#NoFilter: Roland Mouret Talks Failure, Rebuilding, and Success

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Roland Mouret
Photo: Courtesy of Roland Mouret

Blunt, honest, and glowing with gentile glamour, Roland Mouret’s rich personality has made him a magnet for the fashion elite, but it is his flattering and feminine designs that have put his name on the map. Mouret, however, is careful to insist that despite his tremendous success as a high-end fashion designer with a mile-long list of celebrity clientele, it’s his clothes that are famous, not him. After a decade in the industry with two iconic frocks (and hundreds of other dazzling designs), Mouret’s recent retrospective on the ‘Galaxy’ dress elicited new design surprises, notably the ‘Galaxy’ jumpsuit.

Mouret has slogged through the worst aspects of being a designer. He lost the rights to his own name to previous financial backers and faced increased pressure to perform for the bottom line, now emerging a worldly hero whose raison d’être is making women feel and look beautiful with his thoughtful, geometrically oriented designs. He also happens to be a pioneer in e-commerce, and was experimenting with the “See Now, Buy Now” trend nine years before the rest of the industry had even heard of it.

In Savoir Flair’s exclusive #NoFilter interview, the legendary French designer opens up to Editor-in-Chief Haleh Nia about the struggles he has endured and the reason behind his success.

We’re so excited that you’re in Dubai. It’s not your first time, is it?
No, it’s my fourth time. It’s a pleasure to be here.

When you opened your Dubai boutique, I think it was only your third store worldwide. Why here?
Dubai is now at the level of New York, Paris, or London. Dubai has big businesses, social events, and lots of women who choose to work and live here. Dubai is established now, like Hong Kong or Singapore. It is a city that has positioned itself with high-end lifestyles within the reality of the market. Dubai is the present.

I’ve heard rumors that you’re very tired of the media focusing on the ‘Galaxy’ dress. But what would an interview be without asking you about the ‘Galaxy’ and ‘Moon’ styles? It’s not easy to create, not one, but two silhouettes that put you in the history books forever. What was the idea behind these designs and what do you think is the secret to them enduring the test of time?

I think the two dresses have a masculine and feminine duality, or that extreme attitude that allows every woman wearing the dress to be herself. Women are dual creatures. However, the sensuality of the dress still allows the woman [to be seen] when she wears it. You see the woman, not the dress. It’s really not about, “Oh what a beautiful dress.” Instead, a man will say, “What a beautiful woman.” And that was behind the success of these two dresses.

Just because you can buy it, doesn’t mean you can design it.

For a while, it felt like you were a rock star who didn’t want to sing his greatest hits anymore. You moved away from the ‘Galaxy’ dress but then last season, of course, you had this massive celebration in honor of its tenth anniversary. What was the reason you decided to reprise your greatest hits?
Ten years! And to question myself as the father of something I created ten years ago. What is the reality of this dress ten years later? Who is the new girl wearing this dress? What is the new ‘Galaxy’? For me, it was a jumpsuit because I discovered jumpsuits three years ago. I also wanted to question myself in order to understand the journey of creation. The product is to remind you that you’ve been creative, and you are still creative. You have to outdo yourself in a challenge to express. I think it’s like a child – you can never take it for granted.

You took a two-year hiatus between leaving your original label and signing with Simon Fuller, a period of time you’ve rarely ever talked about. What happened during those two years? Was it intense preparation for your marvelous comeback or did you completely disconnect from your fashion journey?
No, it was preparation. It was emotional and physical preparation, recreating the team, and enjoying the challenge of coming back without a name. It was difficult, especially emotionally. It was a journey to prepare myself to become a better designer… and I stopped smoking, too. I used to be a heavy smoker, and stopped during this time.

Oh, wonderful. Few people realize that you encountered all these legal issues while getting your name back. It must have been an intensely stressful period.
Yes, one important book in my life is called La Disparition, and it’s a book written without the letter “e”. I read it when I was 27 and, yes, it changed my life. But it becomes about your journey reading without an important letter. The letter is so important, but you learn to live without it.

And there is an English version out now too, also without the letter “e” in it…
I knew the feeling of it. I knew the feeling of missing something and learning to rebuild yourself around what’s missing – around accepting that you’re going to be handicapped, which is going to make you different. And you must learn what it’s like to be different from the handicap.

Do you think that if you’d taken a two-year break in these modern times, it would have been very difficult for you, given there is so much more pressure from the media now?
There is a need [to take a break]. When you need to produce so much for the public eye, and for the public as a product, you need a break to recharge and be ready. It’s like athletes, who always have to be ready. We have to train to be ready.

This brings me to my next question, which is really a recurring topic at our magazine – “fashion fatigue”. We’re losing so many talented fashion designers who are experiencing fashion fatigue syndrome due to the pressures of the bottom line and the fast-paced cycle of designing. What are your thoughts on the subject? Do you feel it yourself?
I do feel the pressure. But I think we are living in the world of plenty; we have plenty of everything and plenty of talented people. I think the talent will stay where it needs to stay, and you celebrate it when it disappears. I think talent is there to be cherished because it can stop tomorrow.

I never wanted to be involved with a big brand because I didn’t want to be asked to leave after three years.

Doesn’t it almost seem like designers have become very disposable? There are so many people on a three-year contract, who are then replaced.
Think of it this way: how fantastic is the wardrobe of a lady when she buys from Saint Laurent for, let’s say, ten years, and she has three different kinds of visions of three amazing designers of the brand? In the modern world, we will have a minimum of two to three jobs in our lifetime, and a minimum of two partners in our lives. It is no longer the Old World way, where you’re fighting for one partner and one job for the rest of your life.

I think social media had pushed us to be so curious; we can’t stop with one experience. It’s about what people want. I never wanted to be involved with a big brand because I didn’t want to be asked to leave after three years. I think three years is not enough time to prove yourself. I have to prove myself for my work, and that’s why I have my brand. Some people have to prove themselves through different identities as actresses, directors, etc.

And prove yourself, you have. You don’t have to be doing anything other than what you’re doing.
But that’s the point. My actresses are my dresses; they’re more known than me. I’d love to be a director of my work. I would hate to be in the spotlight all the time like an actor. I would find it difficult to age.

Almost like the new trend of celebrity designers – they’re more famous than their own brands.
Like I said earlier [before our interview]: Just because you can buy it, doesn’t mean you can design it. [Laughs]

Roland Mouret
Photo: Courtesy of Roland Mouret

You were one of the first in the industry to sell your collection online, on Net-a-Porter, after a show, way back in 2007 – so you can be credited with being a pioneer of the “See Now, Buy Now” revolution. You anticipated that model almost ten years ago! What caused you to think that the industry would move toward e-tail?
The moment I lost my name, I realized how much I enjoyed thinking outside the box. I don’t like competition because I don’t like to lose. That’s me – I don’t play, which means I make decisions based on whether I can compete with people who succeeded before or after me. For me, that meant selling online. Most of the time, I might do things that are wrong, but then will prove to have been right all along in the long run.

I can’t even imagine what the infrastructure of e-tail was ten years ago, and I’ve worked in digital for eight years now.
My early experience with Net-a-Porter was amazing, but the only thing I couldn’t do was stream the show live. We needed to wait for three hours to do a small amount of editing because we needed to transfer the image, and then cut the show on different angles. But we managed to do a fantastic show with Net-a-Porter, which was a long process for the two of us. They believed in us when no other retailers were willing to try it. The collection was 21 pieces, which we showed on the runway, and you could place a pre-sale order the next day. We really went for that “See Now, Buy Now” concept, and it was brilliant.

My dresses are more famous than me.

It was so revolutionary, even revolutionary for now. People must have thought you were crazy to sell the collection the next day – and now so many others are doing it.
[Laughs] They did, but I was right!

Do you think designers today are slow to champion the “See Now, Buy Now” trend?
It has difficulties and strengths because it is in the beginning stages. I think change will prove the reality of that concept.

Speaking of fashion phenomenons, what do you think about the influencer phenomenon? Everybody is dressing bloggers now, and Fashion Week has become an absolute circus. Are you, yourself, a fan of this new trend?
I am not, but I don’t judge it. I was young once, and I know what I’ve done when I was 20 to express myself. It’s a necessity when people want to express themselves.

As a brand, are you embracing it? Are you dressing bloggers?
Dressing bloggers is fun. It’s all about what I find charismatic, and what I find real in my world. As I said, I’m more of a director than an actor in this situation – my dresses are more famous than me.



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