Style Curious


Curiously clever fashion designer, Karim Bonnet

Karim Bonnet grew up in the Place de Clichy and attended Ecole Nationale de Chemie in Paris, where he was a strong student, attaining excellent results in maths, geometry, physics and biology. His curious transition from chemistry to fashion resulted from his love of sewing. By the age of 11, Karim was making cushions, by 15 years of age he was making curtains and embellishing jeans. His love of fashion influenced his friends at school: everyone copied him - as, it seems, they still do. By the age of 16 Karim realized that he had to work with cloth rather than chemicals. In 1989, he moved to a fashion college in Bastille.

The fabrics used for Karim’s Impasse de la Defense collections have changed over the years. Initially, he worked a lot with cotton, but was asked by his customers to start trying other fabrics. He now also uses more delicate fabrics, including parachute silk, which he sources from a friend who owns a vintage military shop. Karim explains that the production for each collection takes seven months in his head, followed by one week in the workshop! He feels “like an eagle, flying high up, making calculations and then pouncing down on a little animal” he sees below and catching it. He actually employs six people in his workshop – augmented to twelve at the time of the shows. He uses factories for quite a lot of the sewing, but all of the prints and the painting are done by hand at his workshop.

I first met Karim in 1998 and attended one of his mind-blowingly inspirational early fashion shows back in 1999. Now well established, though globally under-appreciated, Karim also works as a creative adviser to the French national railway company, SNCF. It was fitting that his fashion show this season, which opened Paris Fashion Week, was held at Le Train Bleu, an extravagantly decorated Belle Epoque style restaurant in the Gare de Lyon.

The inspiration for the Impasse de la Defense A/W 2008/9 collection was ‘psychogeographie’, defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as the "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”. A study of psychogeographie makes interesting reading, for it is part serious geographic theory and part the drunken ramblings of its key proponents. In their memoirs, Debord and fellow psychogeographer, Jorn, chose a metaphor for the landscape of a female body, updating it in the form of a paint-splattered collage of pin-up models.

The highly original choice of a socio-spatial theme provides for quite a lot of maps, signposts, arrows and directions to be featured within the printing and hand-painting on the garments in the Impasse de la Defense collection.
The architecture, especially steel in the buildings in Paris has always been featured in Karim’s work, but this season he’s moved away from the geometric lines of high-rise structures to the older more art nouveau inspired traditional French wrought iron work and balustrading used on balconies and doors, as seen on this parachute silk dress.

Karim’s own favourite places are, firstly Paris. When asked what he most likes about the city, he explains that it’s his girlfriend, who just happens to be a top model. Patriotically, his first child is called Paris and his second is named Lys (after Fleur de Lys). Curiously though, his other favourite place is Scotland – which possibly accounts for the preponderance of tartans in his collections and his own predilection towards checked fabrics – as modelled by him (above right) at Pret a Porter. Shortly afterwards he was descended upon by the Mayor of Paris and his entourage, who kept Karim talking for at least 20 minutes, whilst I tried to hide under a clothes rail.

Karim says that to understand what makes him curious you’d have to know him. However, he admits to loving curious names. He also divulges that “in Paris there are lots of curiosity shops. When you go inside, you don’t have to buy, you can look around simply for the pleasure of the eyes.” (Sounds just like the ShopCurious website). Karim’s ideal customers are “princesses and, one day, the Queen” – as well as his Mum, of course. Karim’s ideal dinner party guests would be Leonardo da Vinci (seated to his left) and Giocondo (to his right).

He’s already working on his dream collection for next winter, inspired by New York City in the 1940s, the energy of Spanish Harlem and James Brown. Finally, Karim informs me that he still remembers the time he kissed an English girl from Leeds. She had freckles… and Karim simply loves girls with freckles – so, if there’s a suitably befreckled female who wants to make a new friend, I’d suggest you give Karim a call. (I presume there’ll be no ‘impasse’ and no ‘defense’ from him either).

Thanks for letting us know that Karim…I’m sure it’s all part of your psychogeographie. We love your designs, anyway - definitely style with brains, if not pure genius!