Fashion designer Étienne Derœux on his American road trip-inspired collection

He may be only 23 but Étienne Derœux knows what he’s about and he’s been busy cultivating a language all his own. Having trained in Antwerp and Brussels, the French designer launched his label last year and his clothes were snapped up by retailers straight away. We caught up with him in Paris to discuss his last collection, plus Jack Kerouac and impromptu roadtripping across the US of A.

Photography Noel Manalili

So, what’s the inspiration for this latest collection?

I was thinking about Jack Kerouac‘s “On the Road”, but didn’t want to reference the book. I like the way Kerouac manages to describe someone’s clothes in his books by only using a few words. Last spring, I flew to New York for work and was supposed to stay there for 3 weeks. Within a week, I had bought the fabrics I needed and met up with the people I was supposed to see, so I found myself there not exactly knowing what to do with myself.

And then?

I flew to Washington and jumped on a bus from Washington to Austin. It took me about a week. I stopped at Memphis first and went to Little Rock in Arkansas where I stayed for a day. Then I was off to Dallas for 2 days. I stayed in Austin for a while and flew back to New York.

How was that for an experience ?

I really enjoyed it, actually. It was a 10-day trip and I got to see so many different environments. I guess I was revisiting some of the places that Kerouac knew, but I based most of the collection on this journey and thought about it meant to be on the road. I had only a rucksack with me and I met some amazing people.

What struck you the most in your observations of Americans?

I think what struck me the most was the fact that they dressed according to specific circumstances. Formality and tradition seem important there. I ended up at this fancy wedding in Texas and the women had long dresses on, except that they wore them with cowboy boots. I noticed some black guys in Memphis who were dressing up to go out and, even though you could tell they didn’t have much money to spend on clothes, they still made the effort. It had more to do with pride and dignity.

I explored sartorial contrasts and thought of a stylish wardrobe you could actually travel with.

How did you translate all of this for the collection?

I explored sartorial contrasts and thought of a stylish wardrobe you could actually travel with. It was this idea of appropriateness I was interested in, whatever the context happened to be. The clothes had to be smart, practical and easy to pack at the same time.

What about the colours and prints?

They reflected the nature and landscapes I saw during the trip. The desert, green spaces and water inspired me, as well as parks and hills. I used this marble print on a few pieces, which I found in Italy when I was travelling there.

What fabrics did you go for?

I used raw silk, crepe de Chine, lambskin, cotton gauze, linen and silk canvas, as well as cotton denim. I also designed accessories, including wedge espadrilles and a rucksack in green leather.

Is everything still produced in France?

Yes. The people who manufacture my collection also work for Comme des Garçons and they are very professional. It’s convenient for me to be close to them.

Where are you based now, by the way?

I’m based in Lille, but come to Brussels and Paris often. I studied fashion in Belgium and have a few friends there. Tine Claerhout shoots my look books and I really like working with her.

Do you have any stockists in Belgium?

Hunting and Collecting has been stocking my line since the first collection last year.

What challenges have you faced as a young designer?

I would like to have more time to create more pieces, but there are time and budget limitations you can’t ignore.

Going back to your road trip, it sounds like you were trying to push yourself and explore your own boundaries. Are you a risk taker?

I guess I like stepping out of my comfort zone. It’s important for me to experience new things and I do like a challenge.