ALEXANDRE MCQUEEN Dress and shoes, on alexandermcqueen.com. ALEXIS BITTAR Puffy teardrop earring in molten gold, on alexisbittar.com.
Photo: Mel Blés
Long before I decided to wear my hair big and curly in France, I questioned myself and thought it would be too much, says Yseult Onguenet, her signature husky voice, silkier and more confident. Then I quickly asked myself: too much for whom? I was like I wear my hair like that, dammit.
fThe 29-year-old French singer and model, who has walked some of the most watched fashion catwalks, is not a fan of compromise. Yseult (she goes only by her first name) grew up in the town of Tergnier, north of Paris, France, to Cameroonian parents who pushed her to study dance and piano. No one asked me what I was passionate about but the music didn't click. until she became a teenager. At 15, she picked up her father's guitar and four years later, she was singing her breathless ballad about New starFrench version of American idol. After an attempt at a pop album titled YseutHer label forced me to do something very popish, and it didn't work at all, she says, she returned to the radical, emotional anthems that her fans now know her for, a sound that falls somewhere between Dith Piaf and Toni Braxton.
Yseult's breakthrough moment came with her October 2019 single Corps and again in the United States when the track went viral on TikTok in late 2023. Looking back, Yseult says, she didn't expect that the piano ballad is a success. In France, at the time, she explains, the attitude was: if it's not pop or rap, what's the point? But I said I was going to go against what everyone else is doing and I would publish it, she said. Everyone around me was telling me: you're going to crash. Tell the over 49 million streams on Spotify. It's this brazen confidence that gives Yseult her edge, although it's not without smooth, inviting corners. When she enters Caf Mogador in the East Village, fresh off a flight from Paris, for our conversation, her all-black outfit, a Balenciaga bomber jacket, wide-leg pants, a beanie and a Fendi handbag , might give off an intimidating air if it weren't for the hug and kiss on two cheeks that she quickly draws me into.
SCHIAPARELLI Black and white caftan, available on demand. ALEXIS BITTAR Giant bracelet in the shape of a donut melted in gold, on alexisbittar.com. GIANVITO ROSSI Lindsay pumps, on gianvitorossi.com.
Photo: Mel Blés
It didn't take long for the fashion world to come calling. In July 2020, Balmains Oliver Rousteing asked her to perform during his fashion show, which took place aboard a boat on the Seine. The designer created a few custom looks for her. Her team said: “We are very happy to create this dress for you because we don't usually work on this body type. It was the first time people said to me, “Oh, it’s possible,” she says. Performing at shows quickly became walking the catwalk, and Yseult has since worked with other designers like Alexander McQueen's Sarah Burton and Balenciaga's Demna.
Access to this luxurious world was something Yseult could only dream of growing up in a small town of only 13,000 people. In 2021, the first time she really saw money from her music, she decided to go all out and treat herself like Really to please yourself. In one day, she bought her first Birkin bag at Hermès, her first Chanel bag, her first Dior bag, her first YSL bag and a Chanel bag for her mother. My mother was so happy with her bag, she said. It was the first time I was paid for my work, my music. I have earned the fruits of my labor. And she always goes: her Christmas present was a black Fendi Peekaboo.
Photo: Mel Blés
But Yseult is not only interested in what is available at the checkout. Now that she has the keys to the fashion palace, she wants her own room. For Yseult, that means pushing for size inclusivity beyond just the brand's marketing materials and putting pressure on designers to actually consider specific modifications that hold up and accommodate larger bodies, something that high fashion brands in particular have not yet understood. Yseult admits that it looks like a scam when it works. on shows knowing that women who look like her can't buy these brands. That's why she first contacted Cdric Charbit, CEO of Balenciaga via Instagram DM to ask about the increase in sizes. It's because I was like, I really fuck with this brand. I really like this brand. And this brand reflects my attitudes and my character. I wear black every day. I wear oversized stuff every day. And I'm a bit punky on the side. I play Pink Floyd on set during my campaign shoots.
Shortly after, that DM set her up for dinner with Demna in Paris, to further discuss collaborating on a capsule collection, even if it meant creating custom pieces for her. Their dinner sparked a conversation about so much more. This sparked a discussion about the needs and specifics of my body, she says. Demna wanted to know more about bras for larger women with wider straps. We went into detail talking about underwear because we were talking about what my body needs. We even talked about calves and shoes, like wider feet and calves and what they need, all those little details. He was attentive and honest in the way he listened. She then walked the Balenciagas runway and wore custom Balenciaga to the Cannes Film Festival last year.
NINA RICCI Sleeveless halter neck maxi dress, on ninaricci.com.
Photo: Mel Blés
Yseult also makes a point of using her voice behind the scenes, in a way she knows a traditional model can't do. In this industry, models don't have much power when it comes to speaking up because they're afraid. And so because I know that I am an artist, I have this privilege to be an artist and to say what I want to say. She recalls the time she worked with Adut Akech, a 24-year-old South Sudanese-Australian model who herself is no stranger to luxury runways or campaigns. Yseult recalled expressing concerns about her hair backstage at a show: I don't like my hair, I want to wear my natural hair or an afro wig, because that's my mood now, a declared Akech to Yseult. After pushing Akech to talk to someone, Yseult did so herself through a simple request. Can you just change her hair because she doesn't feel comfortable? she asked the crew on set. And they did. She was so happy.
Because for Yseult, the loot is not enough if it does not reflect on those who look at her, on those who, because she is there, can also be seen and heard. For me, being an artist today is East politics, she said. When you have an audience, someone who listens to you, they see themselves in you. Even if it's ugly; even if it's beautiful. It's me.
BALENCIAGA Maxi clutch, chain earrings and chain necklace, both in antique gold, on Balenciaga.com.
Photo: Mel Blés
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