The Discreet Charm Of the Non-Bourgeoisie


Bouchra Jarrar notes that she’s not into dusty-musty, page-turning research, preferring to find inspiration in the hand of a fabric.

First published WWD

Not all newcomers to the fashion business are genuine neophytes, rushing out of school with plans to be the next great, ground-breaking brand, egos sometimes equaling (or outpacing) talent.

Some take a more studied approach. Such is the case of Bouchra Jarrar, who showed her second collection in Paris last week. Despite the timing, during couture, Jarrar designs luxe ready-to-wear, a realm in which her work will stand out magnificently.

This story first appeared in the July 13, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The designer, a Cannes, France, native of Moroccan heritage, comes to her own house via impressive apprenticeship. Hired by Balenciaga near the end of the Josephus Thimister reign, she stayed on after Nicolas Ghesquière’s ascent, working with him for a decade. She also worked in the couture studio of Christian Lacroix for 18 months. While one can understand the aesthetic connection to Ghesquière, the link to Lacroix is harder to grasp. But no matter, according to Jarrar: When assisting, “the job is to see through the eyes of someone else.” Asked if it was heaven to work for Lacroix, one of the greatest talents in the history of couture, she smiles. “Heaven because he was an artist?” she queries, eyebrows raised. “Yes. But it was a lot of hard work.”

Jarrar makes a gentle presence, of petite stature with friendly facial features framed by long bangs. Her lack of English rings youthful rather than unsophisticated. One can imagine a pixieish adolescent, who, soaking up the wonders of her native culture, grew into the charming Parisienne who met guests in the Paris office of PR Consulting last week.

There, her two racks of clothes radiated French chic, yet of a sort imbued with the nonchalance required of dressed-up clothes in our increasingly casual society.

Jarrar doesn’t worry about bourgeois associations. “It only depends upon the way you wear the pieces,” she says. The clothes are plenty distinctive, their precise geometry registered in a graphic palette of black, navy and white, and clean lines with high-contrast outlines. One might find faint homage to Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian or to the futuristic sharpness of Jarrar’s former boss, Ghesquière, but her aesthetic is far gentler than either. These clothes display a sensuality both feminine and discreet.

As for their origins, Jarrar notes that she’s not into dusty-musty, page-turning research, preferring to find inspiration in the hand of a fabric. She offers the not unusual desire to offer women “a unique wardrobe.” What is unusual, and perhaps a bit naive, is her determination to do so by crafting each collection to relate back to its predecessor, and to continue to offer for-sale looks from prior seasons. This, she suggests, will make for natural stylistic progression and subsequent attrition of pieces, rather than for abrupt, chaotic change. For fall, she introduced fur, made interesting and approachable, as in a gorgeous, lean white coat with a bold grid carved into the back.

Last season garnered Jarrar a roster of private clients but only three stores worldwide, including Plum in Beirut. Last week, she and her newly hired commercial director, Delphine Caucé-Marfaing, took appointments with numerous major retailers, including Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue. Given that the clothes are so different and so chic, yet real enough to envision women rushing for them in the manner that made Alber Elbaz’s Lanvin explode a few years ago, it’s hard to imagine a retailer not wanting to get there first.

In the meantime, Jarrar’s number of creative staff equals that of her of investors: zero. “My home is my studio,” she says. “I do everything myself.”

She wants to keep her production in France. “There is a savoir faire,” she explains.

Like so many designers starting out, she functions as her own production manager, and for now, at least, wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love every job in fashion — the people who are creating, the people who cut, those who do the furs, the leathers. I’m always with them. They are the real ones doing fashion,” she says.

by Bridget Foley