INTERVIEW BY: Hala Di-Maio – STILORAMA
Nicole Farhi is a woman of many talents. Born in the South of France from Turkish parents, Nicole spent her childhood in the picturesque town of Nice; she left for Paris in the mid-1960s where she pursued her dream of becoming a fashion designer. In 1973 love brought her to London where she married her English husband Stephen Marks and together they founded their own fashion brand “French Connection”. In 1981 Ms Farhi finally launched her own fashion label, and since then she has gone from strength to strength. Her brands include Nicole Farhi Women and Men, Nicole Farhi Home collections, a line of accessories, perfumes and even Restaurants!
I met with her on a very rainy and windy day at the Nicole Farhi showroom in the heart of London’s fashionable district, where she greeted me with a warm smile and an even warmer hospitality. Stilorama brings you an exclusive interview with the persona behind the famous designer who shared with us intimate memories of her childhood in France and also of her fashion house and designs.
Hala Di-Maio: I’d like to start our interview by taking you back to your childhood and your youth.
Nicole Farhi: I had a wonderful childhood, I was born in a family of oriental people, who came from Turkey, some of my extended family went to America and others emigrated to Spain, so we were kind of split between different countries. As a child growing up in Nice I remember a very happy childhood, I was surrounded by a big extended family, and we were all very close. I was very lucky, I received a lot of love from both my parents and my grandparents I think this has given me an inner security throughout my adult life.
Hala Di-Maio: Do you recall when you first discovered your love for arts and fashion, and what influenced you early in life?
Nicole Farhi: Well I think I was very influenced by two of my aunts, who were beautiful Turkish ladies who loved fashion, they would come to visit us from Turkey on their way to Paris to watch the Couture shows, at the time they didn’t have Ready-to-wear shows, and they would buy extremely beautiful clothes from Balenciaga and Christian Dior and I think this is when I fell in love with clothes and fashion. As a child I would watch my aunties, and look at their clothes and wardrobe, and I was fascinated by how everything matched from their shoes, to their bags to their clothes, I think it was at this very early age when I discovered my love for fashion.
Halal Di-Maio:You grew up in a beautiful part of France, in Nice, where nature is full of colours from the blue sea to the green hills; do you think this affected you and your art work and designs in terms of inspiration in later years?
Nicole Farhi: Probably the colours where I lived influenced me, but also when I think of bright beautiful colours, I always go back in my mind to my aunties, who as I said were beautiful ladies, with dark hair and dark skin and who wore very colourful clothes. If I really question myself I believe my aunties were the main influence in my early life that made me become a fashion designer.
Hala Di-Maio: You moved to Paris when you were very young to study fashion. This was as well a very interesting time in the late 1960s in France and across the world. What are your personal recollections of living in Paris in the late 1960s?
Nicole Farhi: I think it was exciting living through those times, I felt I was part of a young movement, a kind of rebellious youth movement against an old establishment. I myself was a rebellious young woman, even though I had a beautiful childhood and upbringing, I didn’t want to be a kept woman, in my days women who came from oriental families, were not supposed to work, and in some cases we had arranged marriages, so I felt I wanted to rebel against that, because I wanted to have a career, and a choice, and I guess this is why I left home at 18 and went to Paris to study fashion. Don’t take me wrong, I love all my family and the women in my family, and I was very close to all of them, I just didn’t want to lead a similar life to theirs. In other words I didn’t want to be kept as a beautiful object, so to go back to your initial question I think my rebellion in the late 1960s was all about having free choices as a woman.
Hala Di-Maio: Do you think women have it easy today compared to your generation?
Nicole Farhi: I think a lot of women around the world today are great achievers, so obviously things have changed a lot.
Hala Di-Maio: You went and worked in Italy when you finished studying in Paris, can you tell me about your first job?
Nicole Farhi: As a designer I worked designing children’s clothes in Italy, but before that when I was still a student I worked for magazines, back then I was lucky enough to go with the editors to watch the couture collections first hand, and then I would make them into drawings for the magazines.
Hala Di-Maio: Did your artistic talent as a painter carry on later in life when you became a professional fashion designer?
Nicole Farhi: I would have liked to study art, and when I initially went to Paris I did paintings and life drawings, but it was obvious to me at the time that it would be difficult for me to make a living from art and painting alone.
Hala Di-Maio: You are also a sculptor am I correct?
Nicole Farhi: Yes, but this came much later in my life.
Hala Di-Maio: Was this due to the fact that you work with the body and form as a fashion designer?
Nicole Farhi: It was definitely to do with 3 dimension work, I realised ten years into my career as a fashion designer, that fashion was not fulfilling enough for me, and I wanted to work on 3 dimensional art pieces which painting didn’t offer me, so I chose to study and learn how to sculpt.
Halal Di-Maio: Did you want to sculpt in order to create your own forms, in contrast to the fashion designer who already works with the female body form?
Nicole Farhi: In my sculpture I go deep into the soul, and I do a lot of figurative work; I try in my sculptures to touch upon the deeper side of the soul, which is not apparent in beautiful clothes.
Hala Di-Maio: You founded French Connection with Stephen Marks who was then your husband in the mid 1970s. Can you tell me more about the early years at French Connection?
Nicole Farhi: It was my husband’s idea to set up French Connection. We worked together before that, when I used to design for his old company. The inspiration behind French Connection was to bring to young people affordable clothes and very fashionable designs, and the idea came to Stephen after he visited India and China. I loved the idea of being able to design young, free-spirited clothes for French Connection, and I wanted women my age to be able to wear happy and cheerful clothes and not worry about spending too much money. I designed for French Connection for 10 years, and I had great time doing it.
Halal Di-Maio: Your clothes are wonderfully comfortable, chic and ageless, do you think because you are a woman you understand what women feel happy wearing in their busy daily lives?
Nicole Farhi: I am a woman and I don’t like to see women dressed in clothes which make them look ridiculous.
Hala Di-Maio: Is this your French side thinking?
Nicole Farhi: Well I think as French we are more pragmatic, in my opinion a person gets a lot out of life from intellectual conversations and arts, and not from ridiculous shocking clothes.
Hala Di-Maio: At heart do you feel more French or more Turkish?
Nicole Farhi: I am French but I am also very oriental, I never learnt Turkish, I spoke French with my family, I still have a flat in Paris and a home in Nice. But when I go to Turkey my heart beats faster, so there must be something that touches me. It is a very enriching upbringing when one’s parents come from different places. I was never just French; I always had stories and people in the background from Turkey who influenced me.
Ms Farhi, I would like to thank you for your warm welcome and for sharing with Stilorama Magazine’s readers your thoughts and aspirations. We will definitely look forward to seeing your beautiful collections in the shops in the months to come.
To shop for the latest Nicole Farhi clothes visit www.nicolefarhi.com