At just 26, French designer Charles de Vilmorin is setting the tone for fashion's most elite segment, the haute couture week in Paris, with his gender-fluid aesthetic.
"The others might not necessarily do it, but I have to do it," de Vilmorin told AFP ahead of his first live catwalk show during the official couture week on Monday.
While ready-to-wear collections have become increasingly unisex, couture has remained an almost exclusively female domain, concentrated on evening dresses, vertiginous heels and bridal gowns.
But that is changing, with several labels incorporating menswear looks on the opening day of couture week on Monday.
Young designers like de Vilmorin have set the tone.
"In real life, there are a lot of men who wear haute couture. It's not a desire to do things differently, it's sort of normal -- it's extremely natural for me," he said.
"Unisex just means that a piece can be worn by a woman as well as a man. It's more a question of casting than of clothing."
His show on Monday went through three acts, from an all-white section with large swan-shaped hats, through a more colourful act with prints, flowers and large volumes, before concluding on designs he called "sophisticated and mature, more built and structured", all in black.
With his slender figure and laconic look, de Vilmorin has been compared to a young Yves Saint Laurent, and already has a rich and atypical career.
Born to an art teacher mother and fashion-obsessed financier father, he earned a place in the official couture roster at just 24 thanks to the backing of fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier. Coming at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, he presented his creations in online videos.
He was then snapped up as artistic director for Rochas, but lasted only two years in the job.
"I got there very early, without too much experience. It was the best school to get my feet wet and learn how to build a collection and bring it to life," he said.
The goal was clearly to revive a dusty brand, which he admits "was very challenging", adding that he was "relieved" to be working for himself again.
He received AFP in the living room of his apartment-workshop cluttered with pieces from the new collection, his young co-workers busy sewing a coat in the corner.
He does not rule out working for another established house: "I want to grow and I am open to all proposals. I can also grow in the context of a small house."
For now, he is happy to be working with the friends who helped him through his own early shows, even if it can get a little cluttered.
"We get on well but we step on each other a bit," he said. "The apartment, which seemed big to me before, seems tiny now."(AFP)