IN CONVERSATION WITH JÉRÔME DREYFUSS
Words & Interview by Marie-Pauline Cesari @itsjustmp
We had the extreme honor of spending some time with Jérôme Dreyfuss while we were in Paris for Fashion Week. Far from the hustle and bustle of the fashion capital, we met him in his Parisian studio to talk about his new bag named ‘Mario’. As we entered the room, Jérôme greeted us with an apologetic smile, ‘I’m sorry, it’s a bit of a mess in here.’ We were indeed immersed in his universe, surrounded by bags and a beautiful chaos of colors. Our conversation delved into his beginnings in the fashion industry, his dreams, and aspirations as an artisan. It was a poetic and inspiring encounter that left a lasting impression on us.
From his distinctive fashion perspective to his unwavering commitment to environmental sustainability, discover our wonderful and inspiring conversation with Jérôme Dreyfuss.
MP: What is your oldest fashion memory? J: My earliest memories of fashion go back to when my mother had a subscription to Elle magazine. I was fascinated by Claude Montana, Mugler, Alaïa, Gaultier… I thought it was the late '80s. It reflected a society that was doing very well, one that wanted to have fun with a strong emphasis on cutting and craftsmanship, which fascinated me. In fact, I was fascinated by the volumes in Montana's work, how they held together. I found it incredibly magical, and it attracted me immensely. And then, I remember very well, I must have been around 12, I saw a Chanel ad with a very young Helena Christensen. I said, "I want to do this job." So, those are my earliest fashion memories.
Jérôme naturally started in women’s ready-to-wear due to his early interest in sewing. He began making clothes for friends and eventually launched his fashion career. He worked with renowned designers, including John Galliano, before starting his own successful fashion line in 1998. ‘I had the immense luck that it was an immediate success. It allowed me to bypass the need for recognition.’ He said.
This immediate success allowed him to take a few steps back and ask himself, ‘Is this really what I want?’ Eventually, the answer was no. As life’s priorities changed, he shifted his focus to more personal aspects, explaining, ‘I wanted to refocus on craftsmanship.’ This is how the idea of crafting bags came to life:
‘One evening, we were having dinner at home with friends, and they all came with awful bags. Jokingly, I said, ‘Why do you have such terrible bags?’ They all said, ‘What kind of bag can we have?’ At that time, there were only bags from big fashion Houses. They were very rigid and heavy, with big logos. My friends, actresses, and architects didn’t want to look like coat racks or billboards. Jokingly, I said, ‘Well, I’ll make you some bags.’ I thought I would work less and have time for my son, who was about to be born, and that was the case. Then the thing grew, and it took off. But at least I could take care of my son for 15 years.’
MP: In 1998, when you launched your first ready-to-wear collection, you were called the "enfant terrible" of fashion. That nickname was also associated with Givenchy, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Givenchy. Do you still consider yourself the "enfant terrible" of fashion today? J: Not at all, I used to be a social animal. I'm no longer that. I've become more like a bear (laughs). I believe there's a time for everything. I was 20, and it was great. But then, I became a father. I had other important things in my life to focus on. I really wanted to detach myself from that image. There's a French expression that says, ‘To live happily, live hidden’. It expresses what I've always felt about this job. So, I created a bubble in which I feel protected. I need it to work and focus on what's important to me, which is the craftsmanship we offer our customers.
What immediately caught our attention during our research and our conversation was Jérôme’s sharp sense of humor. ‘I’ve always loved humor,’ he shared. ‘I believe it’s the best thing for everyone. It allows me to lighten the often overly serious and business-focused world of fashion today.‘ With nostalgia in his voice, he reminisced about the time he spent with Sonia Rickel, who, in his opinion, had a wonderful sense of humor. He expressed his gratitude for having the opportunity to work with people like Jean-Paul Gaultier and Kenzo, whom he described as ‘generous individuals who welcomed and mentored others’.
Then our conversation shifted to the subject of ecology, and he warned us, ‘Don’t get me started.’ Indeed, ecology has always been deeply ingrained in him, thanks to his upbringing and early scouting experiences. He emphasized, ‘The first commandment among Scouts is to protect nature,’ and these values have remained an integral part of his life and work. For example, he has consistently used natural treatments for leather, even though he never felt the need to promote it. ‘I aim to be realistic and honest in what I do, carrying out my work with a profound sense of conviction.’
‘Annually, 17 million square kilometers of animal hides are produced worldwide, yet they aren’t the primary reason these animals are slaughtered. The hide’s value at the slaughterhouse is a mere 5% of the animal’s total worth. I salvage and tan these hides, just like other leather makers, continuing the world’s oldest recycling tradition. While the excessive leather production isn’t ideal, the question arises: should we discard these hides and opt for faux leather made from petroleum?’
He confirmed that, indeed, he chose not to talk about it at that time because he didn’t want to use it as a marketing excuse to sell more. ‘Today, brands are compelled to take a stand, and unfortunately, some of them are merely riding the trend without a genuine statement and commitment. The prevailing idea is to make real efforts while remaining discreet, with a touch of elegance and respect. I believe our society is experiencing a significant lack of elegance.’
MP: Is it true that you decided to design for women because, according to you, they embody the essence of elegance? J: Yes, I have always been fascinated by women's elegance. French women, Jane Fonda, or strong women who fight for important causes. My job is to make women feel good. Today, with my approach to handbags, it's about helping women lead more comfortable lives. I aim to create pieces that follow them throughout the day without hindering them.
Jérôme embarked on his journey as a bag designer with a focus on addressing women’s needs. He emphasizes that functionality consistently guides the aesthetics of his work. Over the decades, as women’s lifestyles evolved with the introduction of new technologies, their needs changed. Jérôme has continuously adapted to these changing needs by creating accessories that accommodate computers, cables, phones, and more. ‘With Jérôme Dreyfuss, every bag has a distinct purpose, you can take Billy to work, enjoy a drink with Lino, and go for a walk with Lulu’.
‘Names are a humorous way I use to not take myself too seriously; it’s a way to tell people that it’s not important. They all have a story, and most of my bags are named after my friends. I do many things by instinct.’ Jérôme explained as he shared the fascinating and amusing stories behind some of his bags.
MARIO, THE NEW JÉRÔME DREYFUSS MESSENGER BAG
MP: And Mario? J: Mario is a Spanish friend who helps me in the garden, and he always carries an old, beat-up shoulder bag, like a vintage satchel. He keeps his tools in it, and, jokingly, when I made the satchel, I said, ‘This one's for Mario,’.
Jérôme believes in using his brand as a platform for conveying important ideas. He is already involved in eco-friendly initiatives, such as planting trees:
‘For every bag we sell, we donate 3 euros to a foundation called “Cœur de Forêt,” which plants trees all over the world. We’re working on a project in Bolivia, on the border of the Amazon, where we finance nurseries. I’m proud that the work we do can be used to counter the damage we cause. It’s a positive, but very complex, virtuous circle; we can’t escape the matrix. We have to use the matrix to change it and mold it. My tool is my company; it’s a powerful weapon.’
Jérôme views the fashion industry as a vehicle for making a positive impact, and he seeks to inspire others to consume less and make ethical choices. We talked about construction and craftsmanship. It is the core of his passion and his profession: ‘Craftsmanship is vital,’ he shared. ‘Knowing how to do things and doing them well. Above all, being inspired by everything that has already been done’.
‘My goal is to create a positive narrative. I’m using the notoriety of my brand and my voice to make a difference. This company must be a means for me to convey ideas that I believe are right. All we have to do now is pave the way, show the way to the new generation, and they will build the new world.’
MP: What’s next? J: I am working a lot on architecture and housing projects, which, for me, are essential to our future.
Jérôme Dreyfuss is not only a craftsman who has transformed the world of fashion with his creations, he is also a visionary who conveys a powerful message. His journey transcends the fashion industry and resonates as a beacon of hope for a better tomorrow.