd wanted to do for a long time.
At first, I wanted to do fashion and design, a bit like the Wiener Werkstätte. I thought it would be interesting, in our era, to mix the two: because it's a dialogue. I started to draw furniture, and I was having a crazy amount of fun. When I was drawing garments, I was very cynical: "No, this has been done, this already looks like this…" I no longer had a fresh take. I think you need a naiveté in fashion. When you've worked for 20 years, for plenty of labels — I did Prada's first collection, I did Blumarine — I lost that. My friends in the business said, "You're crazy, you can't give this up to make furniture. Who knows you? No one!" Precisely. There's everything left to try. And I was welcomed by the design press, because I was making things that didn't resemble anyone else.
Does practicality ever affect your designs?
When you make clothes or shoes, even bags, you have to think: yes it is pretty, but can you raise your arms? I did shoes at Fendi, and you can go crazy with the heels, but at a certain point, the shoe has to be functional. It's like an object; it's like a chair. So for me it was the same challenge. I don't know if my furniture is very comfortable. At my place, I have banquettes from the 18th century, they're not at all comfortable! I'm used to furniture that is very aesthetic. It's horrible, but I don't care at all!
French culture can be very categorical; there isn't usually much space to be experimental or multi-disciplinary.
When I went to Studio Berçot, the fashion school, my teachers pushed me in an artistic direction. My family was very leftist intellectual; my mother was all about taboo. I was raised amidst total chaos, but with the idea of doing what you enjoyed. I was never obligated to do anything. My whole life, I've proceeded this way: throwing myself into things. And I believe in encounters. I've only ever had friends in fashion, writers, actors, painters, musicians… It's always been easy for me to meander through all these milieus. You can propose anything to me, and if I've never done it before I'll say, "Oui, what a great idea!" I see life as an adventure. Anytime I'm offered an experience that takes me out of my habits, I'm into it. But it's true, it's not a very accepted approach by the French. [Singer/actress] Arielle Dombasle calls me Cocteau 2000. I'm not as ambitious, but I understand the parallel. It's about devouring life, and doing it with enthusiasm. People think I'm a social butterfly, a caricature. I have no borders. I'll tell anyone my life story!
Text Sarah Moroz