As a woman, is it easier to design fashion for women, Natacha Ramsay-Levi?
The fashion label Chloé has a long history with strong women at the creative top. For Natacha Ramsay-Levi it is the first position where she does not work under her mentor Nicolas Ghesquière. How did she grow into the new role?
Natacha Ramsay-Levi was ready for Chloé when she was asked to take over the creative direction of the brand founded by Gaby Aghion in 1952. In an interview, she tells us that she had secretly been able to imagine this position well a few years earlier. The 39-year-old has been in office since April 2017. Before that, she started as an intern at Balenciaga immediately after studying fashion at the Paris-based Studio Berçot and worked her way up to become head of design under Nicolas Ghesquière, now chief designer at Louis Vuitton. We meet her in Hyères in southern France, where she awards the "Prix Chloé" to a young designer as part of the annual fashion and photography festival. The creative director does not wear make-up, but instead wears many jingling bracelets. She laughs a lot, is warm and très charmante. Not the typical image of a cool Parisian woman - and yet she is a Parisian.
Madame: As a woman, does it have a special meaning for you to be at the head of Chloé, a house founded 67 years ago by a woman?
Natacha Ramsay-Levi: At Chloé there were many women in this position before me, so I am certainly not a pioneer. But I am proud that the direction has always been set by women, with few exceptions such as Karl Lagerfeld.
Madame: Does it bother you if it's constantly pointed out that you do this job as a woman?
Natacha Ramsay-Levi: The question is very topical. I don't mind it. I just cannot answer that my career has been difficult because I am a woman - that would be untrue. Of course I can see that in conservative professions it is more difficult for women. But I also see that it is getting better.
Madame: As a woman, is it easier to design fashion for women?
Natacha Ramsay-Levi: A man has distance between himself and his clothes, women do not have this distance. When I talk about design with my team, it's about how the clothes should feel. Whether they have lightness or give structure.
Madame: Do you see any similarities between what you sewed for yourself as a teenager and what you design today?
Natacha Ramsay-Levi: Oh, no, that was all really crappy. Lots of colors and fabrics with very simple cuts. But there is a connection: I've always used clothes to express myself, and I still do. When you get dressed, you inevitably want to say something with it. Fashion is like a flag. It reflects our world.
Madame: Have you ever wished you had learned something different than fashion?
Natacha Ramsay-Levi: No, my dream was to work for Nicolas Ghesquière. And it was going to happen. I consider myself very lucky about it.
Madame: How did your cooperation start?
Natacha Ramsay-Levi: After fashion school, I did an internship with him. It's what brought us close. Then he hired me, and since then the cooperation - and friendship - has grown. But it wasn't just the two of us. It was a team where everyone was important. We were a small family. I've remained a part of it for 15 years. It could have lasted 15 more years. Still, it was time to fly the nest.
Madame: You grew up in a political family. How does that influence your fashion?
Natacha Ramsay-Levi: It has led to the fact that I can't do anything I don't believe in and I'm not absolutely sure about. And I can't do anything that doesn't make sense to me. I am quite radical in what I want to show. I cannot lose myself completely.
Madame: You once told that your father actually hates fashion...
Natacha Ramsay-Levi: I think he still hates watching fashion shows and thinks it's all a circus. I don't think he understands why the models don't laugh either. So very old school. But he reads every article about me and he's proud and happy.
Madame: Chloé founder Gaby Aghion said she designs for herself. Can you still afford that today as a designer?
Natacha Ramsay-Levi: I don't think she really designed for herself all the time. Maybe she herself was always the starting point, but she also thought of artists and friends. Chloé isn't her name. It's her friend. Gaby Aghion surrounded the dynamics of a group that at a certain point decided to no longer design fashion for Chloé itself, but to choose other designers for it. At some point, Karl Lagerfeld appeared on the scene. In my designs, I myself always think about how I would wear something. But if I only thought about myself, it would be pretty boring.
Madame: Karl Lagerfeld has long remained loyal to the fashion houses for which he was responsible. Today, designers change much faster.
Natacha Ramsay-Levi: We all do what we want. I certainly won't judge that. Personally, I love working for a fashion house. It gives you a frame. Maybe it's from my penchant for being an exemplary student. I like to learn. And: I would never have started my own label. When the offer came for Chloé, I was very happy because I can honestly identify with the brand.
Madame: Has it always been like this?
Natacha Ramsay-Levi: I always have. A few years ago I had the idea that one day I would like to take over the creative direction of Chloé. Chloé has a soul, she's feminine and powerful. I feel very comfortable here.