Marithé + François Girbaud (house)

Sandra J. Ley

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA111

Innovative denim treatments combined with avant-garde silhouettes are the hallmarks of French brand Marithé + François Girbaud. The duo revolutionized the denim and casual wear industry and pioneered street-chic fashion.

Marithé Bachellerie was born in 1942 in Lyon. François Girbaud was born in 1945 in Mazamet (southwest France) to a family of textile workers. Neither had any training in fashion design, but their shared passion for American pop culture led them to import Western wear in 1965.

Dissatisfied with stiff indigo American dungarees, the Girbauds began washing their jeans with stones to achieve a softer fabric and a faded, broken-in look. The resulting product was an immediate retail success. To expand production, they collaborated with an Italian textile firm to industrialize the now-famous “stone wash” process and signed a licensing agreement in 1969. Their first retail outlet was established in an open-air market in one of Paris’s seedier neighborhoods and it quickly became a favorite of the era’s counterculture youth.

From early on, the Girbauds were determined to redesign the classic jean. They envisioned a modern “designer jean” that could be worn in any setting, uptown or downtown. This vision materialized in 1977 when, influenced by the voluminous Eastern aesthetic of designers such as Issey Miyake, they revamped jeans’ traditional blocky silhouette with a softer, fuller cut. Called the “baggy jean,” or simply “baggies,” the new look was an international success.

The Girbauds were keen observers of consumer behavior and street fashion. Inspired by the style of American rappers encountered on their travels, they launched designs that made their label the cult urban jean. By the late 1990s, the Girbauds’ contribution to hip-hop style had been immortalized in over twenty-five rap songs. Indeed, Girbaud is considered the first “urban” fashion brand ever created.

In 1982, Jennifer Beals, American star of the blockbuster film Flashdance, became the first Girbaud spokesmodel in the United States. Sales skyrocketed to 7 million pairs that year. Women’s Wear Daily declared Girbaud jeans “the hottest thing in France.” The Girbaud label was at the peak of its popularity in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Girbauds continuously reengineered their garments for the modern, active body that craved comfort and utility as much as avant-garde style. Denim was faded, aged, torn, tattooed, techno-fused, laser cut, given stretch, made adjustable by adding drawstrings or Velcro straps, or dyed with “Blue Eternal,” an indigo that never fades. By the early 2000s, premium denim and casual wear lines had been added for top-tier markets.

Regretting their part in the environmental pollution caused by denim manufacturing, the Girbauds developed an environmentally sound method for treating denim in 2007, which eliminated the use of acids and other pollutants while conserving energy and water.

By 2010, there were a hundred Marithé + François Girbaud stores and over 1,200 points of sale worldwide. Over the course of their careers, Marithé and François Girbaud had spun workers’ garb into fashion statements that respected the human body as well as the planet, and reflected the era’s zeitgeist. This is the legacy and defining identity of the Girbaud brand.

Marithé + François Girbaud, Fall/Winter 1989 Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Benbow-Pfalzgraf Taryn , and Richard Martin , eds. Contemporary Fashion . 2nd edn. Detroit : St. James Press, 2002.

Marithé et François Girbaud.” Tendances de Mode , 22 January 2007. http://www.tendances-de-mode.com/2007/01/22/8-marithe-et-francois-girbaud (accessed 24 February 2015).

Martin Richard. “Marithé + François Girbaud.” Fashion Design Encyclopedia , n.d. http://www.fashionencyclopedia.com/Fr-Gu/Girbaud-Marith-Fran-ois.html (accessed 7 January 2013).

Marithé et François Girbaud. Website. http://www.girbaud.com .

Find in Library Shapiro Harriet. ““With a Dash of Flash from Jennifer Beals, the Girbauds’ Baggy Street Duds Catch On”.” People 21, no. 11 (19 March 1984). http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20087391,00.html (accessed 10 January 2013).