20 Jul. 2020



Interview with designer Philippe Bertrand

This Saturday morning, visitors gradually filter through the entrance of Premiere Classe. It is here that Philippe Bertrand presents the latest collection from Claramonte, the luxury bag brand he launched in 2005 with his business partner and friend, Pierre Gionet. After graduating from the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, the designer went on to work for some of the greatest fashion houses in the world; Lacroix, Chanel, Mugler and Yves Saint Laurent. Today, it is through his creations that Philippe Bertrand celebrates hand craftsmanship and artisanal savoir-faire. Through Claramonte, the duo offers a contemporary line of woven bags and shoes, like a poetic ode to travel and escapism. We interviewed this passionate designer.

It all started when Pierre Gionet and Philippe Bertrand met in 2004. One working as an assistant designer, the other as an assistant art master at the Maison Lemarié. After one year, ‘Claramonte’ was born - and here the story begins. The two partners have been presenting their collections at Premiere Classe since the very beginning. It is here that they have been able to develop their Japanese client base - an essential market for the brand, initially accounting for more than 90% of its turnover. Then came their first taste of success in Europe at the beginning of the 2000s: a prosperous period when the market was booming and boundaries were ever-expanding, allowing Claramonte to attract an increasingly wide customer base.

Since then, the industry has changed and the horizon has shifted for the brand. Exchanges with the Asian market have diminished and largely been replaced by trade with the United States, where the brand, rich in nomadic and folkloric charm, has made a name for itself. Astonished by the overwhelming power of the US market, Claramonte was able to undergo a renewal of its client base, whilst still maintaining its business in Europe; France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and even Greece, where the brand’s summer collections are very popular. This current period, however, calls for questioning. The brand wants to rethink its position within a changing industry. Just like fashion itself, Claramonte is in transition.

The brand, which has been presenting at Premiere Classe since its beginnings, continues to attend twice a year to present its collections. This event, situated right in the heart of Paris and taking place during Fashion Week, is a chance for Philippe Bertrand to test the waters for his latest designs whilst analysing the industry. Each year, the designer spots familiar faces to talk to. An optimist by nature, he promotes patience - a rare virtue in an industry in the midst of a revolution, having been confronted not only with complete digitalisation and increased competition due to a saturated market, but with the new emphasis on sustainability. “The world is changing, and so are we,” smiles the designer. “We are all undergoing a transition.” But ‘transition’ also incorporates a sense of movement - a desire to move forward and progress towards a new reality: the creation of multiple possibilities.

Since the brand launched, Philippe Bertrand’s pieces have been promoting conscious fashion. Promoting small-scale hand craftsmanship and seamstresses with exceptional savoir-faire, whose talent is all too often overlooked for the benefit of a globalised industry which prioritises the financial stakes of outsourcing over the art of creating beautiful objects. Durability, excellence and hand craftsmanship are just a few of the values conveyed through his creations which come from elsewhere, yet are made close by. Similarly, the designer also promotes fashion which is, in all its complexity, in touch with the times. He seeks perennial and viable solutions so that he can continue creating in the way that he loves. “Our clients are increasingly well-informed and therefore increasingly demanding. They also tend to be more responsible, and we have to follow the customer’s lead. This is why the brand did not hesitate to replace real fur with fake fur in order to satisfy a clientele that categorically refused to wear it; notably, their American retailer, Anthropology. “We find solutions to adapt and keep up with the times,” he concludes. “However, ever since the beginning, all of our products have been made out of vegetable tanned leather - our tanning process is absolutely not chemical. The leather can therefore change colour, especially when it comes into contact with the sun. But as long as we are transparent with our customers, they follow us." Transparency as a value is a hot topic for brands who want to reach a clientele that is sometimes sceptical and is always in search of direction.

It is this transparency and dialogue which can be found in the aisles of Premiere Classe among designers, entrepreneurs, manufacturers and buyers, between heartfelt smiles and hugs of solidarity. “This kind of gathering is unique as it is an opportunity to also open up to other brands and professionals who experience the same daily reality as us. It’s finally the end of an ultra-competitive, opaque, and often snobbish fashion industry. Today, dialogue and collaboration take priority over competitiveness. We have entered into a new era characterised by openness. I think it’s this dialogue which will finally enable designers and brands to work together in order to find long-term solutions,” concludes Philippe Bertrand, with a glimmer of hope.

Throughout its collections, Claramonte consistently defends the ideal of an open, creative and two-stage fashion industry. “Our collections are strongly influenced by the seasons. For example, during winter, we prefer wool and darker colours. In the summertime, we use lighter materials like linen, and more cheerful tones.” In an industry constantly in search of new temporalities and slower, more honest models, Claramonte continues its story in two phases: Spring-Summer and Autumn-Winter.

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