Despite just about everything, Mossi Traoré is having a breakout moment.
Last week, the 35-year-old French designer, the winner of this year’s €100,000 ANDAM Pierre Bergé Prize for a creative label, staged a presentation at Paris Habitat, a housing association in the 5th arrondissement.
It was a symbolic homecoming: having grown up in the projects, breaking out in some gilded salon was never going to be Traoré’s move. “Bringing Paris Fashion Week to a social housing association is exactly the message we want to get across,” he said. And considering his many and varied artistic ambitions—take, for example, the Étoile de Lune photography project starring Marie-Agnès Gillot, shot at the Taj Mahal and presented at the Louvre two years ago—performances by classical and street dancers cast at the eleventh hour were all part of the mix. A concise show of 18 looks spoke volumes about where he wants to take his eponymous brand.
“There’s always a through line with fashion—it could be in performances, exhibitions, or other artistic endeavors,” Traoré offered backstage before his show. “We’re championing fashion that is not just Made in France, it’s Made in Banlieue,” he said, referring to his atelier and artistic hub in the suburb of Villiers-sur-Marne, 12 miles east of Paris. He brought the Paris Opera there; he’s also working to widen casting networks, bringing in new faces from places outside of Paris that fashion has traditionally ignored.
There’s no counting how many plates Traoré may have spinning all at once, because he also runs a private school of haute couture, Les Ateliers Alix— named after his idol, Madame Grès — in the 11th arrondissement (Yohji Yamamoto, Christian Lacroix, and John Galliano are also in his personal pantheon). There, at any given time, three dozen students, from any milieu are honing their haute couture skills. Many are immigrants and disaffected teens whose newfound mastery of tailoring and flou will help them move on to a fashion school or jobs in the industry.
And then there’s his collaboration with Galeries Lafayette and La Redoute, which will bow online on October 28. Fronted by Gillot, in a campaign shot at the Musée Bourdelle sculpture museum in Paris, the short and sweet capsule includes just three essentials—a jacket, a blouse, and trousers — each priced at less than €100.
Traoré notes that he doesn’t need to be a millionaire or the Designer of the Moment to be happy. The goal is to make couture accessible to everyone and to help people, he says. Referring to his family’s Malian roots, he added, “We grow up all eating from the same platter; the values of sharing and solidarity are part of our DNA. You have to want for others what you want for yourself.”
With mentorship of Madame Thomas, a retired petite main for Balenciaga (as in Cristobal) and Madame Grès, the designer has spent two years developing his eponymous brand. For spring, Mossi features a collaboration with the Iraqi calligrapher Hassan Massoudy, whose abstract lettering appears on organza and jacket linings. In broad strokes, Mossi Traoré’s work—like many others in this season of lockdown and quarantine—was inspired by movement. Fluid pieces in organza, crepe, and Korean cottons had draped, pleated details that beckoned leaning in, for example on a white bomber or on an asymmetrical skirt with sleeves tied in back. The idea for that one, the designer explained, came to him at the mosque. “Mossi is about spontaneity and unpredictability, but I always tie my shirt around my waist, so I don’t flash the people behind me.”