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Revitalizing Courrèges: The Di Felice Effect

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if for André Courrèges, modernity was about outer space’s modern materials and shapes, today, it’s about embracing and reflecting the diversity of life itself, adapting fashion to resonate with the times.
Courrèges

The Seventh Guest Designer at Jean Paul Gaultier

On March 18th, Jean Paul Gaultier announced Nicolas Di Felice as the brand’s seventh guest designer, joining celebrated designers like Simone Rocha, Haider Ackermann, and Chitose Abe of Sacai. Gaultier expressed admiration for Di Felice’s boldness and creativity from the start of his career, stating, “( Nicolas)has very successfully reinterpreted the style of Courrèges while bringing in new influences on the table. You can immediately recognize what inspired him from Courrèges and what he has created.”

Revitalizing Courrèges: The Di Felice Effect

Nicolas di Felice. Photo - Tom de Peyret
Nicolas di Felice. Photo - Tom de Peyret. COURTESY OF COURRÈGES

In his role as Creative Director of Courrèges, Di Felice has a clear vision to rejuvenate the brand. Despite having been appointed only three and a half years ago amidst the pandemic, Courrèges has seen its revenue double annually and its brand awareness surge. The brand has gained high-profile visibility, dressing Beyoncé for her Renaissance tour, Dua Lipa for the ’24 Grammys red carpet in a dazzling Courrèges dress, ITZY at their FW24 show, and Jennie for her personal wardrobe. And most importantly, you see real people wearing them on the street. Di Felice shared, “Since taking over, I’m convinced that what we’re doing is totally relevant today. Seeing it catch on so quickly, is very affirming”, said Di Felice.

Kim Jennie
Jennie Kim in Courrèges. Photo Credit: Odd Atelier
ITZY in Courrèges
ITZY in Courrèges, Credit: Courrèges

Nicolas Di Felice’s tenure at Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton with Nicolas Ghesquière, as well as a stint with Raf Simons at Dior, refined his approach to design—balancing precision with fluidity, “My silhouettes are sharp and geometrical, yet they should be able to move sensually. Above all, I enjoy making garments.” He rejuvenates the Courrèges brand with a blend of reverence and innovation. His passion for the music and the partying scene, like his collaboration with Paris-based record store Dizonord, infuses a genuine, fresh vibe into the house.

 

Born in a small coal-mining town near Charleroi in Belgium, a place distant from any fashion source, Di Felice’s initial impression of fashion came from how the musicians dressed in MTV before he knew it was a career. “I think some songs can really inspire a look”, he told System Magazine. Courrèges’s runway soundtracks, often crafted by Di Felice’s friend Erwan Sene, and for the recent 24 Fall/Winter show, Nicolas co-created the show music with Sene and Sophie Koella.

 

Di Felice’s inaugural 2021 Fall/Winter show at La Station—Gare des Mines, an iconic Parisian party spot, epitomized his inspiration drawn from the energy of the party scene. Observing the eclectic fashions of the night, he devised functional yet stylish elements, such as the detachable straps on jackets and coats in his Spring 2023 collection, so that you can hang your jacket on the shoulder while dancing. He quipped, “You wouldn’t leave your best biker jacket in a dingy cloakroom.”

 

Celebrating the liberating essence of partying, Di Felice reflects, “What I find beautiful in partying is freedom. You can feel this freedom in the way people dress. There are far fewer barriers between different subcultures, which creates new looks, new ways of putting things together…”

Courrèges SS23 campaign shot by David Sims
Courrèges SS23 campaign shot by David Sims

“Nothing ages a brand more than imitating itself.” -- No-more Re-edition

 

“Nothing ages a brand more than imitating itself,” says Nicolas Di Felice in an interview with BoF. His approach to the revival of Courrèges is deeply intertwined with the brand’s authentic spirit yet sharply tuned to the beat of modern sensibilities.

 

Under Nicolas Di Felice’s direction since 2021, the brand has skilfully celebrated its heritage through the Re-edition collections, paying homage to the quintessential Courrèges designs. However, with the Spring 2024 collection, Di Felice marks a new chapter: “From now on, there are no more reissues in the collections.” This decision underscores his growing assurance in crafting unique narratives that resonate with the present and future rather than replicating the past. Di Felice asserts, “I don’t copy anything. My job is to reinterpret.”

 

Di Felice’s reverence for André Courrèges’s original techniques is palpable. He shares, “The simplicity of the shapes he created really inspires me, as does the fact that he worked very hard at precise silhouettes like the A-line silhouette and certain patterns. Every season would be a variation on those themes,” in a conversation with Exhibition Magazine.

 

While Di Felice preserves the aesthetics that are hallmarks of Courrèges, his vision is distinctively contemporary. He has thoughtfully evolved the brand’s iconic cut and silhouette, integrating a subtler colour palette and nuanced tone-on-tone logo placement. Yet, the essence of Courrèges—its DNA—remains intact, discernible in the meticulous details that adorn his creations: applied pockets that recur across the collection, precise topstitching, and the playful use of ellipses and soft geometries continue to narrate the brand’s storied past within a modern context.



COURTESY OF COURRÈGES

Embracing Modernity Beyond Sci-Fi

Andrè Courrèges, co-credited with Mary Quant for the creation of the miniskirt, made indelible marks on fashion that echo well past the 1960s. An engineering student turned fashion visionary, Courrèges spent a decade honing his craft under Cristóbal Balenciaga before launching his eponymous label with Balenciaga’s financial backing. His designs featured distinctive geometric shapes and clean lines, embodying a futuristic zest that defined a new era in fashion.

 

In the transition from the ’20s to the ’50s, fashion frequently glanced backwards for inspiration, but the ’60s marked a pivot. Propelled by France’s economic surge, a wave of consumerism, and optimistic views of the future, culture shifted its gaze outward to the cosmos and the dawning 21st century. Courrèges’s 1964 “Moon Girl” collection, aligned with this societal shift, symbolized the space age aesthetic, complete with flat boots, goggles, and innovative materials like vinyl, mirroring the contemporaneous captivation with space and technology.

 

Contrary to Courrèges’s space-themed collections, Di Felice eschews sci-fi references, focusing instead on the current state of our world. In conversation with Tim Blanks for the Autumn/Winter 2024 collection, Di Felice shared, “I don’t really think our future will be around sci-fi. I think we have to deal with what’s already happening in our world before thinking about what’s outside of it.”

 

His vision is intrinsically tied to earthly coexistence, tolerance, and unity. It’s a celebration of differences across nationalities, appearances, and sexualities, manifesting a shift from space age exploration to exploring identities and possibilities within fashion itself. As fashion writer Lorenzo Salamone articulates, if for André Courrèges, modernity was about outer space’s modern materials and shapes, today, it’s about embracing and reflecting the diversity of life itself, adapting fashion to resonate with the times.

Reimagining Empowerment: The Evolution of Courrèges’s Fashion Ethos

André Courrèges’s fashion, especially the miniskirt, emerged as an emblem of female empowerment and liberation, mirroring the broader social shifts and the growing feminist wave. Iconic women such as Jackie Kennedy, Françoise Hardy, and Twiggy donned his designs, which elevated Courrèges’s influence beyond the fashion industry to spark a cultural revolution, signifying newfound autonomy for women.

Courrèges held a profound respect for the feminine form and its dynamics. Reflecting on the industry in 1966, he noted:

 

“Look at how we [the couture] have failed. For a woman to drive her car, she must pull up her skirt. We have failed her in designing her clothes. There are occasions where pants are the thing to wear. They are more elegant on those occasions than any dress. Look at a man’s suit. How much more logical, realistic and contemporary than women’s clothes.”

 

His personal and professional life intertwined romantically, “I also like the idea that he (André Courrèges) created his own fashion house with the women he loved (Coqueline Courrèges), so the story of the brand is also a love story,” Di Felice remarked.

 

Di Felice’s designs strive to dismantle rigid gender distinctions, offering a progressive take on fashion that echoes the empowering message of Courrèges’s miniskirt from the 1960s. The shift from a concrete item like the miniskirt to an overarching concept of gender fluidity in fashion underscores a deeper change in how designers address and interpret social discourse within their creations.

 

“My work resonates with some people, and it is true that it is a vehicle for my values, be they just hinted at or loud and clear.” Di Felice acknowledges. These values, stemming from his engagement with societal issues, invigorate the stories behind each collection. At the core of his values lays a sense of togetherness: “At my microscopic level, I indeed try to push the social boundaries. After all, I would much prefer a world in which people love each other.”

Sustainable Innovation: Evolve the Vinyl

Courrèges’s signature style has always been synonymous with innovation, particularly through his pioneering use of unconventional materials like plastic and PVC in fashion. These choices mirrored his fascination with modern architecture and technology, culminating in the iconic 1971 vinyl jacket—a radical introduction of materials once shunned by haute couture.

 

Today, Nicolas Di Felice embraces this legacy of avant-garde materials with a fresh vision for sustainability. The new vinyl jacket retains the sleek lines and proportions of its ancestor but is now crafted from an environmentally conscious fabric blend—88% cotton, 10% polyurethane, and 2% elastane. The modern iteration uses a polyurethane coating, primarily derived from plant sources, to achieve the signature sheen over a cotton base, minimizing the use of traditional vinyl.

Photo Credit: Courrèges

Collections to Take the Street

Courrèges, though mentored by the illustrious Balenciaga, consciously diverged from the haute couture path. His vision was anchored in the lives of everyday women—“the real women, the women in the street.” For him, the exclusivity of haute couture was a relic; he was driven to democratize fashion through prêt-à-porter, aspiring to mass production.

Already in the 1960s, Courrèges foresaw a fashion scene that would embrace the dynamism of the street. This philosophy resonates with Nicolas Di Felice, who also seeks to infuse his collections with the spirit of streetwear. “Nicolas often says that he wants his collections to be worn in the street, and that’s what drove the success of Courrèges originally,” Adrien Da Maia, CEO of Courrèges, reflects on Di Felice’s dedication to accessibility in fashion.

 

Di Felice himself is grounded in the authenticity of lived experience, “What I need above all is to be in real life, and for that, I need to go everywhere. I am pretty curious and I always have been. Even when I was working in the fancier neighbourhoods, for a really beautiful fashion house, I didn’t lose that link with reality.” This philosophy underpins a fashion ethos that is not just designed for life but for living fully.

 

Nicolas Di Felice’s role as Creative Director marks a vibrant chapter for Courrèges, blending the label’s iconic space-age roots with a palpable new dynamism. Through strategic partnerships, celebrity influence, and distinctive designs, Di Felice has crafted a cross-generational appeal. His homage to the brand’s legacy, coupled with his energetic and modern touch, reestablishes Courrèges as a timeless yet contemporary label, captivating both its loyal clientele and a burgeoning fashion-forward audience.

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