This Couture season, Bouchra Jarrar is making a stealth comeback. Not in fashion terms just yet (more on that later), but on her own terms.

It’s been two years since Jarrar exited Lanvin. “Even though I still look like I’m 14, I’ve been flat-out for 30 years, and I feel like I’m starting the second half of my life,” she says. She took time to find balance—to be with friends and family, to travel, to get back to the gym—and to try her hand at new pursuits, namely portrait photography.

“I studied applied arts, so when I found myself without fabric to work, I knew that I would find another outlet because I’m someone who needs to create things; it’s like breathing,” Jarrar says. “Give me any subject and I’ll find something to express.”

As fate would have it, a friend, the singer Keren Ann, asked Jarrar to take care of her image for her latest album for Polydor Records. “When I like something, I jump right in. It was the most natural transition imaginable,” says Jarrar. Soon, she was sending out cold-call emails to personalities in the arts she admires. “I think I chose them because they’re all self-made and they have a passion; they believe in something, they have a generosity of spirit.” All agreed to come pose in her studio. Many wore a white shirt from Jarrar’s archives; some of the men brought their own.

Tonight, Jarrar’s first photography exhibition, Libertés, opens at Anne-Dominique Toussaint’s Galérie Cinéma in the Upper Marais. While the designer’s minimalist aesthetic is readily apparent, this series of portraits reveals another facet of her life. There are many stars of different stripes: an internationally renowned movie director (Costa-Gavras), a 2019 Cannes prizewinner (Ladj Ly, who won the Jury’s Prize for the police drama Les Misérables, features on the invitation), an art dealer (Kamel Mennour), a sports star (Eric Cantona) and political figures such as UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay, one of Jarrar’s friends, and one of her all-time heroes Christiane Taubira, the former justice minister who championed France’s “Marriage for All” legislation. “When she called me once for a fitting, I was even more excited than if it had been Beyoncé—and I adore Beyoncé. It was the most memorable fitting of my life,” says Jarrar.

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Having circled back to the subject, Jarrar states that she definitely wouldn’t revive her namesake label. But her fans will be relieved to hear the possibility of her making clothes again isn’t entirely off the table. It’s just that she would do things differently next time. “Democratizing luxury would be a good reason to come back to fashion,” she muses. “If I were to come back, it would be to give back to the street what luxury took from it.”

Libertés, an exhibition of portraits by Bouchra Jarrar, will run from July 3 to July 27 at the Galerie Cinéma Anne-Dominique Toussaint in Paris, 26 Rue Saint-Claude, 3rd arrondissement. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.