On a business trip to Los Angeles a few months ago, Natacha Ramsay-Levi was surprised to discover, among the meet-and-greets in her schedule, a calendar invite for drinks with Gwyneth Paltrow.
Since Ramsay-Levi was named creative director of Chloé in 2017, her first role at the top of a fashion house after 15 years of working under Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton, she has made a striking impression with designs that promote a modern idea of femininity. Editors and retailers have been eager to meet her, and that includes Paltrow, who, in turn, represents precisely the woman Ramsay-Levi has in mind when she designs.
“She’s heroic in a way,” Ramsay-Levi says. “She’s an icon. Cinema has always been an important inspiration for me, so I have to say I was impressed just for that, but she has done so many other things, like her amazing entrepreneurship.”
At the Chateau Marmont they discussed Paltrow’s plans for Goop, the lifestyle platform she founded in 2008, as well as Ramsay-Levi’s vision for Chloé, a label Paltrow has had a close relationship with ever since it was designed by Stella McCartney, from 1997 to 2001. Ramsay-Levi and Paltrow hit on a plan to develop a capsule collection for Goop, with a small selection of ready-to-wear from Chloé’s summer collection plus exclusive accessories.
“She had such a strong point of view about the clothes,” Ramsay-Levi says of Paltrow. “And the questions she asked me made me feel like it was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had. The way she takes a position as a woman is inspiring. She has a strong voice, but she’s inclusive at the same time, and very careful and very nice.”
Paltrow is equally effusive: “I thought Natacha was super cool,” she says. “We had a really interesting discussion about work, life, family, and kids. She’s so chic, I just kind of fell in love with her.”
As is often the case in the fashion world, where designers are the personifications of their brands, Ramsay-Levi demonstrates the same qualities she attributed to Paltrow. The designer is strong, confident, nice, but not entirely — how shall we say? —wholesome. She gives that impression anyway, that something a little more subversive might be lurking just beneath the frills and lace. This notion made her arrival at Chloé, a house that has historically maintained a more traditional aura of femininity and flou with pride, all the more interesting.
Although she had worked behind the scenes for much of her career, Ramsay-Levi was already well-known in the fashion circles of Paris, where her father was a magazine editor and her friends included top designers and stylists like Marie-Amélie Sauvé and Camille Bidault-Waddington. Her romantic relationship with Purple magazine editor Olivier Zahm also became a source of public fascination when he described their breakup in an online diary, but the two remain close and have a young son, Balthus. When Ramsay-Levi was hired, the perception of her edginess, along with the fact that she was the first Frenchwoman to hold that role since Martine Sitbon in 1987, was actually considered a winning qualification, perhaps to give Chloé a jolt.
Indeed, Ramsay-Levi has brought a new sense of energy to Chloé, just not in a way that people had predicted.
“It’s not like I’m transforming myself to design for Chloé, because it’s a house I’ve always felt connected to,” she says. “I am trying my best to pay homage and show my love, which is very sincere. It’s my first creative direction, and I could not have done it another way.”
She describes her début collection, for spring 2018, as a “table of contents” for her approach to the house. The show paid tribute not only to the original spirit of Chloé but also to the designers before her who left their mark. Founded
in postwar France by the designer Gaby Aghion, Chloé became popular for introducing a less formal, more flirtatious sense of French dressing than that of the Paris couturiers. In addition to Sitbon and McCartney, Chloé has been designed at important early moments in their careers by Karl Lagerfeld, Phoebe Philo, and Clare Waight Keller, among others. Ramsay-Levi embraced a little bit of each of them, making references to McCartney’s horse prints with her embroidered stallions on velvet suiting, to Lagerfeld’s wit with her painted shirts, and to Waight Keller’s bohemian vibe with her looser dresses and updated smash-hit accessories.
“Chloé is the one brand that talks about femininity,” Ramsay- Levi says. “That, for me, is something between very natural and very strong. I see Chloé as being a community that women want to be a part of and clothes that relate to your own identity.”
Paltrow finds that aspect of Chloé especially appealing, as it aligns with Goop’s mission to create an overarching mix of versatile apparel for women to wear to the gym, to work, and to play. She was also attracted to Ramsay-Levi’s French take on Western style, as seen in her bandana-print dresses and cowgirl-worthy cotton blouse. “I love that Chloé focuses on female designers, because I think as a general rule that women design well for other women,” Paltrow says. “We know what is comfortable and chic and fulfills all the aspects of our lives.”
Ramsay-Levi’s impact can be seen in a renewed emphasis on tailoring. For fall 2019 she was inspired by a vague notion of commitment, “whether it is a love commitment or a political commitment or a commitment to nature.” Ramsay-Levi says she was, in a way, reacting to the contentious political environment and discussions of climate change and thinking of women who are passionate leaders “and how they face up to the elements.” She adds, “I’m always thinking about Chloé, even when I’m watching a movie. Being a designer is like being a sponge. Every small part of my skin feels things that will then come out differently.”
It’s important to Ramsay-Levi to acknowledge that the world is changing, and she wants Chloé to respond. Elements of classic femininity will always be in her work, but so will the concept of timeless clothes that make a woman look powerful, something she thinks is right for today, as shoppers consider their purchases carefully. So it mattered to Ramsay-Levi that the selections offered by Goop, including the Tess and C bags in lighter colors, were chosen specifically because they could span seasons.
“This is a moment when nobody knows anymore what to expect,” Ramsay-Levi says. “The most important thing is not to be too anxious about it. And to be confident.”
For more stories like this, pick up the July issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download June 14.
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