Zealous fans of retro futurism, rejoice: After a brief hiatus from the fashion scene, irrepressibly enthusiastic designer Johanna Senyk is back with a new collection for Spring 2019. Pairing ’70s glamour with an I-dare-you edge, Françoise speaks to the confident woman who wants to rewrite the rules.
It would be convenient to say that Senyk’s second label picks up where Wanda Nylon, her first foray into fashion, left off, but its message is unique, if complementary. In place of vaguely fetish raincoats and transparent vinyl dresses, the designer creates a new conversation around dramatically plunging necklines and exaggerated puff sleeves. “I wanted the look to be just a little bad,” says Senyk. “When everything is nice, clothes are boring. Creating looks just outside the border of good taste is what interests me.”
It speaks to the Françoise girl as well, a work-hard-play-harder personality who “takes the sun, smokes, makes her own money, and spends it how she wants,” says Senyk. “She is like Brigitte Bardot—a bit rock ’n’ roll, a bit free spirit.”
That sounds a lot like Senyk herself, the daughter of Polish immigrants who was raised in Algeria and arrived in Paris in her late teens to begin a career as a fashion editor. She quickly found her passion in designing clothes instead of describing them, and secured a job creating movie costumes. That theatrical sensibility, refined through collaborations with Alexander McQueen, The Row, and JW Anderson, landed Senyk the prestigious Association Nationale pour le Développement des Arts de la Mode (ANDAM) Award in 2016, firmly establishing her provocative, tongue-in-cheek style as a force in the industry.
If her first label was about front-running trends, her newest endeavor seeks to outlast them. “My hope is that a woman buys one piece this season, and another next season, and 10 years from now she has enough to make a wardrobe,” Senyk explains. “I want Françoise to be about quality that lasts, clothing you pass on to your daughter.”
In pursuit of such standards, Senyk enlisted Italian manufacturer Castor to produce her entire collection. The Mantua-based company is renowned for its impeccable quality and craftsmanship, focusing on fabric as much as fit, a particular obsession for Senyk, who views clothing as a full-on sensory experience. “For me, fashion is first about, how does it feel on your body? And then, how does it express who you are?” she says. “When you dress, you are telling the world the story of how you want to be perceived.”
While some designers shy away from defining their customer too narrowly, Senyk has no such compunction. She imagines the Françoise woman in a Jaguar on the verge of breaking down, throwing caution to the wind and driving pedal to the metal anyway. If this were a street label, one would expect the lettering “zero f**ks given” to feature prominently on the garments. Instead, Senyk sends the message more subliminally, with deep-diving décolletage and hemlines rising well above the comfort zone.
Should Françoise turn out to be the It girl must-have this season—as many suspect it will—it won’t be because Senyk is playing the popularity game. The bold, black font on the brand’s website captures the designer’s defiant attitude: “Françoise doesn’t care / is not scared / drives too fast/ speaks too loud / Françoise is free.” In other words, Françoise doesn’t need you. You need Françoise.