Think of couture and what you will probably picture are elaborate gowns or sharp tailored tuxedos by the big names of the European fashion industry. However, there is a smaller set of designers who are changing the game of couture with a product offering that includes everything from t-shirts to bags and in Urbahia’s case, raincoats. The brand, founded by designer Guillame Gaveriaux, draws largely from his childhood in France and then Italy as well as his experience designing for two of the biggest names in the industry – Pierre Hardin and Givenchy. Gaveriaux’s loyal clientele and constant waiting lists are testimony to the fact that his couture raincoats are wildly popular and not just because of their covetable couture-like finish or because they are made from a highly curated material base. Scroll down to read AISPI’s interview with Guillame Gaveriaux and get a peek at what goes into the making of the brand’s stunning pieces.
Hi Guillaume, let’s begin our interview today by hearing a bit about you. How did you begin your journey as a designer? Were you always inclined towards fashion and the creative arts?
I am deeply convinced that everyone’s life is influenced by their childhood. Baboulene painter from Provence. I remember when I was a young boy that my mother was able to remember any colours without making any mistake from one day to the others when she was making again this colour or looking for it – and now I must say that I have a deep intuition when I’m choosing the colours matching with fabrics and shape. My grandfather was an architect in Nice and I saw him a lot of times as a young boy who drew directly on papers. At that time there was no computer and I clearly remember him cutting his pencils perfectly for drawing the beautiful villas of the South of France.
Perhaps it was at that time that I acquired a very specific taste for architectural lines that later on became an important part of my work. A short while after my father’s death as a pilot in the French Navy, our family left France and settled in Rome. I was three and a half years old when we came to Italy and I was very lucky to be surrounded by beauty and art throughout my childhood. There was not a single week that passed without seeing a masterpiece of the city.
Tell us something about your time at Givenchy. What did you learn during your time there that you use in your work even today?
When I was at Givenchy, I discovered luxury from a business perspective. I could see that the brand was a product of an educated man and his passion for business and luxury, and I realised that my design values matched with those that I saw in luxury fashion.
What led you to start Urbahia? Can you tell us a little bit about the brand?
Before creating URBAHIA, I was working with Pierre Hardy who is now working at Hermes and I was also associated with luxury shoemakerMichel Vivien for one year. Working with both these brands gave me the experience of working with a mono-product brand in the luxury fashion category and I decided to create my own mono-product brand !
Couture rain jackets – such a niche product category! Can you tell us why you thought of this category to begin with?
I noticed that it was nearly impossible for an urban woman to find a raincoat that was well-designed, feminine and stylish. That is why, I started Urbahia to produce what I would later call a ‘fashion shield for women’.
What is the material that you use to make the jackets? How do you ensure it falls within the framework of ‘couture’ yet at the same time providing warmth and comfort to the wearer?
All the design and pattern are exclusively made in-house. Each design and pattern is carefully checked by my team and me. I work directly on a model on the body of which I draw the initial pattern as well as the corrections and accessories. Each coat requires three to five fittings to create the final version and is inspired from my imagination that I then transfer onto paper. Consequently, many of the coats that I drawn have became beloved pieces for years by elegant women.
The fabric I am using is very important and every season I go through thousands of samples from around the world. Producing fabric is an art and few designers are aware of the quality while respecting the strength, the spirit and the personality of the women who wear their pieces. Just this year, I introduced a very new fabric made of nettles that looks like luxury leather but it’s very soft, washable and most importantly, sustainable.
What does the brand stand for? Who is the Urbahia muse?
Even today, I’m surprised to see the excitement of some of my clients trying on some of my creations for the first time and revisiting that feeling every time they wear it. For me, my greatest reward is the inspiration that I have received as a result of my personal story and that of my clients’. Some of the models I have worked with have influenced me and given me passion for my art. Please, allow me to keep names secret. . .
Can you take us through some of your favourite Urbahia pieces?
Let’s see there is Liberty, a very cool jacket that is made of nettles with a double flat panel on the right hand that looks very elegant. Then there is Business that comes with an asymmetric collar reminiscent of a traditional French shirt and the spirit of theatre. It is made of a caramel coloured nettle fabric that mimics real leather but is actually very soft and sustainable. Next up is the Smoothy, which is a typical feminine urban jacket and is totally waterproof. It is elegant and functional, perfect for the working woman. I also love Perfekt that is inspired from a military jacket but for an elegant lady and Cap, a cool cape design embodying feminity and elegance. All jackets are waterproof, of course.
How has the brand been received by clients? Where do you retail your products?
Most of the time, women quickly fall in love with my creations. The first shop where the brand was introduced was L’Eclaireur à Paris and we expanded very quickly from there to some of the best shops in Italy like Biffi, Penelope, Degli Effetti.
As both a businessman and a designer, how do you think you strike the balance between creating a niche product category and growing the company at the same time?
Some might consider our product as niche, but I consider a coat to be the third accessory of women after shoes and bag and thus a huge segment of fashion. My positioning in the market is quite unique today because I ensure that the jacket has a perfect fitting and a unique design and fabric. Fun fact: At Galleries Lafayette in Paris, we sold out of 40 jacket in a single day with plenty still queuing for more.
What advice would you have for brands who have a niche / unique product offering? How do you think such brands can ensure they create an impact on the customer psyche?
Product, product and product – we must absolutely concentrate on the quality of every piece. In my opinion, the era post COVID-19 will see a lot of people opting for pieces that are well-made and timeless as opposed to those that revolve around fast fashion.
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All images courtesy of Urbahia.