Jerome Dreyfuss: bags of simple Gallic chic

Designer Jerome Dreyfuss is the toast of French fashion for his understated leather goods and accessories. Now he's launched a range for men, he tells Harriet Walker
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There's a new sort of easy glamour coming out of Paris at the moment: a dressed-down luxe that revels in being a little grungy and a bit scruffy, in contrast to the sharp chic for which the fashion capital is more traditionally known.

In womenswear circles, it is designer Isabel Marant who spearheaded the look, with her blending of American references and sportswear with a more formal French code. In menswear, it's her husband, Jerome Dreyfuss, whose understated and casually cool arm candy has been snapped up by les femmes since 2002, and who launched his line of men's accessories last year. This month it lands exclusively at the e-boutique Matches, and looks set to be a sell-out. “My aim with the collection is for the accessories to be practical as well as a pleasure to look at and use,” he explains. “I always aim for them to be discreet luxury styles that I would use myself. I think now there are more options out there for men who want to make a bit of a statement.”

Dreyfuss's work wasn't always the minimal and quietly elegant style that he peddles these days. In 1998, he entered the fashion scene with a collection entitled “couture à porter”, a set of opulent and textured pieces in bright hues and vivid shades. It was for this that he won the prestigious ANDAM prize, handed out to young designers and fledgling labels by the French department of culture in order to nurture nascent talent.

And it worked – the following year, Dreyfuss was part of a team designing stage costumes for Michael Jackson's world tour.

While Dreyfuss's accessories line isn't perhaps as glitzy as the King of Pop's tastes may have preferred, there's more than a dash of rock 'n' roll to them in their nonchalant and strategically careworn, slightly battered aspect. Battered, but made from some of the most luxuriously durable materials around, of course.

“My style is quite effortless but refined,” he says. “I'd rather have one perfect bag for any occasion, or a few great quality pieces than many styles I don't wear. I suppose that's quite a French attitude.”

But it's one that is spreading throughout lad's bag culture. The rise of the manbag has been endlessly documented – even down to the world's most banal survey, which recently found that 60 per cent of men carry a bag (the other 40 per cent have enormous pockets, presumably) – but the response Dreyfuss has had to his new accessories venture is evidence enough that there is still a market for luggage among fashion-savvy males.

Totes come in vivid shades of functional yellow and green, and upmarket utilitarian materials such as pliable and soft lambskin. Initially Dreyfuss has trouble explaining his choice of leather to factories more used to dealing with very rigid hides – nowadays, you can't move for more supple styles, something Dreyfuss's quietly superior designs are in no small way responsible for. Dreyfuss is adept at setting trends that most people haven't even cottoned on to yet. “Men don't tend to want loud bags with huge logos on them,” he insists. “They prefer a more subtle, anonymous style, but it has to have a practical aspect.”

“An active modern man has many needs,” he continues. “And I try to think about my own lifestyle and then design around that. Many of the extra touches that I have added to my bags, like bottle openers, mini torches and extra pockets for shoes, are all thoughtful touches that my customers were looking for.”

With that in mind, Dreyfuss's bags are the high-end version of the sort of bottomless hold-alls that your dad used to attach to his belt on holiday. Well, perhaps not quite that – but they're a chic solution for the man who is interested both in loads of compartments and in looking cool.