Fabien Baron: One-Man Brand

Do you still get star-struck sometimes?

Yes, of course. I guess everyone does.

When was the last time?

When I met Madonna for the first time. I met her at her home on Central Park West to talk about working on her Sex book. It was very comfortable but very uncomfortable at the same time, which is a very interesting feeling. She's very imposing and knows what she wants. She's very informed and opinionated, which makes her genius. She takes you in and swallows you up—and you don't mind it, you actually enjoy it. There's an unspoken seduction that goes on. I was young, She was young, too, and beautiful.

That was an unforgettable era.

Madonna, SexYeah, she put that book out at the best moment. She timed it very well. She knows what she's doing. And such drive. Some people want to lift stones and see what's under it. She'll be on a beach with millions of stones and want to lift every one of them.

You have that kind of drive.

I'm more of a prima donna. (Laughs.)

So what's next for you?

Whatever I'm working on needs to be of a certain quality.

Do you think there's been an overall decline in quality?

Yes, absolutely.

In fashion?

Yes, with everything. There's definitely a lack of quality going on, a lack of craftsmanship, a lack of intellect. There's also a search for ideas. Things don't look as good as they should. What happened was you had these big luxury brands that advertised themselves really well and opened mega-stores. They've put out a lot of smaller products of a lower grade and communicated those products at a lower common denominator. Then you have mass-market companies like H&M, Gap and Banana Republic that are trying to go up. So today, if you look at the advertising for the two sides, if you remove the logos, what you're looking at is very similar. This overlap has created a blend. High and low are not so different anymore. We have to deal with it.

What will happen with big labels?

They'll be fine. There'll always be a need for people with a lot of money to dress in a certain sophisticated way. They'll always want a sweater that won't stretch after six wears or fall apart if you wash it once.

I think you should have a fashion line.

I don't think so.

Why not?

It's too complicated. I'm good at branding. I wouldn't know what button to use. I've thought about it, though, but I'm not interested.

Any offers?

Yes, but I've said no to all of them. I thought sunglasses were a nice thing to do on the side and wouldn't overlap with my clients. It's almost outside of fashion, but very fashionable.

Yes, your new sunglasses. I think they're fantastic. When I first saw them, I was thinking that all along you've created visual identities for large brands, so this is kind of a way to create identities on a smaller scale—for people.

Yeah. For me, it was about doing something personal that would reflect what I like.

Fabien Baron, sunglasses

What's the design concept?

I like classic things—with a measure of modernity, of course. It's a very simple accessory and it really does change your face, and it can change your personality.

They're handmade in Japan. Is that the best place to make them, like denim?

Yes. The crafting is better. We wanted to do something special that wasn't like everyone else.

Which one is your favorite?

The bug-eye ones, a little bit 70s.

What about doing a fragrance? You design all those bottles anyway.

That could be, but I have a clients in the business and I intend to keep them.

Let's talk about your book that's coming out in September.

It's called Liquid Light [SteidlDangin].

Is it your first book?

Yes. It's all seascape pictures that I've done over the past twenty years in different places. Each one is very similar.

The same horizon line in the middle?

Exactly. The composition is always the same, but it might be noon, the middle of the night, stormy, whatever.

Is it a calming thing for you?

Totally, a way to do something personal and meaningful. I spend most of my time taking care of clients, magazines, etc.—making sure everyone is happy. This is something I started just for me. Then twenty years later a couple of people looked at the pictures and said I should make a book. I've collected over a 1000 negatives over the years.

Fabien Baron, seascapes, Liquid Light

What else do you have your hands in? What about a designer phone like Dior or Prada?

I was talking with Vertu a long time ago, but we didn't get along. I had problems with the phone they wanted to come out with. They told me it would be a luxury phone. I said good idea, and my first question was how much will it cost. They said $15,000 and I told them they were crazy. They'll have only a few people buying it. Plus I didn't think the phone looked very special.

Designing technology must be tricky.

It's not high-fashion. And I find, as technology progresses, people don't connect like this anymore. People don't know how to behave anymore. And those fucking emails by the thousands. The time spent in front of the computer is insane.

Yet I noticed you're designing websites, too…

Yeah, we have to because people ask us. We did Balenciaga's website and Ian Schrager's website. And we're very happy with our own.

I remember asking you once what you thought of the web, which was still new then, and you said it was too slow to take off.

I remember that. It was too slow, but the minute broadband came along, it was like, boom.

And apparently a lot of the hotels in Paris didn't have high-speed and you had to change hotels just to communicate with your team.

Yeah, to the Park Hyatt, which I didn't like. What a nightmare. But you need that. These days I can do layouts from anywhere, and sending 20 mb is no big deal. Before, 2 mb was like a nightmare. I always thought when technology gets it together it's going to be incredible.

Do you get back to Paris much? You're from there.

When I worked at French Vogue, yes.

Is that completely over?

Completely over.

Fabien Baron, Francisco Costa, Carine RoitfeldDo you still talk to Carine [Roitfeld]?

Yes, all the time.

She seems quintessentially French to me.

She is. She's comfortable with her own style. She knows what she's doing and where she stands. She's kind of crazy, too—very sexy and a lot of fun. I love her for her uniqueness and her desire to push.

Do you think French culture is in crisis?

Well, they like to complain in France and work less and less. It comes from those years of socialism, when everything was taken care of too much. If you didn't work you got a salary anyway. What's that about? If you were sick you didn't have to pay for anything. That's great and fantastic, but you have to pay for it. The world changes. They're not in balance.

Why did you move to New York?

For those reasons. Because of politics and the way work was going, I felt like there were no options left in France to do something important at that time. So I left. I knew it was about coming here. Fashion and style were coming to America and New York was the place.

Is this America's century for fashion and style?

Back in the '80s it felt that way. Now I would say that things have shifted back to Europe again. I think Paris owns fashion today more than ever, with luxury labels like Chanel, Dior, YSL, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Lanvin, etc. Strangely enough, none of the designers working for these labels are French except Nicolas Ghesquière for Balenciaga. (cont'd)

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