This week’s interview is with my friend, the fabulous Marianne. I’ve known Marianne for years now, and she has been my go to person for bothering about any question regarding Hermes (you’ll soon see why). She has both given me reason not to, and reason to, indulge in quite a few purchases! Marianne has a fascinating background in haute couture, a true sense of luxury, and some wonderful advice. I’m very happy to share some of Marianne with you here today.
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
Hello, I’m Marianne. I am French.
I was born and grew up in Nice, in the South of France. In every aspect of my life, I feel a deep connection to the South. Its about the light, the air, the weather, of course the colors, the energy.
Here is a photo, shot by a friend of mine from Chateau Hill in Nice. It delivers all I which I am eager about: the light, colors, energy!
I am now in my mid 50’s, although I feel like everyday is a new start. I am a mother of two. Both my children are in their early 20’s. I love my them from the bottom of my heart. It’s been such a wonderful journey to see and support them grow up. I am so grateful I was lucky enough to get to meet them as human beings, not just as my kids. It’s a true blessing.
Now, I live in Switzerland. The land of chocolate, private banking, luxury watches, lakes, and beautiful mountains. Luxury hotels, and luxury everything. A country that has built a strong reputation of discretion, reliability, and excellence in details. A country that has built pride of its preservation of nature, and its slow and safe luxury way of life. From slow to boring, sometimes the edge becomes very thin to me, the southern soul.
Here is a typical view of Lugano Lake, where I live, shot from the terrace of a favorite coffee/drinks spot of mine, the Villa Principe Leopoldo. Fortunately, Milan is around the corner, I can be there in only one hour drive, and meet with friends , do shopping and have fine dining. Going to Milan is like taking a refill of energy.
I have been running an online business of used Hermes bags resale, mainly vintage and nice recent ones for about ten years. I also have been a freelance Hermes authenticator for some major online authentication companies and luxury re-sale sites. And last but not least, I am the proud co-founder of 7 Rue Paradis.
As a passionate collector and daily user of Hermes handbags, I could not find the perfect insert out there, so I decided to design my own. An insert that would preserve my bags while making my life easier, that I would proudly let people see when my bag was wide open. I have took a great part of the design process by testing these inserts for weeks, and I quickly came to the conclusion that I would need one insert per bag, for each size and style. That’s what excellence is about. Perfect fit, high tech materials, best craftsmanship, full functionality. Made to order. Made in France. No compromises.
You have a fascinating background in haute couture. Could you share more about your career in this industry? How is haute couture different today?
I started working as an intern while I was still in school, at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parsienne. It was a small school, financed by the haute couture maison to train their future employers and potential successors. It was an intensive two years program, we were about 60 students total. The school was located in an old building, Rue Saint Roch, in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, very close to where the Colette store is now. Looking at this picture that I just found on online, things have changed tremendously, but one thing has not changed: the method. They still use the same mannequins, the same bolducs to draw the body lines, the same toile to make the very first model.
Among others, Tomas Maier and Didier Lecoanet were my school mates! And my beloved mannequin model making teacher was a former Premiere d’Atelier with Yves Saint Laurent. We were living the last years of that traditional era I guess. The dream of many was to found a Maison.
I worked as a seconde main (seamtress) for quite a while at Givenchy, the house of Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy. The feeling of working there was a mix of being on a mission (of excellence at every minute) and the persistent fear of disappointing Monsieur. A lot of pressure really! I remember precisely an evening gown that I was assigned making the Roulotté Hem for. I had to make eighteen meters of Roulotté, exactly the same as on an Hermes scarf! It took me half a week or so…
Anyway, everyone in the Atelier was wearing a white blouse, and you would not talk directly to the Premiere if not asked a question. The hierarchy was strict. You could feel the thickness of silence. About thirty ladies working in the same room, each of them knowing exactly what they had to do, just like an army. At least that was the impression I had. It was a structured world. Making a difference was not an easy task. And catching attention was not welcome, at all.
After, I worked for a short period as a skirt maker for Chanel. The skirt that would be part of their famous Tailleur. Clearly, the skirt was an accessory to the jacket. All the same, no matter the fabric. I would be given a box with the pieces of outside fabric already cut, an entire piece of silk that I had to cut the lining from, a zipper, 1 snap button, one flat horn button, and a spool of matching silk thread. All had to be hand stitched, in and out, fabric and slippery silk lining, hand made hidden button eye….talk about craftsmanship! Of course, no flaw would be admitted. Or you would pay for the wasted precious fabric! This was a very good training. The training for excellence, with no room for any flaw or excuses. Strictly nothing but perfection.
Unfortunately, I don’t really know about haute couture today…the only thing I know is that Instagram *stars” get seated front row! And as Pierre Bergé (Yves Saint Laurent’s life and business partner) likes to tell, the luxury industry barons have turned the name of unique artiste into common brands. See Christian Dior, turned into Dior. Yves Saint Laurent turned into Saint Laurent, and and so on. Maybe Chanel is still there…but regardless, there still is a very high savoir-faire in France.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the major changes you have seen in houses such as Chanel, Hermes, etc. What has happened as these brands have evolved, and grown larger?
Well, thats’a tough one. In my experience, there was shift in the early 2000’s, from product focus to brand focus. That’s what I have witnessed at both Chanel and Hermes. Both maisons have made changes , maybe in slightly different ways, but the final result is the same.
Chanel: They started with taking back their franchised stores licenses. All stores have been under corporate management for years. They have trained their employees to use the same wording everywhere. I still can’t stand it when they say value instead of price! They keep placing names as Mademoiselle Chanel, or Monsieur Lagerfeld as often as they can in any sales conversation. It sounds hilarious to me, but well…all this its branding!
They have added so many layers of non product items, that you don’t even see the product any longer. They call it experience. I would call this service…or waste. A glass of water, service. Excessive packaging? Waste. The ribbon, camellia flower, card, etc… that you pay for of course, all those will end at best in a storage drawer, at worst in the trash.
As for quality, I don’t think Chanel bags are worth what they retail for, but well, they are pretty cool bags with a very high level of recognition, so …okay. Their clothing is of course still good, but nothing compared with what it was twenty years ago. Chanel has entered an industrial era, period. Remember I used to hand cut the silk lining of those skirts?
I do think Chanel shoes are really well made. There is a very high standard of shoes mass production in Italy. Italians are good at making shoes, and are also good at outsourcing some parts of the production process that will not lower the quality of final product.
Hermes: I really LOVED it when each Hermes store had their own design and identity. In Gstaad, it was a cosy mountain style little shop, with a fabulous basement floor filled with unexpected treasures. In Saint Tropez, it was such a charming relaxed and full packed shop set on the ground floor of a village house with freshly painted white wooden shutters. It was an actual fisherman house. In Saint Moritz it was that typical Engadiner house, with tiny windows and very thick walls, etc….
Of course you would find more beach towels and pareos in Saint Tropez, and more cashmere plaids in Saint Moritz! That was part of the journey. That would speak for the ability of Hermes to fit any kind of place, any kind of lifestyle. In other words, Hermes would fit YOUR life. I would call it a transversal luxury.
I also really loved it when the sales associates and store managers would know me everywhere I was before even once, (not just my name) and start a real conversation with me and then would help me with any request I had. They also would give me good advicesand make pertinent suggestions for new purchases.
I felt welcome as a person and valued as customer. This is over of course . Everywhere in Europe. To the exception of two Hermes store where I still buy most of my Hermes bags, shoes, RTW, and accessories: Nice and Monte Carlo.
Also, they would take my order for any bag, they would call you after months, and they would HOLD my bag until my next visit, would it be for weeks or months. This is long gone! As for quality, knowing that Hermes runs about 40 productions sites in France says it all. Its is ten times more than 20 years ago. They even have a factory just for Kelly bags. It’s a big frustration for a passionate collector of handbags as I am, to know that. The past has gone, and just remains the myth.
I can feel that Hermes has put a lot of efforts in transfering human intervention to automated processes, It shows in all aspects of their bags. From the look and feel of their Togo leather , to the thread and stitches on the handles of a new Birkin…
I don’t mean to sound like a veteran. It won’t help anyway. At the end of the day one can be an aficionado of vintage box Kelly bags, because of the story they carry, and still like to get a sparkling Birkin from the store today, because of a fresh new color! I am fortunate enough to know where to go, and get both kinds !
So finally, I don’t really care about quality changes because its the organic evolution of the product.What I do regret is the sweet flavor of luxury that was unspoken, untold, and understated, yet totally embracing the whole Monde Hermes.
What is your advice for someone who is looking to build a luxury collection that will last them a lifetime? Where should they look, what pieces should they buy?
A luxury collection that will last a lifetime is an easy one: pick fabulous vintage items that have survived until now, they will keep surviving! These include:
-Chanel jackets from the 80’s or 90’s
-Chanel Gripoix jewelry from the 60’s to 80’s
-Chanel flap bags from the 70’s in lambskin or jersey
-Hermes Kelly bags from the early 90’s. The best era for craftsmanship and materials.
After having children, you took almost a 20 year break from work. How was this period for you, and how did you return to fashion?
It was a fabulous period. Unexpectedly, I discovered motherhood as the most exciting and rewarding job ever, so it was easy for me letting go the power, the fun and excitement of work.I was having such a great time taking care of my kids, taking part in all kinds of school and sports activities, etc. I felt absolutely fulfilled with this relationship with them and everything related. Also it was a time when my husband was developing his business so I was fortunate not to have to worry about bringing home any income. I was even encouraged to spend money, which I found easy to do on handbags, rather than dresses as my lifestyle was very casual. And naturally I started buying Hermes. I started with this totally decadent purchase! Not so casual , but I really could not help but get the best available in the store! Probably due to my haute couture training.
Holding such a treasure of material and craftsmanship could only lead me to more! So my quest started for my next pieces. Finding a way to skip the wait, I started looking for used bags – in the meantime the internet was born and along came eBay, and it all started when I realized I was not a lonely bag seeker, but rather just another Hermes collector. I started looking for nice used bags for resale, so that my passion could find some organic funding. Going from a pure aesthetic interest in the bags to a true expertise took a few years, and before I even realized it, I was in the business of used Hermes bags, with a notorious speciality for Kelly bags.
Will you be an Hermes customer for life? How has your taste changed over the years?
My very first Hermes buy dates from 1987. I guess I’ve lived longer in the Hermes world than I have lived out of it, yet! You know I am French originally, and Hermes and Chanel, Louis Vuitton, are really deeply anchored in my generation’s culture. Either at some point, you inherited a Kelly bag from your auntie, or you got your first scarf or Chaine d’Ancre for your eighteenth birthday, etc, or you bought it yourself as a reward for a new job (which I did). My taste in Hermes items has not changed, at all.
I still love each and every piece of Hermes I have bought over the years. What has tremendously changed is the way I wear all those pieces, the way I mix them. Every piece of Hermes I have added is still front row in my closet. I was also so lucky to put my hands on so many bags and accessories over the years. Some I have owned only for a quick period of time, but even if I did not use them as they were meant to my clients, I have loved them.
A particular bag comes to my mind in this particular moment: a Birkin 30 in Amethyst shiny Croc with gold hardware that I regret I letting go. Other bags have gone that I would have loved to keep for myself, but I know where those are and I am happy they have found a fabulous home.
Can you please share some of your favorite items in your closet? Those fabulous pieces? How about your workhorse items?
My favorite items in my closet are my Hermes accessories, that I have accumulated over the years.
I am not a shoe person, though. I wear all kinds of cool boots in winter as I need comfort and protection. Summer is all about going bare foot! Of course I own some Chanel and Jimmy Choo for those special evenings, but thats all. I usually am all about a perfect pedicure and going bare foot.
As for my favorite items, the first thing that comes to my mind is my small family of Silver Hermes watches, plus a la Ronde des Sacs Bracelet. Those can make a style statement on any kind of outfit. They can be understated or really screaming Hermes depending on the outfit I am wearing and/or the place I go. This is a lot of fun to experience !
Funnily enough I am realizing that most of my favorite items are my actual workhorses.
As is my family of CDC Belts. I have four and they absolutely cover all my needs.
I can wear a CDC Belt on almost anything!
Also, this fabulous (to me ) Hermes belt called Wings. (Ceinture Ailes) I pair it with boyfriend jeans, with a long sweater worn as a dress, on a mini black jersey dress and knee high boots…etc. It’s as easy as infinite, and it’s unique. It has become my signature in some way. And I like that very few people can appreciate it. Not to mention no-one ever guesses its from Hermes, not even the Hermes staff! I bought it in 1993 from Hermes in Cannes, and its still my number one.
Other than my treasured Hermes accessories, I guess I live in Prada pants that have an unbeatable back cut. And, on a bunch of cashmere ribbed black turtleneck sweaters from Hermes, but also some from no brand Italian makers, that are my wardrobe base. Winter is longer than summer here. Actually I have a very simple style, I only seek quality and reliability. I very often drive for hours, so I need to get out of that car and look perfect. Same thing with flying. Materials and cut are often key. I only regret that I did not start a collection of Chanel jackets earlier, but well this might be my next thing.
Where can we now find “true” luxury? How do we seek it out? What qualities should we look for?
Its very hard to answer that question as luxury has become a generic word that everyone uses at their level and convenience, with their own definition. Almost everything which is now produced and sold by the luxury industry, is nothing but mass production. Glorious packaging, expensive locations, and uniformed sales persons won’t change anything about it. I think the very essence of luxury in any field implies rarity. So we must look for rarity. In the material world of handbags, for example, that means mostly handmade for sure, and that means the material has to be exceptional. This takes us back to Hermes of course.In the world of Hermes, I cherish that the brand is seeking. A true object of luxury might very well the perfect box leather Kelly bag, the one that has a perfect handle, a prefect symmetry, a perfect opening and closing. It can be vintage or recent, that’s not the point. A bag that gives you back every penny you have spent and more, each time you use it.Another luxury item would be a CDC bracelet made of solid yellow gold. Its currently made on order only. I will order one as soon as my money tree flourishes!
As you know I have an extensive knowledge about Kelly bags, as I have handled hundreds of those over the years. At the end of the day, when handling a Kelly bag, what shows through the materiality of the item itself, is the personality of the craftsman who made it. Once you can feel it, and once this touches your heart, you have reached true luxury.
If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice about how to build your wardrobe correctly – what would it be? What are some regrets?
The most important thing in my opinion is to understand that your clothing is meant to cover your body while you are doing things. What is important is that you can concentrate on doing those things and forget about how you look because you know you look perfect! This is valid in any circumstance, any time of the day, any day of the year.
1. So you have to know your body, know your proportions, know what suits you best in terms of shape/cut/length, as well as fabrics, etc. Know how to optically take the best of your body.
2. Then know your comfort zone, and for once: STAY in your comfort zone. With materials, colors, styles, you must FEEL good when wearing anything, until you forget about what you are wearing. Don’t wear anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious.
3. Dress appropriately. So you must have pieces that cover your actual needs, for work, sports, parties, beach, mountains, traveling, etc.
4. Luxury advice: Know and hire a good “alterations person,” someone who can make any item perfect on you. Even a Zara dress can look like couture if it fits you perfectly! Even if it doubles the initial price, is not the point. The point is YOU have to look good in your dress. Also, this person can help you updating pieces that you love but which have a dated cut.
5. Stay minimal. Stay true to yourself.
Once you know all this you can pick whatever piece from Tom Ford to H&M as long as it fits you, covers a need, and makes you feel great. You will look perfect when wearing it.
Regrets: I only regret that I did not start a collection of Chanel Jackets earlier, but well this might be my next thing, as I already mentioned. I can’t take out of my mind the very unique feeling of a traditional Chanel jacket on your shoulders. I mean the feeling inside the jacket, and that is because of the multiple seams that make it curved, and the lining is built in the same way. Still I am referring to Jackets from the 80’s and 90’s. I am not sure they stil. are made that way, though
Anyway, that could be a way of building a wardrobe. With a signature. I believe in signatures.
What are your other passions and hobbies?
I have been living everyday with gratitude and care for people I love. And I alwaysfeel concerned about people who can’t open their heart and let love in.
Fortunately, I find distraction from that concerns as soon as start my work day, as I am passionate about my new business, 7 Rue Paradis, and it’s true that I put a lot of my life into it. Of course I have other projects in the tube, and I can’t wait to unfold them. I feel inspired with all young people I am lucky enough to work with. They keep me fresh and updated, its been a non stop process. I love it!
But very personally, I have a little vice, though. It’s a collection of magazines that I started in the early 80’s. At the beginning it was not meant to be. But I found myself using piles of Elle or Vogue as my glass coffee table feet. Then I started buying furniture to store those magazines, then I understood I was my destiny to keep them all.
Finally, please share something surprising about yourself!
I am a fast driver. Behind the wheel of the right sportscar, on a dry mountain road, I can really enjoy an old true wild ride!