IT TAKES A VILLAGE to raise a child. In the case of designer Amélie Pichard, it takes a village to start and run a shoe and accessory brand in her own name. Although she moved to Paris - the epicentre of the fashion universe ten years ago, Amélie Pichard has preserved the mentality and lifestyle of one living in a small village.
The small street Rue de Lappe sets the scene for her urban village, and when she takes her daily walk a couple of hundred metres from her flat to her store, she does so with the casualness of walking from one room to another. Rue de Lappe was the first place she moved to when she came to pursue fashion in Paris.
Just Like Home
The sun shines brightly on the early fall morning we visit Amélie’s little village in central Paris. When she started studying at fashion school, she was sure that she had finally found her perfect place in the world, she tells. But after graduating and getting her first job at a fashion brand, she felt this type of work simply wasn’t for her. Wanting to get back to basics, Amélie began learning how to make shoes the old-fashioned way. She found an orthopaedic shoemaker who taught her everything about the craft of shoemaking. She stayed there for six months, and her career kickstarted after winning a competition for the design of a shoe by a big fashion brand. Although time was an issue, she turned to the only remaining cobbler in Paris, Madame Germaine and asked her to create her first collection. Madame Germaine closed her little factory during the making of the first official Amélie Pichard line, but her acknowledgement and admiration of traditional craftsmanship remained vital in her work.
Inside the small top-floor apartment in Rue de Lappe, where she also lives, her brand came into being. She did everything here – from working and partying, to sleeping and meeting with important partners. Later, she got her hands on a small maisonette in the beautiful courtyard, which she turned into an office. After expanding and now engaging staff to help her with the growing number of tasks and orders, that same office also serves as storage. While her glossy kingdom of humorous fashion is displayed down the street, in a small shop with a bright green front - decorated with everything Amélie likes herself.
“All my life, I wanted to do things according to my own conviction. ...”
“All my life, I wanted to do things according to my own conviction. So, I wanted a place which was more than a shop. Today, everything with Instagram and the internet is virtual. My store is virtual reality. I call it Chez Pichard – I want it to feel like a home, where some will come to have a drink, while others will come to buy shoes,” Amélie tells.
That’s why the store is no usual shop. In addition to the large mirrors covering the back wall, visitors are greeted by a king-sized bed, covered in fake fur. When the shop first opened, everything was covered in pink satin – the plan is to change with every season.
She opened the store as she decided to quit the fashion business: no more retailers, seasonal collections, or keeping up with the high pace and stress of fashion week. Even if the company moves from the top floor to the ground floor – it happens with a with a big sign at the street entrance, true to the pace and tune of Amélie’s working ways.
Traditional Savoir Faire
AAmélie forced herself to learn the traditional craft of design when she worked with one of the remaining keepers of French shoemaking. Today, the relics of those months she spent making shoes by hand have left her engaged in every little step, from initial idea - to the finished shoes on her shelves: “When I work with leather, I want to know how the leather is produced. Ideally, I would have lived where the cow lived its life, and know myself how to tan the leather,” Amélie says, “It is important to me to be comfortable with my art, from the factory to the store.”
”I don’t like fashion. I make fashion, but I don’t want to be in the fashion system..."
Her choice to start with the art of the craft itself reflects her strong ideology which remains a vital part of the brand today. “I love the spirit of the traditional crafts in France. Back in the days, this was a neighbourhood where they used to make chairs, and I admire the savoir-faire of the craftsmanship. I wanted to have my own production in France, but now it’s too late – we don’t have viable suppliers here anymore,” Amélie says.
As a fashion designer – and a successful one at that – breaking up with the system, so to speak, is no easy choice. And she is still very much aware of the fact that, although not actively partaking in the annual fashion week, she is still part of the system. But she is trying, one step at a time to break with the high pace and unreasonable demands of the market. “A lot of things are changing,” says Amélie and refers to the way we produce things, especially clothing, “I don’t like fashion. I make fashion, but I don’t want to be in the fashion system,” she declares.
Life of Contrasts
Sticking to traditions while pursuing modern, innovative designs is symptomatic of the process and the way, Amélie has arranged her entire life: full of contrasts. “I like traditions, and I like innovation. So, in my collection, I try to merge them,” Amélie describes.
”I like traditions, and I like innovation. So, in my collection, I try to merge them,”
But a life of contrasts becomes visible beyond her work; playing with the clichés, nothing is exactly as it seems about Amélie, and she indeed is no stereotype Parisienne. She’s a star of the fashion world, yet hates the industry and never goes shopping. She lives in the centre of one of the most exciting cities in the world, yet rarely goes out on weekends. She is innovative but loves tradition and succeeds in that surprising connection of French elegance and humour. “’Less is more. But too much is cool.’ The architect of my shop, Marion Mailaender, told me that one day,” Amélie says about the way the brand balances style and expression. “Everything is always in contrast. I know it’s the best cliché, but I like to see a woman from the man’s perspective. I work a lot with femininity, modernity, clichés, and humour.” she says about her artistic vision with her brand, and laughingly states: “It looks like a company with naked girls, but there’s a lot to understand behind it.”
The bed has not only become the symbol of her shop, but it is also the centre of her personal universe. “I need to have at least one day during the weekend where I just lie in bed with a book and my cats,” she admits. “In fact, the only thing I can do on weekends is to go to the florist and buy a new plant and have good food. Bring a bit of nature inside, you know,” Amélie says as one of her Persian cats jumps onto her lap, a perfect image of her dream home: “I couldn’t live without plants, and a home is not home without cats. I still think Paris is the perfect place to live, although we’re trying to make the perfect apartment, in reality, the perfect place is in nature.”