An Interview with Maxime Simoens



Step by step behind the story of Maxime Simoens S/S 2012 collection.

The first look of his couture collection said it all: Maxime Simoens is a breath of fresh air on the Parisian haute couture catwalks. The young designer, who in January was celebrating his label’s one-year anniversary showing during Couture Week, opened with a statement piece, an ultra-fitted jacket in black crepe teamed with tuxedo pants, both embroidered with tiny silvery metal studs that created geometric patterns that flattered in all the right places. The overall silhouette was elegant, yet edgy with the studs infusing a rock n’ roll spirit rarely seen in haute couture shows these days.

“This first silhouette is a strong pant suit, because I like to show a woman exuding a bit of power,” explained the designer, “I don’t want to just show evening dresses, that’s not how I see couture.”

“Every couture house has its financial constraints. Personally, I need my clothes to be worn to make financial sense. Yes, it’s great to be creative but let’s face it there are also financial constraints, especially for young houses like mine. It only makes sense if it sells. Of course, I can do a few show pieces, but I can’t afford hours and hours of work on improbably volumes that will not sell,” he added.

“I’m also not interested in designing dresses that are just to be shown in magazines. It’s great for the publicity, but it’s even better when they are worn by a beautiful woman. I really like to dress women for every day,” he said .

Simoens’ edgy practical approach to couture has quickly won him plaudits amongst younger celebrities like Beyonce and Blake Lively and his talent has also attracted attention from Leonard, a French fashion house better known for its exuberant prints. The company hired him last October as their new creative director to replace Veronique Leroy who had held the position for eight years.

Simoens said designing at Leonard is allowing him to have a bigger budget to work on his own couture collection, which this year presented a lot of discreet, contemporary hand-embroidery details in the best tradition of couture. (Note: since this interview, Simoens has left Leonard to concentrate on his own label).

Known for his form-fitting structured silhouettes and graphic embellishments, the 28-year-old designer took his audience on an imaginary journey through Tokyo with his Spring-Summer 2012 couture collection.

As usual, Simoens looked for inspiration in the world of cinema, this time utilizing Gaspard Noe’s 2009 psychedelic melodrama “Enter the Void” which is set in Tokyo’s neon-lit nightclub environment.

“The film is not the focus, it’s just the beginning of a story in my head,” explained Simoens. “I watched it a couple of times. Then I captured some key images from it and slowly started to create a universe around it, enlarging it on the board to include reference to architecture, painting, photography."

“The music is also extremely important to create this universe and is one of the first things I selected. In this case, I chose it back in July when I was designing the collection, it’s by Ratatat, a New York group,” he added.

Simoens' graphic design started off understated and black but quickly embraced multi-coloured embroidered pixels, sequins to conclude with pastel fluid organza.

The show started with several outfits in semi-luscious black crepe embroidered with tiny metal studs. “I was inspired by a photo of Tokyo by night, where you see a lot of little lights in the sky which are the skyscrapers’ windows lighted at night. They look almost like little stars,” explained Simoens. Faithful to his rock and roll-like approach to couture, the metal studs gives the perfectly tailored clothes a youthful, punk feel, while the exaggerated round shoulders of his silhouettes are his interpretation of the round shoulders found in Asian dresses like the cheongsam. “I wanted to give this collection an Asian feel, but I don’t like to be very literal; it’s all very subdued,” he said. The silhouettes are also belted in trompe-l’oeil, while his models’ wrists and ankles are decked out in metal accessories he designed. Simoens is actually planning to launch his own accessories line of bags and shoes in the next season or two.

White appears in a braided paper pencil skirt, then a blouson jacket whose cut is loosely inspired by a traditional kimono. Simoens says he likes to play with new materials. Here, continuing his Asian theme, he used a Japanese fabric made in white paper jacquard that is surprisingly strong and resistant. Keeping it fun, a belt buckle has his label’s bar code logo, which turns the symbol of mass market on his head in a couture show.

One of the main themes of the collection – small pixel-like embroideries that recall the pixels of giant screens in Tokyo’s night sky – appears on a white crepe de Chine dress along its organza hem. This theme will be amplified into a larger mosaic effect on items coming down the runway later.

“I’m not sure if people realize watching the pieces on the runway how much work goes in every piece. I’m not into the ostentatious, but everything has details embroidered by hand, there are hours of work!”

Simoens subtly introduced another unusual material for couture: cork! “I like to surprise, that’s the whole purpose. I want people to ask themselves, ‘What is it, is it leather? Is it skai?’ Cork is often used in wall decoration and that’s where I found the inspiration here, but I don’t think it’s been used like that on the catwalk before. This cork has been lacquered and tinted by an Italian artisan.”

Presented in a patchwork of colour blocked pieces, including various reds which is his favourite colour, the thin lacquered cork panels over mousseline are sculpted to form exaggerated rounded shoulder pads, high collars and multi-tiered skirts.

Simoens also used an origami technique to create small waves of organza first on a tube top then on an exquisite blouse in shades of red.

Using small pleated ribbons in graded shades of blues, Simoens created a wave pattern on the tight-fitted top, which is then repeated in different shades on a short dress and an evening gown. “The idea was a bit like a tsunami, a wave of fabric, but a structured one.”

The pixelated pattern is reprised in a bigger mosaic of multi-coloured 'rhodoid' squares on various garments, including an “armoured” jacket with structured shoulders teamed with shorts in crepe and perforated leather.

Rock n roll black trousers that mould the body in is matched with a bandeau top covered in multi-coloured sequin embroideries sewn to create a rockery effect. The heavy embroideries continue on long evening dresses in crepe de chine in shade of green and blue.

Simoens finished his collection using liquid organza, the lightest and airiest fabric used to stunning effect to create extremely fluid evening dresses with floating wings and trains around his models. “There is the idea of the fallen angel; it’s a fabric I’ve used before, but I really like it because it’s so incredibly light.”

First published in Couture by Designare Vol 2 (April 2012)