Chloe's Natacha Ramsay-Levi on Karl Lagerfeld, It accessories and being copied by the high street 

Chloe backstage
Backstage at the Chloé SS19 show two models can be seen in the popular sunset t-shirts, the model on the left carries a C bag.

The letter C is having a handbag moment. Setting aside the obvious interlocking Cs at Chanel, there’s Roberto Cavalli, whose snake emblem has been curled into a C on clutches and cross-body bags. At Celine, the Triomphe bag bears back-to-back-C hardware that recalls the label’s 1970s branding, while at Coach, a gold C hangs from the handle of the Dreamer tote. But nobody is making more of the letter than Chloé, which released its new C bags a few months ago.

The Chloé C comes in a bounty of colours and styles: mini options in sepia or bottle-green croc effect; belt versions or boxier takes in white, burgundy and the ombré shades of a tequila sunrise. From the Instagram feeds of the label’s #chloégirls ambassadors to the pavements of the autumn/winter 2019 fashion weeks in February and March, the C bag has flooded the style landscape, with fashion website Who What Wear calling it ‘the new logo It bag your most stylish friend is already saving for’.

A street style star wears the Chloé C bag with sock boots and a dress stitched with a horse motif, also from Chloé Credit: Getty Images

This has been declared the year of the It bag comeback. After its noughties heyday, there was a retreat to stealth, pared-back styles. But the siren call of a status-declaring design is impossible to resist. ‘Logos are back and luxury sales are booming,’ wrote industry blog The Business of Fashion last month, adding that ‘designer handbag sales are increasing because many consumers see those products as a worthy investment’.

If any brand is going to own this new It bag moment, it’s Chloé. Thanks to Natacha Ramsay-Levi, the Parisian designer who has been creative director since 2017, the house has a renewed frisson. On the Monday morning when we meet in her office at Chloé HQ, her face is bronzed and make-up-free, her hair is elegantly dishevelled in a manner that only a woman who grew up on the Left Bank could pull off, and she’s wearing a layered fringed skirt. Her hit lace-up Rylee western boots, an oversized navy blazer, dangly coral earrings and a gold necklace with a pendant of an abstract woman’s form complete the look.

‘I would love to get dressed in five minutes! I try but I can spend 40 minutes in front of the wardrobe and be like, “Ah, what am I going to wear?!”’ she confides as she pours us herbal tea from a Japanese pot into minimalist black cups. This effectively blitzes the notion that eclectic Parisian chic comes effortlessly.

Soon after Ramsay-Levi was appointed, Phoebe Philo left her position as creative director of Celine. Philo had not only masterminded a new minimalist aesthetic for working women, but become a figurehead along the way; her signature style tics, like tucking her hair into a polo-neck knit or wearing trainers with tailoring, were adopted by acolytes around the world. Many have hailed Ramsay-Levi as Philo’s successor in this role of woman-you-want-to-be designer – one look at her taking a bow at the end of a catwalk show and you’ll be convinced that piling on jewellery and not brushing your hair are excellent ideas.

It’s not just her artful approach to getting dressed that gives 39-year-old Ramsay-Levi appeal. She is the ultimate modern free spirit. She holidays in offbeat destinations like Senegal, often with her closest girlfriends, including stylists Camille Bidault-Waddington and Marine Braunschvig (the latter is also her cousin). ‘It’s about going back to the simple life, doing things like pottery, being surrounded by nature; for me that’s the best,’ she says. A sunset T-shirt from her spring/summer collection with 
a silhouette of hands making a sign for feminity was inspired 
by memories of buying souvenir tees at Nick Cave concerts.

Her other favourite travel companion is her six-year-old son Balthus, whose father is Olivier Zahm, editor-in-chief of art and fashion magazine Purple. ‘We believed in the love ideals of the 1970s, led an open relationship,’ Ramsay-Levi once said of her former partner, who publicised a break-up with her by blogging about it. It’s not a subject she’s discussed since joining Chloé.

Natacha Ramsay-Levi walks the runway after Chloé's SS18 show Credit: Getty Images

Of course, Ramsay-Levi’s Chloé is not just about that C bag, it’s also about a cornucopia of pieces to pile on and wear as you like. ‘We’ve seen a new customer coming into the fold, perhaps a more contemporary crowd who didn’t wear Chloé previously,’ says Cassie Smart, Matches Fashion’s head of womenswear. ‘We have noticed spikes in sales when you see her ambassadors wearing the bags on Instagram. Natacha has taken the collection to the next step.’ These ambassadors may be influencers you have never heard of, but they have the power to inspire followers to buy a £1,000 bag – see Chriselle Lim with 1.1 million devotees, who recently posed with a white croc C bag, or Aimee Song with 5.2 million, who posted a photograph of herself carrying the mini C in burgundy (and wearing a silk tunic, lace shorts and boots, all by Chloé) after the most recent show.

Further proof of Chloé’s desirability? Style-hungry psychopath Villanelle will wear one of its jackets in the forthcoming series of Killing Eve. Famous fans include Rachel Weisz, Sienna Miller and the Duchess of Sussex, who owns the Pixie bag.

Aimee Song (@songofstyle on instagram) in head-to-toe Chloé after the brands recent AW19 show in Paris. 

Fashion data service Lyst says the most popular Chloé items currently include gold-bauble-studded Sawyer sandals and Alphabet charm necklaces. Ramsay-Levi’s chunky Rylee boots were an early hit, while a current Chloé haul might include socks emblazoned with the house’s logo. A new jewellery collection is based on a ring Balthus crafted for his mother from tinfoil. And there are bags galore beyond the C, including the Tess (which debuted last season) and the Roy, which now comes in a bucket shape imprinted with the rearing-horse motif Ramsay-Levi has revived from Stella McCartney’s stint at Chloé two decades ago.

‘I am a customer and I consume fashion so I have elements that I can wear whatever the situation is and it’s like, “OK, my look is done,”’ says Ramsay-Levi. ‘I like to have products that 
I can build up like that. It’s important to have things that you really want to buy, like when you enter a candy shop. The idea of things that you can make yours. You can just get a sock from the show and you feel like you are part of the community.’

Chloé is one of the most referenced brands on the high street; Topshop has shirts and skirts that nod to that horse print, and Zara has replicated the hippy details of the spring/summer collection. When I tell Ramsay-Levi, she laughs. ‘I would love to see! I think it’s cool, what we did there was relevant.’

A model is pictured backstage at the Chloé SS19 show, carrying a C bag.

This democratic attitude to luxury reflects the roots of Chloé. The house was founded in 1952 by Gaby Aghion, a liberal intellectual who was born in Egypt but moved to Paris because of her husband’s political exile in 1945. She is credited with coining the ‘pret-a-porter’ concept, offering a new way of dressing for women. ‘She started the house with the idea of dressing herself. She was a client, dressed in haute couture and she could not find what she needed so she started Chloé. She was like, “OK, I’m going to make some clothes that I want to wear or my friends would like to wear,”’ reflects Ramsay-Levi.

If Aghion’s Chloé was about freedom from the confines of couture, Ramsay-Levi’s creates haute bohemia that the super-rich can splash out on (there were clients in head-to-toe outfits at the September show, taking this season’s boho theme about as far from the hippy trail as possible) but the aspiring #chloegirl can save up for (socks start at £70 and the mini Faye bag is £525).

Natacha Ramsay-Levi has been creative director at Chloé since 2017 Credit: Paolo Roversi

It was Karl Lagerfeld, who headed up the label from 1966 to 1983 and again from 1992 to 1997, who really defined the laid-back elegance for which Chloé is now known. ‘Through Karl is how I’ve known Chloé since I was a child,’ says Ramsay-Levi. ‘Karl really talked about fashion that enhanced the personality of the woman, rather than taking it all. The clothes are very simple, it’s really about the woman and that’s very interesting to me.’

She may now be a tastemaker, but as a child Ramsay-Levi ‘didn’t really have a fashion background’. This being France though, ‘I had more a point of view on how to dress. My mother [an interior decorator] is a very beautiful woman, she was dressing up a little bit. It’s also part of French culture – when you look at TV news and it’s fashion week, there used to be five minutes about the shows – so for me Chloé was part of the French lifestyle, like Chanel, or Dior. But I think I related more to Chloé; it’s always been a house where you can watch a show and understand even if you don’t know anything about fashion.’

Karl Lagerfeld during his stint at Chloé. The German designer was creative director at the house for a total of 22 years (1966-1983 and 1992-1997). Credit: Getty Images

Making clothes and dressing up remained a hobby while Ramsay-Levi read history at Paris 8 university. ‘I was kind of shy, speaking was difficult to me so I think I used the way of dressing to speak about myself. It was like my ID card,’ she remembers. ‘I never accepted I’d study fashion because my family’s point of view saw it more as advertising and luxury, not interesting to look at.’ Despite this, her obsession grew and she created mini-collections on her sewing machine, eventually deciding to study at the private fashion school Studio Berçot. After that, she began an internship at Balenciaga and was soon working closely with then creative director Nicolas Ghesquière. She became his right-hand woman, recruiting new design talent and acting as a link between him and the atelier team. When he moved to Louis Vuitton while she was on maternity leave, she soon followed. 
‘I love him, I could have worked 15 years more with pleasure,’ 
she says – they are still close and attend one another’s shows.

A model at the Chloé SS19 show

This experience made her excited to head up the jury of the prestigious Hyères Festival fashion prize, to be announced later this month. ‘In a design studio, it’s very young; when you’re 40, as I nearly am, you’re very old – you’re too tired to keep up. I built up teams for Nicolas for 15 years, it was one of the parts of my job I loved the most, to have young talents coming in and go, “OK, you’re good at that, have this job.” Fifteen years ago there was a way of graduating, going to a fashion house and doing it step by step. Now it’s a bit like America, everything is possible. I know it’s going to be different than when I was their age so I can’t wait.’

Ramsay-Levi is wistful for the time when she indulged a self-confessedly zany style. ‘I’m a bit more careful now but I used to sometimes be quite out of taste,’ she says (she wore crop tops while pregnant, with little pleated skirts pulled over her bump). ‘Because I’m a fashion designer I use myself a bit like a canvas. 
I won’t say I’m designing for myself, I don’t think it’s only for women like me. Since I’ve worked at Chloé, because every day is about doing looks for shows and product, I have to say I get more and more lazy about my own looks.’ Lazy? Somehow I don’t think so. But if it’s true, her loss is the Chloé girl’s gain.     

2019's It bags to know:

Chloe C, £980, Chloe (; Oblique saddle bag, £2,150, Dior (; Hortensia bag, £560, Wandler (

Multicolour fabric baguette, £2,790, Fendi (; Small Puzzle bag, £1,725, Loewe (; Le Chiquito clutch, £340, Jacquemus (