In Conversation With


Sonia Ichti 

Interview by Déborah Sitbon Neuberg


Hello Sonia, it's a pleasure to interview you today. How are you?

Everything's fine, thank you for our shoot, it was a very sweet moment.

When I told my mother you were a male model, she asked me what that meant. So, what does it mean to you?

I'm just a person who wears a lot of men's clothes. I get asked to wear them, and that's what I like best.

The first show I did was with Martin Margiela, and the first thing he made me wear was a large men's jacket and a large men's shirt...

The first time I met him, I was wearing jeans, a shirt, Birkenstocks - Birkenstocks weren't fashionable at the time! - with a blue velvet blazer. He was almost dressed in the same way.

What's your history with menswear?

I had six brothers, and I always nicked their blazers, their shirts.... I loved these oversized clothes, because my brothers were very tall. They dressed very conservatively: pleated pants, double-breasted blazers... I felt beautiful like that.

How does this resonate with your relationship to femininity?

For me, being a woman is more of an inner thing. My femininity isn't going to be in the clothes, but in the way my body and attitude express themselves. When you wear men's clothes, you're just as much a woman, and maybe even more so. You assert yourself. I feel stronger in a man's suit than in a dress. It's something that radiates. Besides, I'm very feminine, and I like this contrast. I feel freer, more at ease, more frontal. It's like I'm almost wearing a suit of armor. I feel like myself.

Has it become fashionable to play with gender codes?

I don't follow fashion trends, but I have great admiration for Yohji Yamamoto and Martin Margiela. One day, I wore a Mugler suit to a film premiere. It was gorgeous, but it didn't suit me. So I took off my blazer and heels, and ended up in a shirt. I've always dressed the same way, from when I was 15 to now. In the '70s, this way of dressing was very singular. I've always worn loose, masculine things, like men's pajamas at home. Beyond the comfort, I find a certain modesty in them. If I want to add a touch of femininity, I can add a sheer silk shirt, but I prefer a very open men's shirt. What's very important to me is the quality of the fabric.

There's something about the men's wardrobe and fabrics. When you're attached to fabrics, it's almost natural to gravitate towards the men's wardrobe....

In the men's wardrobe, there's already a repertoire: double-breasted blazers, two-button jackets, three-button jackets.... Materials are extremely important: a pair of pants in wool cloth, or polyester and cotton, doesn't have the same drape at all. I prefer quality to quantity.

Did you have any feminine references for this style?

The first time I saw a beautiful woman, I was very little. She was very tall, with a big open shirt, jeans and a small pair of two-tone heels. She had very short hair.

I was looking at this woman, and for me, this was the image of femininity! The suit becomes feminine, it takes on a different allure.

My aunt was a men's tailor in Tunis... not far from Ariana. When I was little, I used to spend my days with her in the workshop. Her name was Ichti Khadija and she did everything by herself. Maybe that's what influenced me too.

My sisters wore pairs of Weston shirts with pegged pants. One of my sisters worked in a boutique in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, for a designer who made men's shirts.

Does this also represent freedom for you? Is it linked to your vision of the Tunisian woman?

I think that personality comes out when you're at your most comfortable. And for me, there's a lot more freedom in the simplicity and fluidity of a men's garment. Yes, I spent summers from the '70s to the '80s in Tunis, with women who were free, completely free. At the last wedding I went to in Tunis, I wore a black tuxedo, a white shirt and men's flat shoes. When I walked into the room, all eyes were on me, I felt beautiful. As a matter of fact, once, abortion was legal in Tunisia, but not in France.

In fact, it was a Tunisian woman who helped make it legal in France....

Yes, Gisèle Halimi embodies Tunisian women's commitment to freedom. My mother used to tell me in Arabic that my best friend was my wallet. She always taught me to be independent. The epitome of the Tunisian woman was a woman of struggle and character. In my family, I think women were much stronger than men. I also passed it on to my daughter: do what you want to do! Fight for what you want to do and believe in yourself. Believe in yourself.

What would you have passed on to a boy...?

It would have been the same for a son: the principles of respect and love. But maybe with a boy, I would have brought a more feminine side.

Yes, it avoids being a prisoner of a very gendered vision?

What we ask of men, to be virile, can be very difficult for them. And what we ask of women is also hard... In every being, there's a balance between the feminine and the masculine. When you achieve that, you center yourself.

Thank you for this wonderful conversation, dear Sonia.