“It’s about the fabrics, that Italian savoire faire, mixed together with a rock ’n roll spirit, basically.” Designer Natacha Le Jeune, erstwhile singer, model, musician, dancer, DJ, and all-round artist, should know. Her new venture, Appareil Paris, doesn’t just offer one-of-a-kind shirts from rare vintage silks sourced from the archives of grand European fashion houses, but also brings together her band of friends from across all creative fields to wear, shoot, and style them. The result: unisex, glam-utilitarian shirts that are an instant statement that David Bowie or Iggy Pop would fully appreciate.
Appareil Paris ‘Collection 0’ all began with a fortuitous vintage fabric find, picked up on by a sharp-eyed friend who just happened to hold the key to making Le Jeune’s personal vision into a viable concern. The brand’s Origin Story is one of Fate and serendipity: “Here in Paris, we have these fabric stores in Montmartre where they have pieces, old pieces of fabric, ‘coupons.’ One day, I found some beautiful 1970s silk, and I decided to make a couple of shirts from it. Then I have an Italian friend, Francesco, who saw me wearing one of the two shirts I had made, and he said, ‘this material comes from my place.’ He has a factory in Prato, Italy, the industrial zone of Florence. All the best factories are there, and they used to make their own fabric, but they stopped producing like they used to. Now they only buy old stock from high-end fashion houses like Versace, big brands, and they sell it on… And I had this idea was that I could probably do something with this…So I went to his factory, and started to make a whole collection. I got all the fabric from him. It’s all upcycled, high-end material.”
Each short-sleeved shirt has its own character and name—the Royal Blue scattered with black hearts is ‘Belle de Nuit’, or the skinny red-white-stripe with green contrast pocket, ‘Roma.’ For Le Jeune, it's all about keeping it small, sustainable and high-quality. They’re all hand-made, with care and craft, a slow-fashion process which the designer is passionate about. “They’re all silk, apart from one shirt, The Louxor, which has panels of cotton. The buttons are mother-of-pearl, and everything is ‘Made in Italy,’ down to the labels. I found this amazing guy to construct the shirts, who worked for a bunch of fashion houses; now he’s just in the countryside in Chianti, in this little house lost in the forest, literally in middle of nowhere. You have to take 7 kilometres of dirt road to get there. He makes them all, just himself.”
Like a souped-up ‘bowling shirt,’ it's a classic yet fun style that can be thrown on in a moment. There’s a ‘flow’ to them, they look great dancing, which is explained by Natacha’s training with Martha Graham and vibrant nightlife legacy. It’s interesting that ‘motley’ - the medieval term for the combination of different fabrics and patterns in one garment—derives from medley, now used to describe variety in music. They are the very embodiment of gender fluidity, can can be shared between significant others of any gender identity or expression. This was intentional on Le Jeune’s part: “I only make one size: it’s an oversize shirt. I like the idea that it has a different look on every person, whether you are tall or small, but it’s the same size, it’s the same shirt. On a shorter woman it’s almost going to be like a dress, then on a big dude, it’s just going to be like a regular shirt.”
A smart layering piece, these bold designs are intended to take the wearer from daytime to dusk—and all they way through to the dawn. This all comes from Natacha’s own approach to dressing. “You know me. I’m quite lazy when it comes to dressing up. So I like the idea of just one piece that will all of a sudden lighten up your look… It’s in the name ‘Appareil = apparat’ (meaning ‘pageantry’ in French). It’s this one piece that all of a sudden will heighten your outfit, make you look fantastic, but easy."
Ideal customer? “Benicio del Toro, haha. I’m going for very diverse people; actors, artists, performers… I sent a message to Jack White, but he didn’t respond yet. It’s aimed at people in the culture industry whether it’s art, cinema music… It’s obviously not a shirt for the office. This is for the people around me that inspire me. Also being an artist myself, I have always surrounded myself with people like that… That’s my target, really.” At the recent launch party event at 10eme hotspot Hotel Grand Amour, Le Jeune’s network—and target market—was readily apparent, with a whole evening of performances and attendance from Paris’s great and gorgeous art-erati.
The latest campaign shoot is accompanied by a short film inspired by the work of photographer Alex Prager, specifically Part One: The Mountain. “I wanted an intimate interviews with different characters, framed against a black background; because the shirts are so colorful, it makes the color come out even better.” Entitled ‘A Different Kind of Tension,’ fragments of the motions of the cast of characters was captured during the shoot. “We shot 6 people in one day, not even one day, like a few hours. It starts with silences, people being a little anxious, showing some different kinds of moods…” More than just a fashion campaign, it’s a showcase of fresh talent. Upcoming French actress and Appareil muse du jour is the string russet-maned Marie-Clotilde Ramos-Ibanez, who wears the striped ‘Roma’ shirt. Le Jeune elaborates, “You have all kinds of interesting people. The guy is an Italian Conceptual artist, Paolo Chiasera. The other woman is actress Caroline Ducey; when she was 18 she appeared in the film Romance by Catherine Breillat, alongside Rocco Siffredi, and was just in Rear View Cataclysm by Eric Frodsham. The way I see it, this is not just ‘a fashion product;’ to me this is about creating an experience, and bringing together a creative community.”
Each Appareil Paris shirt is a pièce unique, with a limited amount of each style created. It’s a very select curation. “Some shirts, I have three, some I have 20, but I will rarely stock more than that. Each fabric I use is rare, and only available in very small quantities. Sometimes, if I can find only one piece of material, and I can only make one shirt, I’ll just make one.” While the goods are scarce, Le Jeune makes it easy to join her creative crew. Buy at www.appareil-paris.com and embracing the instant gratification of the click-through shopping function, Le Jeune points out, “I also sell on Instagram @appareil.paris." Comfortable and cool, Appareil is for rock stars and muses, on and off duty.