Editor’s Note: Rev, a collaboration between Martine Sitbon and businessmen and brother, Laurent and Arik Bitton, will update pieces from the designer’s archive. The first offering, shown in Paris, included reimagined designs from the designer’s moody fall 1997 collection, which has been newly digitized to mark the occasion. Pieces from this show are also on view in the “1997 Big Bang” exhibition that just opened at the Palais Galliera in Paris.
Born in Casablanca, Martine Sitbon moved to Paris as a child. A graduate of Studio Berçot, she worked as a freelance designer before launching her namesake line in 1986. At the time, Vogue identified Sitbon as one of new talents giving fashion “a certain charm—an insouciance—and a somewhat younger Paris-made way to dress.” Also, a ready-to-wear way to dress. Two years later Sitbon was recruited to bring life to Chloé, one of the first Parisian prêt-à-porter brands, and she designed her own collection alongside those for the heritage house.
Working with her partner, Marc Ascoli, and many talented graphic designers and photographers, Sitbon became known for a “rock-and-romantic” vibe that was energized by a push-and-pull between the sophisticated and correct Parsian approach to dress, and that of the rebel. That’s very much in play in the fall 1997 collection, which opened with strictly tailored pieces, and then expanded to include softly tactile materials like fur and devoré chiffons; a Sitbon signature. In a recent interview, the designer described this collection as having a “dark romance.” Contemporary critics were in line with that assessment. “Martine Sitbon was at her gothic-horror best,” noted The Daily Telegraph, and the writer of a syndicated story, Julia Szabo, wrote that the dresses “managed to appear at once tough and tender.” They had a visceral appeal, according to Danielle Zinaich, who opened the show. “Martine was one of my favorite designers. She had a definite direction and recognizably strong edge,” she said in an email exchange. “Her designs for this collection were goth feminine and sexy. The models were most excited to do her show because it had such a buzz and the coolest influencers wanted her designs.”
Called Les Arbres (The Trees) the collection featured somewhat eerie patterns of crisscrossed branches. Some of these were extended by sequins embroidered with twig-like delicacy. Some dresses were slashed in a punkish style, while others had more refined cutouts; in both cases the idea was to show the skin. For all their charm, these were designs for seduction. A tailored coat over one of these looks just might make it good for cinq à sept (the hours for assignation), but essentially these were hot after-hours dresses for liberated women, not babes in the wood.