Former model and stylist, Caroline Sciamma-Massenet has had a stellar career in the fashion industry and is founder of her own sustainable leather brand, SKIIM. In our latest interview, Caroline shares with iMBARC her experiences in the fashion world, the inspiration behind SKIIM and her favourite travel destinations.
Can you tell me a bit about your background in the fashion industry?
It all started when I was 15 years old and I decided that I wanted to get into fashion. I moved to a school that was specialised in styling and fashion design. While I was studying there, I entered a modelling contest (after a week of convincing my parents to allow me to!). I won the contest and that was the start my 20 year modelling career. I was based in New York but was travelling all around the world. I was really passionate about styling so when my best friend started working at French Vogue with Carine Roitfeld, I asked if I could assist her. The experience was amazing! I’ve learned from the best photographers, the best editors and the best stylists.
What inspired you to start SKIIM?
After working at French Vogue and then working freelance for top brands like Givenchy, Louis Vuitton and Tom Ford, I felt like I wanted a change. I loved styling but I wanted to prove that I could do something on a deeper level and put my expertise and experience to use. Working with Carine Roitfeld really gave me insight into design and helped to shape my vision. Her style was not obvious, it was more unpredictable and a bit more rebellious. I loved that I could create some unexpected looks for the magazine which were strong, edgy and beautiful. After four years of working freelance, I met my husband [French hedge-fund manager, Arnaud Massenet] in Paris and then moved to London. I had my son and because of starting my family, I couldn’t travel as much for work. When Carine offered me the role of editor-at-large at CR Fashion Book I accepted it right away! For six months I was working like crazy for the magazine. It was incredible but then I turned 40, had a semi mid-life crisis and was like “Oh, Okay – I think I want to start my own company!” I wanted to prove to myself that I could really make something. I then started the sketches for my designs.
Why did you decide to focus on leather?
I have my vision in leather because I found that there is a real gap in the leather market. There are those few select brands that we all know but they aren’t my style. I wanted to create my French-Parisian style with a twist of London. It’s not the easiest market but it’s a niche and people love leather. The unique thing about SKIIM is that the leather and processes are all sustainable. SKIIM is a responsibly sourced brand.
What is the ethos of SKIIM?
I want to try to educate people. I want to show that our leather is not only sustainably sourced but also that this material encourages more sustainable shopping behaviour. For example, you would have no regrets throwing away a cotton t-shirt but with leather, you just think twice before doing that. It’s a noble fabric that people respect and tend to keep and re-wear for years and years. Nowadays the fashion industry is moving towards being more thoughtful in terms of improving animal welfare, as well as minimising the waste in the fashion world and this is where I’m taking my brand.
How do you ensure that the leathers and manufacturing processes are sustainable and eco-conscious?
All of the leather is a by-product. It all comes from the organic meat industry and the animals aren’t killed specially for their leather. We also only work with tanneries that use vegetable tanning which is chrome-free and chemical-free and therefore much gentler and better for the planet.
Where do you source your leathers?
Sourcing the leathers and tanneries takes me on many of travels! When I started, I spent a whole year travelling around Tuscany visiting different suppliers. I have a house there which makes things a lot simpler. Sometimes I’ll go to Portugal or Turkey, sometimes France. I’m lucky to have lots of good designer-friends who give me handy shortcuts by recommending the best suppliers to work with.
Where do you get your inspiration for your designs?
Besides having the overarching vision for the leather, every season has its own theme. The inspiration could come from anywhere – a cartoon, a movie or even based on a painting. The next collection is called ‘Calamity Jane’, the rebellious Western girl. The previous collection was called ‘La Marinière’, with lots of nautical stripes. In the future, I want to do a Pyjama Party theme! I always start with a little trend without following it too restrictively. I try to see what could work with the leather, what could be very interesting and what could be new. They are my three main focuses when looking to design a new collection. I want to be surprising but in a beautiful way.
What are your favourite holiday destinations?
It depends! Just to feel relaxed I love to go to Tuscany where I don’t feel like I need to socialise so much. I love Tuscany just to reinvigorate, get my energy back and spend quality time with my family. We’re going to the Maldives soon for a relaxing getaway – I love being by the sea. For more active holidays, I love going to cities like Tokyo. I’m so curious about different cultures and exploring new places.
Do you have any favourite hotels that you love going back to?
I love the Aman! It’s amazing but I also love small boutique hotels because it feels more private. The Raya in Panarea is incredible because the location is so beautiful. It might not be as luxurious as some of the other hotels but the atmosphere is warm and homely and you eat so well – the views are just spectacular.
What are your top travel essentials that you can’t go anywhere without?
I always bring my sketch book and very good pencils. Since starting my company, I don’t really have any time to read but I always bring a good book just in case! Pictures of my family, my phone (it’s bad but it’s essential!) and my laptop.