For millennials, a generation raised by MTV and their own (guitar) heroes, life can seem like a lot like an extended performance. Dressing for that part is paramount. Looking like you just walked offstage might seem as easy as bedhead, but the French label Zadig and Voltaire pull off the quintessential rock aesthetic with an unparalled, sophisticated panache.
Founded by designer Thierry Giller (whose father founded Lacoste), the label first opened its doors to Paris' Marais district in 1997 and earned an instant crowd. Urbane young Parisians gravitated towards the brand's upscale version of the grittier styles that flourished in the aftershocks of grunge. Soon, Zadig and Voltaire's pursuit of sexy, sonically-inclined youth spread to the UK and beyond. The brand's Sloane Street location in London magnetizes boldfaced names—including Mark Ronson, who starred in a recent ad campaign with girlfriend Joséphine de la Baume, hot on the heels of Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl's striking ads.
In 2009, Zadig and Voltaire finally made its intrepid journey across the Atlantic, settling into Manhattan's Meatpacking District—a neighborhood milestone Cintra Wilson christened as the arrival of a new era of downtown dressing. Since then, the label's Stateside cachet has skyrocketed: two more New York stores popped up (with big plans for other US cities). The brand also hired all-American modern grunge goddess Erin Wasson to star in its Spring 2011 campaign and design a capsule Fall collection. Interview caught up with Giller a few weeks before he presents Zadig and Voltaire's very first Paris Fashion Week presentation—and learned why, like rock 'n roll itself, the desire to don its costumes will never die.
COLLEEN NIKA: What plans do you have for a Zadig and Voltaire Fashion Week presentation? Is it your first?
THIERRY GILLER: Yes, it's the first time that we are going to do a presentation during Fashion Week. We will show the jewelry pieces that Gaia Repossi designed for Zadig & Voltaire. The collection is called Metamorphosis, and it's five exceptional designs. We will also show some winter pieces: leather and knitwear pieces are very important in Zadig's collections.
NIKA: Your father was the founder of Lacoste. Did he, or other members of your family, influence your own career path?
GILLER: Although I was born in an artistic family, it is in New York where I developed my artistic streak. I studied art and cinema at Parsons School of Design and went to Bard College. I also worked with my brother—we had a brand before Zadig & Voltaire.
NIKA: Zadig & Voltaire would seem to reference 18th-century writer Voltaire and his book, Zadig and the Destiny.
GILLER: Zadig is a modern character: he has a strong personality; he is visionary and he reflects the brand. I wanted to use a more artistic name than my own!
NIKA: Rock 'n roll does seem to be a major influence on your designs. What icons specifically inspire you?
GILLER: I've always loved art and music. I think that music is very important in our lives; music is strong and international and it brings people together. I love Patti Smith, Alison Mosshart, and Mick Jagger.
NIKA: You've described Zadig & Voltaire's look as "looking like street fashion at first glance." What does that mean exactly?
GILLER: It is a concept brand that is ahead of its time. Zadig's look is all about a good mixture of style: wearing a cashmere sweater with a loose t-shirt and a chic men's blazer or a leather jacket. You are chic, but not overdressed.
NIKA: What is specifically French about Zadig & Voltaire?
GILLER: The brand reflects French elegance. French women are chic and have a certain look—like Ines de la Fressange or Charlotte Gainsbourg.
NIKA: How has the brand evolved most noticeably since 1997? What can you do today with Zadig & Voltaire you couldn't have 10 years ago?
GILLER: Now there is a concept behind the brand. I opened shops all around the world; the design of those shops is the same as the clothes—wherever you are. My pre-washed cotton and my raw-edged cashmeres are always in the collection, season after season.
NIKA: How does Erin Wasson speak to the Zadig and Voltaire image?
GILLER: I found in Erin the perfect Zadig's woman. She is unique! I always admired her—and she's always loved my clothes. Our customers can identify with her because she carries the true DNA of Zadig's style.
NIKA: What can we expect from her Fall capsule collection?
GILLER: We will use cashmere and silk as we do in our main line collection. But she had ideas of using very precise materials—rougher, more used-looking. She mixes prints, like stripes. She also plays with shapes, like a high-waisted suit, for example. She loves natural materials such as silk, leather, denim, foal skin. Her inspiration came from the hippies and rock 'n roll. It gives a new "West Coast" feeling to the Zadig look. It's for a very rock, very free woman.
NIKA: What can Zadig and Voltaire teach Americans about fashion?
GILLER: To stay out of fashion! To always stay modern—but not fashion.