When young designers are appointed artistic directors of storied fashion houses, they tend to create a lot of buzz, at least at the start, often providing a promising and reassuring presence. Current examples include Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga, Jonathan Anderson at Loewe and Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne's DKNY.
But what about Sébastien Meyer, 27, and Arnaud Vaillant, 26, at Courrèges? They recently put aside their brand Coperni Femme and have now produced two collections for Courrèges, the once wildly famous French label. Both spring and fall 2016 were met with meh reviews. "Recognizably Courrèges," read one. "The straightforward messaging charmed," claimed another. And my favorite: "…satisfying enough." Nothing about the collections seemed to thrill the American fashion press, except that the items were on-trend and would inevitably sell if they got them into stores right away.
In May of 2015, around the time Meyer and Villant's appointment at Courrèges was announced, Vogue published an article titled, "Courrèges Hired the Rising Fashion Duo Behind Paris' Coperni Femme Label for a Brand Reinvention. Should We Care?" While it's not really fair to simply dismiss Meyer and Vaillant — just because we have to worry more about what Bouchra Jarrar is going to do at Lanvin; what Kanye West can dream up for Adidas; the next accessory Nicolas Ghesquière will show at Vuitton; who will be cast in the next Balmain campaign — the duo will have to pass muster if they want the attention of fashion's elite. Like a college athlete thinking about going pro, Meyer and Vaillant, who were finalists for the 2014 LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize, need to prove that they have the will and dexterity to perform in the big leagues. Usually, it takes more than just raw talent and a knowledge of fashion history. A strong following helps. So does money. They seem to have the right friends (the popular Lolita Jacobs is the brand’s style director). On the retail side, Courrèges has recently managed to broker a deal with Bergdorf Goodman, offering the retailer exclusive sale rights in New York. And with the backing of Jacques Bungert and Frédéric Torloting, the two former advertising executives currently financing Courrèges, they've got the budget to reach a global audience.
This is all wonderful, but it still doesn’t answer the question: Why, in a world full of brand revivals — whether delightful or dull — should we care about Courrèges? Since Vogue decided not to ask Meyer and Vaillant this question for its story, I figure it's a good, albeit slightly uncomfortable, place to start when I meet them at a Bergdorf Goodman launch party.
"We have to care because [André Courrèges] changed fashion," Vaillant declares. "We’ve had some amazing talents, and there have been many beautiful brands, but the last revolutionary was really Courrèges."
On January 7, French fashion designer André Courrèges passed away, and the profiling has begun. Images of the late designer's famous Space Age outfits are everywhere, and there are multiple stories on the web that claim he invented the miniskirt. But each of us creates his or her own relationship with someone who has done as much as Courrèges did, and for Meyer and Vaillant, Courrèges has a special place in fashion’s history books. "Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Courrèges," Vaillant lists off, "they created fashion in France."
Every day, Meyer and Vaillant tell me, they discover something new about Courrèges — about his fashion, about his lifestyle, about his inventions. "We could do collections for the next 100 years if we wanted to," says Vaillant. "We're happy because it’s a large brand," added Meyer. But do they want it to be as large as, say, Kering-owned Balenciaga? "Of course, we want to bring it to a higher level, sell in a lot of countries," Meyer said. "We want people to wear the brand everywhere in the world, so we'll push it as far as possible."
Meyer and Vaillant say they feel they were selected for the job because of the similar aesthetic Coperni had to Courrèges, and also because they're a duo: "First, it was André and Coqueline Barrière, his wife. Then it was Jacques Bungert and Frédéric Torloting, the owners. Now it's Sébastien and [me]," said Vaillant. "It's always better to be two people. Also, we have an incredible workshop in Paris with the seamstresses and pattern makers and a big factory in the South of France. It's great."
"It's not an easy task," adds Meyer, "but it's the most beautiful job in the world right now."
There's something wonderful about Meyers's statement, a declaration I've never heard come out of a designer's mouth. It's not about the scene, the trend, the noise, or even the clothes. It's about the passion — and perhaps worries — of these two men to keep a legacy alive. I'm not sure of everything that lies ahead, but I do know that Meyer and Vaillant will give Courrèges their all.