Zadig & Voltaire’s Cecilia Bönström Mines Her Childhood for Fall 2020

by Alexandra Ilyashov

Zadig & Voltaire took to the Ritz in Paris in September, and now—lucky for us!—the hip brand has returned to NYC this season. Creative director Cecilia Bönström explains why she’s jazzed to be back in town, how her own groovy outfits as a kid in Sweden inspired the new show, and more.

What brought you back to NYFW?
I’ve been impatient to come back. I know how important New York Fashion Week is to the brand, and the energy in New York is so important to me. We weren’t here last year, because of the Kate Moss bag I collaborated on with her. We launched it to more of a European market, so we showed in Paris. Not because I was tired of New York! I’m happy to be back. The challenge for me is to show an even stronger collection than ever, because I wasn’t here last season. The pressure is higher to show something super strong.

How did you select the show venue?
We chose a space in Chelsea with a huge window facing the street that we’ll leave open without curtains. I like to bring in the New York vibe and energy, and have people passing by be able to see the show. It’s a beautiful space, and we’re leaving it very raw—windows open, no curtains. A moment of truth. The collection is all about rawness.

Did any recent travels inspire the new collection?
I traveled in my mind! I went back to my childhood. When I was in Sweden at my parents’ house recently, I went through the albums of my dear mother, who’s very organized and has the year printed on each photo book—she gave me my mathematical brain, which keeps my feet on the earth. I stumbled on my 7-year-old moments in 1977; the memories are beautiful, and the way she dressed me, my sister, and brother were strong. At that time, there was no social media, there were few fashion magazines, no fast fashion chains on every corner, and I was surprised and impressed by my mother’s style preferences.

How did your mom dress you and your siblings?
There was not one morning going off to school that my brother, sister, and I didn’t have an amazing look. She apparently put a lot of energy in dressing us in the morning. Not at all what I do with my kids in the morning with three sons in Paris! I’m more rock ’n’ roll, and quick. Revisiting my childhood years through these photos was a moment of truth, and the heart of the inspiration for this collection—the paisley wallpaper, flared jeans, patchwork leather, and all the colors the ’70s are famous for. Sometimes she dressed us with a pop of color, like red stockings under a trench coat.

How does your new collection channel this aesthetic?
There’s leather and suits; it’s very masculine. There’s a lot of gray, brown, cognac, and caramel colors, with pops of red and blue to give a little electric energy on the catwalk.

Did you cull inspiration from any specific pics?
There’s a picture with my brother in an oversize, light blue down jacket, and I’m wearing an oversize fur coat of my father’s over my shoulders with a big cashmere beanie. Those are definitely looks that will hit the catwalk, straight from my childhood.

Zadig et Voltaire Fall 2020 (IMaxTree)

Did this walk down memory lane compel you to dress your own kids differently?
No, I wear tight black jeans, and black and brown cashmere sweaters—that’s my uniform. When you work in fashion, you want to come home to a simple, less-is-more place. It’s a dark blue, dark gray, and white T-shirt and some Zadig or New Balance sneakers on my boys. I don’t experiment with their style. When they were little babies and had nothing to say, I went crazy—they were wearing leopard and cashmere overalls.

Sounds adorable! As a former model, are you very involved in the casting process?
Totally. When we did our last show at the Ritz for the Kate Moss launch, I had such a clear idea of how I wanted the models to walk, I opened the catwalk in the rehearsal moments. I really showed how to walk! I’m lucky that I did catwalk modeling in my beginning years, and was also a fashion model for photos. I know exactly what they go through. They can be shy, and I know exactly how to talk to them, handle it, and make them feel best. It depends on the music and mood, too. It’s helpful to have been a model before. It’s just luck. It wasn’t really planned. All of it adds up and has really helped me.

What else did you glean from modeling?
I know how to adapt to all situations and people. That’s what modeling teaches—you travel around the world, and work with different people every week. You prepare for all situations. It’s a beautiful school of life.

Zadig always does phenomenal leather. What’s on tap in that department this season?
It’s true, Zadig started out 20 years ago with a good biker jacket! Now, I’ve transformed the leather we work with—it’s a thinner leather that we purposely wrinkle for 24 hours, so it looks like you slept in your boyfriend’s shirt. Simple biker jackets are still part of our identity, but they’ve become thinner and more chic. We’ve created a wardrobe of leather—shirts, skirts, dresses, and shorts. Every season, we have leather on several designs, but this season, it was very important. We worked on thicker, shinier leather for shirts and trousers for a sharp, raw look. We also used an effect to make some things more vintage and used-looking. There are a lot of new shapes and new leathers in the show.

Do you dress differently in New York versus Paris?
New York is a melting pot—so international and multiethnic. It’s a beautiful city, because it’s where people really mix most and there’s the best style. It’s inspirational to me, so I dare more in New York—I’ll wear a oversize, long, colored fake fur coat, with sneakers and a beanie. In Paris, I’m a bit more classic.

How does New York get your creative juices flowing?
It’s a city with history and immigration—a mix of interesting, beautiful human beings. It’s extremely inspiring to me. There is a sense of freedom in New York. I love Paris, but it’s more like a village; it has a smaller feeling.

Do you prefer the Metro in Paris or the subway in NYC?
Both. I feel free and younger when I’m just on the subway on my own. It’s just the easiest in both cities!

Do you spend any time in Brooklyn?
Rarely. Only for vintage shopping at Stella Dallas. I don’t have time! I’m a Soho or Central Park girl.

What are your downtown and uptown haunts?
I love to bike around Central Park. I also get facials at Teresa Tarmey—she’s amazing. She has a location in London, too. I used to take the Eurostar there from Paris just to see her. Now, every time I’m in New York, I set up a meeting with her. I also do barre classes at Exhale’s Madison Avenue location. It changed my life! Barre is amazingly effective.

What’s your favorite breakfast in the Big Apple?
I love Sant Ambroeus for a sugar brioche and a cafe latte, either on Madison Ave or Lafayette.

Any go-to bars?
I’m not a bar person, but I like to sit at the bar at Serafina on East 61st Street and Madison for white wine and pasta at 4 p.m. when I land in New York, jet lagged. It’s the first thing I do!

That’s a great tradition! Where do you tend to grab meals?
I love Blue Ribbon downtown, and the Greek fish restaurant, Estiatorio Milos, is always good. Or I’ll have a quinoa salad at the Mercer’s lobby, just watching people coming in and out.

The Mercer has prime people-watching! Any favorite NYC museums and art galleries?
I love the gallery of my Swedish colleague Per Skarstedt; he opened a beautiful space uptown, and the Gagosian, obviously. I also like Dominique Lévy’s gallery. I’m a Guggenheim girl, too.

How will you unwind post-show this season?
By having a great dinner at the Grill, and then I fly back to Paris to go skiing in the French Alps.

Check out the Fall 2020 collection below.

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