Patrice Bastian is French and is trained as an architect. Turning his back on his country and education during different periods of his life, he has proven by example that the course of life can be defined very directly by the consequences of pivotal decisions. Since completing his studies, Patrice took on a range of art and creative direction positions for event companies that led him to spend the best part of the last 15 years between North America and Asia. During his time in China, Patrice organized large high profile events while mixing with a high flying expat crowd. At one such event he locked eyes on his future wife to be, Laetitia Schlumberger. Laetitia was on a business trip, representing French couture in China as a fashion designer. The evening turned out to be a fortuitous one.
Patrice chose to immerse himself in his Chinese experience while abroad. The opportunity for a personal chauffeur was turned down in favor of mixing with the hundreds of commuters, riding a bike to work and wearing the local working class shoes. His colleagues were not shy in making comment about his choices. This got Patrice thinking that there was actually something to this running joke and that his preferred local footwear might actually have commercial potential. The beginnings of the shoe brand Feiyue were born. He and his business partner acquired the brand soon after in order to import it to France while Patrice began preparations to leave behind his life in Asia and return to Paris. Shortly after he reconnected with Laetitia. Today their relationship is forever framed by a country that served as a basis for the direction of their lives in Paris with their son, Yume in their classically decorated apartment.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online who present a special curation of our pictures on their site.
Patrice, how did your story with the footwear label Feiyue start? And how does it relate to you as a sneaker addict?
As far as I remember, I was attracted to shoes quite early. I liked the different textures, the colors and various shapes. Sneakers only came to my attention around the age of 16 or 17 years of age. My collection grew extremely fast when I moved in Tokyo. It was a sneaker addicts paradise. On an average week, I was buying six or seven pairs. My collection was essentially built on big brands, the ones running the business worldwide.
During my travels in Asia, I grew tired of these brands. I was looking for something else. So I started paying attention to locally made shoes and collected pairs from Vietnam and Cambodia. Once I was in China, I discovered Feiyue. A very basic shoe appreciated for its robustness and flexibility by martial arts practitioners. I found it interesting and bought few pairs. It is only years later, when I intended to buy new ones, that I discovered that they became hard to find. With a friend who is today my business partner, we managed to find the location of the production site. We went there only with the idea to get some pairs of shoes. On that day, we randomly met the manager, who told us he had decided to stop the production, due to a massive sales drop and a loss of interest in the product on the Chinese market. At this moment, something clicked in our minds and ten days later we came back with a project to acquire the brand. We were both stoked and stunned that our project got accepted. We looked at each other thinking ‘oops, what do we do now ?’. In the following weeks, I quit my job, came back to France and sold my sneaker collection to invest it in the brand.
Did you both meet in China originally?
Laetitia: Exactly. It was in 2005. I was in Shanghai for an event part of the year representing France in China. We were invited with corset maker Hubert Barrère to represent French fashion design and imagine a couture project that would be created by a Chinese team. We were welcomed by very friendly staff, among which included the event coordinator, Patrice Bastian. We both noticed each other and shared eyes contact during my stay, but at that time we were both in a relationship. It consisted of a very formal exchange of business cards, that was far as it went.
The funny thing is that we both have a strong recollection from that moment! A year later, in 2006, when Patrice moved back to Paris, he emailed all his friends in his network to catch up. I was part of his mailing list and answered ‘welcome back, let’s have a coffee sometime soon’. After few emails the coffee turned into dinner with just the two of us.
So you have both witnessed the birth and evolution of the each other’s brand?
Laetitia: Yes, indeed. We have been together since 2006. We moved in together in 2007 and it is true that we share a lot with each other about our work. We are both workaholics and Patrice’s opinion about my work is very important to me. He is a kind of manager and coach for me. As I work alone, he often guides me and offers advice.
Patrice: Laetitia takes a look and analyses the collections as a fashion designer and a woman. Her comments sometimes turn my head upside down, and that is a good thing!
Laetitia, what was your path before launching your own brand in 2010?
Laetitia: After my fashion design studies at ESMOD Paris, the corset maker Hubert Barrère spotted me. I was his assistant for a short time and then found a job in a sewing shop. For four years, I learnt the craft of sewing and discovered the world of haute couture. Thanks to various encounters, I was offered to design the collections of a new lingerie brand. I was 23 and had carte blanche to develop the entire basis of the brand. I had no experience in designing lingerie so this was a fabulous opportunity to specialise in what I was really drawn to: working on the body’s silhouette and corset structures that embellish it.
Within six months the brand had a lot of press and fast growing success. I really enjoyed my position there but over the seasons and with investors joining the company, the creative direction changed to a focus on the very sexy. This was too much for me. I wasn’t comfortable with it, so I left. In the following years I contributed on some great projects for fashion houses such as Christian Lacroix, Dolce & Gabbana and I also worked on the launch of Elie Saab’s first luxury ready-to-wear collection in France.
This sounds like a busy time for you…
Laetitia: Yes. In the evenings during fashion week season, I worked in workshops for haute couture collections. I also gave corset making classes, at Haarlem Fashion Institute in the Netherlands. I met many students who then went on to start their own collections. When they needed help, I was happy to contribute and this led to great collaborations. When I decided to launch Dément in 2010, I felt that I was ready skills-wise and had properly trained my eye over the years spent in different fashion houses. I wanted to develop my ideas and follow my own creative guidelines. Today I design for Dément and also work for a Lebanese cocktail dresses label, as production manager. I work directly in the workshops with the needlewomen and materials. That is what I love and where I come from.
How was born the concept of Dément?
Laetitia: It all started with the discovery of a magnetic system at a professional fair. When I told its creator that it would work well with panties, he first had a good laugh. I adapted the system for underpants and as the demand was growing, swimsuits and bras were added to the range. What I also really like in designing lingerie is the packaging. I love carefully wrapping the item in paper, folding it, putting it in the box and tying a nice ribbon around it.
What made both of you feel like it was the right time to fly solo and create your company? What motivated you?
Patrice: My discovery of the Feiyue shoe matched my desire to develop my own projects, after building teams and managing projects for years on behalf of other companies. My partner and I started the brand from scratch. We invested our savings to finance the first production run and the launch. It was a risky move for me. I was 35, left my job and came back to Paris to launch a brand. On one hand, my years as creative director in the event world sure gave me a nice share of experience and skill set, which was helpful for the launch and management of Feiyue. On the other hand, managing a brand requires other skills that I was not familiar with, such as marketing. We decided to do it our own way. We wanted to re-interpret this brand with a special story; by injecting artistic values in it. That is what motivates me.
Laetitia: To me, the most important thing is to be happy to go to work, to love what you do and build yourself a good life. Even if it means regular efforts, even sacrifices, we are not afraid to go through a lot of work. We both have many ideas and desires that motivate us.
In your opinion, what are the cornerstones for creating a brand and give it a personal touch?
Laetitia: I know that working for other brands gives me energy that can later fuel Dément. To do so, I have to accept that things go more slowly when working on your own, but I want to be comfortable with every piece I design. I want to produce quality products. I created the brand to be proud of it. It is possible to find a part of me in the brand’s personality. It is traditional with a sense of humor. To me, Dément is Julia Roberts’ reaction in Pretty Woman as Richard Gere solemnly offers her a necklace and pretends to shut the box on her fingers. She is natural, comfortable with herself and chic. This is the impression I wish to create with my brand.
How do you see your brand evolving?
Patrice: Going international. The question is, is it me that will carry out the expansion? Only time will tell. I feel more comfortable starting stories.
Laetitia: Making a brand grow is another job. After 15 years of experience in the design world and having witnessed how some little brands became big players, I am not naïve in this regard. Initiating a project and then letting it go to continue bigger, is not a problem for me. We are full of ideas. We are definitely attached to our current babies, but we know that one day we’ll have to let them go.
The business adventures you have started derive from a lot of personal investment. How did your son Yume change your way of living?
Laetitia and Patrice: It was indeed a new experience for both of us. As I mentioned before, we are real workaholics. Before Yume was born, we did not even notice that we were working all the time. At night, one of us would wake up and turn the computer on. Having Yume has forced us to make some changes… Our aim is to clearly separate work time and family time. At home, we do not work and stay put in front of our screens anymore. We can talk, brainstorm together but no more than that. During family time we play with Yume, go to exhibitions, and have afternoon snacks. Travels are also special moments. We have already been to the Maldives and on a skiing trip with Yume.
What do you do when you need a break from the everyday?
Patrice: We love simple things: our friends and good food. We love to gather and have a nice dinner or afternoon play dates with the kids. Laetitia loves cheese, wine and desserts. I’m more fond of the beginning ritual of cocktails.
Laetitia: Contrary to Patrice, I am really close to my family. I like visiting them, set the chairs in the garden with my mother, have a tea and give massages. From time to time, we ask our parents to babysit Yume and go on weekend away with just the two of us. This allows us to step back on the little hiccups of the everyday and most importantly strengthen our relationship as a couple.
Could you imagine living in another city?
Patrice: New York! We just came back from a short stay there. We are big fans and try to go there at least three times a year. We would love to move and spend a little while in that city. Last November, we met with Cedric Birhr and his wife Ai, for a day in Rockaway. At 7:30 a.m. we were on the beach, Cedric and I were on our boards in the water and the girls were lying on the sand. Because we live in Paris it is quite complicated to go surfing in France. I find it so rad, to live in New York, put the board in the van and be at the beach in less than an hour. I can picture the three of us for few years in New York. After that I will start working on a plan to live under the sun in Brazil. I have an idea. It is still blurry but it would be a dream to create an eco-lodge on a beach alongside the waves and spend half of the year there.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online who present a special curation of our pictures on their site. Have a look here.
Interview & Text: Léa Munsch
Photography: Fred Lahache