Isabel Marant is a designer who designs for herself; she makes things that she wants to wear. And these things happen to be what women, a lot of women, strongly desire. I remember when samples of her fall 2009 collection arrived at the magazine I was working at back then (Vogue), goodness help me if every single editor, assistant and intern didn’t stop at her rack in the hall to gush over Isabel’s little chiffon dresses, her leopard prints, and that chic sweatshirt. Then, of course, there was her best-selling Dicker ankle boot, which basically made ankle boots the new boot style everyone had to have… and then came those wedge sneakers. Game-changers.

What’s the thought process behind this type of success? I got to find out when Isabel was in NYC for a few days to celebrate Barney’s devoting all its Madison Avenue windows to her. And, obviously, I wanted to know about her denim – how she sees it fitting into her collections (both the main one and Étoile), and how it fits into fashion in general. What I found was that Isabel is focused, but funny; thoughtful, but not too serious. So cool, but so approachable – like what she makes. And that includes her jeans.

Let’s start with the pair you have on. These are new for spring?

Yeah. It’s the Étoile line. I always play with embroidery. I’ve done it many times; I’m quite known for my embroidered jeans. I like to have a tiny detail, because I think most of us are wearing jeans all the time. I mean, I’m like 80% of the time wearing slim jeans. But you always want a new one [laughs].

Do you wear only your own jeans, or do you like other brands, too?

I don’t really buy any other brands, I must say. You know, I have this chance that I’m able to achieve exactly what I’m looking for. I think the only jeans I’ve been buying were like Junya Watanabe with all the patches because they was so nice, so well-achieved. I love them.

Do you remember the first time you put denim in your collection?

It was, I think, my third collection. It was about Serge Gainsbourg – and Jane Birkin, of course. They really are the kind that make you think of jeans. For Serge it was a jean shirt, actually. And I did a kind of wide-leg, 70s one – a flare. I was really into this cover for Serge Gainsbourg and Jane’s [Histoire de] Melody Nelson. [Jane’s] naked on the top and wearing a flare jean. I love this picture. I think it’s always a very inspiring one. So it was the Melody Nelson jean. I think it had a little patch with Liberty flowers.

Isabel Marant
Isabel MarantJEAN GENIE Isabel Marant in her SoHo, NYC store.

How important is denim to your collection?

There are really key things that you will never get fed up with: a good white t-shirt, a nice black jacket, and jeans. I will add sneakers to that, as well. There are things that you would love to invent, but they are so perfect that there’s nothing to do [laughs]. The fabric [denim] itself is so perfect. You wash it; it’s so easy. The more you wash it, the better it is. There’s so much to do with jeans.

When you’re making jeans, are you thinking about what you want to wear, what you think women in general want, or what they’ve told you they want?

Being a woman myself, I quite know what women are looking for. It’s very hard to achieve a very good jean. Where are the seams on the side? Where are the pockets? The waist, and all that… I wish I could do more sizing like the other jean brands are doing, but I can’t. I am not a jeaner. I can’t stock all the shapes because I have so many other things.

Are your jeans always this shape?

Yeah, that’s my slim shape. I’m doing always the girlfriend look, and also a boyfriend. But they are not always exactly the same; they are moving with the collection.

How important is denim to fashion?

I always say when you look at people in the street, I think 80% of people are wearing jeans and sneakers and a t-shirt. Sometimes when I’m at a red light on my scooter, I count them and I say to myself, “Why am I doing all those other clothes?” [laughs].


 What is the difference between how women in Paris and women in New York wear denim?

I don’t think there’s any difference. People keep on asking me that kind of question. Honestly, you could be Parisian [well, thank you!], and she could be Parisian [points to Jane]. I don’t think there is so much difference. Maybe 20 years ago, you could say it was a more conservative or executive woman in America than in France. But it’s not true anymore. I think globalization has worked out quite well [laughs].

Do you remember your first pair of jeans?

It was my first touch of America. It was a pair of Levi’s that one of my father’s friends brought. It wasn’t existing really in Paris. It was the beginning of the 70s. I was feeling like I had a part of America; I was so pleased by that, to get one of those. I used it for ages, because when he offered it to me it was really big [laughs] so I could wear it for maybe five years. I was maybe six. It was a 501. Really stiff.

What is your favorite pair ever?

I think it’s the one I did for H&M – the white with chunky embroidery. I love that one. I have it in several colors. I will never get rid of it.

Speaking of, if you had to get rid of all of your jeans and replace them with something else, what would it be?

I would be very annoyed [laughs]. No, probably a pair of stretchy leather leggings. It’s the only other option.

How do jeans make you feel?

I think it’s one of the easiest pieces. And you feel always comfortable; you’re not afraid to destroy them. And they work with everything: you can have a pair of flat shoes; you can put on a jacket and a nice heel and go out and it’s done. It brings also a certain coolness and easiness that we all want to feel when we are dressing.

What color denim do you like?

I’m very gray and white-ish. I rarely wear blue denim, actually. I don’t know why. There’s something… On me, it’s a little bit too casual. I don’t know why. It’s how how I feel.