(NEW YORK) Accessories maverick Jérôme Dreyfuss has been making bags for cool girls for over a decade (with a chic following much like that of his designer wife, Isabel Marant). Last year he launched a line of men’s bags, and this season he’s ventured into women’s shoes. Business is booming, but it hasn’t always been easy. The Daily caught up with Dreyfuss at his studio in Paris to find what it’s like fending off fast fashion copiers, what the French fashion industry is doing to solve the problem, and why Dreyfuss wants to avoid having an “it” bag.
BY PAIGE REDDINGER
Tell us about the collection this season. What’s the focus?
I’m doing a bit more structured and supple pieces this season because we discovered through our own stores that it’s not just 20 to 30-year-olds buying the collection. We now have an older clientele as well.
Why do you think that demographic is catching on as well?
I think we are taking some of the clients from the bigger houses. They’re fed up with paying 3,000 Euros for a bag that they will see on the arms of everyone in the train stations and in the streets with all of the copies. Also, there’s no logo, it’s light, and actually useful.
Useful in what sense?
I’m really working on the practicality of the bags. On the inside of all of my bags, there are little details, like keychain flashlights for when you’re in a cab and searching for your wallet or your cell phone or your keys. There are always lots of pockets and straps and each bag also comes with a mirror. I even have details where the wallet zips out of the bag in case you want to leave the purse behind and just take the wallet.
Love it! What got you thinking about these details?
Women don’t move the same today as they did 15 years ago. You have to carry your cell phones, a charger, perhaps an iPad or a computer. If you look at photos from the Seventies, Eighties, or even the Nineties you can actually see the difference. I’m always asking the girls in the office what they need from a bag. And I’ll see all my girlfriends searching in their bags; they can never find anything! I actually started the brand after I told a girlfriend that couldn’t find the right bag that I’d make one for her. It basically started as a joke, but even today I don’t like to do anything unless I can laugh about it.
You introduced shoes this season. How is it doing?
We introduced the shoes first in our own stores to see how they would do. They did really well, so we launched the full range this season. Even with the shoes I think about practicality. So we have boots that can be worn a couple of ways either folded over as booties or worn as knee-high boots. If you’re spending $900 on a pair of shoes you want to make sure you are getting your money’s worth. I’m really working for women that live in reality.
You also have a men’s line now. How’d that get started?
The men’s started just like the women’s. I have a crew of guy friends, including a ballet dancer, a football player, and a photographer. They kept asking for bags from me. So one day when we were drunk I said, “OK, tomorrow you will all have bags.” But I made a deal with them and I said, “I’ll make your bags, but you guys have to be in the campaign,” and that’s how it started!
What has been your best seller?
The Billy has been selling since the beginning. It’s our classic. It has been selling so much that I’ve had to ask my clients not to buy more than 30 percent of the style in their order.
Why is that?
Because I didn’t want to have an “it” bag. It’s a bit dangerous, because what do you do after?
How often do you see copies of your pieces on the street?
It’s funny, but I actually opened up my first store with the money from a lawsuit. Now we’re laughing about it, but at the beginning it was really hard for us.
Do you remember the first time you saw copies of your bags?
Well, we would see them in the streets all over. But I remember the first time I did a trunk show at a big American retail store, I had a table where I was trying to sell my bags; I was surrounded by a wall of big American designers with copies of my bags. My bags cost $850, and these bags cost $250, because they were made in China. And you know what? I cried.
What did you do?
In America, if you are French you cannot do anything because you are not American. So now I have an American company to be able to sue when this happens. But now we laugh about it because you think, “Well OK, it’s a success [since it’s being copied],” but it’s really hard. In the big houses, they’ll have ten stylists that don’t know what to do. So they all go shopping, remake pieces just enough, and put their logo on it. It happens everywhere. I’ve actually had to stop production of some pieces because there were too many copies.
Which pieces have you had to stop producing?
Well the Momo bag, which we actually still have, I saw at Urban Outfitters last season. Every season I find my bags there and I can’t do anything! And every year we spend so much money on copyrighting them. But last season I decided to stop copyrighting them in America because there’s no point. You just spend a lot of money and if you’re not American then you are always losing. You have your Urban Outfitters and the Steve Maddens and they take the bags and they change what they have to change so you cannot do anything. It’s not what I’m focused on anymore. But when I started, I really felt like I was doing the job and [those stores] were making the money.
What’s being done in France to protect designers’ work?
In France we have organized meetings about the counterfeit problem. The French Court of Law organizes the meetings to talk about the issue because they were really fed up with all of the suing. So they asked designers to come and people from big conglomerates like LVMH to try and come up with solutions and we’ve been also trying to do something about it in the American market. They want to make copyright laws that are a bit more global so that they’ll be the same in Europe, the same in America, and so on. But it’s really difficult. It’s already hard just between France and Italy.
Is China responsible to some extent, for producing such cheap copies?
Not at all. It’s not their problem. It’s the Europeans and Americans that are sending all of their stuff over there to be made cheaply, so what do they expect?