Simon Porte Jacquemus Marseille and a Mother’s Love

As his new exhibition opens in his homeland, Simon Porte Jacquemus sits down with Ted Stansfield to talk national identity, favouring spontaneity over strategy, and the beauty of the simple things.

France is a fractured nation. Much like the election of Donald Trump in America and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, the rise of Marine Le Pen and the sympathy towards her far-right rhetoric among the French electorate has revealed a deep chasm in the country’s society. It’s a nation torn between patriotism and globalisation; one that’s suffered terrorist attacks and that’s struggling to deal with migration; one with a bloody colonial past behind it and a challenging future ahead.

It is against this politically turbulent backdrop that we speak to emerging French fashion designer Simon Porte Jacquemus, for whom a love for France is at the centre of all he does. The day we speak is the eve of the French election and, coincidentally, of his new exhibition Marseille je t’aime.

“Frenchness” though, is what lies at the core of Jacquemus’ eponymous brand, and of this exhibition and an accompanying new book of the same name – the designer’s first publication. It’s neither a nationalistic nor a Parisian Frenchness, however (the latter of which we’re very accustomed to, fashion-wise), but a provincial one – one that speaks of his hometown, Marseille. Having taken inspiration from the region since the very inception of his brand, the designer’s S/S17 collection was titled Les Santons de Provence and was inspired by the clay figurines local to that area. And while Jacquemus maintains that he is grateful to Paris, which he says has given him “everything” (he works and presents his collections there), he admits that his heart still belongs to the South. “I need people smiling,” he says with a laugh, “people singing in the streets, people who are more Mediterranean… I really miss that.”

Marseille je t’aime, though, was not spontaneous. The result of much hard work on Jacquemus’ part, the exhibition features the designer’s Les Santons de Provence collection (complete with those wide-brimmed straw hats), along with photos, videos and sculptures – one of which he created himself. Rather than being a retrospective of the designer’s work, the show strives to be an “experience” and succeeds in being a thoroughly intriguing insight into the Jacquemus universe. This insight is also intimate, with over 1,000 photos and videos taken on his iPhone, including footage of his “little cousin running around in high heels, food, fittings, the shoes… The idea was just to be inside my phone because I work so closely with with [it].” Crucially, it’s set in Marseille, where he has been wanting to stage an exhibition for some time. “I’ve always dreamt of doing a show in Marseille for all the Southern French people, who never come to Paris, who are not fashion people.”

While globalisation has left many people in France with a sense of a loss of identity, through his label and Marseille je t’aime, Jacquemus demonstrates that national pride and nationalism needn’t go hand-in-hand. It’s a love letter to France – one that couldn’t have come at a better time.

Photo Courtesy of Marie Déhé
Courtesy of Another Magazine