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Q&A: Designer Nicolas Besson on his vision of couture and ready-to-wear

We first met Nicolas in his world: a bright, wide apartment that serves as his atelier and showroom all at once. Located only a few blocks from the legendary Avenue Montaigne, and in sight from the Eiffel Tower, Nicolas’ world is delightful. The man has an acute attention to detail. Just serving something as simple as a glass of water has to be done the right way. That means beautiful glasses on a marble plate, with an assortment of strawberries, dipped in fresh water. An obsession with detail that you can only find in Paris’ most sought after palaces and restaurants. Or so we thought…

Q&A: Nicolas Besson/photography by Tawfik Akachar
Q&A: Nicolas Besson/photography by Tawfik Akachar

Accessing his place is a dreamlike experience. From the chic, serene streets of the eighth arrondissement, to the sixth floor of the Haussmanian building he occupies with his creations, the French designer definitely showed us he wasn’t a stranger of taste or etiquette. That is where lays one of the most striking details in Besson, the designer. Through years of experiences and family traditions, he developed a savoir-faire that is both generous and sophisticated. 

Nicolas Besson, the label, obviously shares the same obsessions. Like an architecture firm, everything structure built serves a different function. Beauty, style or coquetry, but acceptance and self-esteem are part of the story, too. They just share a common vector: Nicolas’ vision. One that he conveys through accurate gestures and movements. The very same he learned as a dreaming 8 year-old, or the ones he later acquired, grinding at Balmain, Yamamoto, Carven or Mc Queen.

First things first: we want to know how it all started for you… Tell us more about how you got into the fashion world.

As a kid already, I’d play with rags and pieces of fabric to make clothes. I’d dress my toys. I remember I drew my first pieces when I was 8 years old. I was already using colours — I remember making this woman’s suit with no boundaries whatsoever when it came to creating… Anyways, I kept on working on my craft and at 13, I noticed I had become good at creating outfits for my dolls and figurines. That’s when I started using a sewing machine. It was back when I didn’t like pink.

Q&A: Nicolas Besson on his vision of couture and ready-to-wear / photography by Mathieu Remillet
Q&A: Nicolas Besson on his vision of couture and ready-to-wear / photography by Mathieu Remillet

Looking around at the room, one can imagine you’ve changed your mind on the topic. How do you explain it?

I think it comes from several things. We are dealing with complicated social context right now. There’s this tension in the air and everybody can feel it. It translates into stress in everybody’s everyday life. Besides, pink is an important colour in the children’s eyes. It serves — because every colour has a function — as a calming element. But I like sun-washed colours in general. The way the sun or nature worked on the shading and gradients on those sun-washed shades is magnificent. But as you can see in the showroom, I like shades, I like nuances, mishmashes. Mates and glossy surfaces. But to answer your question in a nutshell: I think pink — and other colours — are quite soothing. It’s a colour I love.

Thirteen! Is this when you thought of making a living out of it?

Yes. Well kind of. I come from the Savoie region, so my initial social context isn’t so couture centered. I started and learned everything as an entrepreneur. I studied law, economics, management, things that you really need to lead a business. It was only at 25 that I really started studying fashion per se, at school. 

And how did you eventually turn into the Nicolas Besson we know today?

It didn’t happen overnight. It took a while for me to gain confidence, to believe in myself the way I wanted to. It wasn’t natural for me then. It is now! I’ve managed to learn how to be more open and welcoming, but also to be aware of the talents I was given. I really look at it this way, being a designer today is more than mastering certain techniques. If you ask me, I’m here to sublimate people. I like feeling the balance, walking on a wire. It’s not only about the proportions or the fabric, it is also in the structure of the clothes. I’m totally into the architecture of clothing. We build clothes directly on the people that wear them. That’s what (fashion designers) do.  

As an independent designer, what are some of the hurdles that were on your way?

I’d say the first one is definitely the financial part of it. Sometimes even time. Financially, designing couture is challenging, the swatches and fabrics that I use are mostly used by high fashion houses, they’re expensive. I use silk, too and the price of the material went up a lot lately. But it is also a way for you to improvise and explore new directions. I know threads and fabrics very well now and I love to find innovations. Natural, organic and even synthetic fabrics all have something interesting.

Where is your inspiration coming from?

I only draw when I need to communicate my ideas to people. From the swatches, I usually directly see the finished product, in my head. That’s why you see so many pieces in this showroom. In my creations, if you don’t see the details, you’ll miss a lot of things. Check out the buttons, the garment’s double linings, the cuts, the way materials are mixed: that’s what characterizes me. I love it when pieces fit to several body types. That’s part of the Nicolas Besson DNA: being polymorphic, able to be worn by men or women alike. In every one of my collections, you’ll find feminine pieces, but also others that will look amazing on male models. I draw a lot of inspiration from my own wardrobe for the feminine collection. When you look at the shoulders I draw, you can see it; it’s a bit more manly.

There’s another side in your craft that we can’t help but notice. It’s that regalian inspiration in your creations. Is this reminiscent of your time at Balmain?

Balmain is a maison that brought me so much. I’ve learned a lot and seen tons of things there. I wasn’t creating there but I learned a lot about creation. Being around this energy during the shows really allowed me to dive into this world. I was in charge of all of the metal treatments, as seen on buttons for instance. That being said, all of this was part of me before I joined Balmain. My grandfather was in the military. As a kid, visiting my grandparents, everything in my reach was military gear. There were those structured jackets I’d throw in the washing machine to destroy their structures. I used all of that to make skirts and such. I have been living this through my family first. And the timing, when I joined Balmain was perfect. It was 2010: the military collection.

Can you tell us more about the dress Tatjana was wearing? 

Tatjana’s dress has a baby-doll aesthetic, very close to what Saint Laurent was doing in the 1970s for instance. The devore velvet goes well with a black and gold lurex, but the dress is only structured at the waist. The rest holds through the fabric, and only the fabric. I don’t want clothes to interfere with the body movements. The passementerie is also a huge component in the aesthetic of the dress. I only work with small, French artisans for the passementerie.

Talking about that, visiting your showroom, we couldn’t help but notice the huge collection of fabric that you have with you. Where do you source them? 

Most of them come from Italy. That’s where to find the best cachemire. When it comes to wools or silks, they’re even better at it. And that’s also where I produce my prints, which I make about a dozen for each collection. They’re exclusive; they have become my signature.

How long does a dress like this take, from start to finish?

It depends, but this one, I think about ten hours. Some dresses took me three to four days, but this one, I knew exactly what I wanted. The longer one (the one on the model) is asymmetric, it is a very special dress, designed for big events. I don’t even know how much fabric I’ve used on this one, look at the mousseline in the back! It looks amazing on Zulfia, my muse.

Q&A: Nicolas Besson on his vision of couture and ready-to-wear / photography by Mathieu Remillet
Q&A: Nicolas Besson on his vision of couture and ready-to-wear / photography by Mathieu Remillet

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the (show)room itself. Last time we visited you, it really wasn’t like this at all. Now, the walls are painted, there’s a touch of colour everywhere. What happened? What inspired you to bring this drastic change?

I like to spice things up every so often. For every collection, I take the showroom to a whole new place. If you browse through my archives on my website, you’ll see that contrast comes back every time. The black and white look gives everything in a room a much more graphic feel. This place has a large balcony, and the windows are looking west. This means we bathe in the sun all day. Hence the soft shades. The stripes are part of the DNA too. I love having them as a design statement. The powdered look is also very feminine, and it fits the collection perfectly.

Which leads me to my last question: why can’t we find a Nicolas Besson menswear collection?

That’s not totally true. This year, I’m going to work on this for the winter. It’s easier to work on menswear for the colder seasons. I’ll have menswear ready to wear pieces. Some will be unisex, others will be for men only. But I do do tailored clothing for men. You’ll see next winter!

Nicolas Besson SS20

Official Website

Model : Zulfiya Khismetova

Photographer : Mathieu Remilliet

Q&A: Designer Nicolas Besson on his vision of couture and ready-to-wear

Tawfik Akachar

Senior Writer, Paris

Tawfik is a pop culture enthusiast that has a soft spot for the study of emerging movements, casual chic fashion, and technical clothing. Although he loves different foods from all parts of the globe, he considers fried chicken to be the best dish, ever.