Cécilia Bönström Talks Zadig & Voltaire’s NYFW Debut

by Kristen Heinzinger

Paris-born brand Zadig & Voltaire is beloved worldwide for its cool clothes, friendly price points, and that certain je ne sais quoi. To toast 20 years and officially declare itself an emerging force in the American market, creative director Cécilia Bönström is bringing her designs stateside for an anniversary celebration and a New York Fashion Week debut.

Welcome! What brings you to New York?
I wanted our 20th anniversary to be somewhere I could show, internationally, who we are, and I think it is stronger for a French brand to show in New York rather than in Paris. Zadig & Voltaire more or less invented that vision of French fashion 20 years ago. The energy, coolness, and sporty attitude in New York is very similar to my vision of women.

Are you bringing some sort of American spirit to the Fall collection?
I always work with muses in my mind. The Fall silhouette is inspired by Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and I wanted to create a look of how Parisian women would interpret the coolness of the New York woman—you know, with the coffee in her hand, very sporty, wearing sneakers. It’s also a reminder of Freja [Beha Erichsen], Erin Wasson, all the muses and women that Zadig & Voltaire stands for. We’re also concentrating on our DNA, so there will be a lot of military pieces, knitwear, lingerie, and suits.

Anything totally new in the collection?
Men’s silhouettes, a much higher heel and a more feminine attitude. Eight pieces will be see now, buy now.

You’re showing at Skylight Modern. What are you looking for in the show space?
I wanted something raw and real. We are creating our new flagship between Mercer and Broome, working with a Belgian architect, Bernard Dubois. He is very into what he calls “brutalism.” Everything is metal and concrete. The venue had to be raw and rough.

Any plans to relax, rejuvenate, or escape after the show?
We’ll have a party in New York after the show, and we’ll shoot our winter campaign. During French Fashion Week, we will have a re-see at our headquarters in Paris in the 16th arrondissement. We’ve had the space for six months. It’s very small, very French, and has a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Any other grand plans to celebrate your 20th anniversary?
In the windows at our flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York, we have beautiful designs that I made in collaboration with Parsons School of Design. Next, we’ll show creations for Summer 2017. Also, the Penninghen School in Paris had a contest for its students that asked them to interpret our iconic pieces, like leather jackets, military jackets, and knitwear sweaters, for the future. We’re going to have six items for sale on our website in exclusive quantities.

How were you spending your time in 1997?
I was still modeling, and working a lot between London and Paris. It’s funny how my life is linked to the story of Zadig ou la Destinée, which is the book that gave the idea to the brand’s founder [and Bönström’s husband] Thierry Gillier. The story is about what you think you know and where you are heading in life, but that you can never be protected from the ups and downs. After a great modeling career for brands like Hermès and Armani, I thought my life was that of a model. In 2003, I realized I needed to do something else. I wanted to work for Zadig & Voltaire. I don’t know why that idea popped into my head, because there were only a few stores in Paris then. When you think you have the answers, suddenly life offers you a totally new chance.

How did you end up in the job?
I called them up and said, “Hey, I’m Swedish, I’m a model, and I love fashion. Can I come and see you?” [Laughs] Thierry had the guts to listen to a complete stranger, which shows his “Voltaire,” his revolutionary and rebellious way of doing things.

How did that spirit play out in the clothes?
Thierry really invented the perfect white T-shirt, military parka, and loose knitwear. What I wanted to bring in was more of an urban silhouette that shows how the Zadig & Voltaire woman works, not just the weekend vibe. I brought in the French and Italian wool theme, a lot of blazers, men’s suiting, an urban vibe but with this nonchalant, soft attitude. I think that is why we’ve survived 20 years: We have an identity.

And part of that is centered around your relationship to the art world. You’ve recently done some interesting work with artists..
My inspiration comes from collaborations, like those we did with Virginia Elwood, Gaia Repossi, and Pamela Love. Art is more like an impulse—it’s something in the air at our headquarters. Thierry is a big collector, so we have sculptures and paintings leaning on the walls very effortlessly. It is more like someone breathing a color or shape in my ear.

You enlisted Bella and Anwar Hadid, DJ Clara 3000, and Vera Van Erp for your Spring ’17 campaign. Why did they appeal?
They are very strong, young, and different from one another. Bella is the perfect muse. Zadig & Voltaire has always functioned as a family house, so I thought of her brother, Anwar. They are beautiful outside and inside—very cool, happy, and educated children.

Read the issue HERE.

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