Pilgrims the world over flock to Lourdes, France, for absolution. But, for the son of one town butcher, salvation came by leaving home for a wild life in fashion.
A stylist and art director for a Parisian weekly by day, by night Roland Mouret was a bon vivant in the city’s 1980s gay demi-monde. At the age of 36, however, he came to a stark realization. “If I didn’t do it—be a fashion designer—I knew that at 40 I was going to be a bitter bastard, bad-mouthing others who did just because I didn’t,” he remembers. “So you start,” Mouret says, cracking a knowing smile and glancing around the Platinum Suite in the Room at the Bay, Vancouver, where his RM collection is sold. Dressed in a crisply pressed navy blue shirt and chinos, his appearance, like his work, is both soigné and masculine, a decidedly charming combination.
Start he did. Within two years of moving to London, Mouret taught himself how to design, but in his own roundabout way. “I don’t sketch,” he says with a hint of insouciance. Many of Mouret’s early garments were fastened with safety pins (or hat pins when he indulged in what he calls “Parisian snobbery”) in lieu of button holes. But any lack of needle craft was more than made up for by his ability to mold fabric. “I understand balance. I think we all have a gift and that’s mine,” he says, crediting his talent to a youth spent working for his father. “I cut fabric like I cut meat. I’m really quite able to understand a body shape.” This innate understanding eventually propelled Mouret into a most rarified pantheon. In 2006, Mouret’s Galaxy dress became a cultural phenomenon, taking its place in the annals of fashion history alongside Dior’s New Look, Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking, and Mary Quant’s miniskirt.
A sexy, form-fitting wool silhouette with ruched cap sleeves and a lining made of a body-shaping power mesh material, the retro-inspired Galaxy dominated Hollywood’s red carpets long before the Mad Men craze. It nipped waists in, pushed the breasts up, and caressed curves, corralling problem spots and magically flattering every size. On the other end of the spectrum, it even managed to bestow curves on petite, boyish frames.
“There is that unwritten bible of fashion everybody wants to be in and I know my chapter is the Galaxy dress,” Mouret admits. Not only was the Galaxy a pinnacle in his career, it was also inextricably linked to his personal life. “The fact that it was a masculine fabric was important to me,” he says. “I have a picture of my mother on her wedding day and she was wearing a heavy tweed suit. I am always running between le flou (feminine draping) and le tailleur (tailored construction). I started my design career in draping and I wanted to move on to stronger silhouettes and fabrics. But those things are so itchy and uncomfortable without a lining. So the power mesh lining was something I was learning from my time in Hollywood with actresses. Cinching an inch off the waist came from my years in Paris and understanding the nightlife and all the weird creatures you meet. Marie France was one of the more amazing ones I learned from. Simple things like that you just put together and you realize you pick them up from different periods of your life and you put them together and it’s this weird recipe.”
But perhaps most importantly, the Galaxy dress was able to sharpen the focus of Mouret’s design philosophy. It’s one he strives to imbue in every garment he shapes: A love of yourself. “An outfit is a tool of a relationship between two people: the client and the designer,” he explains. “It’s like when you have sex with someone you love and the inhibitions about your own body are completely down and you feel comfortable with yourself. That for me is how clothes should be.”