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Guy Laroche by Marcel Marongiu: Seductive, wearable and real

As warm colors and textures filled the catwalk of the eighth edition of Athens Xclusive Designers Week, it was hard not to admire the appeal of wearable, sophisticated, ready-to-go fashion. The occasion was the Guy Laroche fall/winter 2010 collection, in which the French house’s designer, Marcel Marongiu, presented good-looking garments ranging from day separates to evening attire. There was nothing extravagant about Marongiu’s take – a cape coat set the initial tone, while an envelope dress demonstrated his working style – yet the feeling was that past and present may coexist in commercial and creative harmony. Born in La Rochelle in 1921, Laroche became a milliner before working as an assistant to Alexandria-born designer Jean Desses in Paris. Curious about the explosion of ready-to-wear, he visited the United States to take a look at garment factories before setting up his own atelier in Paris in the mid-1950s. Exactly a year after Laroche had established his new headquarters on Avenue Montaigne, Marongiu was born in Paris, in 1962. Brought up in the 1970s with a dual family culture, thanks to a French father and a Swedish mother, Marongiu lived in Stockholm where he studied economics, art and fashion. By the 1980s, he had developed his namesake brand in Paris, presenting his first catwalk collection in 1988. During the 1990s, the designer entered the booming Japanese market and extended his creative scope to include porcelain design. With his namesake brand no longer in operation, Marongiu took over at Guy Laroche three years ago, where his balancing act of nurturing a Mediterranean and Scandinavian heritage is a mix of seduction and a quest for the essential. The combination seems to be working, with Guy Laroche’s clientele ranging from French acting royalty Isabelle Huppert to global icon Madonna and the company developing its commercial scope through things such as the recent opening of six new stores in China. Prior to taking his bow on the Athens Xclusive Designers Week catwalk on October 23, Marongiu spoke to Kathimerini English Edition. How would you define the DNA of Guy Laroche today? When I arrived at the company, the big discussion was about redefining what Guy Laroche ought to be about nowadays, the essential things that are inherited in the brand, what they are today and what they should be in the future. There had been a rotation of designers before me who didn’t get the chance to stay long enough to impose their own style. It was very important to redefine the brand but, more than exploring the archives, for me it was important to understand Guy Laroche, the man – how he saw fashion and why he set up his fashion house in the first place. The more I learned, the more I realized that we had a lot in common, a sense of pragmatism, that fashion has to be wearable, that it’s not art. Fashion ought to be creative, to communicate and seduce. When he started out he created «little accidents,» a drape here, a cut there, the kind of seduction that is not that obvious. As for me, in the beginning my work for the brand was more about a concept of clothing. You have a lot of respect and fear in the beginning, so you go cautiously and then slowly find your bearings and impose your silhouette. So for summer next year, I finally dared to use color, because Guy Laroche was also known for his colors. So this is how we reached a symbiosis between Guy Laroche the designer, the brand and myself. You often talk about the need for fashion to communicate. Human beings have always been dressed and embellished. It’s like Oscar Wilde used to say: «It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.» I believe in this; we communicate with our bodies and through words; fashion is very important in a developed society. Do you think that today’s fashion industry reflects what’s going on in society right now? In as far as the majority of what’s going on in the industry is about business, then, yes, it does reflect money, which, whether we like it or not, is what counts the most in today’s world. On the creative level, on the other hand, it’s a lot like the field of technology, with all the iPhones and iPads; it’s all about going at great speed. It’s all a remix; there is not a lot of time and true creativity takes time and thought. You can see this now, there is not a lot of genuine creativity out there, it’s more about the reinterpretation of decades, for instance. How does Guy Laroche stand out in all this? It’s very hard for a brand to be convincing when designers are constantly changing. In order for the brand to be one of the 10 most influential ones, I think it’s very important to maintain a sense of continuity, to come up with a product you don’t find elsewhere. This means wearable clothes, with real creativity and continuity; a real language. I never boasted about being avant-garde; I’m more about being the most creative as possible within a well-defined framework. It’s also about not having exorbitant prices, because this has always been one of the fundamental principles of the house. Laroche was one of the first to suggest a more affordable, contemporary couture. Somewhere between fast fashion and the top levels of luxury, there seems to be a new space for brands. There are brands that are beginning to position themselves in the middle. There is a real need for this kind of brand, there are clients who are not satisfied with just a bag, they want to get dressed. What they see on the catwalk is unwearable and then they go to the store and they can only find a V-neck jumper. There is a huge gap between the catwalk and the reality in the boutiques. We, on the other hand, are a brand that puts forward a real product. Both Guy Laroche the designer and the brand were known for haute couture. Is there any kind of haute couture left in the house? No. It’s over. There is no more haute couture infrastructure and there are no more clients left. As far as I’m concerned, couture has no meaning in the kind of world we live in. Very few women have the time to go through numerous fittings and wait for a garment for months. And what’s more, today’s pret-a-porter de luxe has become a kind of neo-couture, with beautiful fabrics, for instance. Of course we make changes and alternations, but what we do is not sur mesure from beginning to end. Couture is now destined for a very small elite. What would be an example of a signature Guy Laroche piece by Marcel Marongiu? A dress that appears simple at first sight, but which carries a surprise when you turn and move. It’s very Laroche, but it’s also my way of looking at things.