In 1985, before making clothes, Lemaire spent nights DJing in Paris clubs. "The music scene always had so much more style than the fashion scene," he says. "It was more spontaneous, more free." He entered the fashion world almost by accident, working as an assistant stylist to pay rent while studying.
Funnily enough, I only started to realize I was interested in fashion when I started working as a fashion assistant. I was always interested in style, but not necessarily fashion. I had more of an interest in interior design, objects and fashion as everyday life. And I was a student, studying literature, wanting to study decorative arts
The job led to internships at Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler and Christian Lacroix where he eventually became assitant for four years before being promoted to manager of the rtw department.
In 1991, Lemaire launched his own eponymous label (a menswear line was added in 1995).
From Mugler, Saint Laurent and Lacroix, I learned a sense of style, a feel for colors, a way of remembering. Then I made my way. What’s interesting is to bring my own vision of things
In 2001, Lemaire was appointed creative director at Lacoste. By that time, he had grown increasingly dissatisified with his own label and finally decided to shut it down in 2003 to focus on his new position.
When I used to have my own fashion shows at the end of the 90s, now that I look at it, I realise they weren’t really mature enough.
I found myself stuck with very practical things: production, finance, business, dealing with a team. I was managing and designing. I became alienated by doing both. After a while it became really stressful. I couldn’t concentrate on design and creative work because I was too bogged down in business-related things. By the end, it was no longer a pleasure.
At Lacoste (first collection Spring 2002), Lemaire had the difficult task of turning what had become a stale and dated sportswear label into runway material while staying true to the brand's roots (tenniswear, polo shirts, bright colors). He brought in more volume, more layers, relaxed silhouettes that played with proportions.
I like to stretch the idea of a polo. This season I stretched it into a boxier shape and then cropped it into almost a cape.
In 2007, Lemaire relaunched his own label with a more refined, more confident aesthetic direction.
I didn't want to let 'Christophe Lemaire' go to waste, though. I still felt like I had something to say. It was a positive crisis because it was like stepping back and asking myself real questions about my motivations. I have come back much clearer in what I want to say.
Some say it’s a bit austere, puritan, but I don’t mind! I like the idea of dignity. When I look at traditional style, it’s something very timeless and never difficult—I’m inspired by that.
In Fall 2010, Lemaire left Lacoste (last collection Spring 2011) for Hermès where he took the helm as rtw creative director, succeeding to Jean Paul Gaultier (and Martin Margiela before him).
Lacoste is a sportswear brand. It is about functionality, easy-to-wear clothes, and also a bit timeless. It is a brand that is somewhere else on the side of fashion. In a completely different context, I think, Hermès is the same in a way. Hermès is a brand of functionality with extreme quality. At Hermès, we don’t say we do luxury. We do useful objects of an extreme quality. You have to think about the comfort, the functionality, the pockets, the way the clothes will age. The inside is as important as the outside.
It is a house where you feel you can build season after season. There is a beautiful example in the buckles for the bags. There is so much passion in how to make the bag and making the hardware that has just the right noise when it closes. Some of the workers would spend three seasons looking for the perfect noise for the bags. Sometimes they will pick up a buckle that was made 20 years ago and they will rework it to improve it. I love this idea of improving every season, instead of washing everything away and trying to impress everyone and make a spectacle. That’s not the point. We need good quality product and honest product, and that makes you feel better.