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By Charly Suggett
After an extensive chat about face painting, artistic make up and our weaknesses that are social media I glanced down at my notebook and was reminded that I was here for a reason and that was to have a chat with the newly appointed Creative Director of Comptoir Des Cotonniers, Anne Valerie Hash.
Instantly you can see that Valerie Hash is a warm and welcoming soul. She speaks passionately of her family, her career and her choices and designs. She gets right inside the garment to show you how it’s constructed and why she chose particular fabrics and techniques, and quite rightly so.
Having honed much of her craft from labels such as Dior and Nina Ricci before starting her own reputable labels and couture line, Hash has stepped away and into the helm of Comptoir Des Cotonniers to create a beautifully uncomplicated and sophisticated debut collection.
A traditionally androgynous base underlines her attention to detail in the form of a neat and tucked lapel on a jacket and a love for colour (evident in our mutual instagram scrolling together, cooing over dramatic make up artists’ work), cue the conspicuous cobalt blue of a sneaker and a slim cut tailored two piece suit. The message wanted and definitely achieved was understated cool, comfort and above all, affordability. Styling is rolled up sleeves, casual stances and a nonchalant stare.
Whiffs of Anne Valerie Hash are evident throughout and especially in a deconstructed Tux style jumpsuit and trousers with a wrap detail on the front, while designing gorgeous basics and maintaining design which will still suit the loyal customer who has loved Comptoir for many years.
On modern social media and directions brands are heading…
I think we have to live with our time. I am on instagram, I check it first thing in the morning and again last thing at night. I love how it is so instant and I think it can be great for a brand and it can give an ‘escape moment’ and it is a way to enter into another world and see what is happening. However at the same time it is not a reality. It is a new way that we live in another world.
In fact you see today, I am 100% contactable on facebook, on Linkedin and Instagram. I put a pause on the website and my brand and I have people asking “where have you gone?” so when I came to Comptoir there are comments like “what do you want to express?” so I know there are expectations for me at this new company and Anne Valerie Hash was a small brand and there are some officials who want to see what will happen and I am happy that Comptoir is not a very expensive company compared to what my own brand was.
You say you came to CDC to develop the aesthetic and direction of the brand, can you explain this a little further?
I kept the direction of what we call ‘city casual’ and I really work for a woman who is really active. It is not a question of working or not, it is about being active and waking up in the morning and getting dressed. You want easy pieces but you also want to be chic and casual, you want to be elegant yet still accessible. This was my focus for the collection, how can we bring this daily spirit into the wardrobe and be dedicated to the city.
On her preferred technique for draping versus flat patterns….
To be honest, at CDC I prefer to work on the tailoring and the lines and you can see from these trousers (holding the pair with the drape detailing across the front) that this was draped at first and then turned into a detail on the trouser. This is one of the signature pieces but it has to be more soft because the Comptoir woman is more casual. And I focused on the sneakers, the blue is my favourite, and it is important to make an easy look with the sneakers also. I love the English culture, I love the mix of fantasy with reality and the way you all like to mix up your clothing and make a strong statement. It is free, it is much more free than the French.
On her Anne Valerie Hash woman, whether she will make an appearance at Comptoir and keeping the balance between commerce and creativity….
Some of them will come, there is a big expectation to be honest. But I can tell you now that I work for Comptoir so I will bring a little bit of a twist but I will still remain simple because I respect the brand so much. They have over 400 shops around the world, so I have to think about when I am inside the brand that they want something chic and Parisian with a twist of Anne Valerie Hash.
When trying to keep creativity and commerce together I try to keep a balance and to be honest I have a lot of people around me who tell me what can work and what cannot. I love that they let me be free and the more I am open, the more they are open. They chose me because I am not blocked and because I will respect their company.
On fabric selections for Comptoir, there are certain fabrics I cannot choose because of the price but I can experiment. I have space. At first it is visual and I look with my eyes at the beginning and then after I get in and touch and feel the fabric. Touch is very important and if the woman has to be comfortable it has to be easy to wear, chic and city. These were the guidelines and that is definitely the spirit of Comptoir. The woman goes in and she trusts the brand so much and when you buy from a brand, it’s a question of trust. If you shop at H&M you trust the newness and constant collections. I don’t shop at Chanel but those customers trust the extreme luxury of Chanel. I discovered that Comptoir has such loyal customers that I couldn’t shift it too much in another direction. I have to bring new ones but I have to keep the ones who have trusted the brand for so many years. This was the most difficult, keeping the old and trusted ones yet still bringing in new ones. The first customer is the mother, did you know that Comptoir is for the mother and the daughter? All of the advertisements are mother and daughter so the mother is already here and she is staying here. The daughter went for similar brands but thought the brand was for her mother so would not shop here. Twenty years ago the daughter used to admire the mother and want to be like her, today it is the opposite, the mother admires the daughter and wants to dress like her. How can we make them love each other again? We will bring back the daughter with pieces like the twisted pants and younger pieces.
On the androgynous qualities of her own label and Comptoir. Can masculinity and feminity be defined….
I think each woman has a masculine part and each man has a feminine part, of course, that’s it. For life. The borderline is very fragile but a woman stays a woman whatever way she moves so it is the body that expresses feminity. So even if she wears a jacket, what happens is inside. I love to mix the two, for instance you have the shirt under the dress in the lookbook, I love this sort of mix and it is really something that makes a woman stronger in a way. This is more enigmatic and the border is so fragile that it is a game for me to play with. I don’t think too much, it is totally natural. The overly girly girl has not appeared in any of my previous collections because maybe because when you work a lot and you have to build something, it is a very masculine energy and it’s part of my own energy but can be very feminine too, but in another way. You cannot define a woman and you cannot define a man, I mean today a man has different faces, he is not like he used to be, all macho. Today it is digested, it is not for everybody.
Interview with Anne Valerie Hash by Charly Suggett