Fashion Week SPACE

Paris Fashion Week: LVMH Nominee Koché Brings Couture to the Street (No, Really)

As with just about everything, the French say it so much better. What we in the States might call an alley is in Paris referred to as a “passage” (pronounce it softly, like a spa “massage”). Last Wednesday night, in one that dates back to the 18th Century and is filled these days with a world-sourced mix of importers, food markets and hair cutters, weavers, and braiders, recent LVMH nominee Christelle Kocher staged her third season of Koché.

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What’s important about the setting is what important about the brand: Central to Christelle’s work is the act of putting highly technical and exclusive craft into the mainstream—into the very lifeblood of humanity. At her day job, Christelle oversees specialized embellishments for, like, Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel; for Koché, she uses this fine, couture background to reimagine basketball shorts and jigsaw velvet and paillettes into easy dresses you can throw on over a pair of jeans.

You’ve heard before of designers who apply couture techniques to ready-to-wear, but very few do it so well, and with such extremes.

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At first, on that night in Passage du Prado, you didn’t necessarily have to wait for the collection to emerge to sense the dichotomies at play.

Where earlier in the day we had been to grand ballrooms and inside exclusive gilded rooms (the fantastical Fashion Week norms), Koché’s location was chosen because it’s incredibly common. It’s full of immigrants and working class folks, and although the event was timed for after the shops had closed, Christelle and her boyfriend Julien Lacroix, who acts as the brand’s artistic director, encouraged the residents and occupants to stay and join the fashion people, and be a part of it all.

A thumping, buzzing, really, really good soundtrack filled the corridors and as a wild mix of spectators gathered, Christelle’s team passed out artful zines and addresses for an after party. You might say the whole thing felt DIY or grassroots; Lacroix used the term ‘guerrilla.’

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Christelle told me later that a DJ duo named Aamourocean was responsible for the music; their name means Love Ocean. She smiled and laughed when she told me that, and brought the conversation back around to the diverse neighborhood and all the unrest in Paris over the last year. Love Ocean. She said if there was an overall message of the evening, and even of the brand, it would be, “Don’t be afraid.”

When the models—actually, only 11 of the 43 were professionals; the rest were friends and street-cast real girls—took to the alley, they were anything but afraid. The sense of confidence, strength, and female power was palpable.

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It was sometimes hard to feel where the edge was; where the runway stopped and the rest of us started—except that at the end of the show the models did pause and hold their places for just long enough to be completely and wholly observed.

And then they scattered off into the city. And so did we.

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A few days later when we reached the showroom—a gorgeous white-on-white space with crown molding and chandeliers to die for—it was definitely easier to see the velvets and jerseys and silks and assemblages, but it occurred to me that we knew them better that night on the street.

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Still, it was a pleasure to experience them up-close and in the light.

In that environment, certain things became more clear: oblique and overt references to sportswear, for instance. Christelle isn’t just bringing those casual codes into high fashion, she’s mixing Chanel-quality feathers and lace with blurred-out  motocross prints, athletic mesh and draw-string finishings. 

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When I spoke with the Central Saint Martins-trained designer about this juxtaposition, she told me about growing up outside the lines of the city and eventually wanting to marry the comfort she knew and craved with the finery she had learned to make a living with.

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Christelle told me that it’s her hope that Koché will establish and continue a dialog—a way for that art and craft to communicate with the alley and the street and vice-versa.

If comfortable luxury, empathetic fashion, black lace and crystal embellishments are the discussion, I’m tempted to go back to the sentiment that started this story: The French—and Christelle in particular—have such a lovely way of phrasing things.

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—Laura Cassidy