Paris-based designer of her eponymous lingerie line, Yasmine Eslami, has shown that sometimes simplicity is the key to sexiness. Her delicate designs in carefully chosen luxe fabrics show a gentle understanding of the female physique and provide a counterargument that the more revealing is not necessarily the more seductive.
Yasmine harnessed her experience as a stylist, consultant and no doubt her decade spent with the matriarch of British Fashion, Vivienne Westwood to launch her label that has become a favorite among those in the know. We spend the afternoon with her in her airy Parisian apartment on the eve of Valentine’s Day to talk about what it is to be sexy across the pond and the Atlantic, the clichés of the French fantasy (do the French really do it better?) and why she absolutely does not celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Semaine: Take us back to the beginning. After graduating from Studio Berçot in Paris, you started your first job in London at Vivienne Westwood.
Yasmine: I had an internship in the summer after school and then they kept me on in September. I stayed for 10 years working there in London helping in the studio in the beginning, working on the collection, RED label the second line, working on the press, being Vivienne’s PA at times. It was really full time and very interesting because it was the first job from school so I learned a lot and met great people that were really like family. It was quite special.
Semaine: After ten years passed you decided you wanted to return to Paris?
Yasmine: I wanted to come back and by working on the press at Vivienne, I got to know magazines. I always liked the image part of the fashion. So I worked at some magazines freelance, and I knew Olivier (Zahm) when they started Purple [that was] in Paris. So I don’t know, I just felt like going back to Paris. Well actually at the time a lot of people were going to London because when I left to London no one wanted to go to London in the early 90’s because of the recession you know, it was a crisis.
Semaine: And you started working with Olivier at Purple and styling…
Yasmine: Yes, I was still doing some work for Vivienne, freelance, and I did some work for other brands like young designer…I was working with Bernard Willhelm and Gaspard Yurkievich, there was also this friend that used to do Balmain at the time…there were these all different things happening. So I was doing freelance work for designers and consulting. I did a lot of casting too.
Semaine: Have you always been interested in lingerie?
Yasmine: I always liked it, personally. I was always shopping lingerie. Or you know when I traveled, vintage, always looking at lingerie. There was always a soft spot for lingerie but I never had this thing of designing lingerie really. I was going to start this brand with a friend but in the end we didn’t. So in the end I stayed doing the lingerie but it wasn’t really planned.
Semaine: What is your unique approach to your line? Apparently one of your rules is that you absolutely have no padding in any of your bras....
Yasmine: Yes that’s true! I don’t like padding. I have a sense that young girls like it, a lot of young girls actually wear padded bras. I think it’s an age thing and when you grow older you’re more relaxed maybe about you’re body, you accept your body and you’re happy with it or you change it and then you’re happy with what you have. You know have bigger breasts…. I think it’s like with makeup. Young girls, they put loads of makeup on and then when you grow older you put less makeup. It’s like with perfume too, they have a survey, the strongest perfume a lot of time is the younger girl that puts the strong scents.
A bra is not a décor, it has to support and to feel good. It’s not just a design, it’s also the fit which is really important. I like these things close to you, I always liked working with pattern makers and make sure the fit is right. I think it’s interesting to work on an object.
Semaine: It’s interesting also thinking about the cultural perceptions of lingerie The French versus the Americans for instance. In America for instance, it is very much about dressing for men, about the men’s gaze on you and less about the woman…
Yasmine: Yes it’s more about the woman [here] it’s true. Also in France you don’t have this Valentine’s tradition like in America or in England. It’s starting now Valentine’s in a commercial way, but culturally it’s not really there in France. It’s a very different approach. I think that in England or in America, Valentine’s Day, you’re going to have the lingerie, the flowers, the jewelry…it depends on the budget and person and I guess and how much he wants to give…and that tradition to go buy lingerie, which you don’t have in France.
Semaine: It’s almost a special occasion…once a year you’re going to wear matching lingerie.
Yasmine: Yes, your very special set for Valentine’s Day, which is kind of funny. I love the cards for me. These huge cards for Valentine’s, the pictures, it’s quite funny. You really don’t have that card culture here…
Semaine: For most girls they are lucky if they can find clean underwear. There’s a perception that French girls have impeccable lingerie under their clothes. Fact or fiction?
Yasmine: The image of French girls…a bit flirty... I think it’s fiction. I don’t know why they have this idea. It’s a nice picture because of Paris, lingerie. Even when I was last time I was in America in November just after the election. My name is Iranian so at immigration, the guy was asking me questions where my name is from because I have a French passport. I said it’s from Iran because of my Dad, and he asked have you been to Iran and I said no, have you been to Syria…he was asking me loads of questions and I was like no I’ve never traveled there…never been to Iran. So he said what are you going to do, I said I go to New York to see friends. I love New York I always go. He said so what do you do? And I said I do lingerie. And then he changed completely! He said, oh lingerie, Paris… if I go to Paris I’ll bring my wife, he was all happy. It was so funny. This lingerie, it’s a fantasy. This Parsienne, the French girl. It must come from somewhere as there’s no smoke without fire. There is this perception of the French girl I don’t know…maybe when the Americans came to Paris after the war, they were jumping on the Americans soldiers, they were so happy, the liberation, Paris maybe it came from this time.
Semaine: Here there seems to never be this idea of vulgarity. You say “la seduction voilée,” it’s meant to be mysterious leaving things to the imagination whereas you look at America, Victoria’s Secret, as one example, it is very overt this idea of what sexiness is there.
Yasmine: It’s more quiet I think in France. You have something more intimate but I think it is also the character. The French, they are more, I don’t want to say mysterious, but more quiet. The Americans they are more loud, they go for colors, the French they are going to go less for standout pieces, more conservative. That’s why vintage is great in America because they bought really great stuff from the designers at the time, really strong pieces. They were buying strong pieces from collections at the time, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s also in France you don’t have this “dating” system. In America you go on dates, in France you don’t have this. You have some dates, but it’s not called dates. It’s different in principle.
Semaine: So how does it work in France?
Yasmine: I haven’t been on a date in ages! Because I’ve been with someone for a long time, but I hear from my girlfriends I always think it’s funny, it’s exciting you go on a “date.”
Semaine: Do you notice patterns in the way that women from different cultures shop?
Yasmine: No I wouldn’t say there is a country. Now we have pink in the summer. Well the Japanese they are crazy about this pink. They’ve been buying this pink. Apparently the color this year in Japan is pink….they’re all about pink.
Semaine: Where do you find your inspiration from for your collections.
Yasmine: Exhibitions, colours, fabrics, books, it’s like fashion I think, it can be from anything, from your friends…
Semaine: If there’s one piece that every woman should have in their wardrobe what would it be?
Yasmine: The Serena. It’s a bodysuit and a set. It’s a permanent line and we have different shapes for different bodies so everyone can find the right shape for them. You have all black, or black and flesh, I think it would be an essential to wear and feel well. That would be the basic I think.
Semaine: And a non-matching underwear and bra, is that a faux-pas?
Yasmine: No I think it’s nice, I always do it. Because I always mix things but a lot of girls really like to have the set. It’s really something that not just for themselves or for man, they like to wear the set. It’s funny me I don’t mind but I respect that.
Semaine: So tomorrow is Valentine’s Day…
Yasmine: Me I don’t do Valentine’s. Because my boyfriend it’s really not his thing. I have the boyfriend that cares the least about lingerie. I don’t have the right example boyfriend this one, I had some in the past that were into it, but he doesn’t mind. He’s really not into it.
It’s nicer to have at home, we could do a collective Valentine’s. I’ll have dates for all of my girlfriends that are single, invite all the single girls and guys and see what happens.
By Michelle Lu for Semaine.