"Intensity is less but stronger"
What got you into fashion?
I got into fashion quite by chance. I didn't plan it. I studied literature, unconsciously feeling the urge to write; I needed to express myself, to talk about myself but also about the others. Back then, in the 80s, I didn't like anything in fashion. I found the clothes either too trendy or too cheap. I wanted to create something more personal, to express my point of view.
How did you learn fashion design?
I didn’t go to fashion school. I’m completely self-taught. I learned by working with other designers and patternmakers, gradually teaching myself about technique.
What's the link between writing and fashion design?
It’s just the vocabulary that's different. What I express through my clothes is what I would have expressed in my books.
Is there anything in your childhood that could explain your career as a fashion designer ?
My great-aunt, who was very educated, influenced my desire for artistic expression. In the context of the early 20th century, she was an outsider, like many women on my mother's side. I inherited their independent spirit. I have always been guided by the idea that women are free to lead their own lives, to multitask ,and to be multi-faceted.
Which is something can be felt today in your work …
In her clothes, a woman can look strong-willed without being aggressive, at once strong and fragile, feminine and masculine ... I have always thought about how women, with their strength, could contribute to the world and its evolution. It is still an interesting thought : women's voices still need to be heard.
Do you have ties to Vietnam, your father's homeland?
Yes, my father is Vietnamese. I have travelled there to find some member of his family, which fled the war. In my work, there's an openness to the world and other cultures. It is important to express the richness of mixed cultures, especially in the current context of rampant racism. The promotion of different cultures and respect for the others remains a fundamental subject.
How was BARBARA BUI founded?
I started by opening a small shop/workshop in Les Halles. I put more and more of myself into the clothes I designed, so I naturally had to embody the brand and put my name on it.
I have always thought about how women, with their strength, could contribute to the world and its evolution. It is still an interesting thought : women's voices still need to be heard.
You have always been close to your customers …
Contributing to people's lives through my clothes is my greatest pride. I still regularly visit our flagship store on the Avenue Montaigne, to see how my pieces are perceived and what they bring to women, which is positiveness, strength, well-being and self-confidence. The clothes allow them to freely express who they are. Fashion is anything but superficial. People have this narrow view of fashion. They see the show-off aspect of it, which makes it look very superficial. But in reality, it is much more than that.
What's a good piece of clothing?
It's all about the cut and quality . You can afford all kinds of fantasy, provided you meet these two requirement.
Has 70s' rock always been a major inspiration to you?
Yes, I've always liked to go against a certain elegance and for that, I worked on a reinterpreting popular rock imagery. I like rock for the music, but I'm particularly inspired by the artists themselves, particularly those who represented a certain freedom, in their music as well as in their attitude: the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger but also his wife Bianca, who had incredible natural elegance. I also like more pop figures like Leslie Winer or Ziggy Stardust. I've also found inspiration in punk, rockabilly, and even the zazous. I'm stimulated by free individual expression.
What's a good piece of clothing?
It's all about the cut and quality. You can afford all kinds of fantasy, provided you meet these two requirement.
How would you define your style?
It's all about attitude. A woman should feel good in her clothes, not in disguise. She should be comfortable enough to express herself freely, without the constraints of an overly trendy piece. Her personality should not beoverwhelmed by the garment. It's important to respect and highlight a woman’s personality, but that doesn’t mean falling into neutral or boring things either. You need to find a balance. I like to play with paradoxes, and I favor fabric contrasts: the irreverence of leather or vinyl combined with the softness of silk or georgette. My silhouettes are neither feminine nor masculine. It is the very mixture of the two that gives this look. It’s also a question of volumes - deliberately sharp or oversized shapes. It's my signature, it's me, and I'm true to it.
What is the starting point of a collection?
It starts with an emotion. Which I adapt to our daily life needs, to make it more concrete. We are a brand rooted in reality. Our wardrobes evolve according to the times, our feelings,and changing lifestyles. It is this evolution that I try to capture.
I like to play with paradoxes, and I favor fabric contrasts: the irreverence of leather or vinyl combined with the softness of silk or georgette. My silhouettes are neither feminine nor masculine. It is the very mixture of the two that gives this look.
You often say that you prefer evolutions to revolutions ...
Indeed. I'm not looking for radical changes and extreme transformations. It is important to evolve while saying rooted in some reality. Fashion is very versatile. It’s about the famous motto "Love what you burned, burn what you loved". One can very easily get lost in there.
What's your color palette?
Black is dominant, I can't do without it. Black looks beautiful in all fabrics. I like colors only when I use them irreverently or audaciously.
In 2019, your men's line was born, like a natural progression, …
There already was menswear potential in our women's collections: The BARBARA BUI man was already there, he just needed to be put under the limelight. We also have a shared wardrobe, which means that women and men can pick exactly the same pieces. This sharing spirit is the essence of the brand, which is about taking the best of everyone, regardless of gender.
Do you have a motto? "Intensity is less but stronger": more excellence, less unnecessary details Do not try to add more. Sometimes you have to pare things down to give more strength to the silhouette, without necessarily falling into minimalism.