Nicolas Di Felice gradually builds his credentials at Courrèges. For the spring-summer 2022 show, the label invited its guests to Bois de Vincennes. It’s a park a long way from the center of Paris with personal meaning for him – it’s where he and his boyfriend first kissed. The wide-open space also vibed with the mood of the collection, which was space-age rave. “I wanted to work on this idea of an outdoor party,” he said in the backstage tent. On his mood board, pictures of music festival kids were juxtaposed with photos of archival pieces from the brand’s ’60s and ’70s heyday. The opening looks were ponchos of varying dimensions, rainwear being essential to the festivalgoer’s wardrobe. One was a circle, another was a triangle, and a third was a square, and all three cut a strong line as the models made their long walk around the perimeter of the square runway. Di Felice has prioritized outerwear since arriving at Courrèges a year ago, and he was proud to report that he’s already clocked a couple of his jackets in the wilds of Belleville, his neighborhood. Long ribbed-knit pants that flared over chunky-heeled sandals, A-line minis, and the label’s cropped vinyl jackets numbered among the other key pieces. “André Courrèges really wanted to put his fashion in the streets,” said Di Felice. “Everybody talks about him – the future, space age. But space age was a trend. He was a passionate guy; he just wanted to dress women.” Like founder, like creative director. Shift dresses with sternum cutouts and halter bandeaus worn over hip-slung pants were the descendants of a 1976 dress, Di Felice pointed out backstage, but they owed just as much to the arbiters of today, with their exposed abs, as they did to the iconic designer. Same for the baseball caps and shoulder-duster earrings.
I wasn’t entirely convinced by Nicolas di Felice’s debut at Courrèges last spring, but things are looking up with his venture into menswear. It’s actually his first men’s collection period; Di Felice has only designed womenswear until now. André Courrèges himself made men’s clothes from about 1973 to the mid-’80s, but it hasn’t been part of the brand picture for many years, so launching it was a blank slate situation. Di Felice’s approach was to think hard about what he and the guys on his design team want to wear. The streamlined, minimal sensibility of original Courrèges remains, but there’s little to none of the leftover Space Age vibes that could’ve materialized. Instead, you’ll find straightforward trucker jackets in leather or washed denim; a single-breasted coat in a micro-check; ribbed knit, elastic waist pants; even jeans. There’s a pair of stretch vinyl trousers with circular cut-outs down the side seams and a tank with a single, bigger cut-out on its front, but with the hot vax summer that’s ahead of us and the new gen’s openness to experimentation that level of exposure is likely to look less provocative that it once did. The bright spot among the women’s pieces he showed today was a tank dress with the signature cut-out paired with kick-flare pants in sunshine yellow. The overall result isn’t ground-breaking, but it’s good. And really, the Courrèges brand had a very hard time in finding its voice since it’s revival (which goes on for years and years now). One thing’s sure – Nicolas is giving his Courrèges an item-y spin, turning out relatable, identifiable clothes that took any anxiety out of buying; they’re statement-making but easy to wear.
Courrèges isn’t a easy brand to revive. After all the reboots it went through in the last couple of years, the legendary 1960s Spage Age maison just didn’t resonate. Nicolas Di Felice is its new hope. The 37-year-old Belgian is a graduate of La Cambre in Brussels, and he’s worked in Paris for a dozen years with Nicolas Ghesquière at both Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton, and Raf Simons at Christian Dior. A behind-the-scenes guy until now, Di Felice has a knack for research and a command of technique, two things necessary to take charge of a heritage brand whose hallmark, as he describes it, is “radical simplicity.” He says he arrived at Courrèges with armfuls of files and started fittings on day one. And that’s quite visible. There are no ridiculous sci-fi gimmicks here, and finally the entire collection doesn’t solely orbit around the signature Courrèges vinyl jacket. Some Courrèges classics are present, but what’s most important is that they look relevant. A white trapeze dress is modeled on the brand’s original, but with a stretch jersey bodice. Vinyl has been redesigned to be more eco-friendly with bio-based polyurethane and a certified organic cotton base; the high-collared coat he used it for has a powerful, streamlined fit. Summing up, Andre Courrèges’s futurism has been filtered through Di Felice’s child-of-the-’90s eyes. I would say it’s a relatively quiet, but confident debut. Di Felice’s Courrèges might find its client in 2021.
Arnaud Vaillant and Sebastien Meyer’s few year stint at Courrèges took the brand to the contemporary fashion agenda, but not entirely – it seemed that the editors mildly liked it, but the clients weren’t convinced to buy their jackets and mini-skirts. Will Yolanda Zobel be the person to lead Courrèges in the proper direction? Debuts are always difficult, especially at a brand that hasn’t seen a heyday since the 70s. Zobel had good intentions. She showed at the brand’s flagship; the guests were standing, while some models danced down the runway; the mood was fine, filled with energy and optimism. The new eco-focused project coming from the designer – the pop-up shop that recently opened next door to the flagship to sell off the house’s remaining unsustainable vinyl – was also a promise of Courrèges’ prosperity in 2018. But then, the actual clothes appeared on the runway. Yolanda helplessly lost herself in the brand’s archives. Courrèges was known for A-line mini-dresses and the ones from the past really looked appealing. The new versions are rather appalling. Uncomfortably looking shorts; some boxy crop-tops with too many pockets; odd logo tights; tight sequined dresses styled with cumbersome boots. The worst was the bondage stuff, that made the models look imprisoned, rather than liberated. Andre Courrèges wanted to create a wardrobe for the modern times, with a futurist, sci-fi twist. At this moment, Yolanda misses on that with her edgily cosmic “costumes”, not clothes. Still, I’m not crossing Courrèges out of the sight. Let’s all hope that was just the first, unsuccessful trial.