Koché - Wool sweater
A MEETING WITH KOCHÉ
By Armelle Leturcq
Displaying a clear knack for contemporary art and youth culture, Christelle Kocher created her nearly eponymous brand in 2015, after stints with top ready-to-wear houses like Dries Van Noten, Bottega Veneta and Chloé. Operating as a collective where underground directors rub shoulders with pioneering musicians, Koché not only puts out innovative silhouettes, it has crafted an entire universe of its own. Supported by Woolmark since 2017, the fashion house has developed new ways to use wool, applying the material in streetwear and more sophisticated pieces, within a unique blend of tradition and technology. Meet the designer who is revolutionizing fashion.
Do you run your fashion house Koché in a completely independent way?
Yes, we are now fully independent. We’ve operated for three years and have seen tremendous progress. We’ve received support from the press and our many partners. We’re supported by Woolmark and Swarovski. We design four collections a year and we are sold at sixty-five points of sale worldwide. We’re very proud of everything we’ve accomplished. We’ve shown on Paris runways during fashion weeks, as well as a New York show with the support of Woolmark. We showed our pre-fall collections at Strand Bookstore. It was an incredible experience. We wanted our brand to move beyond France and reach an international audience, as we recently demonstrated in Tokyo.
What is your background?
I grew up in the suburbs of Strasbourg and my family had no connection to the fashion world. I followed my passion for art and drawing and eventually decided to study fashion. I graduated in 2002 from Saint Martin’s School in London. Then I started working in Italy with Armani, then with Martine Sitbon, Chloé and finally Dries Van Noten. I started working for Bottega Veneta in 2010, and then got an offer to become the artistic director of Maison Lemarié. In 2015, in addition to my job at Lemarié, I decided to launch my Koché label.
What positions did you hold at those fashion houses?
I was lucky in that I always held creative positions at every major fashion house where I worked. I sketched at Armani, and I also handled dressmaking, embroidery and lingerie. At Martine Sitbon, I became the designer’s right-hand woman. That involved managing the studio, working with her on collections, running the atelier… I learned so much. Next at Chloé I was responsible for all dressmaking, then I served as the right-hand of Dries Van Noten. At Bottega Veneta I was in charge of designing ready-to-wear with Tomas Maier.
When did you decide to create your own fashion house?
It was something I always wanted to do. It was just a matter of timing. I wanted to wait until I had enough experience and could do it in a free and independent way like all the designers who have inspired me: Dries Van Noten, Rei Kawakubo and other independent designers. My experience at so many fashion houses has given me expertise in the commercial side, communications, production and brand development strategies. It’s smart to create your brand at a mature stage in your career.
How did you build your business and creative networks?
I built up my connections and networks over many years. People opened their arms and offered their support… I have a CEO who joined me because the business had grown so large. Even though I’m extremely rigorous and organized, it’s important to work with the right people. I love working with creative people. Koché is also a series of collaborations with people from different fields, like Kevin Elamrani-Lince or the DJs Aamourocean, who do our runway music. We’re a collective, so exchange is a central part of the project.
What does it mean for your to be present in Hyères as president of the Fashion Accessories Jury?
It’s a great honor, as well as a great responsibility. We know that our decision will have a crucial impact on one young designer’s career. It’s a boost that will play an important role in the winner’s future. It also provides a moment of sharing, exchange and transmission between young designers and professionals with more experience. Since I was in their shoes not too long ago, I see it as an opportunity to be generous and give advice.
Does it represent a passing of the baton to a new generation?
Transmission is an important thing. It’s vital to stay curious and encourage creativity.
When did you start collaborating with Woolmark?
It’s a wonderful story. We started last September. They provide support and help with my runway shows, but we’ve also worked on more technical projects. Since I work within streetwear and sportswear, it’s interesting to see how wool can stretch and move with the body. We work on different print techniques and have created incredible knitwear with different textures. They’ve allowed me to work with materials that I wouldn’t have access to in ordinary circumstances. Many people don’t realize that wool can be an innovative and high-performance material. All the major sports brands like Nike have started using it more frequently. It offers impressive performance in terms of moisture wicking and dyeing. I love combining the history and tradition of wool with technology.
Do they provide the technology along with the material?
They give us both. They run the Woolmark Lab, dedicated to research and testing. They help us achieve our ideas and visions. It’s a dynamic partnership.
What collection are you working on right now?
I’m working hard on my next cruise collection, which I will show in Marseille. The city gave us free reign to do whatever we want, and we will present the collection on June 19. It’s not just a collection, but also an exhibition in which I’ve invited several contemporary artists to take part. I worked with the curator Anissa Touati, and the artists will express the spirit of Koché in performances and installations. I frequently turn to contemporary art as the starting point for my colors and embroideries. I was more interested in art than fashion when I was younger.
What artists do you find inspiring?
For the exhibition, I wanted to invite artists from my generation, so that means Tarik Kiswanson, Philippe Parreno, Pia Camil, Douglas Gordon, Lily Reynaud Dewar… I like Ryan Trecartin and how he uses video. I’m a friend of Bernard Frize – I love his painting. I also like Adrian Ghenie, the painting revival he has brought about, and his energy. When I worked for Bottega Veneta, I spent one week a month in New York and went to the art galleries whenever I had free time. I graduated in 2002 and kept company with the emerging scene of young British artists like Tracy Emin, Sarah Lucas and others. It was inspiring to be so close to the Tate Modern and have free access to art and creativity.
Do you collect any art?
I have a photo by Mehdi Medacci that I bought with my first paycheck. I also have collages by Nico Vascellari. But I mostly collect books: my library is well stocked. I get a lecture whenever I bring home a new book. (laughs)
Koché – Printed coat in wool, Printed top, Printed leggings in nylon
Photographer: Marijo Zupanov
Stylist: Joana Zibat
Model: Morgane Smola