Iwas researching the autumn collection, looking for the boyish side of the story that best embodies the Chloé attitude. I looked at motocross and the more I looked, this one woman’s face kept coming up, in photographs that looked as if they were from the 1970s. That was Anne-France Dautheville. I looked deeper into her story and found out she was a Frenchwoman who decided to go solo on a bike through the Middle East, South America and Australia. She wasn’t the first one to do it but she was the first one to write about it – in the books Une Demoiselle sur une Moto and Et J’ai Suivi le Vent. She came from an aristocratic background and worked as a copywriter in a Parisian advertising agency and as a journalist, funding her trips through her writing.
We found out that Anne-France lived an hour from Paris and we went for lunch with her. Afterwards she brought out four or five boxes of slides and it became clear from those that she was such a Chloé woman. She reminded me of [Chloé founder] Gaby Aghion – feisty, with inner strength. She had things made for her – the leather safari jacket, very much like the one in the show, and the leather salopettes – but also took along beautiful dresses, high heels and kohl eyeliner. She said to me: “Even on a trip for 12,000 miles, I am a Parisienne.”
I was hugely inspired, especially by what she took on trips. I found her only five or six weeks before the show but she chimed with what I was working on because, although Chloé is very dreamy, Gaby was very spontaneous, a go-getter. And Anne-France had that in spades. She always wore a scarf and biker boots unless she was out to dinner. I used that for the show, and tried to capture her attitude, too – in the makeup, for example, all the models had kohl under their eyes.
Anne-France was surprised that I liked her photographs but I think they are charming because they aren’t professional – she’s taking pictures that mean something to her on a trip. There’s an innocence to that time in the 1970s, and there are joyful moments – photographs of her sitting with Afghan children with the bike next to her. She said no one from France really went to that part of the world then; they might go as far as Turkey or Morocco, but not Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran. Her parents were mortified by her trip. She said she could have been a copywriter and had a nice life but she wanted to go on an adventure.
These days, Anne-France is still writing. She is very poetic and loves mythology and the thoughts behind words. I love the way she speaks, which she does as fluently in English as in French. She knits her own sweaters, is very slender and chic, and still wears her kohl eyeliner – she doesn’t leave the house without it. She was still biking until two years ago when she had an accident. She says people in her village think she is crazy.
More often than not I have a very broad story in mind when designing a collection. Having a muse galvanises it and makes decisions very easy because you are essentially making a wardrobe for someone. You design on a character – so she would wear a blouse with leather pants because she wouldn’t have many clothes with her. Everything referenced back to her travel wardrobe. In a way that’s not too dissimilar to how we dress today: we might get attached to something and wear it over and over again.
The pieces in the collection all have a very boyish fit and they’re quite iconic, not overly designed. The way I design at Chloé is about the boyish and the ultra-feminine, and the tension between the two. I love to play with that and I am always looking for muses that fit that bill because it is so interesting making a collection when I find one.
Anne-France had no clue who we were when we first contacted her. But she was thrilled when she found out that we were basing a whole collection on her; she said it was like angels coming into her life, allowing her to remember a wonderful time in her career. She couldn’t come to the show because she was promoting a new novel, but I have spent so much time with her and every time, more and more stories come out. She could definitely have another collection in her.