Hands Up: Christelle Kocher (Koché)

March 1, 2022

HANDS OF MIND 

Multiplying “offbeat” experiments, always leads to progress: with Christelle Kocher, tradition is a journey, a projection towards elsewhere, where the past, imagination and innovation collide. Where everything becomes possible. Trained at Central Saint Martin’s School in London, this Strasbourg native has a multitude of experience, from Emporio Armani to Martine Sitbon, from Chloé to Sonia Rykiel, Dries Van Noten, and Bottega Veneta – all before launching her own brand. “I like to start with a model of the fabric, and my sewing machine. And then I design,” she says, ahead of presenting her Koché Fall Winter 22 collection live at the Hotel Westin. 

Since 2010, she has also been the artistic director of Lemarié, the feather and embroidery atelier under Chanel’s Paraffection umbrella. When she began, the workshop employed 15 people time; now there are 110. “Karl Lagerfeld, Virginie Viard, Bruno Pavlovski have given me carte blanche,” she says. And then, perhaps surprisingly, “At Lemarié, I don’t use my hands, I give directions, trying to open up horizons. The best way to preserve a craft is to transmit it. And the best way to pass it on is to share, to open it up. It’s to absorbing the past to create the future. [With the team], I have reconstructed techniques. I talk to them about patterns, I show them contemporary installations. We are 25 to 30 people to a team with a wide range of profiles. They are my hands.” Breaking down “the French cancan image of the feather” and integrating technology and contemporary art is part of a cultural project as much as the craft. 

Streetwear in fine detail, haute couture in remix mode; with Christelle Koché, these categories are shattered. The intention is there, true to this motto of Kant that she holds close to her heart: “The hands are the visible part of the brain.” Her dual role gives her work a particular resonance, free of clichés. “When students come to visit, they are always surprised to see me draping with ease. I love to touch the fabrics, it’s my thing. I have a very intuitive hand made for flou. I love crepe, velvet, georgette, charmeuse. I love jersey, the freedom of movement and the comfort it gives the bodies, I love fluid silhouettes, fabrics that flow. They are not easy, but instinctively I am very happy, I know that I can do something contemporary with them. These are my friends,” says the designer. 

Then comes this story: “I was lucky enough to have been trained in cutting techniques by one of Jacques Fath’s last assistants; he was 75 years old, and he passed down his passion to me. He showed me how to recognise a Balenciaga cut, he revered John Galliano, he even collected Comme des Garçons clothes. With him, I learned to build, to cut hammer sleeves, kimono sleeves – and through all this, the work of the hand was essential. You can understand a garment by handling it; you need to imagine how the body moves inside. Listening to it, the intelligence of the hand takes on its meaning. Without nostalgia. To move forward.”

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