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What if Madame Carven had chosen Serge Ruffieux to resurrect the spirit of his house?

March 5 2018

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The artistic director of Carven presented his autumn-winter collection 2018-19 the 1 st of march in Paris. A protective wardrobe, which invites one on beautiful journey into and around oneself. The opportunity to return to the trajectory of a designer who finally led the house and has shown the cut of his measure. - Isabelle Cerboneschi.

Serge Ruffieux likes fashion. He has always loved it. At the age of eight, he made dresses with paper tissues, he reconstructed parades with Playmobil and Lego in the small theatre of his imagination. As if he had been aware, very early that his destiny would be fashion. His aunt worked at Schiaparelli, but that does not explain everything. What do we know about his deep desires when one has 8 years? He knew.

Serge Ruffieux was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, one of the cradles of Swiss watchmaking, in 1974. But the cogs and the complications, the paternal profession, did not present many attractions in his eyes. "I was obsessed with fashion shows, backstage, what was going on in the workshops. It nourished my need to dream. In the Vallée de Joux it was important to find a way out, "he confided during his visit to La Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design (HEAD) in Geneva last October.

One of the ways he managed to escape was to create a magazine: "It was called" Cocktail "and there were articles on fashion. I had a photocopier at home and I produced fifteen copies. I distributed it to my neighbours. "When you have that passion, the easiest way is to join a fashion school. For three years, he did a fashion design course in Nyon before joining the HEAD: "the school allowed me to bring out who I was. "

And following? A long apprenticeship; he needed it before he could make a collection that would reveal everything he is. A first an internship at Thierry Mugler in the studio of the rue aux Ours, a hundred meters from the box Baths Showers. Serge Ruffieux had traveled little: the discovery of the world of fashion and Paris was a shock. "We slept little, we drank a lot of champagne. We worked very early, it was intoxicating in every sense of the word. "He did various internships, including one at Sonia Rykiel. But he lacked a work permit, because he is Swiss, he flew to Milan where he was hired by Moschino. It was three and a half years before Sonia Rykiel called him back. Back to Paris. "I lived almost six years with Sonia. We argued every day. She needed to share in the balance of power. She was a bit like my Jewish mother, my boss, a designer and a woman. It was magical! "

After an interlude at Cacharel came a proposal from Dior. "After fifteen meetings, the last of which with John Galliano, I finally started." Serge Ruffieux worked for a year and a half with the designer. "He is a genius! He taught me creative method. After his departure, for a year, we worked hand in hand with the studio without an artistic director. Then Raf Simons arrived with a team. Our first appointments went well. He entrusted me with the winter and summer collections to Lucie Meier. It made me grow: it brought me a precision, a sense of detail, proportion, millimeters, and sense of the radical. That's what I was attending to. We did not expect him to leave: we knew one day before. It was a crisis, so Lucie and I proposed to Sydney Toledano (the CEO of Dior at the time, ed) that we take care of Dior. We were met Bernard Arnault, we showed him what we wanted to do. We knew it was a transition period but it started our careers. It was a very beautiful experience. "

Maria Grazia Chiuri was appointed artistic director of Dior when the tandem Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier found a tone and managed to create a new vocabulary for Dior. Their latest collection, very beautiful, was a real creative proposal. We will never know what would have happened if we had given them a chance ...

Carven entered the life of Serge Ruffieux. And vice versa. With his first 2018 spring-summer collection, he has managed to restore the desire of the brand. With the second, the fall-winter collection that parade the March 1er, he reiterated it.

When you know the story of Carven, you can not miss the bridges between the past and the present, the obsessions of Carmen de Tommaso, known as Marie-Louise Carven-Grog et Serge Ruffieux. Involuntary bridges, which come under a very sophisticated form of synchronicity beyond the times. As if Madame Carven had dubbed him and sowed some signs of gratitude along his way. She had created "La jupe sans histoire","Le  tailleur sans souci". That's all we wish for him…

IC: Marie-Louise Carven opens her fashion house in 1945 while ration tickets were still in circulation. It needed some faith in the future or some nerve to do that! Is this Carven spirit that you want to put forward?
Serge Ruffieux: I have not specially thought about this but strangely, it is a house that is used to being reborn: I think this is its third birth.

In this context of rationing, Madame Carven used rustic materials such as cotton, linen and raffia embroidery. we found some of this on your skirts in the spring-summer collection?
It was not raffia, but there are quite a few similarities between this collection, the work I do and things she would have done, or did. I do not know if it's magic or if it came into me, but there are some creative hazards that are fascinating. I was recently offered two old scarves: one dates from the 1950 years the other 1980 years, but I find in these pieces a little playful elements, a humour, almost surreal that corresponds to the spirit that I want to give back to the house.

In your first collection we found Madame Carven's traveling spirit, which was undoubtedly the first to be inspired by ethnic fabrics, African boubous, and batiks. She had launched her famous Samba dress in 1949 and her Mexican collection in 1951. Is this period, little known to the public, that caught your eye when you immersed yourself in the archives?
The first thing I did when I entered the house was to go to the archives. I kissed them. It is especially the way of life of Madame Carven which inspired my beginning of this history; its way of life, its an attitude. The reference to travel came naturally. I did not say to myself, "she went on a trip so I'm going on a trip". It's a happy coincidence. There are others ... for example, I created a print with a rooster. But some time later, I found a part of Madame Carven which used him as a grigri: there was a cock engraved on it.

What struck you most about the archives of this house?
The boubou dress. It is the image that will guide my creative approach through the collections. In this dress there is a form of democracy of genres and styles. She had an ultra avant-garde spirit.

We find this avant-garde spirit in her first pink and white gingham dress that she launched in the summer 1948, ten years before Jacques Esterel. But I imagine you do not reiterate this exercise, unless you take it forward...
For the moment, I do not see myself either in this Vichy aesthetic, very connected to the south of France. It's another south that I want to explore. More distant. It is expressed in the embroidery, the accumulations, the mixtures, the contrasts, the influences that one finds in accessories, bags and shoes. Vichy, this represents a time: that of Christian Dior and Jacques Fath. There is a very classic side in the Vichy, unless it is diverted in a totally Japanese way ...

Your father is a watchmaker at Jaeger-LeCoultre. Is it from him that you hold this attention to detail found in all your creations?
I think yes. If comes from my education. I was raised by my mother, by my grandparents who lived just below, by my aunt Clémentine who was seamstress at Schiap ', by my father working in watchmaking and who was passionate about the backstage of football. In the Vallée de Joux, we are surrounded by watchmaking. It was predicted that I would go to the watchmaking school of Le Sentier, but I ran away to learn how to sew in a workshop in Nyon.

It is in Nyon that you learned the basics of sewing?
Yes. All the great Genevan families had their clothes made in this workshop. They went to buy their dresses in Paris or haute couture jackets from Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Dior, or Givenchy, and we were brought them to redo them in ten colours; it cost them less (laughs). The clothes were completely deconstructed so that they could be redone. And I loved it because I had very early fashion clothes. I was 16 years old at the time. I stayed in this workshop for three years before going to study at HEAD in Geneva where I discovered another world! I was exposed to Japanese designers, to Jean Colonna, Martine Sitbon, Helmut Lang. My diploma work was a little 'Helvetica'. And I think what I'm doing today is still the same.

This attention to detail that characterizes you is even more visible in the collections that you design at Carven because you have budgets four times smaller than before. But your spring-summer and fall-winter collections are precious, ornate. How do you do it
The fabric suppliers, the embroiderers, follow us to succeed in respecting our price category. I'm working on cutting and finishing as much as I could in haute couture workshops. And that's my goal: to maintain and push quality to the maximum in our price range. Having less money is sometimes a strength.

Carven was a fashion house before making ready-to-wear clothes. Do you ever think of redoing Couture, or at least some "tailored" dresses for a chosen clientele?
This is not where we want to take the house. Our wish is to develop a range of accessories that are part of the silhouette, open shops, revive the machine ... Maybe we'll talk about it in seven years, because the fashion has evolved and we have the legitimacy to do it. But that's not the right time. As for making some tailored dresses, Hedi Slimane did it with Yves Saint Laurent, Raf Simons does it with Calvin Klein, but as far as Carven is concerned, it's not relevant.

"I cleaned up, abolished the tailors' padding, accentuated the waist with successions of pliers, set the chest and made it shorter to make them more sexy," said Madame Carven in 2002. I have the impression that life is playing a trick: it's exactly the opposite of what Christian Dior did with paddings everywhere. Are you sensitive to this irony?
It is true that I worked for the big house for eight and a half years, but it must not be forgotten that I passed through the hands of Sonia during five and a half years! She embodied freedom, she championed practical clothes, adapted to the lives of her clients. Mr. Dior and Thierry Mugler fantasised women. I do not fantasise them. I am anchored in a reality, I think of the practical side of the garment, its aesthetic aspect, of course, but I think more like a woman when I create, because I want a technique that services comfort.

Your latest fall-winter collection seems to tell a more intimate journey than spring-summer.
It's a mixture, anecdotes, it maybe more intimate, indeed. We travel less far. We are closer to ourselves. They are boiled woollen clothes - as if it had been removed from the machine and shrunk - mixed with very refined materials. It's a very enveloping, protective collection. The hidden beauty is discovering more and more ...