Meet the Parisian designer causing a stir with body-conscious styling
Ludovic de Saint Sernin on striking out with his own luxury brand
Halfway through our interview, Ludovic de Saint Sernin takes a healthy bite out of a chocolate chip cookie. It's a sugary treat that few of the designer's acolytes are likely to indulge in.
Since first establishing his namesake Parisian brand in 2017, de Saint Sernin has made body-conscious dressing his USP. His previous creations count fine-knit tank-tops fastened with a duo of tied ribbons (Spring/Summer 2018), cropped bolero jackets (SS19) and a gauzy chiffon wrap top (SS19); de Saint Sernin's best-selling eyelet briefs are a subtle nod to American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
De Saint Sernin's talent lies in mastering a delicate balancing act. “Every season, there is this one item that becomes viral”, he says. Sensational creations have included a ‘Million Dollar’ version of the afore mentioned eyelet briefs bedecked with thousands of Swarovski crystals (AW19) and, from the fledgling brand's AW18 collection, a ceramic eggcup moulded to sit on the shoulder. The epaulette-like accessory was inspired by Salvador Dalí and the Spanish Surrealist's 1931 oil painting The Persistence of Memory.
“My brand is so niche right now, it allows you to go into a more mainstream world where people will recognise you for one thing. The ones who know will know what you do and the message you are trying to tell”, he explains, aware of the effect some of his work has. “I try to tame it because I don’t want the collection to be reduced to this one thing that becomes viral.”
Following a series of static presentations de Saint Sernin staged his first runway show last June, unveiling his SS20 collection in Paris. When it came to choosing a venue, the 29-year-old designer decided on an open-air terrace below the Pompidou Centre's restaurant Le Georges. “It was perfect for us” , he says of the landmark. “The [name] of the collection was Wet'n'Wild and we were looking for a space that had a water element to it.”
As they circumvented the terrace's water feature – a shallow rectangle dotted with contemporary sculptures – de Saint Sernin's cast of models looked as though they had just emerged from a splash in a faraway ocean. The designer and his small team had sprayed white organza tailoring with Evian water to make transparent suits cling to skin; elsewhere exposed skin was dotted with Swarovski crystals to mimic sand particles. “You only get one shot and in ten minutes, it’s done!”, says de Saint Sernin, remembering the spectacle. “It’s like jumping off a diving board.”
There was other acts of illusion at work. What at first glance looked to be a simple cotton towel slung across hips was in fact delicate merino wool knitted by the designer's best friend to mimic the looped texture of towelling. Tight-fitting knit jumpers appeared soaked in sweat through a clever technique that uses yarns in gradually darkening hues of white. “It was quite hot in Paris, there was a heat wave”, says de Saint Sernin. “People thought they were sweating.”
De Saint Sernin subverts traditional dressmaking skills and the young designer is equally ambitious in his use of prestige materials and finishes. De Saint Sernin has fashioned belted trench coats from Hermès leather off-cuts and hand-assembled wrestling singlets from individual ceramic squares. There have been pyjama two-pieces made from fabrics sourced in Japan; this autumn, the brand's stockist – which include Farfetch, MatchesFashion.com and Totokaelo – selected from cream shearling great coats, oversized poplin shirting and leather tank-tops.
“I am still a young designer”, he says. “I don’t have the Louis Vuitton or Chanel ateliers but I am trying my best because I interned at those amazing French houses. There, you educate your taste and then you expect the same for yourself but it’s harder to reach”.
For de Saint Sernin, dedication has paid dividends. In 2018, he was awarded the ANDAM Prize before being named a finalist of the annual LVMH Prize this year. Industry titans have taken note of de Saint Sernin’s work, and the designer has previously partnered with brands including footwear specialist Repetto and knitwear marque Begg & Co. This season, a team-up with Nottingham headquartered maker Sunspel has given shape to cropped cotton jumpers and matching shorts.
Born in the Belgian capital of Brussels, de Saint Sernin was first raised on the Ivory Coast. Aged eight, he left West Africa for Paris, where his family settled in the city’s upmarket 16th arrondissement. “The 16th is this very old area”, says de Saint Sernin, describing a sheltered upbringing. “You don’t really get out of the area”. He eventually left Paris’ 16th arrondissement for the 3rd, where he attended the Duperré School of Applied Arts, studying womenswear. “When I think about it now – it was amazing. It was about expressing your creativity. You discover yourself and what works for you”, he says of the school.
While still a student, de Saint Sernin interned with brands including Yves Saint Laurent (then under creative director Stefano Pilati) and Dior, where he worked within the maison’s jewellery workshop. His last placement at Balmain turned into a full-time position specialising in fabric embellishment and textiles finessing couture-level creations.
“Balmain was amazing”, he says, recalling his time working with Olivier Roustaeing as part of the creative director’s young team. “We worked really hard and partied really hard.”
In 2016, de Saint Sernin took the jump and left the Parisian luxury brand to start his own business. “I had these voices in my head telling me, ‘If you want to do your own thing, you should do it now while you still want to do it’”, he recalls. “It’s been the best decision I ever made.”