You’d certainly never imagine that Inès de La Fressange would say she has little respect for clothes. But this is just one of the unexpected bons mots the 57-year-old model, designer muse, Uniqlo collaborator and current brand ambassador for Roger Vivier tells me during our interview at this past Cannes Film Festival.
Visiting La Croisette with L’Oréal Paris, one of the festival’s sponsors and a company she has been a spokesperson for since 2011, La Fressange seems even taller in person as she greets me in a tiny suite inside the storied Hôtel Martinez, her just-shy-of-six-feet height accentuated by high-waisted cream trousers paired with a crisp, pale pink dress shirt; both Céline.
“Usually, I don’t have two things coming from the same place,” La Fressange says when I ask what she’s wearing. “You have to mix things, something expensive and something not so expensive; if you only go to Avenue Montaigne or Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, it’s pathetic.” I’m reminded of the spirited advice doled out in her bestselling 2011 book, Parisian Chic. “Totally good taste is boring, and a little bit of bad taste is sometimes good. See, I have a little bit tacky shoes today,” she says in charmingly broken English, pointing to the loafers she’s wearing, which, truth be told, might be a tad pedestrian, but are hardly gauche.
La Fressange was born in Gassin in southeastern France; her mother was an Argentinean model, and her father, the marquis de La Fressange, was a stockbroker, the son of Simone Lazard, heiress to the Lazard banking fortune. Growing up, she saw her paternal grandmother shuffling stiffly around in “huge taffeta dresses,” many of them Jean Patou and Christian Lacroix couture. “I thought my grandmother was so tacky,” she says. “She always had on white gloves and a lot of hairspray; I was eating Elnett when I was a baby!” La Fressange, on the other hand, adopted her signature unfussy style at a young age—wearing la garçonne polos or la marinière tops with tailored jackets, mannish trousers and flat shoes. “I was listening to Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan. I just wanted jeans with holes.”
The glitzy modelling world didn’t welcome the tomboyish La Fressange right away. She had moved to Paris, where her boyfriend, a professional model, introduced her to an agency owner. She was, however, rejected at first by many of the Parisian fashion houses, including a pre–Karl Lagerfeld Chanel. “When I told my grandmother that I went to Chanel and they didn’t take me, she called the owners and made a big scandal [affects high-pitched little-old-lady voice]: ‘My little granddaughter!’” Shortly after Lagerfeld became Chanel’s head designer in 1983, the company signed La Fressange to an exclusive contract that spanned nearly a decade. During the same period, she became a regular fixture on the runways of Yves Saint Laurent and Thierry Mugler, among other Paris greats.
Does she revisit pieces from what must be a truly incroyable wardrobe? The mother of two (her daughters, Nine and Violette, are from her marriage to Luigi d’Urso, an Italian businessman who died in 2006) does not. “I have no respect for clothes. If they stay too long in your cupboard, they lose the magic.”
Based on the newly purchased Céline ensemble she’s wearing and the preppy pared-down basics she recently designed for Uniqlo, I assume she’s quite fond of the current wave of minimal dressing, but no: “Sometimes too minimalist,” she says, “is not very much alive, you know?”