MARTINE SITBON is the quintessential Paris designer. She tells us why she would never work anywhere else.
"When I started as a fashion designer in the 1980s, I was strongly influenced by the music scene in my teenage years, and my work was quickly labeled as 'English', maybe because of its extremism. But my style has gradually become completely Parisian. When I launched by own brand in 1986 there were not many female fashion designers. But persistence is the one key to success here in Paris. Paris is a simple and very enjoyable city; you don't need much to have a good or even exciting life here.
It's very cosmopolitan, but nothing like those dreary 'global' capital cities where facilities designed for tourists have created a sterile, lifeless feeling. There's no stifling the vitality here, even areas like Montmartre that are very popular with tourists are still thriving city neighbourhoods, with people of all ages in the streets, lots of small restaurants... or the area around Canal Saint-Martin, with the latest concerts cheek by jowl with the Hôtel du Nord, which hasn't changed since the days of Arletty... or the Café de Flore, which Parisians still love today, where you somehow expect Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir to stroll in and sit down at their usual table, just like 50 years ago.
So how would I define 'Parisian fashion'? It's nothing like the ultra-glamour look you see in other places. There's a nonchalant feel here. In Paris, part of being well-dressed is to be relaxed. Fashion isn't something you show off to others - it comes from inside you. We appreciate fashion because it's part of our culture, like music in the Mississippi or surfing in Hawaii. It's in our genes. Paris dominated the fashion world from 1900 to 1960, then came Swinging London, and fashion took off in the USA, but Paris has still kept its place. And Paris fashion has never been exclusively French. To some extent, Parisians seem to be more interested in foreigners than designers from their own city: Yohji Yamamoto, Kenzo Takada and Comme des Garçons all started off here, and Alexander McQueen, even with his amazing talent, couldn't have done in London what he achieved in Paris.
In 2006 I met K.W. Chan, and together we developed the 'Rue du Mail' concept - a 100% Parisian location and idea, in a 17th century private mansion in the street of that name, behind the Place des Victoires. We give artists a stage and hold our fashion parades in the 700 m2, art deco-style space, with the workshop, showroom and boutique all under one roof, the way it used to be. And the shop opens by appointment, harking back to the traditions of the great Parisian fashion houses of the past, to the Grande Epoque."
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