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Designer Jérôme Dreyfuss on Why Nice Is Cool and Making Fashion Funny

Some people are just more pleasant to speak to, it’s true. After a recent conversation with the Paris-based fashion designer Jérôme Dreyfuss, several reasons for this were clear. For one, the thoughtfully cheerful Dreyfuss exhibits interest in a variety of topics. Secondly, his passion seems sincere. And he doesn’t take himself or fashion too seriously, which isn’t to say that he approaches his craft lightly.

Jerome Dreyfuss Bobi handbag

Known predominantly for his luxurious handbags that project personality, Dreyfuss has a reputation for being a bit of a rebel. He worked with John Galliano in the early part of his career and has since cut a streak across the industry both for his unique designs (his fall-winter collection includes bags made of deer and goatskin leather; some come with interior flashlights for finding your keys or phone at night) and his wildly artistic methods for presenting them.

Jerome Dreyfuss Igor handbag

Read on for our chat, which covered architecture, Le Marais, what “cool” really is and why fashion snobbishness is out of style.

Jerome Dreyfuss

I hear you’ve been busy.

We moved into new offices with a nice garden five weeks ago. I found land in Le Marais and built it.

Who was the architect?

I was. I am very much inspired by Californian and Japanese architecture. I’ve always been inspired by architects—it’s so hard to think about a building and then build it. It’s been a huge passion for me. I always thought I’d build a house. The opportunity just arose, and I have a lot of friends who helped. It’s really great to work with them.

Jerome Dreyfus's studio in Le MaraisThat’s so impressive. You’ve been doing a lot of creative things recently. Tell us about the wonderful pillow creations (nipples, lipsticks, fingers and cigarettes) in your fall-winter campaign.

They’re not really pillows. They were deisgned by a French artist, a friend of mine, Caroline Rennequin. Because being a designer is so busy, I don’t have a lot of time to spend with my friends, who inspire me, so I work with them. My CEO is my best friend that I’ve known since kinder school. Caroline is a best friend of my wife [the designer Isabel Marant]. She’s a painter, but all of the pillows are made out of leather. We really wanted a ′70s feeling, with a velvet leather that’s really ′70s chic. We thought of the artists of the ′70s. We laughed a lot about it. I don’t want to dramatize my fashion. I want to make a woman feel cool and comfortable. It’s just important to make the woman laugh.

Speaking of colleagues, what was working with Galliano like?

That was a very fun time, the mid ′90s. He is so talented. It was another time. We were thinking only about having fun. We weren’t thinking about markets then.

What is the captivation of the 1970s for you? Why is that decade having a fashion moment now?

I was born in the mid-′70s, so I have huge fantasies about that time period. There were beautiful women like Meryl Streep and Bianca Jagger and the women of Studio 54. The art in SoHo and New York and Saint Germain in Paris. They were not concerned with ads. There was a certain naiveté. It was just after the May ′68 Revolution. And the music was best. The bands on stage were in sparkling suits. The clothing was crazy. In terms of clothes, a lot was new. Girls started to wear pants and started really moving. The way they moved in the ′70s was very free. I’m always interested in how people move in clothes.

But after our fascination with the ′70s will come the ′80s and ′90s, because we all have a fantasy about the past. We all think it was better before, but we should think of the future. I’m not making the same styles as previous decades. I am more interested in the fantasy. If you look at too many images of the past you get lost, you can never get it right. I’m trying to work for a real woman.

Jerome Dreyfuss Nestor bag

You say that you design for the stylish cool girl on the streets of Paris. Where do you spot these girls usually?

I am so inspired by French women: they are super cool. It’s an attitude though, how you are with others. Since I am in Le Marais, I will actually say, “Let’s go in the bubble.” Everyone there is beautiful in a cool way. It’s the attitude. A woman who is too constricted is boring. One must feel good in their skin, then they look cool. But most importantly, if you are not nice you are not beautiful.

So what does “being cool” mean to you?

Being appreciative, nice to others, simple and generous. You don’t need money.

A homeless man once came up to me on the street and asked, “Are you Jérôme Dreyfuss?” I said, “I am.” He said he wanted to thank me. I was confused and asked for what. He said, “For your windows, each time I see your windows I laugh and think they are beautiful.” They are there and they are free. They make people happy. That is cool. It starts with a smile.

I love that. What is something new you did in this collection that you hadn’t done previously?

I’ve started working with patchwork. I was really inspired by Aladdin Sane. When David Bowie died, I started to listen to his music. I really loved him, as did a lot of people. So, voilà.

Jerome Dreyfuss's studio in Le MaraisHow do you go about christening your bags? They have the names of people. 

I need the bags to be done first. I never name them when I am designing or cutting the leather. I get the girls from my studio, and we sit down and go through a whole list of French names that I have on my phone. And it’s really fun. I’ll say, “What about Gerard?” And they’ll say, “No, that’s not a Gerard head.” Or, “What about André?” “It’s not really an André either.”

A lot of my friends complain because they do not have a bag named for them yet. We’ll have a dinner and one friend will ask, “Am I selling well this season?” And another will say, “I didn’t sell well.” I did the naming for people to understand that a bag or fashion is not so important. What’s important is to make the people laugh with stupid things.

Do you think fashion takes itself too serious?

Of course. I look at the people who go to the shows, the women at my wife’s shows, who spend so much time getting dressed and then wait out front for a photographer to take their photo. A circus describes this industry. There is a snobbish way with editors, too. Snobbishness is so old school. The new way is to be happy and generous. We are so lucky to be born in one of the richest countries.

I feel a lot of happiness when watching Kenzo, Azzedine Alaïa, Gaultier. They are working hard for people to have fun.

Jerome Dreyfuss's studio in Le Marais

What is something that is making you really happy and hopeful right now?

We must be generous and nice, and that will be paradise. We have to be thankful.

The kids give me hope, when I see my son, his friends and my nephews. We are not the generation to save the world. They are able to solve problems since they were born being aware of them. We can only teach them. Teach them to stop consuming so much, to stop pollution. That traveling causes a lot of pollution. We can teach them to respect nature. That’s why I am positive. This time is so bad that all there is is to be creative. I always say I am waiting for a new Gandhi. In the meantime, I find my way by making people around me happy.

But the first step is to stop complaining—the French complain so much. We need to be aware of what we have. Be positive and not live thinking this is the end. Build something new.

SHOP: Jérôme Dreyfuss

—Britt Olson