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Backstage at Jacquemus SS16
Backstage at Jacquemus SS16Photography Virginie Khateeb

Inside Jacquemus’s dreamlike fashion theatre

‘The Jacquemus girl lost her smile’: leading a white horse across his runway, the French designer reached into the subconscious for his SS16 show

In a huge warehouse deep in an area of Paris known more for its slaughterhouses than its fashion shows, designer Simon Porte Jacquemus staged his SS16 collection. The show unfolded as a kind of psychodrama, where a young child (the designer’s cousin, Jean) pushed a large, red ball of fabric across the stage, and Jacquemus himself appeared dressed entirely in white and leading a horse of the same colour. As for the clothes, their block colours and deconstructed shapes were pure Jacquemus, but it was as if the designer’s muse had come undone somewhat.

Until now she had been the “typical French girl”, one you might find with lipstick on her teeth, listening to cheesy pop music or making words out of her alphabet soup. But this collection marked a shift: gone was the playful make-up and surrealist fun of last season, or the beach towel inspired dresses of SS15. These girls seemed sombre, troubled somehow; they had arms bound by their sides thanks to tight tops without sleeves, pinstripes were displaced onto blouses and fabric became gathered into tight, bulbous balls. Some emerged in twos, each wearing half a jacket like a pair of uncanny twins.

As the designer himself put it backstage, “The Jacquemus girl lost her smile.” Calling it his most “black” collection yet (despite a Francophile colour palette of red white and blue, with the addition of some grey), his inspirations diverted from the childhood fun behind AW15 and instead became a summer blighted by personal difficulties, including an illness that left him with a red nose and gave the collection its name: Le Nez Rouge. “We know me for my smile and my sunshine and my (love of the) seaside,” Jacquemus said, reflecting on his signatures and admitting that the atmosphere of this season was something of an about-turn. “The girl was not dark, she was quite fresh – but you can see a little tiny bit, I tried to have this kind of sadness.”

“The Jacquemus girl lost her smile” – Simon Porte Jacquemus

The show’s parade of images felt like those thrown up by dreams, metaphors waiting to be unravelled like a Michel Gondry film (remember Gael García Bernal and his horse in The Science of Sleep). The child, dressed in a shirt far too large for him, was struggling to push and pull objects bigger than his own body – or, in other words, having to carry the weight of something “too big” for him alone (“I'm only 25,” the LVMH Jury prize winner explained, making reference to the expectations and pressures he's subject to as a young fashion protégé). A suit printed onto a smock dress suggested disguise, while the final ball-like looks distorted the body.

It felt like a moment of maturation for the designer, proof that Jacquemus has more to him than his humour, and that there’s a darker, enigmatic side to his surrealism. “I have always been obsessed with the past,” he said of the design influences underpinning previous collections. But this season was different – “Right now, was right now. For the first time.”