Who knew that the 51 avenue d’Iéna, with its elegant staircase and Paris stone façade hid such a run-down basement that was perfect for an R.L. Stine Goosebumps setting? Two designers, accessories designer Hugo Matha and womenswear designer Ilaria Nistri, shared the building, turning the stately rooms upstairs and the former kitchens into a landscape in which their dreams could run wild.
One wet night last month, I dropped by Hugo Matha’s new offices near the Champs-Elysées, wedged between the Maison Ullens store and the Alaia one. He and his team had moved in there only a couple of weeks before and things were still in flux, piles of alligator skins hanging over an easel, a yellowing piece of paper with the seasonal lineup tacked to the wall and a bottle of Hine strapped down to its oak board – a left-over from his brand-new menswear line. We got to talking about his new collection after running out of topics to debrief about on the just-finished round of shows.
The thing about his creations is that no matter how alien or mundane they look – a clutch made of Plexiglas, a basket cut from colored wire, mirror-inlaid woods – they end up growing on you. That alligator spine becomes fascinating, the wire-frame basket becomes the runaway hit of a girl about town and you pare down your essentials to fit the unforgiving confines of that Plexi box.
When Matha showed his graduate collection at Duperré, his boxy, mixed material clutches caught the eye more than the clothes did, and soon enough, he found himself at the helm of his own accessories brand. The minute it came out, he was the toast of town, and Parisian It-girls (not that you’d really dare call them that to their faces on accounts of them having more substance than their mere existence) were banging down his doors to meet the boy wonder. And the odd journalist or 10 (present company included). When we first exchanged emails, Hugo Matha was still very much a one-man operation where the designer, founder and creative director were one and the same 24 year old fielding every request himself. That didn’t last. Before long, he had a press agency, a commercial agent and the occasional intern to help him. And let’s not forget his supportive parents and partner. Last year, he was a finalist in the first edition of the ANDAM’s accessory division and regularly consults on high profile yet hush-hush projects. Moda Operandi picked up a selection.
But the good turn of fortune hasn’t made him forget his roots: the proud son of wine makers hailing from Aveyron, he is speaks more readily about his love of the land and his family vineyard as he does about himself. And everyone agrees that the Matha wines are succulent. The logo designed by ace calligrapher Nicolas Ouchenir (the aforementioned partner and discreetly present throughout the mansion through his written sheets strewn about) and in each room, the bags of the collection awaited, surrounded by raw materials brought up from Aveyron and installed by the team.
As for the collection, it played on the dichotomy between matter and voids, in the shape of clear Plexiglas pockets attached to leather frame bags, oxidized silver mirrors inlaid in wooden ones or extruded a butter-soft suede bag from its radically geometric frame. Inspired by magicians, and the illusions they weave, he enlisted the artist Rubin to help him narrate the season.
Meanwhile upstairs, Italian designer Ilaria Nistri offered a treat to her guests, wandering around a table set with chocolaty goodness, from bites to candles. Plates of chocolate dipped strawberries were being passed around while guests mingled in the half-light tinged with bronze reflections. The Florentine designer’s collection matched those hues with other winter darks such as midnight blue and black, and a print developed with the artist Aitor Ortiz. Her long and sleek silhouettes made the girls look positively vampish, fetchingly so. Hers is a collection of understated beauty that will no doubt find an echo in those who have a hankering for Rick Owens or Ann Demeulemeester.
That is not to say that her work is derivative. Far from it, it brings a level of quietly explorative creation to an esthetic made to be experienced rather than talked about.
Walking away from the shrouded building under Paris’ unexpected flash snowfall, the dream followed. Illusion accomplished.