Having held a number of high profile design roles within the industry, French designer Christophe Lemaire is now focused exclusively on his own label: Lemaire. "The determination was always there, but my experience at Hermès has given me even more confidence," said the designer at the close of his first show having left the leather house.
Since solely focusing on his own line, turnover almost doubled from €1.6 million ($1.8 million) in 2013 to €3.1 million ($3.5 million) in 2014 and, according to projections by the company, will reach €5.5 million ($6.2 million) by the end of 2015. Lemaire has also collaborated with Japanese retail giant Uniqlo, to produce a men's and women's collection, launching for Autumn/Winter 2015 and Spring/Summer 2016.
Lemaire first came to prominence as the artistic director of Lacoste. “It was difficult to do Lacoste and my brand. After a few years, I decide to put the brand on hold. It wasn’t only a financial problem. There were issues with production, wholesale. My head was about to explode. I was doing the job that Sarah, Bastien and I are doing now. And I was doing it wrong. It was a thankless period, but it happened to be quite rewarding for the future,” the designer told BoF. And, indeed it did — at one of the most prestigious luxury brands in the industry.
“When Pierre-Alexis Dumas called me, I was surprised, astonished, [but] at the same time, it seemed so obvious — the spirit of the brand — and we understood each other right away. We both had the idea of treating a piece of clothing as an object, but linked to functionality and realism,” he said shortly after his appointment.
The announcement that Lemaire would replace Jean-Paul Gaultier at Hermès was initially met with surprise in the industry. Gaultier’s tenure at the house had resulted in extraordinary commercial success. However, Lemaire quickly silenced his critics, crafting an aesthetic for the house that drew upon both his own paired-back simplicity and the heritage of Hermès to create effortless luxury. “I want… fashion that accompanies the personality,” said the designer at the time. “Allowing freedom of movement and gesture, [the] clothes [should] allow a woman to be herself.”
Lemaire took up his role as the artistic director of Hermès womenswear in 2011, his final collection for the house bowed in the Spring/Summer 2015 season. At the time Lemaire said in a statement, “Working for Hermès has been a great pleasure: a profoundly enriching experience on both a human and professional level. I am proud of what we have built together. My own label is growing in an important way and I now really want and need to dedicate myself to it fully.”
Axel Dumas , chief executive of Hermès, said of the move, "I am very grateful to Christophe for the passion with which he has addressed and enriched the expression of our house in women's ready-to-wear. Under his artistic direction the métier has renewed its aesthetic and produced very satisfactory financial results."
Lemaire learnt his craft through internships at Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent and Thierry Mugler. His eponymous label, Lemaire, is stocked internationally and the designer, who works closely with his partner Sarah-Linh Tran, recently launched an e-commerce platform on his website.
In June 2016, it was announced Lemaire would be joining Uniqlo, as artistic director of a new Uniqlo Paris R&D Centre, a research and development centre in Paris that Lemaire would staff and lead, building an entirely new design concept within the Uniqlo brand, a more refined version of the company’s “LifeWear” ethos — but integrated into the core offering, as opposed to some kind of “black label”. Lemaire was also appointed to design a new Uniqlo line, dubbed Uniqlo U, marking a deeper collaboration than the previous ones.
“I am confident that his tremendous experience and talent will thrive at Uniqlo,” Tadashi Yanai , chairman, president and chief executive officer of Fast Retailing, Uniqlo’s parent company, told the Business of Fashion.
The first Uniqlo U collection was unveiled during Paris couture week in July 2016 and will retail stores for the Autumn/Winter 2016 season.