The Designer Who Defined Modern Parisian Cool

Isabel Marant has always known exactly how she wants to dress. In the decades since she founded her brand, people all over the world have adopted her tastes as their own.

Article by Lindsay Talbot

Photography by Dudi Hasson

“I was a strange and rebellious child,” says the designer Isabel Marant, who, after her French father and German mother separated when she was 7, was largely raised — in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine — by her stepmother, who was from Martinique and dressed in head-to-toe Yves Saint Laurent. The glamour wasn’t wasted on Marant, but she had her own ideas. “That era of ’80s super-chic French fashion was really getting on my nerves,” she says. “By 10, I knew exactly what I wanted to wear, but it didn’t exist in any shop.”

So she started making her own clothes, reworking her dad’s castoff dressing gowns, sweaters, vintage military fatigues and silk slippers. At one point she thought she might study economics or become a veterinarian, but her friends loved her creations and kept requesting versions for themselves.

After studying fashion design at Paris’s Studio Berçot, Marant launched Twen, a knitwear and jersey line, with her mother in 1989. “I was determined to work for myself,” she says. Her eponymous label debuted five years later, with a collection of men’s-wear-inspired overcoats and striped suits that drew from Indonesian batiks and ikats. Her credo was simple: She’d only design pieces she herself would wear. “To this day,” says Marant, 53, “nothing leaves the workshop without me trying it on.”

Her preference for eye-catching pieces that exude a sense of bohemian nonchalance has also remained consistent, and those familiar with the brand are able to spot a Marant schoolboy-style button-down, floral georgette dress or pair of dip-dyed motorcycle jeans from a block away. “I think of my collections as versatile satellites of each other that are meant to transcend time,” adds Marant.

Today, she has 52 boutiques in cities ranging from Copenhagen to Chengdu and, in addition to women’s wear, oversees accessories, a diffusion line called Étoile and men’s wear. Still, along with her husband, the handbag designer Jérôme Dreyfuss, and their 17-year-old son, she manages to split her time between an apartment in Paris’s Belleville neighborhood and a small cabin in Fontainebleau. “Far from the madness of Paris, I can clear my head,” says the designer, “which actually speeds up my ideas.”

Image at top: “A recent portrait of me taken by Dudi Hasson in front of our Paris atelier. I’m dressed in my typical uniform, which consists of a lot of light gray and off-white, and I’m wearing my father’s watch from the ’60s. I always have my hair up in a chignon. Sometimes I think I should dye it, but then I say, ‘No, no, Isabel — that’s just the way it is.’”

From left: Courtesy of Isabel Marant (2); Manolo Ballesteros’s “Untitled” (2019), courtesy of Alzueta Gallery.

Left: “My mother, Christa Fiedler, with my little brother (left) and me in Neuilly-sur-Seine. I must be 5 or 6 here. At the time, my mom was modeling in fashion magazines; later she ran Elite, the modeling agency. I think my dad hoped I’d be beautiful like her, but alas, I was very tomboyish and always hiding myself behind a dark fringe of bangs.”

Centre: “In France, it’s quite typical to have a classic Breton bowl with your name on it for breakfast and things. I carry this ‘Isabel’ one around with me and fill it with tobacco when I roll my cigarettes. A few years ago, we produced a small run of them, sort of as an inside company joke, and I sometimes give them to friends as gifts.”

Right: Manolo Ballesteros, who’s now in his 50s, was a young artist when I first discovered his pieces, at a gallery in Barcelona. I’ve always enjoyed the work of Catalan artists from the 1960s, like Miró and Dalí, and I love the way that Ballesteros nods to their creations with his own use of geometric shapes. This work, ‘Untitled’ (2019), is made of folded painted paper and feels somewhere between a painting and a sculpture. I don’t own it, but I keep two others of his at my cabin.”

From left: Ed Alcock for The New York Times; Matthieu Salvaing/OTTO.

Left: “I can be extremely French — I often eat steak and French fries with red wine for lunch at Chez Georges, which is not very far away from my office. It’s a very old-school bistro. More Parisian, you simply cannot do.”

Right: “My atelier in Paris is a two-story atrium just off the Place des Victoires. The armchairs are a 1950s design by Pierre Jeanneret from his Kangaroo series. I bought the carpet during a trip to Morocco and found the table in Los Angeles. On the walls is framed jewelry I’ve designed. The skylights bring in the best light, but, depending on the season and time of day, it can also get wonderfully moody.”

From left: Juergen Teller for Isabel Marant; courtesy of Isabel Marant.

Left: “Our Naoko bag, launching this summer, is made of thick red cow leather and has two different handle lengths. I’m not the kind of person who changes their bag every day — I have one for spring and one for fall, so maybe this will become my fall bag. The photo was shot in Tel Aviv by Juergen Teller, whom I’ve been working with for five seasons. My German side appreciates the straightforward roughness of his images. He doesn’t cheat.”

Right: “In 1987, when I was 20, I backpacked with three friends through India, and took this photo of a streetscape in the pink city of Jaipur. On the metal tray on the left is a small black-and-white portrait of me, a Polaroid that was taken behind the curtain with an old-fashioned camera. You could get these sorts of pictures of yourself all over the city, and they make for sweet keepsakes.”

From left: Charles Allmon/Nat Geo Image Collection; courtesy of Isabel Marant.

Music is often a jumping-off point for me. When I was thinking about my spring 2020 collection, I was listening to a lot of baile funk and contemporary electronic Brazilian music, and it got me thinking about Brazil’s beaches, joyful colors and design. I admire the work of the architect Oscar Niemeyer and the landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx, and this men’s wear look (right), though it could be unisex, was inspired by Marx’s trippy, undulating Copacabana boardwalk in Rio de Janeiro (left).”

From left: Courtesy of Isabel Marant; Oasis at Image Locations.

Left: “This was the invitation to my first-ever runway show. I found a square of beautiful abandoned Parisian buildings on Rue St. Sabin and got permission from the township to hold my show there. Two days before, they called and said, ‘You can’t do it.’ Well, all the invites had been sent out, so I pretended I’d call it off but did it anyway — illegally!”

Right: “I’m very keen on modernism, particularly when it comes to architecture. Richard Neutra, Alvar Aalto and Frank Lloyd Wright are all favorites, and I would totally live in this modernist-inspired 1993 Los Angeles house by Philip Dixon. I’m drawn to the rawness of the concrete, which is juxtaposed by the cactuses and lush palm trees.”

From left: Photograph by Armin Linke/courtesy of Maurizio Cattelan’s Archive; courtesy of Isabel Marant.

Left: “This 1996 black-and-white photograph, ‘Untitled’ by Maurizio Cattelan, is one of my favorites. I love how the hands form a star and are also peace signs. For me, it symbolizes what we can achieve with our hands, and how we can be peaceful if we’re connected.”

Right: “My family and I go to our place outside of Paris most weekends when the weather is good — in the picture, taken five years ago, you can see my son, Tal. The cabin sits by a deep river and used to be a fishing shack — there’s still no running water or electricity so I do a lot of gardening and barbecues. Being there is like an escape to a past era.”