Despite having written two young designer round-ups for BOF during the course of the month, I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t get much time during fashion month to digest anything truly “new”. As in, something I’d never discovered or didn’t have a mild inkling of beforehand. On my last day in Paris though, The Broken Arm came to my rescue. The much-vaunted, rightfully-respected store, founded by Guillaume Steinmetz, Anaïs Lafarge, and Romain Joste, nestled oin Marais has become something of a destination shop during fashion week. With just a handful of labels, they seem to be able to capture the here and now of what’s making fashion hardcorers’ pulse race and do so with a limited amount of rail space. During Paris fashion week though, what took over their windows wasn’t the column inch-garnering Balenciaga or the critic hit of the week Jacquemus (a personal survey around the critics’ quarters say so anyway…) but a young French graduate from the esteemed La Cambre Mode (s) school in Brussels Belgium, whose alumni are littered throughout the fashion houses for good reason.
Joste discovered Marine Serre whilst on the jury for this year’s graduate show at La Cambre and promptly decided to showcase her graduate collection, as well as selling and aiding production of select pieces, during the high-people-traffic period of fashion week. That’s quite a chance to take on a graduate to sit alongside the likes of Celine, Loewe and Raf Simons in the store but knowing nothing about Serre or her work, I was immediately struck by the mix of fabrics and the fluid silhouettes, tinged with hints of sportswear.
Upon further research, that’s when Serre’s collection really hit a high for me. Entitled “Radical Call for Love”, the collection was conceived as a way of emphasising ties between the Arab world and the Western one, compounded by the sense of urgency, in light of the atrocities in Paris, Brussels and of course more recently in Nice, within the last year. Serre used a combination of 19th century Arabic or in Edward Said language, “oriental” fabrics and elements of traditional costume and then worked them into sportswear. Most potently, the crescent moon, one significant part of the symbol for Islam, is adapted into a repeat logo pattern that you might find in branded sportswear. On a widened headband (or resembling the under bonnet of a hijab depending on how you look at it), it becomes a subverted take on say a Nike sweatband worn by elite athletes.
Serre says the collections is about “establishing links and connections, or rather about expressing links that are actually already there, already made, in Brussels but equally in the world at large.” Or to put it in more emotive language, and borrow from the late Jo Cox’s maiden speech in Parliament, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” That’s a sentiment that emanates from Serre’s collection. Serre seems to be saying that the evils of putting up metaphysical walls, barriers and divisions between a “them” and an “us” can be mediated through the very fabric of fashion. The William Morris-esque fabrics that are woven through the collection find their roots in Islamic Art. The intersections between a kelim tapestry fabric and heavy crepe de chine is a visible to-and-fro dialogue. You could also draw parallels between the pairing of sportswear traits and silhouettes with the traditional fabrics and the way kids dress, on their way to prayer at mosques in Whitechapel, with their Adidas trackie bottoms and Nikes peeking from underneath their shalwar kameez. It’s a compelling message from a singular graduate collection, demonstrating that fashion enter the fray of political commentary without a) being self-righteously heavy handed and b) missing the aesthetic point.
Photography: Tanguy Poujol, assistant Axel Korban, Consulting: Benoit Bethume, Make Up: Isabelle Bertrand
Because it was the aesthetics that lured me into buying this particular dress from The Broken Arm. I hadn’t gone deep into Serre’s work at that point. Instead, I was drawn to the interesting mix of fabrics and the way the sleeves detached from the halterneck. My pregnancy bump is of course obscuring the dress from the way it’s supposed to fall on the body (not that it’s going to stop me from wearing it anyway…) but buying a piece of this collection felt like something of a future collectible as a piece of clothing that really says something.
Serre is currently working for Demna Gvsalia at Balenciaga, deciding to gain experience first before launching anything on her own. That’s a wise move in this climate of a crowding of young designers jostling for attention. Whilst in employment and figuring out her next move though, it’s great to see retailers like The Broken Arm helping powerful voices like Serre get their point of view out into the world.