Franck Sorbier

Sheet music can be a road-to-Damascus experience even for non-musicians. When sixteen, Franck Sorbier saw a publication by Serge Lutens (then make-up creative director at Dior), he immediately knew where he was going artistically. Lutens had used sheet music on a woman’s head for a campaign. Sorbier (born 1961) saw the result, and knew that that was how he would work, that that was exactly the kind of thing he’d do in fashion. From then on he had an artistic vision whose roots stretched way back into the dream worlds of Surrealism and fantasy. It is a quality that structures his whole work, from the style of his designs to the way he presents them.
Before he made his debut under his own name with his first collection in 1987, he worked successfully under Chantal Thomass and 1980s superstar Thierry Mugler. Sorbier’s collections were soon noticed by Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus in New York, and Seibu in Tokyo. Following an invitation from Cartier, he was able to participate in the prestigious Carrousel du Louvre in 1995. From the following year, he was a member of the Fédération Française de la Couture, Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers, and Créateurs de Mode, able to draw on the unconditional support of Sonia Rykiel and Jean Paul Gaultier. The decidedly artistic bent of his work soon earned him the reputation of the artisan poète of haute couture, which officially admitted him to its ranks in 2005. A slender figure with a tile beard and glasses looking like someone from a drawing by New York eccentric Edward Gorey, Sorbier’s style is unique, as even fashion oracle Suzy Menkes of the Herald Tribune noted. In 2004 she demanded, avant la letter, a place for him in haute couture, insisting that it “would be sad to think that such a rare and individual fashion spirit could not find a niche.”
In Sorbier’s collections, you find hand-painted dresses, fragile, deconstructed lace and chiffon such as others designers would scarcely touch; and his ability to integrate so many masterly references to cultural history at once is exceptional. Generally there is a leitmotif, and Sorbier always delivers an unexpected twist. His Time collection in 2000 for example was presented in twenty-five tableaux vivants in which models, modern against a white background, recreated familiar cultural references – whether the glamour of the traditional ski mecca Megève (evoked with wooden sledges and a couture version of classic 1950s skiing trousers) or a famous Robert Doisneau photo showing a couple kissing. A collection which the innovative Sorbier immediately used to introduce an absolute novelty: haute couture for men. In dinner jackets or other festive garments, of course, and chain-smoking. Very Paris. Or maybe, as Sorbier says, “the creator’s role is to deliver beauty.”
But how intelligently Sorbier can deploy the new media is evident from his current winter collection, where he shows his elegantly drawn models exclusively on the Internet, as in a doll’s house. The costly materials are now shown in drawings and merely described. He dedicates this virtual show to his idols – women from George Sand via Joan Baez to Golda Meir, who have in common a passion for their work. First and foremost among them is Spanish antifascist Dolores Ibárruri, who invented the slogan of the show: No pasaran! – They shall not pass! Is that a reference to his industry’s craze for luxury? An open question. The Recession Show is at any rate up-to-date chic, poetic and anything but extravagant. Its ingredients are as simple as they are beautiful: “paper, pencil and love.”

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