The City of Light is, in many ways, thoroughly feminine. However, there are few places where you will find girlier Paris fashion than at Yesim Chambrey.* This Turkish-born designer’s label has its own coquettish shop, one whose witty windows often stop passing traffic.
Even in rain (or after hours), their minitheatre captivates. These windows pull together all the strands of Chambrey’s talent: here, her side projects in theatre and interior furnishings meet a serious love for ruffles, flounces and furbelows. It all results in a whimsical, pretty version of the luxurious. A range of her different necklaces first seduced me, each featuring giant black “beads” interspersed with pom-poms in red or dusty rose. Later, I lusted after little dresses whose full skirts blossomed below sculpted bodices—their bell-shaped silhouettes buoyed by rows and rows of tiny ruffles.
Now comes a spring deluge of wristlets, collars and necklaces, all made from piles of pearls in delicate shades like creamy pink, dove gray and ice blue. These demure tints are offset by a harvest of acid-green apples and frilly dresses in candy pink and shameless scarlet. (The apples come in two sizes: stage-set huge or miniature.) There are airy dresses and bags in pretty black-and-white prints, some of which feature lacy patterns literally threaded with ribbons. Plus, of course, those matelot stripes found everywhere this spring.
Paris fashion regularly reverts to ruffles—at least according to one of my favorite French films, Jacques Becker’s 1945 Falbalas (Furbelows). In this cult classic, retitled Paris Frills for export, a womanizing couturier seduces his friend’s fiancée—using the frothy wares of his atelier. The ruffles and silhouettes that help him look a lot like Chambrey’s. Among French fashion folk, the movie is a touchstone; Jean Paul Gaultier, for instance, claims it determined his future. French ruffles, he says, can seduce anyone.
Out of that thought, Yesim Chambrey creates a style—one Madame Figaro magazine calls hyperfille or “ultragirly.” She uses it for everything from jewelry to shopping bags, cocktail dresses to flirty shoulder shrugs. Her 50-square-meter shop might be minuscule, but it has never needed any advertising.
This is Paris fashion popular with lingerie lovers who worship Fifi Chachnil and Chantal Thomass and, certainly, it offers them the perfect outer layer. But, although she’s been a Parisienne for 20 years, Chambrey’s Turkish roots mean her sweets are served with plenty of spice. Like Chachnil, she studied at the country’s oldest fashion school, the Ecole Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode. Dating from 1841, this was founded by Alexis Lavigne: master tailor to Empress Eugénie.
Yesim Chambrey has also mastered a métier; her first collection was shown in 1990. The year before, she had won both the women’s prêt-à-porter and the press award at the annual Hyères Festival International de Mode et de Photographie. This celebration of—and competition among—young fashion talent is held at the Villa Noailles, former country home of fashion guru Marie-Laure de Noailles. Noailles, a legend in her own right, had eclectic taste that affected a long string of acquaintances, from Coco Chanel to Yves Saint-Laurent.
Chambrey’s shop only opened four years ago. It remains the kind of secret no one likes to really share. But, just as Gaultier claims, ruffles can make a girl do anything.
*Update, March 2012: The Yesim Chambrey boutique at 1, rue de l’Abbaye, in the 6th Arrondissement, has closed.