Jean-Claude Jitrois: The stretch leather Superstar

Power, sexiness, autonomy-these are just a few words which come to mind when imagining leather as a piece of our wardrobe. It is therefore at first a curious predicament to discover that the man who revolutionized leather was in fact, in the beginning of his career, a psychology professor. French designer Jean Claude Jitrois is a fascinating figure in the fashion world, who not only flirts with the concept that our clothes are our second skin, but he continuously proves through his leather creations that fashion and psychology are intimately linked.

Renowned for the quality of his products, sourcing his leather skins mostly in France, with the manufacturing process also being based in his homeland, Jean Claude's couture masterpieces are the perfect blend of sophisticated and sexy. With the understanding that leather itself is rooted in symbolism such as protection, seduction, and strength, Jean Claude's brand Jitrois is in many ways, a way of life for not only himself as the designer, but also also for those who proudly wear his clothing.

Since developing his first leather line in 1981 called J3, followed by opening a boutique in Paris, Jean Claude's skill for leather as high-end fashion became quickly noticed on an international scale. The clientele of Jean Claude's designs include famous icons such as Lady Gaga, Elton John, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, and Celine Dion, as well as royalty - in fact, Monaco's royal family was one of the first to support Jean Claude's pieces. To this day, his designs can be seen in boutiques as far away as London, Hong Kong and New York, however the headquarters for his brand remain loyally in Paris.

The clientele of Jean Claude's pieces appreciate the deep philosophy behind all his work. Jitrois fervently believes that clothing carries with it strong meaning-any one piece can transform the story an individual wishes to convey. Clothing, particularly leather, can radically enhance confidence and boost self-esteem. The durability and quality of Jitrois' leather ensures its longevity, with styles adapting effortlessly through the seasons. This deep connection with material and with enhancing the human body has been with Jean Claude since the very beginning, originally stemming from his childhood.

To this day, Jean Claude recalls the details of his father's French Air Force bomber jacket. The jacket, decorated in medals rich with war stories and significance, symbolized to Jean Claude mystery and temptation, as he was forbidden to touch the leather jacket as a little boy. This restriction only enticed him even more, piquing his interest in leather, and ultimately forging his deep connection with the material. To Jean Claude, leather is 'emotionally charged', and we can observe this power through Jean Claude's designs. He transformed leather, which was once associated with darkness, masculinity, and motorcycles, into a material which is now also associated with sensuality, seduction and endurance.

With Jitrois' leather revolution, the original boundaries of leather as a fashion construct have been defied. The raw, rebellious nature of leather streamlined with femininity and high-end fashion, attracting women to another side of the material, which was otherwise, previously undiscovered. Jean Claude made this transformational link between the psyche, body and fashion before becoming a fashion designer. As a psychology teacher, Jean Claude used role-play during his research with students who were uncomfortable in their own developing bodies: 'I began to dress children in military gear and as firemen to boost their egos. I also made a cocktail dress in crepe paper for a young girl who was going through a conflicting change of her body and could not accept her new feminine figure. This role-play made the young girl accept her new figure...this put the idea in the back of my mind that there was another possibility of a new career path for me.'

However, to Jean Claude, leather carries much more connotation than enhancing confidence and reinforcing personalities. For Jean Claude, enjoyment derived from designing fashion pieces also stems from the pleasure to seduce, and the power to love. Appealing to these raw human emotions, and translating our unexpected desires and fantasies into reality through beautiful leather pieces, is one of the primary driving forces for his success as a designer in the fashion world. The ability to manipulate leather material into luxury goods is one of his greatest accomplishments.

After years of experimentation, Jitrois' stretch leather collection, developed in the 90s, is revolutionary in and of itself. By extending the barriers of leather through innovative approaches, to the material, Jean Claude was able to develop the first stretch leather pants by lining leather with stretch cotton. This advanced technique ultimately demonstrated that leather is our second skin. Jean Claude's other pioneering contributions were to incorporate bright colors into his leather pieces, and to ultimately design a line of washable 5 pocket leather stretch jeans. This turning point in Jitrois' career demonstrated that leather can be comfortable, while simultaneously flattering, and powerful. Leather, like the plasticine he played with as a young boy, could be sculpted to enhance the contours of our bodies in ways never been done before. With this development of the 'Skin Jean', leather was revitalized.

The rest of the fashion world continues to be inspired by Jean Claude's work. Technological leatherwork and the inclusion of exotic furs have attracted the attention of famous fashion photographers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Helmut Newton. A memorable partnership with Newton formed back in 1998, when Newton celebrated Jean Claude's 'Skin Jean' in the Jitrois 1998 calendar collaboration. For this calendar, real models were replaced with polystyrene made by the Opera Bastille decorators, dressed with Jitrois leather designs. This project captured the Minoray technique, a popular concept with performance artists at the time.

Jean Claude's current inspiration and innovation represent the concept that fashion is eternal renewal. While the Spring/Summer 2016 collection incorporated elements of freshness, transparency and lightness, using suede, delicate fringes, and sequined necklines, with the aim to introduce 'a breeze of liberation in the women's closet', the Fall/Winter 2016 will detail Jitrois' interest in cross-stitched embroideries, inspired by Bernard Buffet's work where flowers and petals are extended onto trousers and dresses. While the fashion world is anticipating the Jitrois' adventurous and refreshing collection to come out, we can also expect to see some familiar and classic elements, which have solidified Jean Claude's adoration: timeless longevity, strength in advanced leather technology, powerful mind-body synergies, and timeless pleasure.

Kelly Blank

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