The two main seasonal collections shown in Paris, Milan, New York and London create all the buzz for fashion brands but it’s the cruise and pre-fall lines that make most of the money. At Louis Vuitton these oh-so-valuable clothes and accessories are designed by Julie de Libran.

Ever since I was little I would go through my mother’s wardrobe. I would spend hours in her closet trying things on,” says Julie de Libran, Louis Vuitton’s Women’s Studio design director, and Marc Jacobs’s right-hand woman. The moments whiled away experimenting with different styles, studying details, fabrics and prints, and creating new personalities with Parisian couture provided an early training for the French-born designer. “We moved to California when I was eight years old, so you can imagine the contrast. I’m talking about San Diego, the beach, in the 1980s. So everyone was wearing Oakley shorts and denim skirts and T-shirts.”After a decade’s schooling in the American way, de Libran moved to join the Italian fashion cognoscenti for the next 15 years, before returning home to work with Jacobs at the helm of one of France’s most established luxury houses. “I’ve been back in Paris with Marc for four-and-a-half years now,” she says. “We have so many references that are the same, so many things we love that are similar.” The combination of stateside enterprise with Gallic savoir faire is a winning one, particularly when it comes to the pre-collections de Libran steers while Jacobs is tending his own line. 

“The comfort, the practical side, the active side – it’s definitely important, but I’ve also got that side that goes into the more decorated, the more delicate,”

she says. De Libran’s own style follows suit, with her personal wardrobe featuring a mix of practical and sentimental items, including a treasured Yohji Yamamoto cape she describes as long, elegant and sombre, and trappings collected from her previous role with Prada. “Every one of those pieces has so many memories … and I have some pieces from my mother, too. I have this amazing Hermès travel bag she received for her wedding in the 70s. It’s so aged and I remember I used to clean it on the weekends just to keep it intact. She felt so touched she ended up giving it to me.”

Refreshingly, at 40, de Libran doesn’t subscribe to a head-to-toe philosophy. “I like to personalise my wardrobe. I’m always having fun in the way I dress. I’m older now so it’s easier, but when I was younger I was extremely shy, so I became quite playful and a bit risky with the way I dressed. I think it was a way to express myself. I love hats, I love boots, but always in a kind of a classically dressed way.

“I like things to have a story. That’s why I think we have a lot of fun on the precollection, because we always create a story about this woman: where is she going, who is she, how does she mix her clothes?” For pre-fall 2013, de Libran drew on menswear elements triggered by an exhibition on the impressionists, and moody lace, technically reworked into prints, tweeds and mohair knits. 

“Louis Vuitton is a brand that is so international. It’s for women who travel, the modern woman, of any age. It’s important that it’s as appealing to wear as it looks in a picture. That’s why the fabrics are very important…they have to be sexy, they have to feel good.”

Feeling good is a recurring concept in de Libran’s conversation: “When a woman says she likes the collection, it’s always a huge compliment because that’s the point.” It’s also the philosophy behind the icons collection, a seasonal range consisting of pieces that point to the heritage of the house. “It is about those women who need those essential pieces that are amazing quality, that have a bit of a twist…she can definitely find her double-face cashmere coat and then have amazing denim, or a stretch-leather legging, little knit dress or a great boot.”

The list of classics de Libran reels off could almost be an inventory of her own wardrobes. “The attire for an everyday woman who’s going to work or going on a trip,” she says. A busy woman who is juggling family and career, in other words – a character with whom de Libran is well acquainted, balancing her often all-consuming work schedule with the needs of a six-year-old son. 

“I’m so passionate about designing and about my work that I lose myself in it sometimes – most of the time, actually. Luckily my husband is very hands-on with my son, and I have an amazing nanny as well who’s been there since he was born. I just love my job. I’d rather do that sometimes than go on a vacation!”

 By Daniel Jeffreys