BY NICOLE PHELPS September 11, 2020
Sophie Theallet’s first New York Fashion Week show starred a lineup of all-Black models. Even in 2020 a casting like that makes news, but this was back in 2008, a moment when #RunwaysSoWhite would’ve been a popular hashtag if we were in the habit of using hashtags at that time. Theallet, a French designer and protégé of Azzedine Alaïa, was never one for rules. She more or less refused to do the pre-season collections that retailers asked for, and she couldn’t abide the constant demands for newness. After her fall 2016 show, which featured one glorious dress after another on a similarly inclusive cast—still a fairly rare thing at the time—Theallet quietly dropped off the NYFW calendar.
Four years and a move to Montreal later and Theallet has reemerged with a direct-to-consumer collection of ethically produced pieces that put the spotlight on her dressmaking bona fides. “I moved to Montreal because I wanted to slow down the pace of fashion,” Theallet says. “The way I worked with Alaïa, we were taking time to do beautiful clothes, taking time to have fun. I really wanted to find that again. Now I can read books; I can make art. I can live and do my work in a different way.”
Room 502 is named for the first space Theallet rented in the Chelsea Hotel upon moving to New York from Paris. “It was a really intimate place,” she explains. “When my husband [Steve Francoeur] and I were thinking of doing something new, we chose Room 502 because it’s connected to something loved.” Intimate is a useful word. Theallet’s new business concept—small, seasonless collections produced in limited quantities and sold only on her own e-commerce site at a third of the price of her former line (they never go on sale)—updates the one-on-one relationship that dressmakers used to enjoy with their customers generations ago. “I never sell eccentricity,” she says. “My customers know that when they buy from me it’s always going to be friendly, for when you need to be chic with a little nonchalance.”
Ikram Goldman, the Chicago retailer, is a Sophie Theallet booster. “Sophie has integrity in both her designs and spirit,” she says. “Her execution is always impeccable and she thinks of the important details in every aspect of her collections.” The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the urgency of adopting more sustainable fabrics and practices. Theallet is making a point of using responsible materials, and the collection is made by the craftspeople of India’s Kalhath Institute. Founded by Maximiliano Modesti, Theallet’s former Alaïa colleague, the institute preserves the country’s traditional textile and embroidery crafts, while providing a living wage for its artisans.
What takes her Room 502 proposition a step further is that she’s donating a portion of the sales from each Imperial cotton shirtdress and wood pulp viscose poet blouse to Epic, a global nonprofit fighting to change the lives of disadvantaged youth. “I’m not here to tell you I’m reinventing fashion,” Theallet declares. “I believe as a woman today with everything going on, we need to have good clothes: timeless and well done.” She continues, “I think something new is going to come from fashion, but it’s going to be more social.” She’s leading the way.
read on Vogue.com