A few days into 2016, as other Parisian fashion houses were scrambling to present prefall, Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant could be found at the Courrèges head offices skipping the madness altogether. Most designer brands churn out at least two pre-season and two main collections (plus couture) a year. Not this one. “We want to focus and really impose a style, a way of working, a proposal,” says Vaillant. At 27 and 26 respectively, Meyer and Vaillant are spearheading the comeback of one of the most iconic brands of the ’60s. André Courrèges was, after all, among the few designers who translated seismic societal shifts—from space travel to women’s lib—into future-minded fashion (the white PVC! the go-go boots! the ultra-mod!).
After their appointment last year, the design duo was given three months to conceptualize their vision for spring ’16. “We wanted to come back to the essence of our job, which is to create clothes,” says Vaillant. “To start from the beginning with a jacket, a skirt, a dress. And the most natural way to present this was by product categories, not by look. It was about being the most honest as possible and offering real clothes.” What they did was a notable departure from the standard runway drill: instead of full outfits, models wore rib-knit bodysuits topped with a single piece—a motorcycle jacket, a fitted miniskirt, a slip dress. Each new idea was followed by multiple variations of the same essential item. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Vogue declared it “the runway return of the season.” Colette snapped it up; Bergdorf and SSENSE followed suit.
Which brings us to this tête-à-tête-à-tête in the sun-bathed showroom above the maison’s central Paris studio. Both Meyer and Vaillant express the importance of time—to consider their sophomore follow- up and to reimagine a new visual identity when the collective memory of Courrèges remains so strong.
“We really want to think and start well,” says Meyer, who is the creative right brain to Vaillant’s management left. The two met in 2009 at Mod’Art International—Vaillant studied fashion management and business, Meyer sewing and design—and have been partners ever since. In 2013, they launched their own label, Coperni Femme, on a lark, only to receive the prestigious ANDAM fashion award the following year and to be shortlisted for the LVMH Prize the year after that. When Courrèges became their new reality, they put their line on hold.
What may seem like a premature end for Coperni is to Meyer and Vaillant simply the next chapter in a not so different narrative. André Courrèges was often dubbed the “Le Corbusier of Paris couture,” and the young creatives have long held the designer in high esteem. “We share the same values—the woman, the clothes, the development, the architecture, the young, the cool, the urban and all that,” says Vaillant. “Luckily, we are not at Roberto Cavalli making big dresses of blurry prints, because we don’t know how to do that!”
Ultimately, though, the duo is aware that their success depends on a universe larger than clothes. André Courrèges was always looking to the future and dreaming up big ideas. It’s something the brand will continue to do in 2016 and beyond. Co-presidents Jacques Bungert and Frédéric Torloting have even mentioned electric cars as a distant product offering.
I’m sure Monsieur Courrèges, who passed away at the age of 92 just two days after my visit, would approve. He valued the boundless potential of the imagination. It’s a legacy Meyer and Vaillant are proud to accept. “Courrèges evokes for everyone a kind of freedom, a place where everything is possible,” says Vaillant. “What I like when I wake up in the morning,” adds Meyer, “is knowing that if we have an idea, we can do it.”