Within minutes of meeting her, you learn that Catherine Baba's favorite phrase is "J'adore." She applies it to the panna cotta that's waiting at her table — "I haven't had one of these in years" — at Rose Bakery, which she also "J'adores." Not to mention the Givenchy show, "a major, Biblical event," or the fact that a couple hundred fashion students and teachers were given tickets to it — "That's fabulous." She says it about Tommy Ton, the street-style photographer who's attempting to become a media mogul in his own right. "He would be chasing me down the street, and he still does. I think that's divine. He does take a great shot." And besides her friend Riccardo Tisci, what other designers merit a "J'adore"? She puts down her spoon. "Oh, darling, you're putting me on the spot!"
Baba isn't the kind of fashion person who is going to sit at front row and complain that she's bored while indolently fanning herself with her program. After many years as a stylist, costume designer, and general person-about-Fashion Week, she remains refreshingly un-jaded. "I'd rather say 'J'adore' than 'Je déteste,'" she says. " I prefer to get excited about something than to deflate something."
Even if you don't follow Fashion Week closely, you might recognize Baba for her signature turban or the bicycle she zips around on, which she's done long before that mode of transportation became a bit of a street-style cliché. She stacks chunky bracelets up each arm, Nancy Cunard–style (in fact, when we speak, she's in the midst of reading Cunard's biography). She's often in some sort of kimono or robe, and a pair of oversize sunglasses. Now, she's designing variations on that last signature as a capsule collection with F-O Vision, now available at Dover Street Market and Colette. Baba, who has also designed jewelry with Gripoix and pajamas with Nouvelle Affaire that were decorated with the words "divine," "darling," "fantasia," and "j'adore," says she appreciates being able to, as she puts it, "tango between multiple parallel worlds [I] live in."
"This is Holly," she says, "introducing" me to the bright pastel floral glasses she's wearing. "Right now Holly is the only one that I have in my possession. I love them all like I would my own children," she adds. There are three styles in total — each outsize and sporting a graphic print. And more pajamas will be coming soon — "I have been working on giving birth to the second coming, early next year," she says.
Sprinkling her conversation with snippets of Franglais (she's a native of Australia but has lived in Paris for nearly 20 years, working with luxury houses like Chanel and Balmain), she's florid with her praise and allergic to any sort of cynicism. When I mention in passing that everyone seems to be trying to outdo one another with far-flung cruise collections, she counters, "And that's fabulous!" She sings the praises of Tisci and Louis Vuitton menswear designer Kim Jones. And she's a fan of Hedi Slimane's work at Saint Laurent, though she notes: "It's art direction. He's not designing, and I don't think he's pretending to be a designer, you know what I mean?"
Baba first discovered her exuberance for fashion as a student crashing fashion shows in Paris in the '90s. "It wasn't about being outside the show in our looks to be seen, it was really about getting in to witness," she says. She was always on the hunt "to find a creative way to get in or what to say and how to get yourself in there without jumping over fences. And sometimes fences were jumped over." She no longer has to hurdle over those kinds of obstacles, but Baba remains just as enthused as she was in her undergrad days. "I prefer to get excited, than to not. And," she says, spoon aloft, "I love getting excited."