Grand couturier and master artisan Franck Sorbier – the only designer to hold both titles – is an endangered species. Behind his small glasses, this smiling man with daydreaming eyes is just as talented whether working with a needle, a sewing machine, a blowtorch, fabrics, or metal. Shifting from haute couture dresses to silver serving platters, he is an artisan, an artist, and the guardian of an exceptional skillset.
Even as a child, he would stand astonished in front of works by dressmakers and cotton sheet weavers in his native Basque Country. Years later, he integrated Declercq trimmings and François Lesage embroideries into his collections. But he has also made room for the worlds of nature, film, music, and dance. “I love old engravings, photography, sculpture, painting, and any form of art,” he says. “These means of expression inspire such emotion and adventure.”
Both in art and in life, the designer combines styles and sidesteps convention. He studied at the Ecole Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode in Paris and later became a teacher there, which enabled him to pass down his passion. In 1991, he and his multi-talented wife Isabelle founded a ready-to-wear fashion brand. However, the pair ignored pleas from leading U.S. department stores, including Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, and refused to mass-produce their clothing. In 1999, he made his dream come true by joining the prestigious circle of haute couture designers.
His collections reveal a fabulous, colorful universe, embodied by his first piece – a shimmering dress named “Felix” in tribute to his first lovebird. In “a duet of hands and minds,” he and his wife have created stage costumes for Mylène Farmer, Johnny Hallyday, and the opera, advised the teams working with chef Alain Passard, and produced the outfit worn by painter Zao Wou-Ki at the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Far from the glitz and glamor, Amaury Voslion’s camera takes audiences into the studio where Franck Sorbier pursues his search for excellence surrounded by old sewing machines, needles, and pet birds.
While developing pieces inspired by fairy tales, the Italian Renaissance, or Khmer culture, he immerses himself in history, sociology, and anthropology. This constant research has seen him nicknamed a fashion intellectual. “I believe that my profession is driven as much by research and thought as creativity,” he says. “I think a collection should have a foundation; a process based around a chosen subject. Each season throws up its own lot of questions – a sign of the times, as they say, and musings that go far beyond clothing.”
This search for perfection is almost a form of spirituality for this creator, who is also a great supporter of environmentalism and animal welfare. “Fashion is an applied art, and haute couture could one day aspire to the ultimate recognition and approach the status of high art. To achieve this, it must be taken even further.” Always further, always higher, with this quest for beauty and timeless clothing as a common thread running through his work. Franck Sorbier is not just a couturier, in the words of trimming artisan Jérôme Declercq, interviewed in the documentary. “He is a poet of couture.”