Eric Bergère: “the challenge in the coming months is to revive a real desire for fashion”
Eric Bergère is a real authority in the world of French fashion design. But a discreet one, with a career that can hold its own against the most legendary designers. A modest figure who lets his designs do the talking and rejects the easy options of the star system, despite a dazzling career that has seen him named creative director at Hermès, Lanvin and Burton of London, as well as artistic director at Smalto. Inès de la Fressange later inspired him to set up his own brand and encouraged him to take the helm of the Dou Bouchi label.
An authority in not just French but international fashion design, having spent 30 years working as a consultant in Japan. A market he knows well. His passion for clothes began in the 1970s. As a teenager, he loved watching pop singers in their sequinned outfits on Saturday evening shows as the first colour televisions arrived in French homes. This admiration inspired thoughts of a career and led him to Esmod. “It was 1978. I chose the school simply for its reputation. I was a hard-working student, but a happy one too, because at the school I was doing what I liked most, designing clothes! My happiest memory was when I was awarded the first prize in my last year, and my first direct contacts with people in the fashion industry, especially Christian Lacroix, who later became a friend, and Popy Moreni.”
His career got off to a flying start when Jean-Louis Dumas, Chairman of the Hermès group, chose him and Bernard Sanz, among others, to modernise the ready-to-wear collections at the venerable luxury firm and attract a younger clientele. It was at this time that standardised luxury fashion as we know it today really got started. And yet Hermès was already determined to remain a brand focused on craftsmanship. In this fertile atmosphere, Eric Bergère began to sketch the outlines of a career that has never stopped developing. His future designs would continue to highlight the intelligence of the craftsman's hand and the nobility of the materials.
At Hermès, this was also the time of early, decisive encounters that would lead to long-lasting friendships. With Inès de la Fressange, for example, who was the Faubourg Saint Honoré house's go-to top model. Eric worked with Inès when she decided to launch her own label. Since 2017, he has been the Parisian brand's creative director. At Hermès he also made friends with Christian Lacroix, who referred to him as: “the son Françoise and I never had”. This friendship certainly influenced Eric Bergère's love of Arles, where he found a first pied-à-terre 15 years ago before settling there, five years later, in a Provençal farmhouse with the poetic name of Dou Bochi. “Four years ago, we turned the barn into a studio, when it seemed like an obvious step to create a brand rooted and produced in the region.”
Dou Bouchi: an ode to the art of living in Camargue. Transparency, breadth, fluidity and lightness are the keywords for Dou Bouchi. The celebration of a joyous way of life is expressed in linen. “Linen can be washed countless times, it is a robust and truly natural material”, says the designer. He also points out that “it is not only the oldest fabric in the world, but also the one that uses the least water. It is ecological and noble, since it takes on colours well. The older it gets, the more beautiful it is.”
To his love of materials was added a keen sense of design and luxury in general. “Luxury at Dou Bochi means first of all the time and attention paid to the brand's clients and fans. This newly-found time means we cannot limit ourselves to a schedule. We design one collection a year. But clients can order items on request when they can't find their size or colour. And the clothes are manufactured locally by Arles dressmakers.”
It is hard to sum up Eric Bergère's career given its breadth and richness. This is also the case for his daily routine. “Generally, I work first of all with Quentin, my pattern maker, on the new Dou Bochi collection, then I do some online fittings via email and photo with my French and Japanese clients. After lunch in town and a quick visit to the label's two shops in Arles, I go back to the farmhouse to draw or work on model launches or mini-series. Lastly, I deliver the new models, then close the shops after changing the merchandising and the books.”
Despite this hectic schedule, the designer is still able to cast a lucid but optimistic eye on the profession as a whole: “Today, there seems to me a sort of excess artiness in the world of design and luxury that is a bit dull. An excess that is far removed from the realities and the real function of clothes. But the health crisis is now wiping the slate clean, and that's a good thing. The challenge in the coming weeks and months is to revive a real desire for fashion.”
An illuminating remark from one of the most gifted designers of the past thirty years. Gifted and successful: as well as a wide range of partnerships in France and Japan, Eric Bergère can pride himself on the success of Lou Bochi, which has gone well beyond the Arles city limits. A quick look at the brand's website (doubochi.com) shows a wide range of retail outlets, stretching from Europe to the United States, Japan, Ukraine and the UK.
“To anyone who wants to be a fashion designer, I would recommend finding your own style, your own identity as soon as possible. Once you've found your niche, you need to work at it, create, be sincere and believe in your work, while keeping your eyes peeled, because you always need to sense where society is going if you want to meet future needs. And you need to stay humble and remember we are artisan designers.” A mantra similar to the philosophy at the Esmod school, where pragmatism is key in a teaching approach fostering endless passion, but also humility. An essential form of pragmatism, helping students to acquire a sense of priorities, to adapt to all markets and to tackle each new challenge through a 360° vision. The same doctrine recommended and applied by Eric Bergère, who has always expressed his personal style, technical skill, faultless availability and entrepreneurial finesse to the benefit of his many clients in favour of a better, shared development of the company. “Never forget that we are fashion designers”, he says. “Visionary fashion designers, it's true, but not artists.”