White hot

By Amy Fabris-Shi (That's Shanghai)
Updated: 2007-05-08 09:52

She may be best known as the white shirt lady-but there is much more to French-Brazilian designer Anne Fontaine. Few know, for instance, that she once lived with an Indian tribe in the Amazon forest. Or that she first moved to France as a member of an association dedicated to the protection of whales. All that seems a far cry from her current role as creative director of her namesake pret-a-porter label, with 70 boutiques across 26 countries; and yet her organic approach, generous spirit, cultural curiosity and quirky streak continue to guide her work.

At a statuesque six feet, with waist length hair and striking features, Fontaine looks every bit the fashion icon. However, she hasn't the slightest whiff of fashionable French pretension. Rather, she laughs freely, says "I luuurrrve" a lot, and describes herself as "a true carioca".

The designer, along with her husband and business partner Ari Zlotkn, were in China in March, where they currently have one shop in Shanghai and further stores planned for Macau and Beijing. Anne first met Ari when he was a young entrepreneur looking to refresh his family¡¯s clothing business. The two subsequently fell in love and into a business success story based on a simple idea-a white shirt.

"Going up against the big fashion houses isn't easy," explains Fontaine. "The key to success is really believing in what you are doing and finding your own niche."

Which she did. Fontaine's shirts, in luxe fabrics like poplin, organdy, linen and pima, a high-grade cotton from Peru, won instant favor for their style and also their extreme functionality. These shirts aren't the reserve of the crinkle-free woman, but are a godsend for those of us whose workaday wardrobe needs to take us from breakfast meeting to cocktail hour in some semblance of style. We're quite used to having a spare pair of evening shoes under our desk, but Anne Fontaine offers us the choice of extra matching collars, pin-on rosettes and multi-purpose belts as well. "It's all about lifestyle, not just fashion. And besides, the fun part of the design process for me is changing the whole look with a few details."

Thirteen years after her first boutique opened in Paris, the label has extended its reach somewhat-she now has a contrasting 'black' collection, as well as jackets and accessories -but continues to remain resolutely focused on the "top half". Fontaine's variations on the theme, however, are astounding, playing with the contrast of masculine and feminine forms and mixing textures, fabrics and shapes. There is a lot of detail in the sleeves, collars and cuffs, with puffs, pleats, ruffles, bias trimmings and flowers used to great effect.

In the Shanghai shop, Fontaine looks like a kid rifling her mother's wardrobe, mixing and matching to demonstrate the versatility of looks. She unbuttons a pima knit shirt to reveal a glimpse of a white cami underneath, and adds a natural straw and black leather 'Dominique' belt high on the waist for a safari-chic look. Later, she whips that off and replaces it with a fringed stole in black knit, low slung and tied at the hip. The shirt is buttoned to the top for a more formal look and a second collar is added. Ta-da-from safari to sophisticate.


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