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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 15 October 2018

Advice from style icon Inès de la Fressange

The model and face of the French brand Roger Vivier, who was in Abu Dhabi in October for the maison's Icons Connected exhibition, talks to us about timeless style.
French model, author and fashion designer Inès de la Fressange is a partner and brand ambassador for Roger Vivier, and was in Abu Dhabi last month for the maison’s Icons Connected exhibition.  Loic Venance / AFP
French model, author and fashion designer Inès de la Fressange is a partner and brand ambassador for Roger Vivier, and was in Abu Dhabi last month for the maison’s Icons Connected exhibition. Loic Venance / AFP

At 59, Inès de la Fressange, who runs her own brand, designs seasonal collections for Japanese clothing label Uniqlo, co-wrote a book and was Karl Lagerfeld’s muse, is the epitome of effortless French style – the kind that women all around the world strive to emulate. “[Style] seems effortless when a woman seems comfortable and self-confident, and doesn’t show off,” she says. “She isn’t too anguished with her appearance and gives the feeling that she doesn’t care.”

The former model’s usual outfit of choice consists of tapered trousers, basic blouses and fitted blazers – understated and never flamboyant. Her go-to piece of clothing, she tells me, is a pair of white jeans. “Flared or skinny, they fit quite a lot of women,” she says. “They are more sophisticated than normal denims and they look great with sophisticated heels, biker boots, sandals, loafers or ballerinas.”

De la Fressange was in Abu Dhabi last month when the Parisian shoe, bag and accessories label Roger Vivier brought its travelling exhibition, Icons Connected, to the capital. Some of the maison’s most iconic pieces were showcased in vitrines set up around the Great Atrium of The Galleria on Al Maryah Island. De la Fressange is the face of the brand and heavily involved in the business. On the opening night, she is a vision in head-to-toe white, sporting tapered trousers and a ruffled, semi-sheer blouse.

Naturally, on her feet are white silk Roger Vivier ballerina flats, adorned with the maison’s signature buckle. She floats through the crowd, striking up conversation with guests and signing copies of her book, Parisian Chic, which was published in 2011 and co-written by Sophie Gachet. The guidebook offers shopping advice and styling tips (with such gems as: “A clever mix of chic and cheap hits the jackpot when it comes to dressing à la Parisienne”, and “The trick is never to follow current trends slavishly. Even if leopard-skin prints are top of the list this season, she will not step out looking like she’s escaped from the Paris zoo”), accompanied by some of de la Fressange’s own illustrations.

Born into an aristocratic French family, de la Fressange achieved success early. At 17, she was walking the runway for Yves Saint Laurent and Mugler, and was the first model to ever enter into an exclusive contract with an haute couture fashion house when she became muse to Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel.

And with her laissez-faire approach to fashion and palpable penchant for all things Parisian, de la Fressange was the obvious choice for the role of Roger Vivier’s brand ambassador. And the appeal for her? That each product to come out of the maison is timeless, but still on-trend, she says. “[There’s a] feeling that it’s classic, but totally creative.”

Roger Vivier, the founder of the storied brand, was a student of sculpture at the Paris School of Fine Arts and designed stage decor before opening his first boutique on Paris’s rue Royale in 1937. He is the underrated mastermind behind some truly iconic creations, including the coronation shoes worn by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953; the footwear sported by Princess Soraya of Iran during her 1961 visit to Paris (a single shoe from the pair was auctioned off for almost Dh90,000 in 2011); and the shoes worn by Sweden’s Queen Silvia and Princess Victoria for the princess’s wedding ceremony in 2010.

In the early 1950s, Vivier was recruited by Christian Dior to design shoes for the couturier’s new footwear division, and he is credited with designing the first stiletto, the eight-centimetre-high Aiguille. In 1965, he launched footwear with a bold, oversized buckle emblem – the style was worn by Catherine Deneuve in her 1967 film Belle du Jour, and grew to become a Vivier icon, still used in designs today.

Vivier passed away in 1998, and in 2003, Diego Della Valle, the owner of Tod’s Group, bought the company. Bruno Frisoni was appointed creative director and has given the label a modern-day uplift, while remaining respectful of its legacy. “Bruno Frisoni is the best designer for shoes and Diego Della Valle is the best businessman, so being part of this great team is very stimulating,” says de la Fressange.

The label has a long list of celebrity fans, and while elegant pumps and strappy stilettos typically reign on the red carpet, Roger Vivier is also known for its chic flats – both ballerina and loafer styles. For spring/summer 2016, Frisoni launched the Sneaky Viv – a skater-style sneaker with a rubber sole that features a crystallised version of the signature Vivier buckle instead of shoelaces. Frequently sported by celebrities such as Cate Blanchett and Olivia Palermo, the trainers are an exemplary instance of Frisoni’s fresh design approach.

De la Fressange is an advocate of the flat-shoe movement, and admits that heels can be overrated. “They shouldn’t be worn systematically,” she says. “Too many women still think that because they are not very tall, they should wear heels; they should rather buy a ladder! Flats, sandals or other kinds can be great with evening clothes, long dresses or tuxedos. I’ve had many situations saved by black-varnish ballerinas.”

While other brands gravitate towards new-age, social media-driven models and “influencers” to be the face of their fashion campaigns, Roger Vivier values the idea of a well-rounded muse. Though the brand has enlisted young creatives, such as digital entrepreneur Miroslava Duma, design curator Ambra Medda and French model Jeanne Damas for campaigns and collaborations, de la Fressange is regarded as an everlasting, long-time partner of the maison.

While she modelled extensively in her early years, de la Fressange by no means retired at the sight of a few wrinkles, debunking the notion that a woman’s prime years are her early 20s. At 51, she walked the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier, and at 53, for Chanel. At 54, she became an ambassador for L’Oréal Paris.

She hopes that women will respond well to seeing another woman ageing gracefully. She notes that 73-year-old actress and model Lauren Hutton walked down the runway for Bottega Veneta this past season (albeit arm in arm with Gigi Hadid), and reveals her personal secret to ageing gracefully: “I think it’s to accept that you are ageing.” Still, she takes steps to ensure her skin stays in top form, and shares her beauty discoveries via an online newsletter, Lalettredines.com. “Cleaning up my face, eating well, protecting my skin from the Sun and putting on day cream are my essentials. Laboratories are always doing a lot of research, so I try a lot of new products.”

Between updating her newsletter, designing clothing, collaborating with brands and working closely with Roger Vivier – not to mention parenting her two daughters and two stepdaughters – de le Fressange has a busy schedule. And with a keen interest in literature, psychology, anthropology and the arts, she proves that even the most stylish of women can come with a whole lot of substance. “Oh, many things are interesting,” she says. “Fashion is just a passion.”

Read this and more stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, November 3.

hlodi@thenational.ae