Cédric Charlier sits in the back of a taxi, on his way to the factory in northern Italy where he is overseeing the production of his latest collection, checking that everything is just so. It is a familiar journey for the Belgian designer, who launched his self-titled label two years ago. Riding along the great expanse of motorway that stretches out before him, he speaks of his new-found liberation. “I feel free,” he says. “Free in my own work.” He might as well be on the back of a motorbike, or whooping through the sunroof of the car, arms outstretched – there is a feeling that this creative breathing space is exactly what he has been chasing throughout his 15-year career.
After graduating from La Cambre in Brussels, Charlier won the Moêt Hennessy Fashion Award in 1998 and with it a position at Céline, where Michael Kors was in charge. Next came work at Jean Paul Knott and, later, Lanvin, where Charlier spent six years. Then he was hired by Cacharel. They had been looking for someone who could attract younger shoppers and yet, much to the industry’s bafflement, they replaced him after only four seasons. Massimo Ferretti, head of Cacharel’s licensee Aeffe, publicly expressed his disapproval of Charlier’s dismissal and subsequently backed the designer’s decision to go it alone.
“To be honest, I was impatient, because it’s been a long time that I have waited to do this. I was impatient to know the reaction of buyers and press,” the designer says. Working without the constraints of someone else’s label, his talent has never been more evident. Flattering, perfect cuts are his long-standing obsession. Were they honed at Lanvin? “Not specifically,” he says, “but for sure, Alber taught me about how to respect the body.” Indeed, he focused on the body with his first collection, developing what he hoped would be signature lines, but for SS14 he relaxed, playing with volume instead. His familiar precision was still there, in a collection inspired by envelopes and kimonos and the beauty of 2D becoming 3D. Charlier shied away from his usual brights in favour of stricter blacks, blues and whites, which gave the collection a sombre mood, pepped up only by splashes of red paint and full-look sequins. This is subversive sophistication – a running theme throughout his seasons.
Charlier is rapidly joining the ranks of Belgium’s current fashion greats. “Ah yes,” Charlier says of them, “Belgian fashion designers are exceptional now, but we are never talking about fashion in Belgium in the same way you would talk about fashion in Paris. The French have that history of couture and I think that’s why Belgian designers are more free. You cannot compare Ann Demeulemeester with Dries van Noten, but I think the key is freedom.” Certainly, it is the secret to Charlier’s success. §