“I don’t like to look at the past. I like to look forward,” says Charles de Vilmorin. Especially wise words when you consider the French fashion designer is just 24.
In June of last year, de Vilmorin took the fashion world by storm with the launch of his eponymous label, which quickly gave Paris Fashion Week the edgy, millennial touch it was missing. His debut couture show, which came just eight months later, was similarly revolutionary: the young designer performed as the opening model in a collection of hand-painted quilted jackets evoking Niki de Saint Phalle’s colorful, oversize Nana sculptures. Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele and Jean Paul Gaultier praised the work as visionary.
Then, in February of this year, de Vilmorin was appointed creative director of Rochas, the legendary Parisian fashion house founded in 1925.
De Vilmorin grew up between Compiègne, Lille, Nantes, and Paris. He is the grandnephew of Louise de Vilmorin, the femme de lettres whom The New York Times once called “the ChiChi devil.”
Creativity runs in the family. “I started drawing and making clothes for my little sister at a very young age,” says de Vilmorin, from his home in Paris. But it was after watching John Galliano’s 2011 spring-summer show, when he was 14, that he knew he wanted to be a designer.
De Vilmorin enrolled at the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, which counts Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent among its former alumni. In his freshman year there, he reached out to Jean-Charles de Castelbajac on Instagram, who helped him to curate his first designs. De Vilmorin launched his label just months after graduating.
In terms of inspiration, the designer looks to fantasy films, music, and the world of Surrealism. “I also really like the universe of Tim Burton,” he says. But “my friends and relatives are my main inspiration.”
The de Vilmorin family counts a long lineage of botanists, and flowers feature heavily in Charles’s designs, an ode to the ancestry and tradition of couture. But he also believes it should incorporate the contemporary. De Vilmorin knows that the younger generations are losing interest in high fashion, and he is working hard at redefining it. Step one? Inclusivity. “The notion of gender is one of the real struggles of our generation,” he says. “Clothes should be for everyone. Today, we want everyone to be what they want to be.”
Rochas will be first in line. “I hope to give Rochas a new birth, to attract youth and make a real fashion proposition, while keeping the brand’s history.”
Elena Clavarino is an Associate Editor for Air Mail