A Feel for Fashion Sophie Fontanel

January 22, 2023

Sophie Fontanel has established such a charming, compelling and constant presence through her Instagram account, where she has nearly three hundred thousand followers, that it’s sometimes easy to forget she is a prolific writer of books – 18 works including The Art of Sleeping Alone, an international New York Times bestseller and her most recent release, Capitale de la douceur. Her insightful column as fashion critic for L’Obs is a highlight of the magazine. And somehow, she still has time to teach at the Institut Français de la Mode. The way Fontanel shares her fashion experiences – from the front row to dancing in front of her bedroom mirror – always feels uniquely approachable, just as the way she engages with people of all stripes feels sincere. In the spirit of her Instagram captions, which usually end with a translated witticism or play on words, it means: Sophie, so oui. 

What creates an emotional response for you in fashion today?

Africa. Africa is a continent with very diverse trends. That’s why it is so rich in terms of style. Africa was the first place on earth able to upcycle things. And they still do, and with genius. Africans have a fantastic balance between what’s in their culture, their traditions, and what’s in front of us – an open space of style. And we may add that, in the middle, they also have an extremely consistent inheritance of European fashion, very present in most African countries. And, as that weren’t not enough, they have a huge boulevard to explore: the street style. Humble people in Africa are the most stylish of the world. The limit of all that creativity is economical. Investors need to pay some interest in African fashion. 

Often we see several designers arriving at a similar idea during a season. How do you explain this creative intuition?

We preface with “ras le bol,” as we say in French. We are quickly done with a trend. Baggy pants always come after skinny ones. Black and white always comes after a fountain of colours. Flats after heels, etc. That’s one of the reasons. We are all following the same process. And it leads to the same result. But there is another reason in my mind. Some designers are leaders. They influence everyone. Phoebe Philo was copied even by excellent and creative brands. So is Demna at Balenciaga. He proposed big sneakers, and big sneakers magically appeared everywhere. Exactly the same for long coats and larger-than-life jeans, which are now everywhere. 

How do you feel about designers expressing or interpreting their worldviews in their collections? 

We cannot avoid it. Designers are now conscious of the fact that a fashion show is one of the biggest echo you can give to a cause. They use that power, which is bigger than ever. I can completely understand why they are doing this. Do we want to live in a bubble (which, anyway, is transparent, everyone can see us) full of influencers, fashion victims and ridiculous (sometimes) clients, or do we have higher expectations? In the era of social, you are no more like Elvis Presley never taking position. Even your silence is political. 

How would you like to see fashion evolving this year? 

I don’t know. Fashion was supposed to slow down, and it sells more and more. Fashion doesn’t take any lesson except failure, loss of benefits. If fashion thinks that you can sell more thanks to influencers, they are going to use influencers even if they have nothing to say, exposing themselves with clothes they don’t even like. So, I would like to see fashion less obsessed by the fake of the world. 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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