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Sorry, Francophiles: The Lemaire Designers Confirm We Should Stop Trying to Dress "French"

Christophe Lemaire and Sarah-Linh Tran discuss the secret to their city's effortless style and why they're fans of Kanye West's designs.
#couplegoals. Sarah-Linh Tran and Christophe Lemaire. Photo: Imaxtree

#couplegoals. Sarah-Linh Tran and Christophe Lemaire. Photo: Imaxtree

As you're hopefully aware, Lemaire's second collaboration with Uniqlo hit stores on Friday, and once again, design duo Christophe Lemaire and Sarah-Linh Tran appealed to the aspiring French minimalist in all of us with a range of lightweight, preppy knits and sleek linens inspired by summer vacation and French new wave cinema.

To celebrate their deuxième collection launch, the enviably chic couple held court at the Uniqlo store in Paris's Marais neighborhood on Thursday night, just 24 hours after presenting their own fall 2016 collection as part of Paris Fashion Week (which is going on right now if you guys didn't know). Before buying just about all that was left in stock at the private shopping event, we chatted with the designers-slash-Yeezy fans about what inspires their untouchably cool aesthetic, the secret to that specifically French insouciant way of wearing casual clothes — and why we Americans shouldn't bother trying to attain it — and the very unique way they instructed the models to walk at their runway show. Read on for their responses, which we suggest trying to read with a French accent.

Aside from it being for spring weather rather than fall weather, how did the preparation for this collection differ from the first one?

Christophe Lemaire: Summer is not easy because you just want good shirts, good pants. We started from the style of our summer vacation. Very much inspired by some new age movies, some French '60s movies. This feeling of stylish but very easy, effortless, so it was very much about looking for good textures of cotton. Oxfords, washed poplins. And the colors were very much inspired by these specific movies. These burnt yellows.

Sarah-Linh Tran: Faded colors.

What inspires your design process in general? Is it a lot of movies and things like that, or do you think about what you and the people you know want to wear?

CL: Both. We start from reality because we are interested in creating good clothes. We're interested in the intimate relationship we have with clothes. So it starts from very concrete things: what we need everyday to wear, what we'd like to have in our wardrobes, the functionality of it, how to improve the comfort. But then you need to bring a little bit of a dream. So that's always the balance: between dream and reality.

Do you feel that the clothes you design are very specifically French-inspired? I feel like the French — and your brand specifically — have a way of doing casual clothes in a very chic way that you don't see anywhere else.

ST: The French are really thoughtless and chic at the same time. They never do too much. And I think they have this good balance of dressing. It's more about the personality and the gesture and the intelligence, for example, than having the proper clothes at the right time. So it's good if you feel that.

So it's about thinking less?

CL: And I think really good design is very difficult to capture. That's why it's very difficult to be.... To kind of pretend being someone that you aren't. And I think it's the roots [of the French]. The cultural roots are important. But we're not very conscious of that.

But it's our mothers, too. I just realized. It's very much our mothers that influence [our style]. Sarah's mother has a sense of playfulness and she's always...

ST: ...always experimenting with things with her own clothes.

CL: But in a very practical way. And very independent. She doesn't care about fashion statement. And my mother, she's very much about...

ST: ...down to earth.

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CL: You know how the French can be grumpy or negative. But there's a good side of them. The French woman has this always this way of maybe...

ST: ...having a distance.

CL: There is a certain independence in the French spirit, which probably explains why there are certain qualities about how people dress.

There are a lot of Americans who want to emulate that French style, but it sounds like they just need to stop trying in a way. 

CL: That's true. In New York Fashion Week, there's a lot of... For instance, we like the Kanye West thing for Adidas, strangely enough. 


CL: Yeah, because... you can say whatever you want about the guy. He talks too much. He's super-narcissistic. But at the end of the day, what he did there was the most relevant things. It means something. It's reflecting new things. This black, proud thing. It's very streetwear, but beautiful colors. Maybe New York Fashion Week sometimes is a little too much influenced by Europe. Trying to be European or Parisian. But we are big fans of American designers like Calvin Klein or Halston.

ST: There's a culture of elegant sportswear and everyday wear that they tend to forget sometimes.

This is somewhat unrelated, but I liked in your show how the models were walking. They were looking from side-to-side, how a real woman might walk down the street. What was your inspiration behind the direction?

ST: First, a confident girl. And also the idea of the flaneur. Those girls are independent and they have time to look around and appreciate what's around them. And it gives them some strength and confidence. And having some interaction with the audience. We wanted to make people feel involved. Like in the street. Sometimes you walk by someone and you have them catch you [with their eyes].

CL: Because style is... We can only do half of the job. We can try and create the best possible clothes. But chic, elegance comes from the way you move. Your gesture. Your attitude. So it's very much in your brain and heart. And it's sad sometimes in fashion, you become like a...

ST: Robot.

CL: Fashion robot. Become like a war. Like fashion soldiers.

ST: We talked to [the models] and they loved [the walk].

CL: [During fittings we] had to say, 'No, wait, wait, wait. We want you, we chose you because of your personality.' For us, good style is clothes that reveal your personalities. Not hiding it, so we want to show that [on our runway]. And we were surprised, actually. We were expecting more resistance or misunderstanding. But all of them were really, 'Oh, cool. Yeah.' They were really proud. So I think that's important. Because otherwise it can be sad, no?

Shop the spring Uniqlo and Lemaire collection here.