We talk to the founder of Zadig & Voltaire, Thierry Gillier, about his label and his plans to visit the Middle East.
Rock and roll chic
When it comes to his own clothing, the founder of the fashion empire Zadig & Voltaire wears his heart on his sleeve.
"There's a special cashmere pullover that I love," says Thierry Gillier. "I have about 20 of them, all the same! We make them very light and thin like a T-shirt, with a raw edge. I even sometimes wear the really old ones I own."
From its humble origins in 1997, the ready-to-wear label has expanded exponentially to include women's, men's and children's lines as well as accessories, jewellery and a fragrance.
Despite his fashion pedigree - Gillier's great-grandfather Andre Gillier was the co-founder of Lacoste in 1933 - his label was destined to be anything but quintessentially French and conventional. "It's chic rock-and-roll," he says. "I also started out putting words on the back of designs, not on the front. I just reinterpreted what I felt, it was poetry much more than a word."
Even the name of his maison reflects his passion for the arts and all things creative: Zadig being the fictitious character penned by the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire.
"I think the name is very poetic," he says. "I picked those names because the story is very special and it's related to literature and philosophy."
Following the launch of its original concept store in Paris, word and popularity of the label soon spread, translating to a presence in more than 200 stores globally in just 15 years. Zadig & Voltaire also put down roots in the Middle East, opening a flagship UAE store in Dubai Mall's Fashion Avenue in 2008 and a Kuwait boutique two years later. Most recently, the label opened a dedicated "men's corner" within Dubai's Galleries Lafayette, housing the new autumn/winter 2011/12 collection of wardrobe-staple leather jackets, urban-cool jeans and, naturally, cashmere knits.
"My favourite piece from the winter collection - is every piece!" says Gillier, laughing. "The latest collection is always the best. I love these pieces and we worked very hard to create something different."
If consumers believe the same to be true and if the sales track record of Zadig & Voltaire's main Dubai boutique is anything to go by, Gillier better double inventory shipments fast.
"Dubai has been such a great success story," he says. "Even with our [Tome 1] perfume, which was launched for the shop, it's always running out of stock. It's very special, something unique, it created a buzz. And now we've signed with Clarins to work on distributing the perfume from January."
Although Gillier has never visited the UAE, he plans to make a trip as soon as his hectic schedule permits.
"I've been planning to go every season, every year and I haven't had the chance," he says. "It's so busy at the moment, I've just come back from opening a store in New York and then I'm off to Moscow, but I really want to visit, so maybe I'll stop there next time I go to Hong Kong."
Gillier's affordable glam-rock designs, which often sport trademark motifs of guitars, skulls and angel wings on the back, have long had a loyal following of international A-listers such as Vanessa Paradis, Mickey Rourke and Daisy Lowe. Kate Moss's husband Jamie Hince and his bandmate Alison Mosshart, of The Kills, also modelled for Zadig's Autumn/Winter 2010 collection.
Equally famous are the collaborators the house works closely with to fashion its new collections.
The supermodel Erin Wasson is the latest face of the French label's collection and in Gillier's own words is the very incarnation of relaxed chic the brand has come to symbolise. Among the debut range of 25 pieces are bell-bottomed jeans, snakeskin cowboy boots, cut-off denim shorts and embellished blazers. The DJ Marc Ronson, who performed in Abu Dhabi on November 13, is also a favourite. "With Erin and Marc et cetera, we know them all very well. It's a friendship and they have become part of the Zadig family," says Gillier. "We need characters, the right people for the brand. We've always done it this way and we use personalities that reflect what our company is doing."
As for what future collections hold or which well-known individual might be lending their aesthetic to the cause, Gillier, if he knows, is keeping the information close to his chest.
"I don't know who's next and I don't have any dream collaborators to be honest. My dream one is the next one."