Gaspard Yurkievich may not be a household name, but he's been on the radar of fashion insiders for the past decade and his beautiful, refined collections have been a highlight of Paris Fashion Week for many seasons now. As subtle as they are, they rarely receive the screaming headlines of Galliano or McQueen, but in boutiques around the world, men and women who love style, rather than merely follow fashion, know that his lines will be constructed and designed with intelligence and passion.
Yet Yurkievich is in no rush to break out into the mainstream: he is happy to keep things wearable and thoughtful rather than chasing publicity. "When I started in 1998 there were two schools of design: very conceptual, very intellectual work, or something very decorative and I wanted to connect both. I wanted to have in the same outfit an expression of both: of someone very spiritual who has a personality but also sensuality. My idea is to have a glamorous touch, but an urban touch, so it's always wearable."
One thing is for sure: his is not a brand for label-hunters. It is, instead, for those who seek exquisite, understated style that draws attention only for its flattering cut or rare fabric rather than for the logo or the quantity of rhinestones with which it is embellished. "I think my customer is a person who is really aware of technique, of fabric, of the background, of the history of clothes. I think it's really people who like fashion. Like me. I'm wearing a total Yurkievich look today." The Paris-born designer is hoping to find that clientele here in Abu Dhabi when he exhibits at the Fashion Expo Arabia later this week.
All of this is not to imply that his clothes are boring; far from it. His main concern when designing the spring/summer 2010 collection, which he showed in Paris earlier this month and which he will bring to Abu Dhabi this week, was to break out of the rut of hard, aggressive fashion that has been stalking the catwalks for several seasons. "In this collection, the message was to have fun with clothes, express yourself," he explains, pointing out the jaunty flowerpot hats and quirky, exaggerated raglan sleeves. "I think last season, and I was also part of this, we tried to do a very sharp silhouette and the same idea for 25 to 30 outfits: the same girl, the same hair. So this time I tried to express in every outfit something more spiritual, something more personal, and the styling of shoes and ties and jewellery and hats was totally unique for every girl.
"I had the feeling the last collections were like an army making a war. I wanted the contrary this season: no aggressiveness, just humour and seduction with a smile. Next season will be even more so. I really want this direction: more free, more unstructured, more fun, more personal for every outfit." The Yurkievich customer, always quietly directional, will enjoy being one step ahead, but the designer himself is very aware of the legacy of Paris fashion. Born in the French capital to Argentine parents, his father a poet, his own lyrical tendencies find expression in his explorations of the work of his illustrious predecessors, while eschewing the obvious trend-following of his contemporaries.
"For me it's always historical," he explains. "I always make a reference to the heritage of couture in Paris, and I always try to find a modern twist. References like Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Vionnet are always in the collection, even intuitively and unconsciously. If not, the references are more like the energy of some designers that I liked when I was studying fashion at Studio Berçot - we were crazy about Commes des Garçons, Vivienne Westwood, the first shows of Galliano. It's not just 'this year it's lace, so I'll do lace'."
This is Yurkievich's first visit to the Middle East, although he travels widely for both inspiration and pleasure. What is he hoping to find here? "I travel a lot in Asia and America and South America, so I have learned to not expect, not to have preconceptions. I know that Abu Dhabi is different from the other countries around there, just as, for example, in Europe we are very different: Spanish people are not like Germans and not like the French.
"What is interesting when you're invited like this to work is that you're in the middle of a society already. You're here to work - it's not a vacation, so you really see how young people react, are they open, are they curious for fashion, is the market ready? I don't know the answers to all these things. I hope, yes." We're ready, Gaspard. Ready and waiting.