ARTICLE SONNY GROO
PHOTOGRAPHY WIKKIE HERMKENS
STYLIST SONNY GROO
HE IS THE FIRST DESIGNER TO BE ACCEPTED TO JOIN THE CHAMBRE SYNDICALE DE LA HAUTE COUTURE WITHOUT SHOWING A SINGLE COLLECTION ON THE RUNWAY. HE WORKED UNDER ELIE SAAB, JEAN PAUL GAULTIER, JOHN GALLIANO AND NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE. HIS FANS RANGE FROM BEYONCÉ TO EMMA WATSON, RACHEL MCADAMS AND THIS YEAR'S CANNES PALM D'OR WINNER LÉA SEYDOUX. THE QUESTION IS, WHY WOULDN'T LVMH INVEST IN THE 28-YEAR-OLD TALENT? V'S SONNY GROO SAT DOWN WITH MAXIME SIMOËNS AT HIS ATELIER IN PARIS, TO TALK ABOUT HIS ARCHITECTURE, CHARLIE CHAPLIN AND HIS FIRST RESORT COLLECTION
Looking at the resort collection, the first thing I'm noticing is that there isn't that much colour involved. Quite daring.
MAXIME SIMOENS To me, it's more about the cut. It's quite like my logo, what I want and like. With this collection we were more interested in introducing new fabrics, such as the satin and crepe suede, as well as more print.
And the finishing touches, for example these leather magnetic buttons or the incredible knitwear, both a first, if I'm correct?
MS The knitwear was done through a knitting technique, from which the results is absolutely amazing, however the prices, sky-high. The buttons are a first indeed. Those kind of details are very important for me, as you know I care about this a lot.
What made you decide to throw everything down a few years ago and become a fashion designer?
MS I grew up in Lesquin, a small town near Lille, where I started acting. As a kid I was always dressing up and acting slightly strange. Charlie Chaplin was one of my heroes back then. I soon noticed that acting was very limited and I felt like the role of a director would be more creative and exciting, which it turned out not to be. I remember visiting Paris to see Madonna perform, she was doing the world tour for which Gaultier had done her outfits. Those pieces made such an impact that I at that moment decided to become a fashion designer.
So then what? You dropped everything and moved to Paris?
MS Well, I've applied to Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, where I graduated top of my class. I think my personality is very on point and I'm always pushing myself to make sure I get things done and my designs are done in the most perfect way possible. But of course I have learned a lot among the way, from interning to working a different houses.
MS My first internship was at Elie Saab, who taught me to push the feminine aspect. I really learned a lot. Then next I wanted to push for Gaultier, knowing he is very picky letting people join his team, so basically, I spent quite some time building my application, which was a handmade corset out of blue leather with snake skin inside from which I painted every scale in blue and white, as those are his colors of course. I eventually got hired, joined the accessories team and truly learned so much.
I've read you've also worked at Dior under John Galliano, as well as Balenciaga under Nicolas Ghesquière. Hw did that happen?
MS After school I got in at Dior, where I worked on the embroidery section for eight months. I have to admit, the work they do is beyond, but there are also ten collections a year and it's truly hard work. In the end, I left for Balenciaga to do research in print as well as embroidery. I think I had been there for a year, then left and decided to send in sketches for Hyères, the year Kris van Assche was one of the judges, do you remember?
I do. But you didn't win, so then what?
MS I decided to do a capsule collection, followed by a presentation, first Spring/Summer, and then Autumn/Winter. Eventually people started to buy, and then celebrities called in, for example Beyoncé, who wore one of my dresses on her album cover for 4.
At a certain point the Federation Francaise de la Couture let you in on their schedule. How did that happen?
MS As you know, Haute Couture is a label of extreme quality and an exceptional know-how when it comes down to fabrics and techniques. To become a member of the Federation is not only a great privilege for a designer, but there are so many requirements... One must also be recommended by a permanent member and I was very fortunate to have Monsieur Jean Charles de Castelbajac and fashion journalist Mademoiselle Agnes present me. Being 25 years old at that time, I was also the youngest designer to become a member, followed by the exception, not having presented a runway show yet!
Where were you locatd when all of this happened?
MS When we started, it was Tomek [Kolarski] and myself, with two other people. We did everything from home, but couldn't continue, as the first collection brought in 22 customers and we simply had to move. I was lucky because we found 85 Rue Montmartre, previous head office of Figaro Magazine.
Your work has always been very graphic. It has a strong construction, but above all, it is elegant and timeless. It's something most young designers don't fancy, as they prefer to stand out with more shocking pieces or heavy print. What do you think is most unique about a piece from Maxime Simoens?
MS I'm a big architecture fan, and a fan of the sci-fi structure, if that makes any sense. I love femininity! I think I stand out because of the fabric play and small details, such as the light Japanese fabrics from a previous collection or the marble crystal in the one following. Added to this, I use fur and leather, which are quality products and when used well, truly boost a look.
When designing, do you have a specific woman in mind?
MS My woman is above all independent and modern, she has character and humor, but will never forget her femininity. My clothes should bring her confidence, but never imprison her. I think women in general who value the refined Parisian elegance and French know-how are my kind of customers. I still have that film director in me and I can relate fashion to movies and creating a script. Each collection often gets inspired by the evolution of a film heroine.
Not that long ago, the LVMH's group decided to invest in you as a company.
MS When I was doing Couture, I got asked to become the Creative Director at Leonard, for whom I did one collection only. The collection I made for Leonard consisted of strong prints and graphic lines and reached out to a bigger audience than my own at that time. I think it has taken the attention of some powerful tastemakers, which may have led to a phone call for the meeting and moment I got to present my book and goals.
What has changed since the investment?
MS They are helping financially, as well as strategically, to the house Maison Maxime Simoens. Dior's CEO Sidney Toledano is couching my team on business, strategy and operations, which above all feels like a new start and a way for me to develop creatively and grow internationally. The accessories for Fall is one the first steps we have done together, which will play a bigger role in the collection coming up next.
Tell me a bit about the current collection, your first Ready-to-Wear.
MS It was a big change, making sure everything was more wearable and making sure my techniques and details were included. From watery colors, very much inspired by Swan Lake, to velvet on astrakhan and pleated fur... it was a lot for a first RTW, but rewarding in the end. For Resort I pushed this a little more, but did feel like only doing a black and white collection, with a touch of red for it's energy. I decided to name this collection, "The New Deal."
I assume your business is growing rapidly. With how many people are you currently and how did you [and Tomek Kolarski] start collaborating?
MS The team now is around 15 people and the PR side of the business is expanding as well. Tomek and I met about ten years ago when he was interning at Maris Luisa.
MS I'm very interested in my development commercially as well on the accessories side, such as jewelry, scarves, shoes and more. But before that is my holiday to Dubai and the South of France, where I will be enjoying the sun and gaining energy for the craziness of when I'm back in Paris. It has been great so far, and it's really exciting, everything coming up... so make sure you are in Paris for the next show, it will be my best so far!
MODEL IRIS PLEIJSIER AT CODE MODEL MANAGEMENT ASSISTANT STYLING ILANKA VERHOEVEN ALL CLOTHES MAXIME SIMOENS FALL/WINTER 2013-14