The new prince of fashion: the “creative prodigy” brings his Midas touch to the Rochas house

VSharles de Vilmorin does not hide his excitement at the imminent arrival in his Parisian apartment: an Italian greyhound named Terror. “In France, we have this funny thing where every year there is a letter by which you must name your pet, and this year it’s T,” he explains with a smile. “If he’s cute and calm, then it’ll be funny; if it’s out of control, it works too.

It’s said with an understated confidence that belies the tedious introduction of a pet, not to mention the amount of work de Vilmorin already has on his plate. At just 24 years old, the young French designer is not only the prodigy of haute couture with the eponymous brand that he launched in the midst of a pandemic in 2020, but he also became in February 2021 the artistic director of one of the oldest French fashion houses, Rochas, for whom he showed his SS23 collection last week.

This means that he must produce no less than six collections per year between the two brands. Yet de Vilmorin responds to any suggestion of pressure with nonchalance and a why not attitude – sentiments communicated articulately with a neutral tone, “So!”

“It’s great, I’m learning every day,” he says. “Once one collection is finished, I start another, which is good for my creativity.” Plus, he says, “these are two completely different structures and I work in two different cities for each, so it’s easy for me to separate the two. So!”

The designer is fortunately based in the bohemian 17th arrondissement of Batignolles, where he runs his brand. He also spends one day a month at Rochas headquarters and studios in Milan. And that’s where we meet, at the hotel he frequents in town, tucked away in the rejuvenated student district of Porta Romana.

Mannequin in red, purple and blue skirt, designed by Charles de Vilmorin
Color blast: the Charles de Vilmorin skirt. Photography: PR

“Rochas is a century old and has had a lot of creative directors with huge stories and characteristics. I have to understand and respect that in order to continue the story of the brand,” he says. “And there are, of course, a commercial expectation that I need to grow.” Her own gender-neutral couture brand, meanwhile, “is more artistic, experimental and I work a lot with my hands – that character and energy is totally different in my brain.”

Rochas, said of Vilmorin, took a risk on him. After launching his fashion label the year before graduating from the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale in 2020, he quickly gained popularity on social media for his handmade designs and the cool crowd that supported him. followed – things that clearly appealed to Rochas bosses. This collaboration follows in the footsteps of several French heritage labels – see Lanvin, Schiaparelli and Courrèges – who shunned more established designers in favor of the new perspective and Midas touch that a Gen-Z designer can potentially bring to their brand.

“They were brave because it’s my first experience,” he says, pulling out his iPad to show me the initial sketches he created for them as part of the interview process. “Now I look at it and think, ‘Oh no, that’s impossible!’ It was super naive, but I think that’s why they liked it.

Hand-painted illustrations and De Vilmorin’s signature primary palettes dance on the border between joyful and macabre, fitting into an aesthetic more aligned with the extravagance of Christian Lacroix and the arty rebellion of Franco Moschino in the 1980s and 1990 than many of his contemporaries. The young creator’s initial ambition to be a theater director speaks to the very drama that first attracted him as a child.

A model in a multicolored 'joker' dress with puffed shoulders, designed by Charles de Vilmorin
A dramatic twist: Charles de Vilmorin dress. Photography: PR

“I thought it was so much fun to work with the music, the light, the silhouettes, the clothes and the decoration – the whole universe around theatre,” he says. But it was meeting John Galliano’s rhapsodic showmanship at Dior Couture that changed his path. “It was 2010 and Galliano’s couture show – full of red and black – gorgeoushe enthuses, fading in memory. “I saw that show and I said, ‘OK, I’m done.’ I was 10 years old.

Not every 10-year-old knows what a couture show is, let alone one of its 20th-century masters, but art and fashion run in the family. The eldest of five children, he grew up on the outskirts of Paris, where his artist mother, his fashion financier father and his great-aunt – the poet Louise de Vilmorin – breathed an “artistic and poetic atmosphere” into the family. This is what he relied on to build his brand.

De Vilmorin has since blazed a trail that saw him nominated for the prestigious LVMH prize last year. A gender-neutral fashion house modeled on his friends goes against the status quo in couture circles and shortly after our interview he announced his departure from the official calendar (to which only Chanel and Dior are usually invited to participate), opting instead to present the brand in its time and territory. It was, he says, a mutual decision that gave him “a new perspective and a bit more freedom.”

He was called a “creative prodigy” by vogue France – which many would struggle to live with at his age. But de Vilmorin is intrepid. “Of course, in 10 years, I’ll be like Galliano at the end of one of his fashion shows,” he laughs, referring to his hero’s incredible bow on the catwalk. “I’m too shy and too small at the moment. But in 10 years, I will have confidence.

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