Christelle Kocher: No Parisian Cliché
Words: Reshma Madhi
Christelle Kocher may be French born-and-bred but this designer is less traditional Parisian chic and more haute couture mashed-up with street wear. With the 2019 Women’s World Cup hosted in Paris, and the soccer girl being the look of the moment, Kocher’s passion for merging the world of sports and fashion together couldn’t be better timed.
This year was the first World Cup for which Nike designed uniforms specifically for sponsored women’s teams, rather than just derivations of the men’s kits (Adidas also followed suit shortly after). Kocher’s influential designs were at the heart of Nike’s show unveiling its sponsored national women’s team kits, which showcased her merged together designs from football jerseys.
Ahead of this, Kocher got to unveil her own collaboration with Nike during her Paris Fashion Week collection, which featured bike shorts paired with sequinned satin blazer, wide pants teamed with feather tops and bias-cut gowns assembled from deconstructed football jerseys.
It seemed like a natural partnership for the designer - being one of her personal favourite brands to wear - she grew up wearing tracksuits and playing sports in Strasbourg before discovering the allure of luxury fashion. She marries these two styles together in her own clothes - comfy Nike items teamed with Chanel jackets.
Kocher admits she was scared of the reaction from both the fashion and sports worlds to her approach but it seems they have embraced her desire to unite these worlds to bring positive change. It’s also about girl power - making clothes designed for a woman’s body, with embroidery like lace and silk to feature sophisticated cuts.
You can see how Kocher’s own personal experiences have influenced her. The Central Saint Martin’s graduate worked for various luxury labels for over a decade, offering an opportunity to travel beyond the borders of French fashion. Firstly, at Giorgio Armani in Milan, then in 2003, with Martine Sitbon, where, within a few months, she was running the atelier and managing development of collections. When that brand closed, Kocher joined Chloé and then Dries Van Noten.
Whilst working with Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta, Chanel’s studio director, Virginie Viard, asked Kocher to revive the prestigious Maison Lemarié, which provides plumasserie – the craft of feather and flower making for creations in top Haute Couture collections. Both these roles offered an opportunity to appreciate couture heritage and highly skilled craftmanship. Kocher learnt how these traditions, developed through women in the domestic arena, were used by ‘70’s feminist artists as a tool of empowerment.
Kocher remained artistic director at Lemarié while launching her own label in 2014. Just a year later, she was an LVMH prize finalist and staged her first runway show at Paris Fashion Week, which showcased that respect for artisanal expertise with her distinct relaxed couture look - think sports jackets with lace inserts and Swarovski crystals.
These days she goes for an early morning run in the Buttes-Chaumont Park before multi-tasking in her day job; working on 12 collections a year - eight for Chanel and four for Koché, collaborating with talented crafters and creatives, and remaining inspired by street culture.
The approach has paid off. Working for other leading names before establishing her own brand in order to understand the practical, while following her own instinct and vision, which remains in tune with the current generation and their online accessibility to a plethora of global influences. It’s no surprise she wants to bring that unity and diversity into her own collections; to make high fashion more accessible and relevant. Even her Paris shows are typically in fun, democratic venues where those across social divides frequent, such as the Halles shopping centre.
A year before the World Cup partnership with Nike, Kocher made an intriguing collaboration with probably the most stylish football club around – Paris Saint Germain (PSG), which recently released a collection with Nike Air Jordan – a first foray for the brand, normally reserved for basketball, into the world of football.
That same unusual cross-hybrid is typical of Kocher’s designs. Her Spring-Summer 2018 collection featured patchwork dresses of the PSG jerseys with Chantilly lace and embellished football jersey tops, that have since been seen on celebs like Beyoncé and Rita Ora. It’s definitely come full circle since previous generations, when the football girl was very much seen as an unfashionable tomboy and women’s football was just not taken as seriously. Until recently, even the biggest sportswear companies in the world have been apathetic towards women’s football fashion. Umbro, only hired its first-ever global ambassador, goalie Ashlyn Harris, two years ago.
It might seem a trivial issue in the wider debate of gender issues and sports but actually the clothes athletes wear broadcast and instil a sense of identity, and with it, confidence and inspiration for its fans. So, actually, creating designs, like ponytail-friendly necklines, is important. Kocher herself feels most confident and comfortable in sportwear – she really believes in sport and fashion as the power of positive change. The Nike show was about being a team player, diversity, unity and empowerment.
It brought together different types of athletes and nationalities to model her designs, such as U.S. soccer star Brandi Chastain, 10-year-old British skateboarder Sky Brown, German boxing champion Zeina Nassar and South African track-and-field gold medallist Caster Semenya, while one single gown was reworked to bring together several different countries.
Alongside modern tailoring, handkerchief-hemmed shirt dresses and huge feathered hats, there were distinctly footie-themed pieces like an oversized black bomber jacket with hexagonal panels and a cocoon-like orange coat with similar detailing.
Not many fashion brands have mixed sports with runway collections; yet Kocher is forward-thinking in her desire to push boundaries in contemporary fashion, and importantly, with a positive energy. She has followed her instinct, believed in her vision and been willing to learn the skills needed. Her collections reflect that sense of reinvention along the way; of discovering and expressing that personal identity.
It seems her instinct is tapped into what’s happening in the world – a younger, social media active generation calling for global inclusivity. Even fashion has been reflecting this, with a shift towards gender neutrality. She is unfazed by the pressure of growing success though – she’s no drama queen – perhaps retaining a bit of that Parisian understatement and cool after all.
Follow Christelle Kocher on Instagram at @koche