His silhouettes drape the body like a second skin, while his signature staples dance up and down the spine, punctuate sleeves, pockets and collars, and evoke the modern primitive royal in each of us, with our Sellam armour to glamorously protect from the elements. The total dichotomy, that makes total sense. And the jacket is just the beginning. Yes, Isaac Sellam clothing is indeed an experience. And so is the man himself. LECLAIREUR caught up with him to get some scoop on his beginnings as a designer and purveyor of what everyone wants.
Word has it that you started making your own clothing at a young age…
IS: Ha! Well, in the 80s I dreamed of owning a Chevignon, that puffy down jacket with the blue duck on the back, that all the teenagers had to have at the time. I definitely couldn’t afford to buy one, so I decided to make a copy on the sewing machines I had at home, which I’d moved into my bedroom. No sooner was I wearing it that someone asked me to make one for them, and then the requests starting pouring in. I would go to rue de Charonne, see the feather saleslady, who usually sold them to stuff pillows. She’d fill up my jackets and I’d take them home. Our kitchen was full of feathers, it drove my mom crazy! I started selling them to friends, who then told their friends… I sold a lot of those jackets, and was able to start saving. I was 16 years old!
After that, you became a pattern-maker, to master cutting techniques, the fabrication process…
IS: I think I’ve always been, more simply put, curious. When I make something, I’m interested in all the steps of fabrication. Even when I redecorate my apartment, I like to see what the painters are doing, and how they’re doing it, I like to observe how the furniture is made…
What’s changed since your earliest models? How has your way of conceiving clothing evolved?
IS: I always wanted to propose something different, without following fashion and trends. I think you have to, at all costs, detach from fashion: find new techniques, new materials, things that are out of the box and that, without being commercial, are truly wearable. I try to make things in my own way.
How would you define the Isaac Sellam experience?
IS: I chose the name Isaac Sellam Experience because I really did have so much experience before I launched my own brand! It’s simply the experience I’ve had, added to the experience I’m actually having through my creations.
The stapled spine that makes an Isaac Sellam garment recognisable at first glance, the raw and simultaneously ultra-sophisticated nature of your leathers… what do they mean for you?
IS: Wow… I have no idea! I only do things with love, just love, and that’s it. I don’t have… I’m not looking to impress anyone. I do what I want to do, that’s all. My little spinal staples happened just because I had seen something like that on a rug, at a friend’s place. I was already using diagonal staples, and I immediately tried to adapt the effect that was on the rug, which had really caught my eye. I put a crazy amount of time into finding the right system.
The men’s and women’s collections — do they require different approaches?
IS: Generally speaking, I start with a detail. The silhouette, the garment, come after. And yes, the approach is different, especially for the winter collections. I take my time for the Men’s Winter collection. I think, I refine, and everything is rady at the end of January. By the time I get to the Women’s Winter collection, which needs to be wrapped up by early March, time is tight, and we work day and night.
During the creative phase, what does your ideal day look like?
IS: When I’m at my peak form, a perfect day seems like… two days. Let’s say that I can spend most of the day to conceive a piece, create the pattern in the evening, hand it to the cutter the next morning, and have the prototype a few hours later. I don’t need to create tech specs… I’m a tiny restaurant, not a franchise! Everything is made here, in the studio, everything is made in house, from start to finish, with a team of 14 people. The product has to be timeless, to be appreciated for its true value. We put a lot of respect into our clothing, and we hope they inspire the same respect. I run counter to hyper-consumption, because I believe that lacks respect for what we’re making.
You’ve been working with LECLAIREUR since 2004.
IS: When I launched my brand, I was already thinking about knocking directly on LECLAIREUR’s door. For my first meeting at Hérold, I must have waited an hour and a half, and when Armand arrived, he told me it was too soon. Things moved forward when I did Tranoï at Austerlitz, where Armand saw my python jackets, and send his buyer over to me, who took one of the jackets. One! But it sold… LECLAIREUR placed another order, in time. It’s when I started using crocodile that our story really took root, and Armand finally started taking me seriously. Today, I have the privilege of being sort of part of the family.
Creative Direction: La Frenchy (Mary-Noelle Dana, Michael Hadida) for LECLAIREUR
Filming & Editing: Véronique Adler
Music: For All Intents and Purposes by Falling For Frankie (SuperPitch)
Archival images courtesy of Isaac Sellam Experience.