Go Your Own Way
Interview with Pierre-François Valette by Philippe Pourhashemi
What is it about fashion that seems to defy even the simplest logics? No matter how overcrowded the landscape gets, young designers keep launching their own brands worldwide, sometimes under the most challenging circumstances. Pierre-François Valette certainly had no idea he would be faced with a global pandemic when VALETTE STUDIO was born last year, a beautiful menswear brand updating key concepts of tailoring, savoir-faire and craftsmanship.
Still, that did not prevent the French designer from pursuing his dreams and we should be thankful that young creatives like him are willing to take such risks. In fact, fashion thrives on the new and the unexpected, looking for alternatives in a market dominated by polar opposites, namely major luxury groups and fast fashion chains. That doesn’t leave much space for novelty in the end, but young voices should be nurtured and supported.
Turns out that fresh independent brands are appreciated by a select clientele, favoring quality and care over hype and logos. Perhaps the pandemic changed attitudes as well, and consumers are no longer buying clothes without thinking first. We caught up with Valette to discuss the timeless and versatile appeal of a tailored garment, how he overcame difficulties thanks to a strong team, and why he doesn’t feel the need to expose his own body to gain more followers.
Did you always have a fashion career in mind?
I graduated with a degree in Intellectual Property Law, but didn’t see myself working in that field at all. I needed freedom, as well as the ability to express myself creatively, so I decided to enroll in what is known today as the Institut Français de la Mode in Paris, where I stayed for two years. Then I worked at Isabel Marant for 10 months and did my Masters afterwards, before entering the tailoring studio at Saint Laurent.
Was it at that time that the desire to have your own brand became clear?
Yes. I felt like I had more things to say and there were circumstances that allowed me to launch my own label. In April 2019, I started working on the very first collection, which I presented in January 2020.
That was one month before the pandemic hit Europe hard, starting with Italy.
Exactly. In January there were signs that something was going on already, because Asian buyers stopped shaking hands. The thing is, this was our debut collection and we hadn’t been aggressive in terms of marketing or press, so it was more confidential in a way. We also did made-to-measure that season, because my atelier was able to fulfill such orders.
Then the first lockdown took place…
And everything stopped for a while. The funny thing is that we had received some great orders during the first season, which we managed to deliver eventually.
Did the pandemic put you off?
Not really. I had the right people around me and it didn’t really have an impact on my creative process either. I launched my own brand, because I love designing clothes, and even though it happened right when the pandemic started, the idea of quitting never crossed my mind. Of course, I had to be pragmatic about things obviously, but fashion is about finding solutions anyway.
What kind of solutions did you think of?
I left for Normandy and decided to launch an online store, which proved to be a smart decision. It took time to get some sales online, but I really focused on the digital and did a small capsule in June. Last January, we entered the official calendar and came back with a large collection again.
Guess it didn’t affect you that much.
When you are a young brand, there are so many aspects you need to work on simultaneously, and I was so involved with everything back then that it didn’t change things at first. Afterwards, I started to realize that the pandemic made everything slower and more complex, especially when discussing it with other brands like ours.
What do you think VALETTE STUDIO brings today and what does it take to succeed?
VALETTE STUDIO is a designer brand and I’m definitely an atelier kind of guy. New brands should express a passion for clothing and creativity. Fashion is a business, and you need money, but my priority is making beautiful clothing. The starting point is always the suit, and how to reinterpret it today to make it effortless and comfortable. My clothes can be worn by men and women alike, but if you want to wear sneakers all day you can do that with my pieces, too.
Were you reacting to ubiquitous sportswear, which every luxury brand seems to indulge in?
I like the idea of a modern dandy and focusing on tailoring was just natural for me. I remember this journalist telling me once that if I didn’t do sportswear I’d have problems with my brand, but I listened to my gut feeling and went for the things I liked. In our collections, we offer clothes that are generously cut or made in materials that don’t crease. I even use cotton poplin for suiting, which makes it lightweight and really easy to wear.
We see a lot of young designers share intimate aspects of their lives on social media. How do you feel about this?
I’ve been on Instagram for years and remember how some of my friends at school were constantly posting stuff. I may be old-fashioned, but I believe in hard work and doing the best you can. I’d say Instagram’s an efficient, albeit time-consuming, way to communicate, but I have others doing it with me, because I could never manage this on my own.
Don’t you feel the need to use your own image in order to serve the brand?
No, I don’t. I’m not a movie star, but a designer, and I’m not interested in posting pictures of myself constantly. Posting shirtless or half-naked pictures of me on the Internet does not seem useful nor necessary.
Still, many designers want to be famous and it’s fame that drives their effort.
Who are you thinking of specifically?
Look at Olivier Rousteing for instance, or even Simon Porte Jacquemus. They have no qualms sharing intimate parts of themselves or their lives with their audience.
True, but they are very different designers and do not use social media the same way. Someone like Simon is a great communicator, and I think his own personal history serves the storytelling of the brand.
When it comes to the future of VALETTE STUDIO, how do you see the next five years?
We started developing collaborations with several artisans in France and are getting more and more press, so I feel quite positive about the future of the brand.
Do you make everything in France?
Yes, we do, and recently began developing a knitwear line, which we are excited about. We’re very lucky to have talented and dedicated people collaborating with us. I really believe in teams and love working within large environments. The more, the merrier! There’s no way I could have done any of this on my own, so surrounding yourself with the right people is key if you want to make it.
Is fashion a serious business?
It is serious, but I also think we should keep some of the lightness and spontaneity going when it comes to designing clothes. Fashion is about pleasure and enhancing our lives as well. I need to find pleasure in my work, too, otherwise what is the point? I am a perfectionist when it comes to crafting clothes, but as a designer you should never take yourself that seriously.
Would you love to do a fashion show one day?
At the moment, it doesn’t really seem that important to me. I do believe in physical presentations though, and being able to see clothes. Fashion shows require big budgets as well, and you shouldn’t do something like this unless you do it well. At the end of the day, if you manage to actually sell your clothes to people, then you are doing the right thing. It doesn’t matter how much noise you make online, the real test is whether or not people buy the clothes and, for me, that is the best form of validation.
Pierre-François Valette lives and works in Paris. He graduated from the prestigious Institut Français de la Mode in 2018. He decided to launch his own menswear brand, VALETTE STUDIO, in January 2020. valettestudio.com
A fashion writer, consultant and stylist, Philippe Pourhashemi was born in Tehran and grew up in Paris. In 2005, he graduated with a PhD in Cultural Studies. Working as a freelance coach for several brands in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Kazakhstan, Philippe advises designers who sell their collections abroad.