Diane Sitbon was only a child when she first realized just how cool a leather jacket could be. “When I was nine or 10, my mother dressed me like a ‘little bourgeoisie’ with smock dresses, hair bands, and velvet coats. I was not happy in these outfits—I wanted to wear flight leather jackets and jeans to school,” remembers the French designer. “I always told myself that when I grew up, I would wear whatever I wanted.”
Today, Sitbon doesn’t just get to wear whatever she wants, but she also gets to design whatever she wants. Since 2005 she’s helmed April, May, a Parisian label that manages to be both extremely feminine and effortlessly sexy. While her clothes capture French insouciance—think jersey dresses with cut-out necklines, collar-less blazers, and geometric-print leather jackets that any woman would want in her wardrobe—they’ve not had much face time in the US; after briefly launching in America in the mid-aughts, the recession had April, May focusing on Europe. Their fall 2011 collection marks their triumphant return.
For spring, Sitbon’s design inspiration comes from her travels. “My woman has moved from Paris to Santa Fe and Austin. She has gone on a road trip and is still wearing leather and sexy hot pants and feminine dresses and would wear boots everywhere,” explains the designer. While the collection includes sequined band jackets and tuxedo pants, Sitbon asserts that she’s not jumping on the menswear-as-womenswear trend just yet. “I wouldn’t say [the collection] is less feminine, I would say feminine in a different way,” she notes.
That Sitbon, an Esmod and Central St. Martins graduate, understands what real women want may come from her years of experience at that other ultra-feminine French label, Paul & Joe. “It’s where I learned everything about running a business and trying to balance design with commercial appeal without compromising my ideas,” says Sitbon, who notes that in the years between leaving Paul & Joe and starting April, May she also freelanced for John Galliano and ran her own accessories line.
If her most recent collection is any indicator, Sitbon has done a good job of sticking to her core principals, which she seems to have established as a 10-year-old yearning for a not-so-stuffy jacket. The French designer admits as much: “It’s very hard for me to decide on [a favorite April, May] piece, as I absolutely love everything…but the leather is driving me nuts!”