Marseilles, an air of California

By Fabienne Berthet



As a Fashion Incubator, the Maison Méditerranéenne de la Mode (MMMM) gives impetus to Marseilles' credentials for being a cool and elegant place… just like Los Angeles. The two cities  appeal to and attract numerous iconic brands and labels, and have developed real skills and know-how in textiles, particularly with denim. Jeans are the key garment, emblematic of all wardrobes, unisex and now haute couture. They are an approved piece of clothing in Los Angeles. In Marseilles jeans are interpreted with talent by labels such as Kaporal, Le Temps des Cerises, Reiko, Unique DNMRemy Kertenian, an art historian develops the fundamentals.

Marseilles-Los Angeles, same combat?
Marseilles and Los Angeles each bring to mind an intense experience, sometimes  borderline, with a determination to be different. They are both cities which for a long time have remained on the margins of the classic and official fashion circuits. Now things have changed. It is not by chance that Hedi Slimane, the previous Creative Director at Saint-Laurent, decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic label in Los Angeles with a runway show/event. Similarly, it is not a coincidence that the  Maison Méditerranéenne des Métiers de la Mode (MMMM) made Marseilles the place for its OPENMYMED event using emblematic and underground locations, and tapping into the local creative energy in all the arts, including music, fashion and photography. A preoccupation with body and image is also omnipresent in both locations. Marseilles, like Los Angeles, is heavily involved with the film industry, and has seen the emergence of a number of arty venues, like the Friche de la Belle de Mai where you can hear groups like I Am, Soprano etc… Over and above this artistic movement, the natural surroundings entail a fundamental preoccupation with the sea and the beach.  This idyllic setting, with the spray of the sea and the boldness of the sun, encourages sports activities, particularly surfing, which intensifies the influence on local fashion. As with Los Angeles, Marseilles plays with its particular lifestyle which has a certain elegance. A label from Marseilles like Hero Seven, naturally reappropriates the fashion codes around the image of Steve Mac Queen. This is exactly what is behind the actions of the  MMMM, building bridges, developing links between the two cities, supporting and promoting this identity.  The principle of a fashion which should be easy to wear, transformed by sunlight, and having sportswear influences. 

Historically Marseilles has been an important centre for jeaners?
There are lots of stories and myths which exist about the history of denim: a twill type fabric which originated in Genoa in the Liguria region of Northern Italy, and the sturdy cotton twill from Nîmes, a mix of wool and silk dyed indigo blue. This characteristic colour, with the pastel weft thread, creates the signature faded characteristic of blue jeans. Documentary references to the fabric in the Port of Marseilles have been found, dating back to the 13th century. The Provence region in France became the centre of production for the "bleu de Gênes" blue twill from Genoa, before it was recuperated by Levi Strauss in the USA. During the '70s in Marseilles, producers changed the fabric to make it more contemporary, modern and on-trend. The company Rica Lewis, founded in Marseilles, became the leader in the jeans market in France. At the same time the Marseilles textile industry showed intelligence and reactivity, and started to produce denim fabric. They developed the international market, following the example of the Marciano brothers who started Guess in Los Angeles.

Are Jeans a major point of convergence?
The saga of the blue jean and the brands that made them an iconic emblem also witnessed a reincarnation. After a number of years when jeans had lost their impact on fashion, they became popular again at the end of the '90s and now represent a global market estimated at US$60 billion. California produces 75% of the high-end denim jeans sold around the world. The sector employs more than 200,000 people in Southern California, and has recently seen denim become the official fabric of the State. The jeaners in Marseilles have also been active, with new market leaders returning to a sector which historically they dominated. They are making jeans an important part of the market and an intrinsic part of new collections, as with the label Kaporal who has named their first jean Made in France « Jean de Nîmes ».


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