Iris Cantabri is a French pret-a-porter brand established in 2014. Although it has only produced two collections, it has already piqued my curiosity. Sitting somewhere between haute couture and ready-to-wear, it unites traditional handicrafts with modern technology in a style that's both angelic and devilish.
In a bourgeois bohemian neighborhood near Paris’ Canal Saint Martin sits the Iris Cantabri studio, where I met its founder 28-year-old designer Guillaume Michel. Wearing a simple white polo neck and black trousers, with fine-rimmed round glasses, Guillaume is neat, polite and courteous, with a twinkle in his eyes and a mischievous grin.
His light and bright designer studio is filled with mannequins, piles of fabric, this season's collection, and ropes of intricate trims and braids. Guillaume explains that elaborate passementerie are a special feature of Iris Cantabri. He learned the ancient craft, that came to France from China along the silk road, while working at Emmanuel Ungaro. Louis XIV treasured passementerie, using it to decorate furnishings and clothing. Guillaume hopes to pass on this ancient tradition to make modern clothing that is both stylish, practical, and impeccably made. As Guillaume shows me around the boutique atelier he shows me various examples of the pieces he has designed. With a small piece of braid to connect the front and rear edges of the skirt, or a whole piece placed on the front or back, in a soft but strong line, he creates an architectural style and 3D structure, with an open work design that draws a contrast between the softness of the skin and the hardness of the braiding.
"Women are always changing, I want them to create their own wardrobe according to their moods and tastes."
Another special feature of Iris Cantabri is Mix and Match – clients can create their own combinations by mixing tops and bottoms that can be joined at the waist with a zip. For example, the same shirt can be matched with a light and simple A-line skirt for a relaxing holiday, or with suit trousers for a formal, elegant work outfit. In other words, ladies are free to change their clothes to suit their mood, the weather, or even just to match nail polish colour! Iris Cantabri liberates women to change as often as they wish, using their own creativity to put together a look that fits every moment in their lives. It’s cool, n’est pas?
"No straight lines exist in the structure of the human body, so my designs have absolutely no straight lines either."
For the 2016 spring/summer collection Guillaume shares his inspiration by the work of female Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Her designs have an organic feel, full of curves and slopes with nary a straight line in sight. Standing before one of her buildings, you can feel the dynamism and vitality of these massive shapes. "It's the actual contours of her work that inspired me,” explains Guillaume, “the human body is just the same – it has no right angles, so my designs simply follow this natural phenomenon, out of respect for the female body. I want to design clothes that allow the body to move freely, creating a harmonious effect between body and wardrobe."
"In one year I've only produced two clothing lines"
Fashion burn-out is a major theme of 2016. While other fashion houses are rapidly churning out 8 collections a year, and fast fashion retail brands produce new collections year-round, Guillaume chooses to only design two collections each year.
While discussing Raf Simons’ departure from Dior, he says feels that as fashion houses get bigger and bigger, they also demand ever more creative energy and ever more innovation and new ideas. Just like the dinosaurs, when there is no longer enough food to support their large appetites, it leads to their extinction.
"I only do two collections a year, which is already a huge amount of work. We spend a lot of energy on technical research and development, such as 3D printing, or ultrasonic stitching. This era doesn't have the creative buzz of the 1980s, or the wild sexy trends of the noughties. My generation is getting back to basics, we just want simple, cosy, sensible and comfortable clothes to suit the modern lifestyle. Of course, all this is just to avoid wearing a coat in summer!” Then he laughs out loud, like a child.
Check out the new Iris Cantabri pop-up shop at 15 rue des Blanc Manteaux in the Marais from now to July 31, 2016.
Pictures: Brandie Raasch, Writer: Xinxian Su