OLYMPIA LE TAN
We sat down with Olympia Le-Tan at her residency of 10 days, the equally chic Hotel Okura, to discuss production, brand philosophy and the place she calls home, Paris.
All photos: WATARU FUKAYA
Olympia, please tell us more about your ready-to-wear line, recently launched at Dover Street Market Ginza.
I just showed the fifth season of the ready-to-wear line in Paris. It started really small, and then from the third season, each was a full collection. When I started with my bags, I always wanted to do ready-to-wear, but as a small company, I had to wait for the bags to take off, so I could finance the ready-to-wear and get a bigger team. After five seasons of bags, we started the ready-to-wear line.
Your grandmother taught you embroidery, and through your interest of literature, a unique combination of ingredients created the Olympia Le-Tan bags. Can you tell us more about how you began. Did you already have an existing production system to create them?
It wasn’t existing, before I started the Book Clutches, I sold tote bags here (Tokyo), and in Colette (Paris) which I hand-embroidered. All handmade, I did all the production myself. It is kind of why I stopped making those, as it was all don by myself! Then I decided to start it more seriously, I got some help and started learning about a proper production system. I had worked in fashion studios, but not on the production side at all.
Where are all your Olympia Le-Tan items made?
All the clothing is made in France, all the bags are made in France, the knitwear is made in Italy, and now we also have a few items such as sweatshirts which are made in India, in the factory that makes things for Chanel and Hermes.
There has always been a big debate over where things are made. But if the factory treats it’s workers well, and they can do the best job that you need, it is the practical choice.
Yes, India has the most knowledge of embroidery and the most resources to do it. If we made it in France, no one would be able to afford it!
Please tell us more about your OLT handbags. They are all made in your studio in Paris.
Some of the handbags are in limited editions of 16 pieces (with some expanded to 77, but most are at 16). All the first embroidery is made in my studio, and at first they were made by me, but as we expand, now we outsource for the embroidery as there are too many now!
I never learnt how to do embroidery properly, it was just with my grandmother at home, doing basic stitches. The girls that came to work for me, all didn’t know how to embroider, they were just very meticulous. Actually, they’re all Japanese. They’re people just really good at sewing by hand, as I wanted to keep the same style of my stitch – so I trained them to do it exactly the same way.
Tell us more about the Olympia Le-Tan illustrations.
They are done by my father. The book covers are original books covers, they are the first editions of each book. Book collectors love collecting the clutches too! The other graphics on bags are generally drawn by me, and the illustrations on the clothing are by my dad. He is an illustrator – he used to do alot of drawings for The New Yorker in the ’80s. Every season he makes 3 or 4 prints for my collection.
This season he did the sailors, nautical sailors and the fish on my garments.
We continued the theme as we showed the collection in the Paris Aquarium, amongst all the fish and sea creatures. The designs follow onto other things such as our modern photo-call for things such as style.com.
Can you tell us more about your first step in a professional working career, which was at the Chanel design studios.
Yes, at the time Gilles Dufour was Karl Lagerfeld’s right hand man, and then he left to be Head Designer at Balmain. I left with him, and then he started his own label, where I joined also. There came a point when I couldn’t stand fashion anymore. I was 19 when I started in fashion, and needed abit of a break. So I left and peacefully embroidered my totes, and then also did alot of partying. DJing, also. I lived in Tokyo for a little bit, and moved back to Paris and started my proper line.
Did Japan influence your style or vision for your brand?
I love the culture here, I love Japanese movies, art, architecture, the country side also.All these things inspire me to be abit more daring. Some of the outfits here are alot more ….
There is a big contrast between Japanese fashion, and Parisian fashion which is alot more conservative. Perhaps your influence has made you a little more courageous…
I’m half English, and so I have a mix of influences as my mother was also quite eccentric. I was born in London, but I grew up in Paris. My family used to go back and forth alot from Paris to London.
Please tell us more about Paris, where you now reside.
I live in the 9th arrondissement, I work in the 2nd – and it’s actually quite funny, as my office which I have had for 5 years is infact a street away from where I grew up. My mum still lives where I grew up, so I know the area quite well.
I love Paris because you can walk everywhere. I absolutely love it. I’m very traditional in the places I like to go, I’ve been going to the same places for forever as I don’t really like change!
I’m always amazed at how beautiful it is, even after 36 years!
Where do you recommend for Champ readers to visit in Paris?
Bar: The nicest bar is closed at the moment, but it will reopen next year – it is The Hemingway Bar at The Ritz. The guy that makes the cocktails there is called Colin, and he is great – I also think it is where the Bloody Mary was invented! They claim!
There is also a ‘letter system’ there, as if you know people that visit the bar, you can leave them a letter and they can collect and write one for you also.
Restaurant: I really like Le Voltaire, a classic French restaurant with the best profiteroles! I visit alot of Japanese restaurants as they are in the same area my office is in. I visit Kunitoraya which has the best udon, and Kunitoraya 2 which also really delicious.
Shop and bookstore: Colette! It’s great, as they also stock our brand and other amazing designers.
There is a bookstore called Shakespeare and Co, which is on the Left Bank, and it has lots of English-American books. It has a little antique shop next it, which has alot of first editions. They have a great selection. Four years ago we did a little animation with Spike Jonze, and we filmed parts of it there.
There are some great vintage stores near where I live. One is called Chez Mamie, which is tiny, dusty and you really have search for things. Recently though, I found a Chanel suit there for 250 Euros! A ’60s couture one.
I still also love going to the flea market on weekends in Clignancourt, which is open on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
What books are you reading at the moment?
I am huge Smiths fan! I have just started reading the Morrissey book, but it is basically a 400-page Morrissey song. Most times I am thinking, what is he talking about! *laughs*
What designers do you wear?
I am very obsessive and loyal to the ones I like. Alaia, Prada, vintage Yves Saint Laurent.
Are there any collaborations we can expect this year with Olympia Le-Tan?
Loads! I am doing something with Disney. A bunch of characters, but the old ones like Snow White, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland.
I’m also doing a collaboration with Caviar Kaspia. I did a bag shaped like caviar, and they really liked it, but this time they want to do it with actual caviar inside. With an ice pack, and caviar.
Let me think about what else I am allowed to talk about!
I like collaborating, as you use their knowledge and create something new.
-For more, visit: www.olympialetan.com -