Natacha Ramsay-Levi Begins Her Journey at Chloé by Looking Back


On model, far right: Silk top, $3,095, wool-blend pants, $1,050, necklace, boots, all, Chloé, chloe.com. Creative Director Natacha Ramsay-Levi in her own clothes.

Cecile Bortoletti

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Nestled into a breakfast nook at New York’s Mercer Hotel, Natacha Ramsay-Levi looks like any other hip European who stalks the streets of SoHo. Her hair: perfectly tousled. Her eyebrows: enviably untamed. Across her fingers, a row of gold rings is attached by a string of chains—brass knuckles for the manicured set.

Since being named creative director of Chloé last March, the 38-year-old has been the subject of much discussion among fashion devotees. Who is this relative unknown joining Karl Lagerfeld, Phoebe Philo, Stella McCartney, and, most recently, Clare Waight Keller in the lineup of luminaries to helm the 66-year-old brand? What will her imprint be? The answer lies, perhaps, in those brass knuckles. Designed for her debut collection, they provide a road map to her aesthetic—namely, the point at which ethereality meets hard-edged. It’s a mash-up that the Paris native perfected during her 15 years working with Nicolas Ghesquière: first during the designer’s white-hot tenure at Balenciaga, where Ramsay-Levi began as an intern; then at Louis Vuitton, where she served as creative director.

But being an acolyte to one of fashion’s supreme futurists—Ghesquière takes inspiration from sci-fi, anime, and even, this season, Stranger Things—made Ramsay-Levi a seemingly odd match for Chloé’s historically bohemian world. She hints that even she was a bit surprised by the appointment. “I have Nicolas under my skin,” she says. “I could have continued 15 more years with him. The Chloé situation happened and I’m so happy with it, but I was not searching for anything.” Ghesquière gave her his full support (“He thought I was very ready”), even cheering from the front row at her first show in Paris.

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Silk cady dress, $5,495, necklace, arm bracelet, boots, all, Chloé, at Chloé boutiques nationwide.

Cecile Bortoletti

Ramsay-Levi says her relationship with Chloé actually began long before her career aspirations. As a kid, she would watch the nightly news, and during Paris Fashion Week, the broadcasts ended with a quick recap of the latest runway shows. “I could understand Chloé,” she recalls. “It has such strong character, without ever shouting.”

Upon assuming her new post, Ramsay-Levi delighted in being able to “talk with the archives” of the house. (She abandoned her plans to be a historian to pursue fashion.) She describes her archival dig as almost spiritual, a meeting of the minds behind the materials. The result: a collection that feels both nostalgic and forward-thinking. Painted pieces made in collaboration with artist Rithika Merchant point to Lagerfeld’s hand-painted dresses from the ’70s. Equine prints reference Stella McCartney’s time at the label. “There is a nod to every [past] designer, basically. There’s a bit of Karl, Martine [Sitbon], Stella, Phoebe, and of course the legacy of Clare—she emphasizes so much the lightness of things.” Her touchstone, though, was founder Gaby Aghion, who pioneered the concept of luxury ready-to-wear: “I design fashion to wear it.”

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Along with Waight Keller and Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri, Ramsay-Levi is in a unique position as one of the few women in charge of a French luxury house. She asserts that she strives for practicality in her designs and understands that fashion is at its best only when it suits its wearer. “A pant has to be comfortable, to hug in the right places. A bag has to be easy to open and contain enough.” (In other words, hold all your crap.) While she says she often asked herself, “Is this Chloé enough?,” during the design process, she shied away from brazen logos, opting instead for something more discreet. The o of Chloé appears on bags, clothing, and embroideries. A designer who thrives on subtlety, she’s still adjusting to being a public figure—fashion famous, if you will—and confesses that she was nervous to take her runway bow: “I won’t say it was the most comfortable situation I ever had in my life.”

In many ways, Ramsay-Levi is a stand-in for her Chloé woman, representing ineffable French style to the world. “To make a good fashion moment,” she tells me, “you have to deal with the past and the present. It’s this combination between what has always been beautiful and the zeitgeist, l’air du temps.” With that, she’s off to do some vintage shopping. History has its eyes on her, and vice versa.

Hair by Stéphane Bodin at the Wall Group for Ouai; makeup by Megumi Zlatoff at Agence Saint Germain for Nars; manicure by Béatrice Eni at Agence Saint Germain for Addiction; casting by Paul Brickman at Zan Casting; model: Londone Myers at The Lions; set design by Sophie Glasser at Talent and Partner; produced by Patricia Martinez at Agence Saint Germain

This article originally appears in the February 2018 issue of ELLE.

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