Chloe's irreverant new style

Paulo Melim Andersson had a tough act to follow when he took over at Chloe. But the Scandinavian designer has proven his detractors wrong, says Susannah Frankel
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Indy Lifestyle Online

'My intention was to do something that was definitely not passive," says Paulo Melim Andersson of his first season's offering for the French fashion label Chloe. "I didn't want to do passive romance," he continues. "It didn't feel relevant. I think there's been a lot of that for the past few seasons and I don't think it's the way forward."

The move in this direction was a clever one on the part of the designer. Those taking over from respected industry figures find it far from easy - in this case, Melim Andersson's predecessor was Phoebe Philo, whose success while working at Chloe needs no explaining. If the new designers adhere strictly to a time-honoured formula, they risk appearing bereft of their own ideas. If they exercise an overly radical departure, the client base - and in this case, it was burgeoning - may stray to pastures new.

For his part, Melim Andersson achieved just the right balance between old and new. The Chloe customer will be relieved to find the short, square-cut tunic shape she has come to know and love all present and correct, but only in dark colours accented with red, orange and pea green, whereas previously it might have been rather more frothy, crisp and white. The Chloe bag, meanwhile - remember this is the label behind the phenomenally lucrative Paddington among others - is oversized and fashionably utilitarian, designed to be worn slung diagonally across the body and the perfect match for the all-important Chloe shoes. These echo the hugely popular wedge-heeled look, which has become the label's signature, but exaggerated to rocking horse proportions. They are, by designer fashion standards at least, as hard as the proverbial nails and openly inspired by nothing more obviously haute than a pair of Dr Marten's boots.

Melim Andersson, who was appointed to the helm at Chloe in October last year, was born in Madeira and grew up in Sweden, establishing his creative talent early on in a less than predictable manner. Aged 7 the fledgling designer won a Lego Championship in Sweden, doubtless much to the delight of his diplomat father. Before entering into a career as a fashion designer, he studied literature at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1994, he accepted a place at London's Central Saint Martins, graduating four years later. While continuing his studies at the Royal College of Art, Melim Andersson worked part-time for Maison Martin Margiela until 1999, when he moved to Marni where he worked as a design director for more than seven years alongside Consuela Castiglioni.

If Marni is the brand of choice for those wishing to wear designer fashion that is more interesting than most but still far from challenging, Chloe has always been more openly accessible. It is among the most copied names on the high street. In the summer of this year Chloe successfully took Topshop to task, forcing the chain to destroy 2,000 lemon yellow overall dresses that were judged too similar to one of its designs and pay £12,000 in compensation to boot.

The Chloe label was founded in 1952 by Gaby Aghion, an Egyptian-born Parisian whose bohemian spirit led to a rejection of the stiff formality of the fashions of that decade. Instead, Chloe - the name was chosen for its warmth and femininity, by all accounts - would be dedicated to the creation of soft, body conscious clothing cut from fine fabrics and labelled "luxury prêt-à-porter". Clothes as beautifully made as these had not, until this point, been available ready to wear. The production values and attention to detail involved in the manufacture of Chloe went on to become one of its most potent selling points. Aghion debuted the first collection over breakfast at the famous existentialist haunt, Cafe de Flore in 1956. Chloe threw a party there in 2006 to celebrate 50 years in business.

Aghion hired bright young talent - Karl Lagerfeld among them - to produce Chloe collections long before it was fashionable to do so. Lagerfeld became the house's head designer in 1966 and under his brilliant direction Chloe became one of the most iconic fashion brands of the 1970s. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Brigitte Bardot, Maria Callas and Grace Kelly all shopped at Chloe in search of the some of the most finely crafted daywear imaginable. Gauzy and unashamedly romantic, Chloe was worn by any woman of means worth her fashion credentials throughout that decade. Lagerfeld left Chloe in 1983, only to return in 1992 following a stint by Martine Sitbon at the label. He remained in control there until 1997 when Stella McCartney, barely out of fashion college, took his place.

McCartney's was a controversial appointment and any scepticism was only fuelled by Lagerfeld's intervention. "Chloe, isn't that a T-shirt label?" he quipped not long after McCartney's appointment was announced. Detractors said the younger designer had only been given the position to ensure a celebrity following and the column inches which that guaranteed. The Richemont Group, a luxury goods conglomerate that bought Chloe in 1985, were not disappointed by a supermodel line-up at McCartney's first show that rivalled that of Gianni Versace's heyday. And, of course, Sir Paul McCartney and his wife, Linda, took pride of place front row. Whether one attributes it to hype or ability, sales rose and those who remained unconvinced by McCartney's talent were quick to identify the secret of her success as her righthand woman and good friend, Philo.

It came as no surprise, then, that when McCartney left Chloe in 2001 to set up her own label in partnership with the Gucci Group, Philo replaced her, garnering both critical and commercial acclaim until 2005.

If Philo's vision of Chloe was playful, Melim Andersson's, while still feminine, is more irreverent still. This is at least partly a result of fashion's more confrontational mood, a mindset that has led to everyone from Dolce & Gabbana to Burberry to exercise a reactionary streak. Melim Andersson's is the perhaps the most spirited, however.

"She's angry but funny-angry," is how the Chloe designer described his muse this season, speaking to the influential American Vogue website, style.com, adding that she may well also be "a girl who steals from her mother".

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