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Cedric Charlier On Lessons Learned from Alber Elbaz and Forging Ahead on His Own

Cedric Charlier only celebrated his 34th birthday days ago but he's spent what seems like half of his life building up an impressive design resume. He launched his eponymous collection just last year but he's done stints at Celine (with Michael Kors), Lanvin, and most recently, Cacharel. We caught up with the designer yesterday to chat about what it's like to be a young designer right now in Paris.

Cedric Charlier only celebrated his 34th birthday days ago but he's spent what seems like half of his life building up an impressive design resume.

The Belgian-born, Paris-based designer has done stints at Celine (under Michael Kors), Jean Paul Knott (a fellow Belgian), Lanvin (he spent six years as Alber Elbaz's assistant) and most recently, at Cacharel, where he served as the creative director starting in 2009 and relaunched the brand's womenswear to critical acclaim. Despite the rave reviews Charlier garnered at Cacharel, the company cut ties with him in 2011. But maybe it was for the best, since it allowed Charlier to set out on his own, launching his eponymous collection last year in Paris.

Since Charlier debuted his fall 2012 collection, he's been scooped up by Barneys, grabbing a plum spot on the 4th floor. Barneys COO Daniella Vitale divulged that Charlier is the only designer the retailer has ever picked up based on sketches alone. That says something about this young designer's talent.

Yesterday Barneys hosted a lunch to celebrate Charlier at its flagship--and today's he's off on a Barneys tour of the West Coast, which he's excited about, he told me, because he feels that "coming from Europe, it's important to discover different cultures, to find out what people in California like."

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Charlier is pretty shy but when pressed about his background, what it's like to work in Paris at a new label, and how he keeps his head on straight amidst all the gossip and designer shake ups (he didn't speak about his departure from Cacharel), he opened up. A little.

Fashionista: You worked with Alber Elbaz for six years at Lanvin. Why did you stay with him so long? Cedric Charlier: He was my school. What I remember is that Alber tried to teach me to respect the body and to respect the woman. I think that in the end we need to see the woman and not the dress. That's the most important thing.

What's it like to be in Paris as a young designer not working for a big house? The impact of the couture in Paris is very important but I'm not Parisienne, I'm from Belgium, so it's totally different for me in my head--because I think that I keep my culture and the culture of Belgium. In Belgium we never talk about fashion--we talk about design. I think it's about freedom. Yes, I'm in both worlds--I'm close to couture and the big houses, but I feel free for my future.

How would you describe your line? It's barely a year old but you've already put out five collections. I am continuing in a sophisticated but subversive way. I like this kind of sophistication because it's about an allure. But it's all an experience, a laboratoire.

As long as Charlier keeps experimenting in his "laboratoire," we'll keep watching.