Simon Porte Jacquemus On the Future and What He Learned from Rei Kawakubo

This is an edition of the newsletter Show Notes, in which Samuel Hine reports from the front row of the global fashion week circuit. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

During Paris Fashion Week, there was one designer on everybody’s lips, even though his name wasn’t on the official schedule: Simon Porte Jacquemus. According to just about everyone, the 34-year-old Marseille native was a lock for the open creative director job at Givenchy. Which made good sense: Jacquemus runs the biggest independent brand in Paris, and has a natural instinct for how to harness social media to dominate the fashion discourse. If the idea is to give the heritage house a fresh new identity, the thinking went, they could do much worse than hire this highly likable and creative digital native.

On Monday, Jacquemus staged his latest ambitious destination runway show, this time at the beautiful Fondation Maeght art museum in Saint Paul de Vence, a tiny hilltop town above Nice. His Spring-Summer 2024 production gave fashion fan fic writers plenty more reason to imagine what he could do at a huge legacy brand. Jacquemus is great at something really hard, which is making fashion feel fun, simple, and sexy. The brand’s teeny handbags and pectoral-forward shirts don’t require a ton of interpretation. What’s more amusing than a tiny bag? But this season introduced a more serious side of Jacquemus. As you can read in my review here, he is elevating the brand’s craft with a mantra of “pop luxury,” pushing tailoring and leather over the vacation-wear he’s best known for. Where once his collections were inspired by hot guys on the beach, he now cites references like Alberto Giacometti.

After the show, we walked through galleries bristling with Giacometti’s spindly sculptures to a quiet room away from the many admirers clamoring to congratulate him. In an extended Q+A exclusive to Show Notes, we discuss the new vibe of Jacquemus menswear, his reputation as a marketing master, the surprising influence of Comme des Garçons on his work, the locations of his next Jacquemus stores, and where he sees his brand in a decade’s time. During our chat, he revealed his ambition to be the biggest designer of his generation. Even before I gave him the chance to pour cold water on the Givenchy business, I could tell he wasn’t going anywhere. “I am not doing this to work for a big house,” he told me. “This is my big house.”

GQ: First off, Julia Roberts came to your show. Are you a big fan?

Simon Porte Jacquemus: Yes. For me, it was insane. When I saw her come in, I was almost crying. She’s an icon. And to see her, it means a lot. To have her in the South of France for an independent brand… That’s what I told her. I said, This is a lot of support that you’re showing to Jacquemus. Thank you.

It’s impressive how you consistently land huge moments like that as an independent brand.

When I started Jacquemus 15 years ago at 19 years old, it was not an option to not make noise, to not sell clothes. We had to. I’m independent, so I have to sell clothes, I have to have people’s attention.

The menswear this season felt very urban. The men had little briefcases and wore ties. But I think people most often associate your brand with the South of France and things like vacation.

For sure, we are a summer vacation brand. Everyone is buying our shirt for summer, and my bucket hat. It’s fine, but I want to send a different message. Because we do have tailoring. We do have beautiful jackets. The main focus this season was saying, We do have products, guys. People say I am a marketing genius, whatever you call it, I don’t care. I don’t like the marketing thing. We have ideas and they meet the audience, but it’s not marketing when I’m drawing. I know how to make noise, but we also have the best factories in Italy, so please watch our product. And then we are going to have fun. We’re going to do more fun campaigns and stories. But people have been buying our products for 15 years. Instagram is what makes us successful, but this season as a designer in the studio, I was more picky, to be honest. I was like, all the details matter. I was very obsessive.

So you’re really trying to refocus on the product and show that you’ve taken it to the next level.

Yeah, I think our customer is more grown-up. It’s a more grownup silhouette, I think. It goes with myself. I’m 34 years old. I’m also thinking differently. I’m thinking more about the future of the brand on a bigger scale. What will be the brand in 10, 15 years? So I also want that to make sense.

Where do you see the brand in 10 years?

I still see the same energy around the brand. Something super solar. But it’s hard to say. I always wanted to be the biggest name of my generation. And this is still my goal. And we are now the biggest independent brand in Paris. I see all the giants around us, and 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.

What is your ambition for Jacquemus menswear in particular?

Now it’s the category that is growing the most in the brand. I launched Jacquemus men’s five years ago. I think I created the first collection in two minutes. I wanted to have a show. I did it very instinctively. But now I think it’s arriving at the same level as the womenswear. It is not our core business, but for me, it’s one of the things that I want to really push.

Do you remember the first piece of men’s clothing you designed? I know you made your mother a skirt when you were a kid, but did you ever make something for yourself?

No, I never wanted to do men’s clothing when I was young, to be honest. I was just obsessed with my mother with her skirt or dress. My love of men’s fashion even for myself came super late, probably 10 years ago. But I was never looking at men’s shows. It was not my dream.

You worked at the Comme des Garçons store in Paris starting in 2011 to support your business. Some of the abstract shapes in the collection today made me wonder what influences you absorbed there, particularly when it comes to menswear.

When I was at Comme, I was somehow a student. It was like my last years of school, working there for two years. Rei [Kawakubo], she discovered me first, and she made me think totally differently , even about the commercial part of fashion. I learned a lot. If you look at the structure of Comme des Garcon, there is something for everyone in a way. But she’s still protecting her fashion. And that’s what I’m doing in a way. I’m protecting my image, my fashion, my freedom. But at the same time, I can do a pair of Nikes, a non-expensive bucket hat. I’m not doing beauty and perfume yet because I cannot do everything at the same time. But I learned a lot from her freedom for sure.

Not doing beauty and perfume yet?

Yes, yes. But it takes time.

Are you planning to open more stores in the near future?

Yes, in America and London.

This year? Where in America?

This year, in New York. New York and London. America and Jacquemus, it’s a long love story in a way. I think I can build something in America that’s so strong. So it’s going to be a big focus for us. I can’t wait. I love New York.

I think I know the answer to this question, but I need to ask: are you going to Givenchy?

No, I don’t go to Givenchy. I have a house where I’m the founder and artistic director and every title. So no, I’m not going. I have to really focus on—I have a lot of work. I know that there is still a lot of work to be done in a lot of parts of the company, not only in design, not only in production, not only in serving clients. I have so much to do. I feel like I haven’t arrived anywhere. And as I always say, this is not my curriculum. I am not doing this to work for a big house. This is my big house. And I want to build a better company in every sense, especially for the people working here. It’s already good, but I’m sure we can do so much better. And this is something that, when I am old, I will look back and I will appreciate more. I really want the human to be in the center of my company. And I realized with time that I will not compromise on that.

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