Umberto Fratini / Gorunway.com
The applause has barely faded from his latest runway show when Simon Porte Jacquemus and I sit down in a quiet room at the Fondation Maeght, a gem of a museum tucked away in the hills of Côte d'Azur. The 34-year-old designer exhales. “Seriously, it was super chill. It was super relaxed,” he says. But he’s still processing the fashion world celebrity coup of the season, the latest sure-to-be-viral moment that he’s so good at orchestrating. As you’ve probably seen by now, Julia Roberts (as rare a get as any VVIP) was in the front row, sitting next to Jack Harlow. “For me, it was insane,” Jacquemus says. “When I saw her come in, I was almost crying.”
To Jacquemus’s large and very online audience, these kinds of high stakes image-making bulls-eyes are core to the brand. All fashion shows these days are content bonanzas, but Jacquemus has elevated the symbiotic relationship between clothes and creators and the internet into a form of high art. His shows are held off-calendar, to capitalize on the attention span of audiences in the crowd and at home, and staged in highly photogenic locales. He has cut a runway through a lavender field in the south of France, a secluded beach in Hawaii, and Versailles. Today, it wound through the galleries full of Giacomettis and Mirós and Braques of one of the world’s great small museums. His designs encourage sharing, too. His best-known pieces are extremely big (sunhats the size of flying saucers) or laughably small (micro handbags), wearable (if not terribly functional) memes.
This kind of tasteful hype-seeking is key to Jacquemus’s commercial success. “I'm independent, so I have to sell clothes,” he says. To do that, he continues, “I have to have people’s attention.” At the center of it all is Jacquemus himself, a celebrity-friendly hunk from outside Marseille who launched his brand at 19 and who has yet to smother his farm boy charm in Parisian pretension. He loves the sun and his family, and so often references his barefoot, carefree upbringing that it has taken on a mythic quality.
But under his Provençal geniality is a fierce ambition. According to the designer, Jacquemus is now the largest independent brand in Paris. “I always wanted to be the biggest name of my generation,” he says. “And this is still my goal.”
This goal apparently does not include a move to a certain LVMH house in need of fresh creative energy, as has been widely rumored. “No, I don’t go to Givenchy,” he says when I ask. “I am not doing this to work for a big house. This is my big house.” He adds that he’s focused on doing things at his company “better.” “Not only in design, not only in production, not only in servicing clients,” he says. “I have so much to do. I feel like I haven’t arrived anywhere.”
But as Jacquemus’s star has risen, his approach to menswear has been something of a question mark. “I never wanted to do men’s clothing when I was young, to be honest,” he says. The designer only found his taste for men’s clothes around a decade ago. “I was never looking at men’s shows. It was not my dream,” he says. However his work, fashion as approachable as the designer himself, always appealed to men. Waiting for VIPs to arrive, the photographer Pierre-Ange Carlotti tells me he was Jacquemus’s very first paying customer. “I bought a coat from him ages ago,” Carlotti says. “It was like a big gray square.”
In 2018, Jacquemus finally launched a dedicated men’s line with a guerilla-style show on a blazing beach in Marseilles, featuring summery himbo staples like knee-length cargo shorts and pec-baring floral shirts. “I think I created it in two minutes,” he says of the collection. “I wanted to have a show. I did it very instinctively.” The simple, fun resortwear struck a chord. Like the best of Jacquemus, it was designer but didn’t require an advanced degree to understand, and it also looked really good on Instagram.
Menswear, Jacquemus tells me, is now the brand’s fastest-growing category, a core part of how the brand conquered Paris without investors or corporate backing. “Everyone is buying our shirt for summer, and my bucket hat,” he says. But at the Maeght, the designer declares that he’s ready to introduce a new phase of Jacquemus men’s: “I want to send a different message.”
Before the show, you could feel the difference in the guests’ coordinated black-and-white outfits, as they posed sultrily with Giacometti’s gaunt figures. Instead of prints and florals and bucket hats, the likes of Harlow and Aminé wore tailored jackets, respectful gallery-goers in a temple of art. “A more grownup silhouette,” is how Jacquemus describes it after the show. “The main focus this season was saying, We do have products, guys,” he tells me. In other words, Jacquemus is giving his audience elevated construction and considered details, not just more stuff to Instagram. “People say I am a marketing genius, whatever you call it, I don’t care,” he says with a heavy eye roll. “I don’t like the marketing thing. We have ideas and they meet the audience, but it’s not marketing when I’m drawing.”
This season’s sketches came alive in a night-at-the-museum kind of way, as if a sculpture garden infiltrated the design studio. A leather flight jacket—a nod to one Francis Bacon wore to visit the Fondation—was cut with rounded shoulders and ballooning sleeves, creating an off-shoulder effect mirrored by a sweater purpose-built to be tied around a model’s bare clavicle a few looks later. The beach bum has clearly gone bourgeois. Referencing the sweater, Jacqeumus clarifies that he is not steering his client to the subtle embrace of quiet luxury. He calls this new vision for Jacquemus “pop luxury.”
Popular luxury or luxury that pops? Why not both. Trousers with dramatic sculptural bibs satisfied the latter category, while button-downs with jaunty flyaway collars seem likely to catch on with his loyal customers. (Button-downs are a best-seller.) Several garments carrying the weight and heft of objects, like a structured overshirt worn over a tie, a nod to Giacometti’s personal wardrobe. A flash of leopard on a cropped jacket and pony-hair belts provided some welcome texture as the models strolled slowly through the galleries in flat, lapel-free blazers.
Backstage, Jacquemus touts the elevated quality he demanded this season from his team and from their factories. “I was more picky, to be honest,” he says. “I was like, all the details matter. I was very obsessive.”
A few days before the show, a new series of Nike Air Maxes re-mixed by Jacquemus leaked online. In a disappointment to sneakerheads, but a win for guys exploring the dainty new style possibilities of the increasingly ubiquitous ballet flat, this highly coveted Swoosh collaboration was absent, replaced instead with a few pairs of soft, square-toe derbies made with esteemed French ballet shoe company Repetto, a pop luxury interpretation of the ultimate bourgeois style touchstone.
After the show, the content is still flowing as influencers mill around the Josep Lluís Sert-designed compound, and products from the collection are hitting the Jacquemus website. (Remember see-now-by-now? Jacquemus figured it out.) Roberts has left the building but the images of her beaming next to the designer have begun to ping-pong around the internet. The designer is still wowed: “To have her in the South of France for an independent brand…” Jacquemus has pulled off a lot of unlikely triumphs in his long but young career, and today represents a clear statement of intent. If he’s going to become the biggest name of his generation, he’s not going to do it under another roof—and he’s going to make plenty more noise along the way. “I see all the giants around us,” he says. “There are so many steps to the top. But it’s nice to look super high. It makes you want to do things better and better. Not just bigger and bigger, but better and better. That’s the thing.”
Originally Appeared on GQ