Julien Fournié: One Dress at a Time

At 35, couturier Julien Fournié has attracted a devout following of Parisian fashion aficionados to his bonsai couture house, now entering its third season. There’s Madame Jacqueline, the premier d’atelier at Torrente, who came out of retirement to work by his side, and fashion scribe Jean Paul Cauvin, who handles the casting (he managed French bombshell Laetitia Casta for several years). There’s also Fournié’s fit model, Maude, with a 23-inch waist and endless legs, and his maman, Noelle, who happily drives him and his collection to luxurious spots like Paris’s Hotel Lancaster, where Cinderellas from the Persian Gulf, accompanied by their own mamans, sit for private fashion shows.  

Fournié sold just three dresses his first season.  And it was the recent sale of another dress from his spring 2010 collection that supplied the necessary  cash  to stage his fall couture show in Paris’s Passage du Désir today at 6PM.  “When I designed for  Torrente [Paris’s former couture house where Fournié was given the reigns at age 28], I dressed mostly the mamans, but now it’s their 18-year-old daughters who come to my shows, and they want something more transgressive,” says the couturier, who trained at Paris’s prestigious Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale before stints at Jean-Paul Gaultier and Claude Montana. In fact, Fournié was in medical school when a family friend discovered his anatomical drawings and became convinced that he had a flair for fashion.

Fournié launched his eponymous couture house last summer, the most unfavorable timing in recent memory, but that doesn’t seem to worry him. With the atelier set up in the salon of his apartment , in a sixth floor pied à terre tucked behind the Place des Victoires, he doesn’t usually receive clients.  Instead, a couture go-between works her address book after the show to rustle up appointments at her salon in Paris’s 16th Arrondissement. Fournié is in the couture business, one dress at a time. “It’s deep 50s,” he says of this romantic have ruffles will travel existence.  “I have never felt better  in my life. Every morning I wake up and  j’ai la banane [I’m happy].”

Fournié’s 25-piece fall collection includes a flowing white silk dress with the shadow painting of a religious war by the artist  Ambraude splashed across the skirt and “bloody beading” across the shoulders. “I’ve been thinking about martyrdom and transfiguration, how women have suffered and how that can be turned into something sublime,” says Fournié. A bomber jacket dress in transparent white organza reminds Fournié of his high school uniform of choice: “I studied piano. I was a very good student and very overweight. For me, the bomber was a form of protection.” A pair of white pants, one leg covered with an anatomical drawing of leg muscles done with  red and blue Bic pens (he doesn’t like embroidery), is his take on the idea of inner beauty.

When he’s not dreaming up vulnerable chic, Fournié spends hours tailoring special tucks to balance a bustline, or raise a  sloping shoulder. “When I quit med school my father and my grandfather said: ‘Okay, so you want to be a couturier. A doctor can save lives, what are you going to do with fashion?’  I take  a surgical approach to dressing women.  If  there’s something about their body they  don’t  like, I  can transform it.  I want to make them feel beautiful, happy  and strong.”