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Interview by Filep Motwary
It has already been 16 years since Andrew Bolton joined The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and less than one since he was named Wendy Yu Curator in Charge, when the position was endowed.
In between, Bolton worked alongside the esteemed Harold Koda on various projects including Chanel, Dangerous Liaisons, the awarded-for-its excellence Poiret exhibition, and Schiaparelli and Prada.
It was through Savage Beauty, the monographic show on Alexander McQueen, that Andrew Bolton had the spotlight entirely turned on him for creating a show that was far beyond educational, an exhibition that contained extreme emotions and plenty of the most majestic garments ever created in contemporary fashion by the late British designer.
Other shows that followed were China: Through the Looking Glass, a personal favourite, a second monographic show on Rei Kawakubo, Manus x Machina and, lastly, Heavenly Bodies (2018)—the blockbuster show that attracted 1.65 million visitors to The Met.
Camp: Notes on Fashion is the museum’s next major show, framed by Bolton around Susan Sontag’s seminal 1964 essay Notes on “Camp”, aiming to highlight camp in contemporary society and highlight its translation through fashion.
According to Sontag, “Many things in the world have not been named; and many things, even if they have been named, have never been described.
One of these is the sensibility—unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it—that goes by the cult name of ‘Camp’.
Camp is the triumph of the epicene style. (The convertibility of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, ‘person’ and ‘thing’). But all style, that is, artifice, is, ultimately, epicene. Life is not stylish. Neither is nature.”*
FILEP MOTWARY: Mr Bolton, why do we exhibit fashion? Why has it received such phenomenal interest over the past decade?
ANDREW BOLTON: At The Costume Institute, one of our primary roles is to record the evolution of fashion through cultural trends and artistic developments.
We seek to promote the artistry of fashion as an aesthetic medium of equal importance as painting or sculpture. When you see clothing in a museum, you can study and appreciate it in detail. Fashion is so popular today because the Internet democratises access—everyone can see fashion shows live or the next day, something that previously was a privilege for editors and store buyers. The web has promoted and created a global interest in fashion
FM: From your own experience, what is the fashion curator’s task within an exhibition?
AB: To offer new ways of looking at clothes and to interpret clothes through different lenses—of art history, archaeology, psychology, sociology, literature… To offer new ways to expand our horizons around fashion.
FM: What makes a garment worthy of being exhibited?
AB: I gravitate towards objects and designers who have advanced or re-directed the trajectory of fashion through innovation. These innovations can be directed by engagement with social and cultural issues, such as with Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent.
Other designers have engaged more with artistic practices, such as Vionnet, Balenciaga, Azzedine Alaïa and Miyake. There are designers who also provoke conceptually, such as Chalayan, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. Some combine all these qualities, such as Rei Kawakubo. I love when designers engage with social and political issues and are masters of their craft. I appreciate engagement with fashion conceptually and with issues about gender, identity, and sexuality.
FM: In your opinion, where does the body stand in fashion today and how do you consider the body in your exhibition concepts?
AB: The body is central to the art of fashion—it is the canvas upon which clothing is applied and it is critical to the study of fashion. Currently, designers are exploring ideas of body diversity on the runaway, which is encouraging and compelling.
Through history, fashion often tries to alter and transform the body with strategies such as corsetry and crinolines. Clothing can also bring out issues about gender and sexuality in relation to the body that wears it.
FM: What does the museum context and museum display offer to a fashion garment or object?
AB: We create thematic and monographic exhibitions that are dynamic and re-contextualise fashion by juxtaposing the old with the new in surprising conversations. Part of our role is educational, but it is also to entertain. Although entertainment can sometimes be a dirty word in museums, we seek to amuse the visitor—to create a visually compelling exhibition, which tells an engaging story.
We start with a theme, or narrative, and from there divide the exhibition into various sub-themes or chapters based on the material evident in the fashions themselves. Clothing carries many different narratives and it’s up to the curator to tease them out and make them explicit and intelligible. We also strive to create shows that are multisensory and immersive. We sought to do that with the McQueen exhibition  where the environment and the installation helped amplify the narrative.
FM: For centuries now we have had a need to see the body and its form exaggerated…
AB: Clothes were invented to decorate the body. This decoration can be taken to extremes. Historically, some designers honoured the body, like Coco Chanel, while others like McQueen, Charles James and Christian Dior were about altering the body into an idealized form—sometimes creating a parody of the female form. Female designers tend to gravitate more toward clothing that follows the natural contours of the body, while male designers tend to gravitate toward exaggerating and distorting the body.
FM: Would you agree that fashion, now more than ever, has become self-referential, much more closed and solely for those following fashion religiously?
AB: I think the exact opposite. As I mentioned earlier, because of the Internet, everybody has access to high fashion, whether one wears it or not. It is challenging to keep our visitors interested, because there is so much information available. The public becomes much more sophisticated in understanding costume exhibitions. They are more educated about historical fashion and even more so about current fashion.
I also love how the Internet challenges designers: in a trickle-up effect, they have become engaged with the idea of DIY. Clothing is always about consumption and I love the fact that now people experiment much more with their wardrobes. There is more democracy.
Experimental fashion is happening on the streets, while there is a proliferation of fashion identities within the fashion system. I find it a really exciting time!
FM: In your last exhibition, Heavenly Bodies, you spoke about religion and how it intertwines with fashion, their complex relationship. Can we really experience an apotheosis by wearing a garment?
AB: Fashion is a very emotional and expressive art form, which has the ability to move people emotionally and allows for the expression of particular aspects of individual personalities. Fashion is deeply inherent to identity, so while it may not be religious, there is a spiritual connection to fashion.
FM: Is it necessary for the audience to understand the subjects presented in an exhibition or have certain knowledge about them?
AB: One of the lovely things about fashion is that we all wear it and have an opinion about it. It’s very subjective. Curators try to be objective but sometimes fail because we fall in love with the subject matter and objectivity goes out of the window. In exhibitions, there should be a curatorial narrative to engage people. Fashion works of art have an effecting presence and the ability to move you. We want people to engage with the subject and learn from it, as fashion exhibitions should be experiential in a personal way.
FM: Your next show, Camp: Notes on Fashion, opens at The Met this spring. How has Camp managed to have such a great influence on mainstream culture?
AB: Camp has a long history but it became more mainstream when Susan Sontag published her Notes on “Camp” in 1964. Until Sontag provided us with a vocabulary, it was more of a private code among marginalised groups, particularly in the gay community. Sontag makes the distinction between “naïve Camp” and “deliberate Camp”. Naïve Camp is unintentional, not self-conscious, tries to be serious, and fails miserably. Deliberate Camp is much more conscious.
People dismissed Camp as being frivolous and not serious, but today it is extremely powerful. As gay culture has become more mainstream, Camp has been embraced and become part of mainstream culture as well.
FM: In what ways have fashion designers used their profession as a vehicle to engage with Camp? What would you say are the defining elements of Camp?
AB: Designers engage with Camp in different ways, but some elements of Camp are consistent, such as exuberance, exaggeration, irony, naivety, satire, generosity, and humor. Camp is a very amorphous form of artistic expression. Many designers engage with the ironic and satirical aspects. Camp can be seen everywhere if you look at the world through Camp eyes.
There are consistent characteristics, but there is also openness. Designers who engage with Camp are well educated about history and culture, and they play with particular aspects of cultural expression in a Camp way.
FM: A large part of the exhibition focuses on the origins of Camp, which you can trace back to Versailles, and the exaggerated fashions that underlined the 16th century until the late 18th century. Could you elaborate on how the meaning of Camp has evolved over the centuries?
AB: There is no consensus on when Camp originated, but we have traced it to Louis XIV and Versailles through the term “se camper,” a verb for a posture used by aristocrats at the time and described in a play by Molière, as someone who “camps” on one foot.
The next mention of Camp was in a letter between a trans woman and her benefactor, where she talks about her “campish undertaking,” as an adjective. What began as an expression of aristocracy became increasingly associated with gay
culture. In 1909, it appeared as a noun in a dictionary of Victorian slang, after Oscar Wilde’s trials, defined as “actions and gestures of exaggerated emphasis used by persons of exceptional want of character.
In 1954, Christopher Isherwood talked about Camp in his book The World in the Evening and makes a distinction between high Camp and low Camp. Low Camp was “a swishy little boy with peroxide hair… pretending to be Marlene Dietrich.” He associated High Camp with Baroque art, opera and ballet. In 1964, when Sontag released Notes on “Camp”, the aesthetic became more mainstream.
FM: Why is there always room for irony in fashion? What does it serve?
AB: With Camp, irony was a tool of power, a way of empowering the community through playing with ideals of gender: the hyper-feminine female or the hyper masculine male. Irony is at the heart of Camp.
FM: What about gender, how is gender portrayed through Camp? Why is gender so often used as a form of resistance.
AB: Camp recognises that gender is performative; it is as much cultural as it is biological. Men and women who employ the Camp aesthetic project an ironic take on gender. The idea of irony in gender is inherent in Camp.
FM: Can we challenge authority by being flamboyant in the way we dress today? Is Camp a reaction to society’s standards?
AB: Very much so! I’ve always loved how fashion is used to challenge or confront the status quo. Camp responds and reacts to culture, and comes to the fore in moments of polarisation and increased conservatism, which is why it is so relevant now.
FM: Is there a debate between the exhibits and the audience?
AB: I’m not sure it’s a debate. I want to challenge people with what they see; I want to make them think differently about fashion or a topic—and with Camp, I hope they will see the relevance to their lives. We always try to find a topic that defines a cultural trend or shift, for people to engage with. We want them to appreciate the artistry of the objects as well as the conceptual side of the exhibition. I want people to realise Camp is a very sophisticated form of artistic expression and a powerful tool, particularly in these times.
Interview by Filep Motwary
The phone rings and film director Lisa Immordino Vreeland greets me with a crystal- clear voice filled with excitement. I wish to know more about her latest book and documentary, both focusing on Cecil Beaton, under the title Love, Cecil. They spotlight the depth of Beaton’s prolific career as a photographer and painter and his scope as a writer, costume designer and overall dreamer.
For no less than 25 years, Lisa Immordino Vreeland has been immersed in the world of fashion and art. Her first book was accompanied by her directorial debut of the documentary of the same name, on the subject of her grandmother-in-law, Diana
Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2012), winner of the Silver Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival and the fashion category for the Design of the Year Awards—otherwise known as the Oscars of design—at the Design Museum in London. The film Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict followed in 2015.
While Love, Cecil is taking the world by storm; Immordino Vreeland is now working on a film about writer Truman Capote. What is evident in her work is, of course, her ability to pick her subjects but, more importantly, the generous way she portrays them. The same can be said for her short-film series The Art of Style, portraying outstanding personalities at work.
An excellent storyteller, in each of her films Immordino Vreeland invites you to discover something you thought you knew but, in fact, didn’t.
FILEP MOTWARY: Where are you and what are you working on right now?
LISA IMMORDINO VREELAND: I am about to leave tomorrow for a trip to Bora Bora and although it was never on my list of places to visit, I am very excited about it. I am working on several things, commercial work as well, but I am preparing my next feature documentary, on Truman Capote.
FM: So it’s one after the other! But you are very picky with your subjects…
LIV: Yes! I am lucky that they even agree to do it, but let’s not forget that many of my subjects are no longer alive and I typically negotiate with estates or rights holders. I feel very fortunate to be able to make movies and more and more people are beginning to understand my work and perhaps see it in a different way. I am very much off the radar and always do my own thing; I am not part of the film world and I am not part of the fashion world. There is a storytelling aspect to my work, and I think it is not just fashion content that I deliver but there is something more to it.
FM: In the Diana Vreeland documentary, every time I watch Anna Sui explaining how ahead she was, Diana’s move from Harper’s Bazaar to Vogue and her transition to the futuristic 1960s, I get goosebumps! Every single time…
LIV: Oh, that’s very sweet… But let’s be honest, she was amazing. I never knew or met her—although I was in love with her grandson at the time. And although I was never mesmerised—I was not one of those people who were under her spell—eventually, I did fall under her spell years later when I was doing the book research and documentary work. This led me to a very high level of respect for what she represented and what she believed in. This happens to me when I do the research and get to know the characters. For example, Peggy Guggenheim didn’t have that level of passion that Mrs Vreeland had—I mean you can be passionate but then you also need to have other qualities.
Mrs Vreeland just embraced everything. The research process was a learning curve and frankly, everything I do is a learning curve. And it is truly wonderful that I am doing something that I can learn from.
FM: You didn’t idolise her in your film. On the contrary: the way you portrayed Mrs Vreeland allowed the audience to follow the timeline of her achievements and her vision through numerous aesthetic examples and how she actually formed the ways we perceive fashion today.
LIV: Yes, you are right. It is dangerous that anyone idolises their subjects but you fall in love with them and then out of love and then start all over again. With Mrs Vreeland, I never really fell out of love. It was more difficult to stay in love with Peggy Guggenheim. Now with Beaton, it is again different because I have always adored him. Even when he had his antisemitic moments, I still adored him. I feel like he sacrificed everything for creativity and that is something that I admire so much. Peggy was the one character who I wish had a bigger heart at times.
FM: When did you become aware of, and interested in, film and storytelling?
LIV: I was born in Milan, Italy and my parents were first-generation Americans from Italian and Spanish families who had come over to America and were both born in New York. My mother was of Spanish descent and my father was of Italian descent. Dad was a businessman and we were living in Milan. Growing up in Italy formed my thinking, the lifestyle, this curiosity I have of seeing things, being exposed to art from an early age and travelling. Going to La Scala as a child, for example, the access we had to such things had a great impact on my life as an adult. The fact that my family was so strongly bonded was, for me, a good base filled with security that enabled me to step out in life and be comfortable.
As a child, I remember being very calm and very much in my own world, very quiet and silent within myself; this is something I remember strongly from those days. I have no idea what this has to do with storytelling…!
An archaeologist is what I always wanted to be. It’s something that I used to say as a young child. I did not study archaeology at college and instead chose art history, which, in a way, is a study of people. Art has always been a big passion in my life and wherever I go, to any city, I always look around for art, as it feeds me, it helps me grow. Though strangely, after college I ended up working in fashion immediately.
To go to the next level after college, for my master’s in art history, I had to speak German and I had no interest in learning the language—I spoke fluent Italian and a little bit of French but, at that point,
I just didn’t want to take that extra step. I finished college early and ended up in New York where I got a job at Polo Ralph Lauren. I was literally an assistant or more like a secretary to one of the vice presidents for production. It was very much a men’s club there because these were the old offices.
There were a bunch of us there and many of us got our first job at Ralph Lauren—it was an incredible training ground for a lot of people in the industry. In the end, I think my energy was much more fashion than it was art history. Soon I ended up working for another company called Gruppo Girombelli and they had very popular collections: Byblos, Claude Montana who was designing Complice and Versace who was designing Genny. So, I was in the middle of this incredible showroom—the collections were really hot at the time. I was primarily working on Byblos selling and there I learned how to work in the fashion industry. I launched a collection with photographer Fabrizio Ferri called Industria and it was cool at the time. It was based out of a photo studio in New York called Industria Superstudio.
Two or three jobs followed, and I began to design my own collection after I realised I didn’t really fit into a certain office-structure so I started creating jobs for myself. Becoming a designer was one of them.
FM: How did the Diana Vreeland book and then the documentary idea come about at that time? How did your husband and the Vreeland family react to it?
LIV: It was around 2010 when the Vreeland book [The Eye Has to Travel] was launched. At the time we were living in Paris, I had just become a mother and was thinking, “Ok, I’m going to enjoy Paris but I can’t just sit and do nothing, I’m not that kind of person”. It was when I started working on the book that I realised that I wanted to make a film. I felt that a new book on Mrs Vreeland had not been done in years, so I began to work on it. I realized that I would have very good access to people throughout the research process and decided to simultaneously make a film.
The Vreeland men, my husband and Mrs Vreeland’s two sons, were very supportive throughout the process. I think they never realised that it would become such a success and revitalise Mrs Vreeland’s career and legacy. I was equally surprised.
The research is what I loved and I have always been very meticulous about it and enjoying the search for it; frankly, I think that’s really what brought me into filmmaking. I loved going through the process of discovering material, understanding how I can apply it in the film and I like gathering it all together and looking at the project as a whole. I am very particular about the way the material presented looks when it is on camera—I am incredibly anal about that but, at the same time, my aim for it is to look very cinematic so there’s another aspect to it. I feel that documentaries can be visually stimulating— beautiful—and, for me, it is important that they are. So, these are certain qualities that I aim for each time. Documentaries have started to become hotter and hotter: there are so many filmmakers out there right now and I am just a little entity in this whole world of so many people wanting to tell a story. Sometimes why my approach looks different is because it has a veneer to it that gives a very finished look, which is not a normal aspect in documentary films.
FM: This has to do with your subjects, too. They are all strongly linked with aesthetics… And now, your third documentary, Love Cecil, portrays again a man of high, if not the highest of aesthetics. Since Cecil Beaton and Diana Vreeland, what has changed in the ways we perceive beauty and how has the term evolved?
LIV: Well, I think both come from the same school of what they thought beauty was. In a funny way, these characters are so interlinked. Their sense of beauty is very much defined by the 20th century: it was a lifestyle, a general view of life rather than about objects and this is something very important to consider. There was a consciousness about the type of life that they pursued, of a certain standard and that certain standard evolved around the word beauty. You had, of course, these great characters of that time pursuing exactly the same thing… Think of someone like Jean Cocteau, for example.
FM: But why was their notion of beauty so powerful?
LIV: I think it is because it was unfiltered and encumbered by all the other things that we have today. We have so many things that can take away from the beauty of a single object or the beauty of a moment—there are so many distractions today.
I just finished a mini-documentary on Cocteau for my series Art of Style on M2M and, like the rest of them; he was not an easy person to live or to work with, yet he was a true intellectual. Look at his written work, his films, his art: everything he created was remarkably beautiful.
These characters had an awareness of each other and there was an intellectual and creative dialogue that was only based on the arts. They were also living at a time when the standard of living and quality of what they had was so much higher than today. I hate to be negative about that, but it’s the truth. Beaton sacrificed his whole to achieve beauty. He once told his friend Manolo Blahnik that the most important word in the dictionary was the word beauty. When I was looking at all the body of work, I could not believe what he had created.
FM: In all three films you have directed, plus the Art of Style series and your books, the visuals and aesthetics serve as perhaps the most engaging catalyst for the viewer. Where does your ability to understand and embrace aesthetics come from?
LIV: I hope that I can help educate the young generation with all of this material. Isn’t it wonderful that you can stream a movie and learn something from it? With my short series, The Art of Style, it is more about the creative process of the person in the film. It is a great challenge to be able to do it and I love working on creating this shorter content. I have been fortunate to have incredible access to everyone and to really be curious about every character. You also have to be passionate about what you are doing and I always am. All of this work takes a lot of time and research not only on my part but also for the interviewee. I really want to put my best foot forward to represent them properly. I feel that I have the luck of working with an amazing executive producer who trusts me, Susan Hootstein, who has really allowed me to curate this series. You have to remember: it’s all about teamwork.
I could never do my work without my team.
FM: How easy was it for you to peep into their lives in a way that does not insult their memory and how tempting is it to reveal an even more private secret when you come across it? For example, in the Vreeland documentary, her sons revealed how sometimes it was hard for them living with the larger-than-life personality of their mother…
LIV: You have to reveal some of their privacy: this is also what the audience wants, to see the human aspect of these characters. It is not necessarily always gossip that they want but it’s true: the more you reveal, the more the audience relates to the character, knowing that they perhaps have some of the same issues that we all have. In the case of Beaton, I think his biggest downfall was the fact that he was considered such a snob and it hurt the movie a little bit because people did not take him seriously enough. I took him very, very seriously, especially after going through his body of work. That’s what matters to me but we are not all like that. Although the film got good press there were two or three local reviews that said “he was such a snob” yet this was coming from somebody who already had that pre-conceived notion that they never liked him anyway, so it didn’t matter what kind of film I’d made. They couldn’t get around the fact that he was such a snob.
Mrs Vreeland’s husband had some affairs and that was something that I knew about. In her eyes, he was always the man of her life and she never had another relationship with a man after he died. So that was not her story; that was his story and that was a conscious choice that I made not to say much about it. If she had been the one having these affairs, I would have written about it, but it wasn’t the case.
FM: Yes, I see what you mean. Why are we so fascinated by other people’s lives, do you think?
LIV: We all sit there and read things and we always have this thirst to know, from our ancestors even. I think it is our need to learn more about someone. Or what you can learn from someone’s life and reflect it on your own and learn about yourself.
We are all attracted to gossip. Look at Instagram: this public space where people can know more about each other and perhaps talk about things that you would never mention before. I think the documentary as a film format gives a very creative interest in how a story is told but also the satisfaction of discovering the truth behind the name, the victories or failures, the love affairs…
FM: For all three of the characters you have chosen to document, their lives were very lonely, perhaps egocentric too, in the sense that their ambition did not allow any space for great relationships and yet everything they did involved others in some sort of a frame they would curate. What is your take on this?
LIV: All three of them were determined individuals. Their ability for reinvention is probably the reason I chose them; I feel a connection probably because I have reinvented my own life so many times. Vreeland was a society lady and she already had a certain lifestyle and most importantly, confidence. As she wrote in her childhood diary, “I want to be THAT girl.” And being “that girl” meant that she was going to make something out of her life. She used fashion to present a message really about living life fully and how to be passionate about it. Peggy came from a wealthy family so that was probably the biggest negative issue she had to deal with all her life simply because you can never really feel bad for her because she had money.
She never had happiness and was considered the ugly little duckling, pretty much like Vreeland, only Diana then chose to become something else.
The great thing about Peggy was her dream to make a great art collection. What is outstanding about her was that she wanted to share this collection with the world, unlike other collectors, such as Gertrude Stein or Isabella Stewart Gardner.
Beaton, on the other hand, was about his own singular vision, about creating, about being stuck in this middle-class family that he felt wasn’t quite good enough for him. At a young age, he took control of the situation and started taking society portraits of his two sisters and mother and sending them to newspapers to be published only to have their name recognized. It shows perhaps a notion of his desperation. He was always running after that idea of belonging in the upper class. The British upper class is so difficult to enter and once he did enter it he wanted to stay and frankly I think it is very much the same way even today.
Thankfully, he was talented at many things: it’s surprising what a great writer he was. I read all the books. Everything that came from him was very beautiful: the photography, the costumes, the set design, his illustrations but, unfortunately, he was really not a happy person. He did not live a full life because he never let that part of him go. He was always working to make money in order to maintain that lifestyle that he had and wanted to maintain.
FM: What was the most challenging part of making Love, Cecil? How did you decide the order in which you would tell your story, apart from its chronological order?
LIV: I always say that I don’t want to make a film that is chronological and I kind of end up doing it, which really upsets me because I don’t want it to be that way. Hopefully it will be different with Capote but I am not saying anything! Who knows how it’s going to turn out? We have so much visual material to choose from, so much to see: we have different parts of his life and frankly, we always run into the same problem when portraying these great personalities.
FM: And how did you make visual decisions?
LIV: In Love, Cecil I wanted to show iconic images but then I wanted to show all these other images. What is really nice for me is people who have known his work or those who have been part of the Beaton fan club were so thrilled to see the work that
I included; with most of it they were not familiar. I wanted it to look contemporary; the whole Bright Young Things era is so now, and I think we tried to make the film look as creative as he was.
We wanted to create visual texture to the film and we added colour washing and movement to the images—we were dealing with hundreds of black and white images. How do you make something like that more interesting visually? I think, in the end, we were able to pull that off. It seems that people like that the film looks this way.
FM: How difficult is it to fit such an enormous career into a 100-minute film?
LIV: You know, you just do it! You come across all of these great acquaintances, like when he met Sergei Diaghilev in Piazza San Marco when he was in his 20s for example. Sure, I would have loved to put this story in but do you know how many people have no idea who Diaghilev was? I would love to have put more about his sittings, getting to know more of his heroes and the reasons… That’s always one of the biggest challenges while trying to get into the essence of the character and what this person is doing. I felt, for example, that Ashcombe House was such an important part of his life; one should see his home. So we broke it down to chapters and, while shooting, I wanted to go back to that “green” feeling of Ashcombe, which was basically an isolated place in the countryside. Sometimes these ideas work and others simply don’t. I am trying something completely different with the Capote doc: I have a very precise idea and I think it will work.
FM: As you see it, what was Cecil Beaton’s real role in life? At some point in the film, according to Hamish Bowles, Beaton was essentially an outsider, striving to get in…
LIV: It is what I mentioned briefly before: this whole thing about the British class system. He was an outsider and he was welcomed in through aristocrat Steven Tennant who was part of the Bright Young Things and who officially gave Cecil his entrance to high society. But then also, The Queen of England chose him to photograph the Royal Family —something that helped define a more contemporary image of the Empire.
Deep down, I think he never felt like he belonged and that was one of his issues. It didn’t matter to him how successful he was, how much money he was making or how many friends he had. He just didn’t feel good in his own skin.
That was also his shortcoming with love: as he couldn’t feel good about himself, it was impossible for him to really engage with anyone sentimentally. It was sad at the end because he died alone.
FM: What is truly outstanding about him was the need to portray people in their most glorious versions, in the best way they could be. There was something rather mythical about the way he envisioned his subjects and life in general. Like Vreeland, he liked turning things into mythical testimonials.
LIV: He was in denial to see the world in any other way and what was nice about him was that he invited us in to see it through his own eyes. At the same time, living like that, you are not dealing with the truth and that’s the other side of it: not being realistic about life. This was something that covered up his own personal shortcomings.
FM: What was the most astonishing thing you came across during your research? How much did you know about him before you started this project?
LIV: I knew a lot about him but it never occurred to me that he was such a lonely person; this came to me as a surprise. Also how insecure he was!
It was very difficult to read his unpublished diaries that are held at Cambridge at St John’s, as I really didn’t understand his handwriting. It was impossible. So, I read all his published diaries instead and while doing so, it was clear this voice of being really alone surrounded him.
I also didn’t know anything about his brother who threw himself in front of a train and who was his father’s favourite son.
FM: In what ways are Diana Vreeland, Cecil Beaton and Peggy Guggenheim connected?
LIV: The most important is that they all have this sense of reinvention. They were all unstoppable creative forces and very much at the same speed. Vreeland and Beaton were very close friends and everybody in the family calls Cecil “Cecilia” because that’s how she referred to him back in the day. Peggy’s artistic world and crowd was not a part of Mrs Vreeland’s world as Beaton’s was, but I would say that indeed they are interconnected. Today they still are influential because of their achievements, yet it is really all about their sense of reinvention.
It was fundamental for all three of them.
Style Expert and former Editor-in-Chief of Fashion at French Vanity Fair @virginiemouzat, talks to Vogue Greece’s Editor-in-Chief @thaleiavoguegr, for all her fashion and style inspiration. Read the #styletalk by pressing here.
Portrait: @filepmotwary Interview by: @thaleiavoguegr
All photography by Filep Motwary, published in the April 2019 issue of Vogue Greece. Read the online report here.
An interview with Dior’s Artistic Director, Maria Grazia Chiuri by Filep Motwary as it appears in the May 2019 issue of Vogue Greece.
Iris Van Herpen interview by Filep Motwary for the print and digital versions of Vogue Greece, issue April 2019.
Read the interview in Greek by pressing here.
All photography by Filep Motwary for JOYCE.COM and JOYCE social media. MEN + WOMEN collections FW19/20
There is a sense of freedom behind the concept of the Parisian collective brand Nouvelle Affaire, but there always has been, since the very beginning.It only takes a visit to their boutique to realize that,in their universe, there is always a pitch or a mood or a certain reference, which is not necessarily easy to put in a precise frame. Pascal Humbert and his business partner Catherine Ansel carved their own path outside the normal fashion system and this strategy seems to have always worked out well for them.On the occasion of his freshly launched eponymous collection, I meet with Pascal to discuss color,architecture, Spain, the battle of the sexes and his view on normality in the 21st century.
FILEPMOTWARY: How did your day start? What are you working on now?
PASCALHUMBERT: It’s a nice morning, thanks for asking me. I am now focusing on a uniforms project;unfortunately, I am not allowed to say much about it. I am working on some prototypes for a call for tender and we are supposed to present them on Monday. It’s a company that makes jewellery. We will see… In the meantime, we are preparing to present our new collection in October during the shows simultaneously with a pop-up store in Milan for four days. We are adding also Madrid and a collaboration with the store L’Exception: it was the first place we ever presented our current project,which was a great success and we would like to repeat it. So we will make an installation that willend up as an exhibition and will be on for a month.
FM: Now that you mention it, there’s something very Spanish about this collection…
PH: I am glad you see it that way, although we didn’t really think about it until the collection was finished. But it’s true, there’s a very Spanish vibe about it.
FM: Dapper Dan has asked me to interview you for your new fashion collection, but before I get there,may I ask what your upbringing was like, up until the moment you decided to work in fashion?
PH: I think I always wanted to work in fashion; there was always something that fascinated me about it. Clothes were very present in my life as a child.My family was into clothes too so the essence of dressing and making an effort was a way of life. Normally, if you want to be involved in fashion you have to go to a fashion school, which I didn’t. I went to the Beaux-Arts, which turned out to work fine for me in the end although it was the only possibility that I had at that time. I always knew that fashion would be my job.I then worked for a boutique, during my studies,and then I opened our own shop with my sister in Alsace.
We would design clothes and sell them there while I was also intrigued by the art of decoration and we were selling Memphis objects.
I moved to Paris and I worked for different brands.One of them was Barbara Bui—I was doing her windows and, after a while, I started to design collection of T-shirts for her and later the main line.From the start, we made a deal that if I designed forher I would also make my own collection and she agreed. She was more than generous to me; she offered me fabrics and the time to do it, a place to show it. I don’t know if this could be offered to me today or to anybody else who is starting a career,but most importantly I wonder where I found the courage to ask for something like that.
FM: The 2018 Series N°01 collection seems almost genderless. Could you elaborate on how you perceive the integrity of gender in relation to how the body is perceived and used in fashion today?
PH: The way I dress myself or when I go to a vintage store and find something that I really like, I don’t care if it is for men or for women. To put it simply,I never go specifically to the men’s section or thewomen’s section. It is more about something that I want and would like to see myself wearing, without the aspect of gender included. You see, times have changed a lot and it’s a natural evolution to break the boundaries of gender. The freedom of our sex reality has a very different meaning now. When we created the collection, it seemed logical to us to leave the possibility to both women and men to appropriate the collection.
FM: So, if we break the boundaries of the sexes,what would be the next step in evolution?
PH: We are still talking about clothes, yes [laughs]?We see fashion as something more open-minded and free in a general way.
FM: Most of the time environments require links with architecture. Is there some sort of a fascination you have with architecture and does it limit your creativity with clothes somehow as the former is something static in time, once it is created, while fashion is evolving every six months?
PH: I feel it is about someone thinking more globally: your home, the environment you live in, the clothes you wear, the food you choose to eat—there has to be a coherence around one’s personality. It’s about what the person likes. When I design clothes, the idea is to present a complete and global universe.
FM: I am always impressed by your ability to present the clothes you design in juxtaposition with furniture, sculptures and paintings. Often you create objects and props as well. Could you explain to me this theory you have on the relationship of clothes and environments and how they perhaps complement each other?
PH: When I think of a collection I always include the question “Where do I see these clothes?” Also where and the way these clothes would ideally move. I want my guests who see the clothes for the first time to be in a certain state of mind, an ambiance. It matters to me. The customers are usually in the same state of mind as that behind the making of the collection.
FM: What mindset are you in when you sit down to design this collection in particular?
PH: I see it as a trial collection, a pilot for what is to come. This is how everything started. I amusing this first collection to find a way to continue it, like when you go and buy a house—you see the prototype, the maquette—and also it is a work-in progress collection. When I sit down to design my collection, I follow and use as much emotion as possible while trying to procure these emotions for others. It’s not a time for emotion in fashion perhaps, at least not in the fashion industry. But people do have emotion, and if we do not protect this ability we have, then everything is lost.
Personally, I lost this notion for a moment in time but now I have found it again, hopefully. In the past,we used to be obsessed with certain designers,brands, pop stars. Today we cannot have this:things happen and are very quick. People change and it’s hard to find a true story to feel engaged in.
FM: You are so private, Pascal. How have you maintained your status and relevance in the industry for so many years and now in the digital world?
PH: I don’t know why or how. When we started there was no Internet, there was no interest in archiving.I give everything away, always. I don’t think in the way of “should I be archiving my work?”
I am interested in exhibiting what I do but in a different way, as things happening now towards that direction are not very interesting for me. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I never stopped working. You are right but this is how I do things. We have started collaborating with a press office now; perhaps this will change things [laughs].
FM: The collection does not have fixed scheduling. How will it work commercially?
PH: The thing is to find the shops that would like to collaborate according to this way of working.Clients are interested in the “concept” behind the collection and we are eager to propose something new each time. For the moment we don’t want to produce thousands of clothes. This is a small story and it needs to correspond to the size of our company.
FM: How would you describe your relationship with colour, especially in this collection?
PH: Yes, this collection is mostly about the colors and fabrics. The shape of the clothes is very clean too. This approach is very new for me; usually we are more conceptual and go towards other directions.
FM: Should money be a goal in fashion? What else should be a goal?
PH: For me, it has never been a priority but the truth is we need money to move forward. Also,pleasure, getting the best out of what you do and enjoying it should be goals.
FM: You work closely with Catherine Ansel with whom you created Nouvelle Affaire in 2009. Can you tell me more about this relationship and the brand?
PH: Yes, we met when we were both very young;we lived in the same city and became friends in Alsace. We bonded immediately and decided to make this relationship concrete by creating Nouvelle Affaire. Nouvelle Affaire is a laboratory where we mix uniforms, the essence of a boutique and collaborations with others like, for example,Catherine Baba, etc. It’s not always about clothes—it can be design objects, furniture…
FM: What do you find so fascinating in fashion?What has driven you all these years?
PH: The pleasure.
FM: What are the tricks one has to learn to survive in fashion?
PH: Loyalty, honesty…
Thom Browne FW19, photography by Filep Motwary © for Joyce Hong Kong.
Interview Filep Motwary
It is two weeks before Dries Van Noten announces his partnership with Puig, the third-generation family-owned fashion and fragrance business based in Barcelona. I find myself on a train to Antwerp for an interview with the Belgian designer,a member of The Antwerp Six, the group that took fashion by storm in Paris—and eventually the world—in the mid-1980s.
Everything about the DVN headquarters is serene, including the view from its windows, with Antwerp’s harbor reflecting color into every room. The 60,000-square-foot, six-storey water front former warehouse is now a place for creation. Flowers, antiques and paintings construct a working environment that I wouldn’t mind being part of. Thomas walks me up to the top floor to the showroom and tells me the story of the building that was originally used for storing wine and spirits. From the 1950s, it was used as a warehouse for old museums. While going up I see familiar faces.
We are on the top floor and Dries enters the room precisely on time, as I get nervous for not having my recorder ready. He is charming and his voice helps me relax. The conversation starts by referring to some of his earlier collections. While I am trying to set up my recording equipment I ask if he ever noticed how enthusiastic and emotional pit photographers become during his shows.
“They have the best place during a show,” he answers.
“They switched places with the top journalists as they used to be on the side of the catwalk, standing and taking pictures. It’s now all about the power of ‘image’ that has become important…”
FILEP MOTWARY: We definitely live in different times now… Recently I came across this wonderful video on Facebook, a montage that included 104 finales from your shows. I admire the fact that all these clothes are still very universal—easy to understand, very wearable,beautiful clothes—all of them, every single look, from the very beginning. Yet, what is notable is the fun in these shows that gradually vanishes. The models walk differently, they do not smile; they appear as soldiers almost.Why this change of energy?
DRIES VAN NOTEN: Well, I think it’s the general change in the world. For the moment, even when you see people on the street, they are often blank-faced. It has to do also with the designers now and how they suggest things. In the past the fashion shows were point-one of the fun effect: there was not so much stress involved,the press and the seating was also a matter to solve as they behaved as gods and they had to be treated as gods and the whole situation of who-is-sitting-next-to whom-and-where was nerve-wracking… So the front-row concept today has also changed. Nowadays, a fashion show, instead of a fun moment and a moment for expression of creativity, has become more like a huge event.
There’s another thing that has changed and I think it’s very obvious: in the past, designers liked when the model added something of herself to the outfit. So, when I would see someone like Pat Cleveland wearing a look and how she would move and swing on the catwalk, it was 50 per cent about the outfit and 50 per cent about Pat. What most designers want now is something that is completely blank, perhaps like a marionette, and the focus is solely on the clothes. It’s no longer a combination of the two. Probably the model doesn’t really add and this is why I still like to work with some of my “fetish”models, who I include in nearly every show, like Daiane Conterato or Hanne Gaby; these are girls that might not have a full expression like the models of the past did but what they do have is a great personality and strong presence. Most importantly they understand what they wear. It’s the same thing with some of the boy models.When I think of my first show, there was John Francis and others who would go on the catwalk swinging and having fun and enjoying life. Now the boys are 16 to 18years old, very young… This is a change but this is also the reality.
At DVN, there is always a choice from castings. We still do a rather individual selection and we mix here and there some street characters as well. For our hundredth show, we only used models from the past while trying to make a statement and add a more personal touch to the whole presentation. Naturally, we like also to be part of this new movement in fashion’s current reality.
DVN: Yes! I think a model always has to feel the outfit a little bit and that’s important because if it’s not the case,people won’t believe the clothes they look at. A fashion show stands as something different for each designer.Some designers do collections that are not necessarily linked with reality, while for us, every piece we show on the catwalk, we want to sell.It’s very important for me to show the realness and reality behind what I do and it’s vital that the people in the room,the guests of the fashion show or those who look at it from home on their laptop or smartphone, that they feel a connection and are able to say, “This is something that I would like to buy.” This is completely different from saying,“This is something beautiful to look at.”A lot of designers create things that are really beautiful“images” and fail to engage people that would like to reflect themselves in these clothes.
Of course, sometimes things are a bit more crazy or theoretical but still behind what we present, there is always reality. As we grow older we know more and more about ourselves and about the clothes we want to wear.
FM: What about your approach to the sexes and gender?It is very specific in your collections: you separate men from women very precisely. Yet, we live in a period where a third gender is forming in the zeitgeist while it suggests a more fluid conception of gender. How do you respond to this as a designer?
DVN: I have always used the medium of a men’s fashion show and a women’s fashion show. You have seen in the video of my shows’ finales that you mentioned earlier, that even in my first collections that were for men I always made sure to include women too. It was once I had the budget that my shows were separated into men’s and women’s but I never said that my collections were only designed solely for one or the other. For the moment, there is so much fashion in the world and so many images that I want to stick to something rather simple: a clear system so that people know what they can expect to look at or wear. Through this persistence,I can still change things around.
The strongest collections I have made in the past are those where I started to play with the perception of what is menswear and what is womenswear.
FM: Should men and women dress more like each other?
DVN: I love the fact that there is a difference! It is great when they can borrow pieces from each other’s wardrobe and it is very important to me that my customers have these possibilities. I did collections where the whole starting point was this. For example, in a show I did in Milan in 2008 for men, my focus was sportswear and I wanted to use women’s materials. The question was about how people connect certain materials with sportswear while they don’t with others. Why it was acceptable for the man to wear a transparent mesh t-shirt and why it wasn’t acceptable for him to show up in a muslin silk shirt instead.Why is a certain neon colour only acceptable when applied to running clothes and not OK when you include it in certain menswear pieces? I started to play a little bit with that game, putting the neon colour on a plasticized mac which, of course, was the most normal thing todo; and for the show, I used the same neon colour but in duchesse satin.
FM: What was the response to this collection?
DVN: I think that if it had been shown in Paris it would have been perfectly OK and accepted. I showed in Milan and the journalists were in a different mindset that was more “Milan” fashion mode and expected to see more traditional things. So I think they were a little bit confused with all these transparencies and the duchesses—all these really couture materials applied to menswear. It is a collection that I very much like to look at still; transparent nylons in neon colours… So yes, it was like all those strange things combined. Nylon is OK but muslin is not OK… Why?
For women, there was a collection we called “Fred and Ginger”—you know these images of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing, where he is wearing the tuxedo and she is wearing this beautiful feather dress? They swirl and swirl and swirl and I said, “Ok, when you swirl so much, you are no longer looking at two people dancing: they become one”. What if this was my inspiration? What would a collection look like? So it was about menswear shirts with feather skirts underneath men’s coats that were entirely embroidered again with feathers and other precious things.
FM: Yes, I love it so much. One of the looks was used in my Haute-à-Porter exhibition in 2016. Speaking of which, I want to ask: where is the emotion in fashion? Is it possible that sentiment no longer engages with the current state of the fashion industry and if so, why? What has changed?
DVN: It depends from designer to designer. There are some of us that still work with emotion; others prefer a cold, really product type of environment. For me, emotion is very present in my collections and I love to infuse it. I remember the very first time I put a woman’s silhouette in my fashion show, a young girl with bright red lips. I had my guests lying down on white cushions and we played Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender, which made everybody cry—it was so emotional, truly. Or the other collection we did, with the carpet [SS15], a few years back… Emotion is present in what I do and I am not afraid of it. I am also not afraid of crying. Laughing and crying is part of human life and I want to believe that fashion is part of human life too.
FM: How connected are you to the body you design for?Or at least what is your theory for both the male and female body? What really guides you in designing?
DVN: The body gives structure and life to the clothes that I design. Of course, everybody is different and this is truly wonderful. One might say this is also the reason why I avoid designing total-look silhouettes; I design separates because everybody is different. It would make no sense to me if I said: “This is the perfect body so I make designs only for that.” The perfect body doesn’t exist! The body goes together with character, the way we move, our gestures.Movement for me is much more important than the body itself!Sometimes you have models that have a very strange body but they have a presence and certainly a very special movement, so beautiful that it erases the rest. Very often a well-dressed person is not necessarily the one that has the perfect size 36—for me they can have a very narrow part and big hips or the other way round, if we speak about women; for the men it is also more of a state of mind and expression before anything else. That’s important I think.
FM: So when does the body come in when you design a collection? Do you sketch, or work directly on the mannequin?
DVM: You can design whatever you want; every starting point, the beginning of a collection, is very theoretical.You talk about theoretical points: I would like to do this,I would like to mix this and that element, some art,different fabrics or textures, ideas, thoughts, a movie I have seen maybe, a smell, a walk in the garden… All these elements you bring together to use as inspiration.
But a designer very quickly will have to start doing fittings,to see these ideas on the body that they are to be worn on. In that way, we need to start by questioning whether our man or woman wears classic shoes, wears sneakers,or wears sports sandals. Because each of these are about three different ways of moving. With men, it is less evident than with women of course. Is she wearing heels with 11cm height, an easy flat men’s shoe or is she a flip-flop type? And it’s not only about the length, the height and presence and how they appeal, it’s also about the way she moves and I told you already how important for me this is.Either she stands up and walks with her hips or she has a more boyish walk, which gives immediately a different character.
It is quite nice that, as a designer, you can play a little bit with the perception of what people expect from somebody with flat shoes and what people expect from a woman in high heels. Maybe there we have to play a little bit with perception, as mentioned. With high heels, people expect a sexy dress and a mini skirt perhaps.
FM: Where does sex stand in your collections then, Mr Van Noten?
DVN: You don’t have to show flesh to be sexy and erotic. Hiding things or the way that fabric falls and drapes over the body, the suggestion of sex perhaps, can be more stimulating.
FM: You’re very careful about revealing too much about yourself in public but then you reveal so much about yourself through your shows. Isn’t it cruel to do something that is simultaneously so pleasurable for you and yet so painful in a way?
DVN: I don’t hide; I am not someone like Martin Margiela who does not want to be seen. The best proof is that I did a documentary. Some people don’t like it because it is not dramatic enough—there are no tears involved.
FM: How do you mean dramatic?
DVN: You know, there was no fashion drama in it. Some expect us fashion people to be throwing things and screaming at each other but, unfortunately, there was nothing like that in this film. I didn’t want to leave things out of the documentary. It was an important thing for me since after my exhibition in 2014 there were still a lot of things that I wanted to tell. When Reiner Holzemer came to me and said that he would like to do a documentary I thought that it would be a good idea because fashion has become such a kind of a “thing” that perhaps it would be a nice way to show to people what fashion for me is really about: the skill, the savoir-faire—it’s about putting fabrics together and all those things… It is not about dressing a celebrity on the red carpet, that’s not fashion for me.
It became fashion unfortunately but now DVN is more about the beauty and the craft and all those wonderful elements that we love and the brand stands for.
FM: In the documentary, you declare that you find it necessary to infuse some “bad taste” into your work. This is something that I would have never guessed as your collections are always considered to be the pinnacle of well-researched elegance. What is elegance for you?
DVN: I am not sure that I make things elegant. I can make things that maybe people will look good in when wearing them. Elegance is a combination of different things and it stands differently for every person. It is about personal taste, experiences, hobbies, one’s movement,the personality… I always try to make clothes that are just a way of expression: they will reveal things about the person who wears them. Your reflection can be in a basic navy sweater to a rich fully-embroidered jacket; it doesn’t matter in the end.
Through the clothes I’m making I want to give words to the wearer to take them and create a story by combining these words. You can tell a story with these words one year and pick up the same garment a few years later and combine it with new words to make up a new story or to continue from where you left it.It is really a pity that fashion sometimes is only about the surface: how much money somebody makes, how well informed one is in terms of what is trendy today and not tomorrow.
FM: In one of your interviews you said colour and men don’t always go very well together. Why?
DVN: I use colour and indeed for the collection that is now in stores [men ss18], I really did a complete study in colour—different nuances and things like that. Of course,with men you have to be a bit more careful, to make them believable and, in the end, I really want to make collections that also sell in the stores. It would not make any sense to make a collection that looks great on the catwalk but doesn’t sell.
FM: How would you define the Dries Van Noten man? Who is this guy, what does he do, what does he like? What drives him?
DVN: Our customer age varies from 16 to 80 and we sell to all the people there and in between. It’s more of an attitude rather than a typical age group we focus on. Most people are always in search of something creative and they use their clothes to tell something about themselves.
The strangest thing is that we are very popular sometimes with basketball players in America, who always buy all the oversized pieces, as well as pop stars and movie stars.When you see Justin Bieber to Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z and all these great people wearing DVN, what I said is already there: different age groups and personalities. And you don’t really see the DVN clothes immediately: theydon’t shout, they all wear them in a way that belongs to them, and this is something I truly find inspiring.You have also older people who wear them and others who I respect enormously like orchestra conductors in Belgium: Philippe Herreweghe who is an incredible talent in music and around 71 years old. He is a very good customer at the store and always picks clothes that are really perfect for him.
FM: Why do most of the big brands offer more and more products as seasons go by? Do we really need so much fashion? For example, you are in denial of pre-collections,cruise collections and so on while others live from it…
DVN: I think we need to balance it, almost like a dance,between reality, the demands of social media, and all these things. I don’t want to sit there in the corner like an old guy saying, “Oh, in the past things were better, so let’s do only one collection per season,” when the needs of stores, e-commerce and all those new elements are changing. I have to adapt to the evolution too, otherwise it would be fatal just to sit there in denial.
As I run a business, I have to see that my competitors don’t do things for which maybe I am not standing for but, in the end, they have more success than I do. So it’s always about trying to find the right balance by asking,“Ok, what do we have to do, can we say that we will stick to these principles and evolve at the same time?” Other times we do some small capsule collections to boost the rest of our products, especially with the rise of the pop-up concepts in the stores. In Tokyo’s Dover Street Market, for example, we do something special every two months…Why not? It keeps the energy high.
Yet, creating more than four collections a year would take me away from the possibility of digging really deep in the subjects I like to analyze each time, the development of fabrics that, for me, is something very important.Developing a collection takes time and I cannot do it four times a year because the time needed to create something—having the samples made, sending them back and forth, product testing—is already a long process and requires my full attention. Fabrics are very important tome: they are the starting point of each collection, so…
FM: How has the fashion industry changed in the past ten to 15 years? What are people expecting from it now as opposed to what they expected then?
DVN: People are expecting click, click, click, emotion, emotion,emotion. It is very clear now with social media and the way we see fashion on our smartphones. Even us, a sa company, we have to think of ways to engage them. For example, what would be the five looks we would choose to share first on our social media account? So I guess the number one rule is “don’t post anything black” because when people don’t see anything, they scroll down to the next post. People want interesting motifs, colours and shapes now. For example, you can’t do the Prince of Wales check, as it is not pleasant to look at on a screen:it gets deformed almost like a hallucination. It makes no sense to do plain little dresses or skirts or blousons for men with embroidery on the back because you can’t see details on a smartphone. These are things that we have to think about.
While putting together the fashion show, we take pictures and we reduce them to the size of a smart phone screen to test how they look like. This might sound surprising to you but this is the reality of things now. If you do embroidery, put it on the front, not the back! Unless you want to really put something on the back, put something small on the front so that people are intrigued to click on it wanting to see the side or the back too.
FM: So, does it affect the design process, this change?
DVN: Not really the design process but the ways these clothes will be presented in the fashion show. It’s not that I don’t do small, busy motifs—of course I do, but they will not be on the first outfit presented at the fashion show.Through the five first silhouettes we have to unfold a story,there has to be an evolution in everything so, in a way, they announce there is more to come. The collection should bea build up, the show as well.
FM: Over the past few years we witnessed prêt-à-porter overcoming itself, while being transformed into something even more elaborate and sometimes even competing with haute couture in terms of extravagance, volume, techniques,lace and feather work. What would be your take on this and furthermore, have you ever thought of having Dries Van Noten enter the field of haute couture?
DVN: The levels have changed because we didn’t always have “high street”. I think now things are much clearer compared to the past when you had the créateur and haute couture being two very defined elements. Then, of course, you had the whole notion of luxury, which slowly became more and more important as the years went by and therefore the role of the créateur became more and more luxurious. In the 60s, it was the haute couturiers that dictated fashion!
Then the whole rule of fashion went more to the créateur, which led to the shift of what luxury stood for. The créateurs started to also have “bis-lines”[diffusion lines] and it’s normal that after this what we got was the “high street”. It became important that prêt-à-porter also reflected some elements that until then we had only seen in couture.For me, this is a very logical evolution and naturally the creativity now really reflects notions of the past.
Haute couture remains, as a method, destined for one client, according to his or her measurements and is still an extra step in creativity, the savoir-faire, and one’s skills in making the garment along with the possibilities in adapting it. Prêt-à-porter is still in generic sizes and more than a handful of copies per design—it’s much more democratic.
FM: Do you have a direct relationship with your customers?
DVN: No, not really. I usually meet the buyers and it is,for me, very important because they are translating and explaining my vision to their clients, the final customer. It is also a comfortable situation that I am used to.
FM: Is today’s society connected to the clothes we wear? Should we seek a deeper meaning in clothing as opposed to what fast fashion is offering us? With fast fashion we can wear something new every day without necessarily being wealthy…
DVN: Sometimes I forget what clothes mean to those who wear them. Recently I experienced some truly emotional moments during my book signing [Dries Van Noten 1-100,published on the occasion of the 100th Dries Van Noten fashion show] when people would come and share their stories. A woman came to say to me, “Look here is a picture of my husband and me and our three kids in the90s, all dressed in your collection.” In the 90s I had a kids’ line for a short while. They were now standing there again for me, the husband and the three kids as adults, still dressed in Dries Van Noten. This is beyond a compliment;I am part of this family’s memories.
Other people would say, “I am wearing this coat, which I bought during that period of my life, on that special day” and so on. We forget the importance of clothes, even me as a designer. People buy clothes to live life in them! They are their identity.
FM: So, Mr Van Noten, what is fashion suffering from, if itis indeed suffering, and what would be the cure?
DVN: An overdose I think! [laughs]. Being in fashion for all these years, seeing so many shifts and changes happening, it’s always about going up and down. It will be a self-regulation in one way or another: there is a lot of fashion and there is a kind of fashion saturation I think.In the past, the moment a collection was shared online,I would be the first to go on style.com to see who was where and doing what. Now I don’t anymore—I tend to get confused about the things I am looking at and I am never sure if they are made for this season, next season or the year after.
Everything is shared simultaneously and it gets chaotic.To feel connected with certain things you still need to know something about them, make a bit of an effort. When you want to know more about fashion, a pretty image is just not enough. Everything is so instant!
FM: I was speaking to Christian Lacroix once and he told me how responsible he felt for the people that worked with him. What is your team for you? How does your responsibility translate?
DVN: My responsibility translates into everything that I do.Often I say that I am a spoiled designer because I have so many opportunities offered by the people around me.For example, I can make any fabric I am dreaming of, the same with embroideries and this is because I have all these very loyal people who work with me and have done for so many years. I have incredible suppliers who are so open to making something in so little time, all those developments and tryouts. This was something that I achieved only by my loyalty to them. I am not a whimsical designer who would say “this time I see everything plain” so all the printers who work for me will stay out of business for a season. No! Even if I do a collection that perhaps will look quite plain, we always find ways to include prints, embroideries because I want to employ my people every time again. It’s a give and take situation.Also in Antwerp with my team, they know that I am not the easiest person to work with but on the other hand, I also give a lot back.
FM: What makes you hard to work with?
DVN: I’m very demanding—a perfectionist. Also, things that on first view I say “no” to, after I sleep on it (or don’t sleep on it) in the morning I look at them in a different way.It’s like learning to eat olives. The first olive that you put in your mouth is not as tasty as the tenth. In the process,you start to appreciate the delicacy of the taste and it’s important for me. This is what I expect from my team also. I know when I go to see a movie, an exhibition, or the work of a certain artist, there are things that speak in an evident way to me. But, people around me will observe these things in a different way and I want to hear what they have to say about it.
We teach each other how to gaze at things; it’s vital for our creativity. Especially the younger members of my team, I appreciate that they keep my eyes young!
FM: Do you suffer during the process of making a collection?
DVN: I would lie if I said no. Of course there are moments during the making of a collection when you don’t know anything anymore and you want everyone out and to stay alone for a while to think, detach. It’s an emotional roller coaster. Two weeks before the collection you say,“I love it, it’s great, it’s fantastic, we did a great job all together” and one week before the show I am sometimes asking, “What did I do?The prints are horrible and it’s not right; maybe I should have done things differently,”and so on. Then the fitting comes and everything starts to make sense again. There is always this struggle with doubt until the last minute. It’s part of the creative process; it’s healthy.
FM: This question might sound a bit strange, yet we are experiencing designer tribes, a tendency towards uniformity through branding. Is this a good thing or a bad thing with regards to society? How different is a designer uniform from work or school uniforms?
DVN: Fashion for the moment is so open. In the 80s and90s, fashion was far more about one thing than it is now.It had certain rules whereas now you can be dressed in Versace and be perfectly fashionable, or be dressed in Comme Des Garçons and also be perfectly fashionable.You can wear a classic brand like Hermès, or the most pop and strange whatever thing you want. You can be fashionable in haute couture and be fashionable in Vetements.
It is all considered as fashion so it’s much more free in terms of dressing. It’s not like in the 70s and 80swhen shoulders had to look a certain way. For a designer also who worked in the 80s, he would not be considered as hype or fashionable if the clothes did not have shoulders of 30 cm height. It was the same exact shoulders for Montana, Gaultier, Mugler and all these great designers.
Today people mix high fashion with low fashion and that’s very interesting; it shows perhaps maturity too. Indeed we have people who dress in a more creative way, people who dress towards a sexy way, others who wear only black,of course. But hasn’t this always been the case?
FM: What about fashion in museums? What is so stimulating about it these days? What does fashion in museums serve in your opinion?
DVN: Fashion for me is something that sometimes gets forgotten. It was truly exciting working together with Pamela Golbin on the Inspirations exhibition in 2014. What we had there was a very interesting discussion which,at moments, would become very tough because, in the beginning, the idea was that I would confront my clothes with the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. But then I had second thoughts and I shared them with Pamela, as I didn’t want people to think that I only look at old Balmain, Chanel and Balenciaga to get inspired in order to make my collection.
For me, inspiration comes from much more than only older fashion designers or ethnic clothes. I wanted to show movies, art and all these different sources. Pamela said, “Ok, no problem,we can use reproductions of paintings as backdrops or something like that.” Of course, I said no, because for me the old Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent clothes areas much works of art as a painting is. If we really want to keep a nice level, we need to use work with the real works of real artists. We eventually had to break some academic and museum rules because the aim was really high. My absolute favourite painter is Agnolo Bronzino so I asked Pamela to help me have him in the exhibition. This was truly a mission impossible.
We contacted the Frickmuseum, which for me has the most beautiful Bronzino. Of course, the answer was that “Bronzino doesn’t travel”and that “it stays always in the museum, as it is truly fragile”. Pamela went through the Louvre, where there is also a beautiful Bronzino, and she convinced the curator thereto lend it out. It was the first time since Louis XIV [1638-1715] brought the Bronzino that it had ever left the Louvre.
Because of this happy occasion, we could also work with the Centre Pompidou where we were allowed some work from contemporary artists—the likes of Rothko, Richter,Bacon, Yves Klein and Damien Hirst. Having some of these very important art pieces of historical value included in the exhibition opened the door for us to negotiate with other galleries and museums and ask for more works. It was all about the real thing, what we showed!
FM: I wonder if you were interested in observing the people who visited your exhibition at the time? Would you be interested in examining their psycho-synthesis and perhaps questioning the reasons their interest isstimulated by your work? Would it serve you somehow?
DVN: Especially when the exhibition moved from Paris to Antwerp I had a lot of talks with people since I would often give tours in person. It was an exhibition that also required a lot of sponsorship, for all this great artwork to move around, insurance, set design etc. In Antwerp, it was even more intense financially because of additional artists that were included. Also, the people who would always accompany the pieces and were responsible for their set up, and this is another expense. In order to thank everybody who so generously supported the exhibition by sponsoring this very expensive project, I wanted to be present as much as possible.
I was really proud that we could convince the visitors of the beauty and importance of fashion throughout this exhibition process. Fashion is not only about pretty clothes to dress in, it has a much deeper meaning and I think many people changed their mind after seeing the Inspirations exhibition. They saw fashion as a way of self-expression and that fashion has a whole culture and meaning behind it that is not only about the red carpet.
FM: Why did you appreciate being part of a fashion exhibition?
DVN: To me, it was like an extension of my fashion shows,only this time it was open to more people, especially those who never attend fashion shows and dream of it. Of course, as a designer, it was also a dream for me to exhibit the body of my work while at the same time I had to face the danger of appearing pretentious. I was thinking,
“Who am I to place my creations behind glass at the Musee des Arts Décoratifs? Are my designs so special that I am allowed to do that?” And then it was, “Can I combine my clothes together with masterpieces by Cristóbal Balenciaga and Chanel?” And even more, “Can I put the most incredible Damien Hirst together with a tailleur by Dior?” Do I dare to do all that? Will people understand at the end that all I want is, in fact, to illustrate that the Tailleur Bar [Christian Dior, The New Look] and then the Yves Klein and all these great works were elements that I tried to get inspired by and infuse them in the collections that I make? Not because I’ve put them in the same glass together with my work I am saying the latter is as important.
FM: It didn’t reflect anything as such…
DVN: No, although some people were indeed shocked by it.Some curators, too. Because the exhibition was a very big success, especially in Paris and in Antwerp and through museum circles as every curator and director has seen it.It was the first time that art, historical clothes, contemporary and commercial clothes were mixed together and valued equally. In a way I wanted the audience to look at them and make up their minds about what they thought with no restrictions.
FM: Have you ever thought about giving it up? Quitting the fashion business for the sake of something else?
DVN: The most important thing for me is that people wear my clothes and to achieve that I cannot look too much at myself, I have to look at others. To me, poor selling results are worse than a bad critique for one of my fashion shows.
Of course, I thought of giving it up—plenty of times in fact!You put so much of yourself in this business; it’s not easy being independent. At the end of 1998 we were sitting here and I received a phone call that my shoe factory was sold to Armani, my new manufacturer was sold to Gucci and my last manufacturer was sold to Prada. So, I couldn’t make shoes anymore and where do I begin from now…?
It is competition, it’s a continuous battle, the groups also have great power in department stores in terms of where the products are placed, how they are presented. It becomes very demanding as time passes. OK, I have a big house,I earn very good money, but on the other hand I do suffer from the creative aspect, this continuation that every four months you have to give birth to a new baby and sell it as the most beautiful one to the world and to the press. It’s not always easy. But I love what I do; I love it more and more as time goes by.
Directed & Produced by FILEP MOTWARY
Cinematography: ANDREAS DIMITRIOU
Cast: Alexia Christodoulou, Anastasia Grusha, Chris Michail, Danae Alphas, Elena Arabova, Elena Vasiliou, Gabriel Georgiou, Julia Mur, Katerina Caterina Ttakka, Valerie Stavrou
Fashion, Art Direction, Casting: Filep Motwary
Camera & Editing: Andreas Dimitriou
Make up artists: Elena Tsangaridou & Efi Christodoulou
Fashion Assistant: Joanna Lisiecka Christina Economou
Assistant Camera: Marios Kleanthous
Production Assistant: Christina Savvidou
Runner: Thalia Tsiatini
Driver: Savvas Vanezis
As shared on Polimoda.com
“A conservator’s job is almost like being a humanitarian…once [clothes] are behind the walls of a museum, they are to be treated as human bodies, with attention, devotion, love and care.” — During his #PolimodaRendezVous, true Renaissance man Filep Motwary inspired the crowd to think deeply about the value of exhibiting fashion. Here’s an excerpt from his captivating lecture.
On April 18th, the Rendez-Vous series welcomed costume designer, photographer, journalist, fashion curator and author Filep Motwary.
A man of many hats, Motwary was born in Cyprus at the tail end of the 70s. He took his first steps in fashion as a stylist for the Greek editions of L’Officiel and Vogue, subsequently launching his own brand. In 2004 he moved to Paris, where he interned with John Galliano and Dior as well as Chloe and Phoebe Philo.
Many of his creations and bespoke pieces can now be found in museum archives as well as private collections. His costumes have been displayed in exhibitions held by prestigious international culture hubs the likes of Centre Pompidou in Paris.
“Practically speaking, the most important virtue of fashion is indeed the body that still needs to be dressed. Fashion reflects who we are and where we want to be, how we want others to see us, how we present ourselves to society, how we communicate with the self and with the others. This is why it can be considered a form of political expression. The second half of the 20th century was the moment when we started to see the exhibition as a form of understanding fashion by gazing at fashion itself and therefore ourselves, where we come from or where we are going. At this a particularly chaotic moment for the fashion industry questions like ‘At which city should a designer choose for a show? When should the clothes we see on the runways be available to buy? Who is hot in fashion and who is not…?’ are not relevant to the practice of exhibiting fashion…”
Filep Motwary is the author of THEOREM[A]: The Body, Emotion and Politics in Fashion published by Skira Editore in June 2018 featuring his interviews with Hussein Chalayan, Jean Paul Gaultier, Pamela Golbin, Iris van Herpen, Harold Koda, Michèle Lamy, Thierry-Maxime Loriot, Antonio Mancinelli, Suzy Menkes, Violeta Sanchez, Valerie Steele, Jun Takahashi, Olivier Theyskens, Viktor & Rolf. The publication is under the wing of Polimoda in Florence.
His first book, Haute-à-Porter (Lannoo 2016) examined the relationship between Haute Couture and Pret-a-Porter and was published on the occasion of his curatorial project presented at the Modemuseum of Hasselt from April to September 2016, featuring garments, accessories, photography, paintings and sculptures from more that 120 fashion designers, Houses and artists. Participants included Dior, Chanel, Yohji Yamamoto, Koen Van Mechelen, Thierry Mugler, Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood, Giles, Giambattista Valli, Prada, Iris Van Dongen, Rick Owens, Gucci […]
Film by Vassili Spiropoulos
All photography by Filep Motwary for JOYCE.COM and JOYCE social media.
ALTUZARRA, HAIDER ACKERMANN, KOCHE, MARINE SERRE, REDEMPTION, RICK OWENS, SACAI, THOM BROWNE, UNDERCOVER, GIAMBATTISTA VALLI, YOHJI YAMAMOTO © All photos by Filep Motwary for Joyce.com
Olivier Saillard portrait by Filep Motwary for Lane Crawford, Hong Kong
Photography and Art Direction for the music album titled Beaming Light by artist Freedom Candlemaker.
Make Up by Elena Tsangaridou
Natalie C. campaign FW18
Photography and Art Direction Filep Motwary, Make-Up and Hair Andreas Zen. Model Kristal Dobrin at FL Models Management.
Photography by Filep Motwary featuring SS19 women’s collections for Joyce Hong Kong, published on @joycehk Instagram account. Images from Haider Ackermann, Ann Demeulemeester, Y/Project, Courreges, Sacai, Thom Browne, Koche, Esteban Kortazar, Giambattista Valli, Jacquemus, Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten, Marine Serre…
All American Heart, featured in Omikron magazine, issue October 2018. Photography Filep Motwary, Fashion Editor Andreas Zen,Photo assistant Andriana Lagoudes, Assistant stylist Nana Michaelidou, Model Maria S. at Madison Agency
Massimo Giorgetti is quite determined into turning any dream he has into reality. The founder and creative director of Milan-based, 8-year old, contemporary label MSGM challenges his male and female customers by offering bold, Technicolor ideas. He reflects wonderful sensibility for the zeitgeist by keeping things simple while citing music as his main influence. We like that!
He spent two years at Pucci, replacing Peter Dundas until last year when he decided for an exit to focus on his brand. He pioneers in staging shows with extremely interesting cast (eg.UNI students) wearing super cool clothes that are less about the industrial feel but more about street style obsessions. The good boy of Italian fashion is here to stay!
FilepMotwary: It is always interesting to hear a designer describe the man and the woman he/she designs for. Who are the MSGM male and female heroes, what are they about?
MassimoGiorgetti: My heroes of reference are simply the kids of today, aware of the challenges that life will reserve, mature enough to understand the mistakes made by the generations that preceded them. They have a clear vision of what the future should be; yet these guys also want to have fun. They might appear sometimes, as light but they are definitely not superficial. I can pursue their ideals and values in a calm but effective way.
FM:Massimo, in today’s society everything is exhilarated, I wonder how difficult it is to create collections that speak to both the current trend and the individuality of the brand?
MG: I think it’s often much harder to allow a brand to be individual and consistent rather than just a trend. I reflected not so long ago that MSGM is now able to walk alone and that even with few ingredients used, these are enough to make it trendy every season.
FM: What is the role of the body in your design process, what are the morals you follow for each of the sexes? It appears that they borrow pieces from each other…
MG: I have no moral or pre-established rules; I get inspired by the moment, by the season, by what struck me. In the beginning when I first created my collections I imagined the MSGM woman friend of the MSGM man. Now I went further and imagine the MSGM woman, the girlfriend, or partner of the MSGM man as a couple that almost lends to each other and exchanges clothes.
FM: Colour is such an emotional encounter and you use it plenty in your collections, can you kindly elaborate on this?
MG: The colours remain and are a very important aspect of my creative process. I consider myself a tangentially optimistic person thinking of color as positivity, not only impresses our visual sense but is able to act on every aspect of our being.
FM: What about emotion in general, can we manoeuvre emotion through fashion? In what ways can you keep a dialogue with the audience that follows you?
MG: I do not know if I can infuse emotions with my clothes, but coming back to talking about colors is a scientifically proven fact that chromo-therapy has the ability to improve our mood and, I hope, change our character. My shows are the expression of the period I live and I believe that now many of my clients have grown up with me in parallel, it is not a dialogue, but rather a journey we made together.
FM: It also seems like the younger generation has a new sensibility of not being afraid of who they are by showing it. Are you interested in youth?
MG: Kafka said: ‘Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who is able to maintain the ability to see beauty will never become old’.
FM: And what would be your definition of modern?
MG: I do not know if I’m modern, but I definitely like to live as current person.
FM: I wonder about your design process at MSGM, are you more intuitive or more analytical?
MG: I’m intuitive, but I always like to analyze my intuitions.
FM: What is the biggest challenge your brand is facing right now?
MG: Lets say the biggest risk you ever took? The challenges of my brand are always the same, every year, every season, but I believe that now MSGM should simply grow and be known more and more. Surely the most risk I took was to start MSGM. When I started I was much more naive and I never imagined that I would get this far.…
FM: and if you compare yourself now with how you started in the late 00’s, what are the things that have changed evolved and progressed in your approach and as result of what experiences?
MG: The boy who started in those years grew up and became a man, initially everything I did was very instinctive, I was sure of myself and hardly changed my mind, today my mind is more analytical, I dwell on my decisions and would change my mind often, this is good for questioning and synonymous with maturity and awareness. In practice, the big changes around me were also practical, think of how this started alone in a small office, the first time with only two employees, today only the company’s headquarters here in Milan employ a team of more than twenty people.
FM: In the 1980’s Italian fashion received, somehow, the approval of the French fashion scene by welcoming Gianfranco Ferre to a French House, Christian Dior. Could you describe the Italian fashion scene, as it is today and where it stands in the global fashion sphere, being a successful designer yourself? Why don’t you move to Paris for example?
MG: The financial crisis of 2008 hit this country very hard above all the “Made in Italy” branding that was based on small manufacturing companies that were scattered throughout the peninsula. The Italian brands have understood that to be strong they have to make a new system, by collaborating together, a bit like what happened in the 80s. Italian fashion is experiencing a new spring and I cannot but be proud of being part of it. I love Paris very much, but I don’t see or find reasons why I should move to the French capital. I am happy being Italian and producing my collections here in my home country.
FM: Would you be interested in taking over a big house again, like you did with Pucci?
MG: Not now.
FM: I wonder what can one learn from working for a big house as such?
MG: The experience in a great fashion house like Pucci forms you as a manager, I learned the importance of a company staff, the value and weight of the talents who choose themselves to be close collaborators and above all to manage, as a conductor does; most importantly, the value of working with a great team.
FM: Is it difficult to maintain morals that are opposite from fast fashion? What separates good fashion from bad fashion these days?
MG: I offer a completely different product than the one that offers fast fashion, so our dynamics are completely different from theirs. Nowadays the difference between good fashion and bad fashion is seen in the consistency of a message and in the quality of the product.
FM: What was fashion suffering from in the last ten years you think and why? Is it necessary for one to be optimistic?
MG: I believe that the suffering of fashion in these recent years has been caused by a sudden and unexpected digital revolution and many brands have not managed to keep up with the times. Social networks and e-commerce have completely changed the way we communicate and sell, we simply had to find the time to understand and apply this revolution in our favor. As a good Italian I think it is always necessary and vital to be optimistic.
This article is an excerpt from THEOREM[A]: The Body, Emotion + Politics in Fashion, a Polimoda publication composed of interviews by Filep Motwary with influential figures in contemporary fashion. THEOREM[A] was published by Skira and is available for purchase online.
This article is an excerpt from THEOREM[A]: The Body, Emotion + Politics in Fashion, a Polimoda publication composed of interviews by Filep Motwary with influential figures in contemporary fashion. THEOREM[A] was published by Skira and is available for purchase online.
FM: You earlier told me that “fashion is a great reflection of its time — is and has been for a while — a precursor/forerunner of our emotional state. And the runways are here to prove it.” You mention the lack of top models, the merge of boys and girls models within shows as well as the experimentation or the acceptance of a third gender that is now forming the Zeitgeist. How did we come to this level, not only in fashion but also in general?
ML: The world went through many evolutions in the past, I think that right now we notice these changes even more because of Trump. His actions enabled women, minorities to react, to show their strength, the gay people to react because his politics are a threat to our rights as humans.
Of course these issues are not new, but having someone like Trump as the president of the country of all countries raised even more reactions from people who want to secure things the previous generations fought so hard for! You see this reaction on the streets, in fashion, the social media and everywhere; there is an evolution in society that is important and normally fashion is the first to show it. Information is shared so rapidly now through applications like Instagram and everything is open to many more people than ever before. What is happening now with the supremacists is no accident, as it appeared to be at first. It’s perhaps like boxing, metaphorically speaking. If everybody wants to fight there will always be fights. In boxing, when you want to fight it is at least one on one and there are a lot of rules that will decree you a winner or a loser.
I just finished a project, a performance/installation based on boxing that was presented at Selfridges under the name What are we fighting for? Boxing can serve as a metaphor for so many things like art or music for example, because it connects you with others, you can look each other in the eye and be connected on the same level, and say “we must stay strong and stand for what we believe in.” Even though I have been boxing for forty years without absolutely no chance to fight or even to think about it, I understand it’s like playing chess. You look at your opponent in the eye and predict his/her move.
The question I am trying to raise and get the answer — “What are we fighting for?” — is also a statement. At this time it is a phenomenon to watch the champions and what they wear to fight in the ring. This is a question that I am asking myself too, specifically in my curatorial role for my Lamyland X Selfridges project, that was indeed about the body, it was political and about emotion too! It was on from January/February and into March 2018.
FM: How is the meaning of the “body” approached in contemporary fashion, considering its permanent outline and the fact that it is something generic? Are designers today connected to the body they design for?
ML: I will start with Rick. When you wear his clothes you already start walking in a different way, there are so many aspects of his work that emphasize on certain attributes of the body, the tight arms, etc. He focuses on the body but he does not follow a classic way to communicate with it.
The body is his starting point, he starts from there but what he is truly interested in is the way it moves. At the same time, I think that all designers follow the body, each in his/her own way. Look at Rei [Kawakubo]! Even if her work is more sculptures rather than clothes, she presents the body in her own personal way. The body allows us to approach its proportions, work on them and reshape it, shorten or elongate it. In a way the dressed body becomes the personal message you want to communicate to the outside. If you want to show the body as much as you can, do it through clothes.
FM: What does clothing serve today? How connected is society to the clothes we choose to wear? Does it matter to be conscious with what we wear?
ML: I’m going to give you an example, Edith Blayney, whom I would meet at the gym and we later became friends. It was during the first year we moved to Paris with Rick. She came to the show and at the time she would always dress in men’s collections, as it was her style, Dior Homme and all the rest. One day she changed everything and became a fan of Rick Owens and she wears him in her very own way.
Things happen sometimes to some of us, we finally come across what is destined to come our way and without a question we welcome it in our lives. Her body did not change, she has an incredible allure but through Rick she found a way to connect with her emotions and be even closer to her inner self.
FM: What about the way you dress, the way you paint your fingers, your golden teeth caps… what does each of these incredible attributes say about you and did you decide to enrich or underline your look?
ML: Hmm, this is the real story. I got absolutely seduced by the Berbers, who are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa, during my first trip there. I was so mesmerized by the tattoos they had on their faces, being very young at the time, 17 or 18 I was. Also, I have this constitutional look, being very tanned so it kind of looks natural on me. When I was a little girl, with my sister and my dad at the Riviera, people would speak to us in English as they thought we were Indians because of our dark skin and our very long hair while our father looked almost like a Gandhi type, with no hair.
The way I looked even as a child created some sort of personal evolution and I would experiment early as well, like with henna to change the colour of my hair, or to tattoo my fingers so that I could look at them. Then I moved to the dye because I wanted my nails to be black but not in a cheap shiny way.
The teeth happened in L.A., where I found this artist that was a newage type who convinced me to put gold on them. My God, I spent all this money, you cannot even see anything [laughs]. So I thought “Why didn’t I just do one in the front and then the rest?” This is my personal evolution though. You know, I could not have long nails for example, because I would not be able to take off my contact lenses all the time. Rick says: “Fashion is a quiet opportunity to participate and communicate. First impressions can be significant, and I like the idea of putting your best foot forward. The effort to charm is generous and never hurts.” And I say: “What are we fighting for?”
If boxing could be perceived as barbaric (as my black fingers and tattoos on the face), it is in fact, a metaphor for looking at the bigger picture of where we are at in the world and how we can stand up and face what we need to change. Through the use of fashion and art around this subject, I aim to open up a broader dialogue of how we can use our bodies to connect with our emotions and influence our politics for the better.
FM: On the occasion of the Rick Owens exhibition, how would you say exhibiting fashion serves in understanding the body? What about our society?
ML: It is interesting to see fashion presented outside the fashion show context and to be exhibited in a museum as something more static. But to me fashion shows are very important for the designer, for his followers, for the emotions reflected within. This exhibition of Rick is very much about the designer, it’s very much about his talent and his craft. He has shown at the Milan Triennale from 15 December 2017 to 25 March 2018 — a true insight into where he is at in the world of fashion.
The exhibition was more about fashion as a mirror of our times, his style, the clothing he makes. I am not sure how people who are not in fashion saw it but I hope they were surprised. The body serves fashion shows, the streets, and daily life.
FM: What is so important about being new? Does creation have to be new?
ML: Creation is about new, otherwise it’s something else.
FM: How can we manoeuvre emotion through fashion?
ML: Rick is a great example of incorporating emotion in his work, in a fashion show. The thing that changed in fashion is that individual models are disappearing into being one thing. Even if you separate and look at them individually, the meaning today is more about groups or tribes, even small ones, instead of individualism. Presenting as it used to be has changed a lot. Models are no longer carrying the clothes, smiling and dancing.
At Rick’s shows you want to cry, most of the times you do not know the reasons but the emotions are so strong that they hit on a very unpredictable moment and you let your feelings out free. It’s not a cry for the beauty you see but more about the emotion you get.
To quote Rick again: “I always like it when the barbaric turns elegant and controlled.” And Joyce Carol Oates wrote of the Noble Art, in her On Boxing: “[Boxing is primitive] as birth, death, and erotic love might be said to be primitive, and forces on reluctant acknowledgment that the most profound experiences of our lives are physical events — though we believe ourselves to be, and surely are, essentially spiritual beings.”
FM: So Michele, at which point would you say that fashion makes us feel vulnerable?
ML: This is a very personal state for each of us and very independent. If you are not true to yourself, this is when vulnerability comes to play.
FM: Why is it important to have the feeling of belonging?
ML: When we are walking as a tribe, we advance, we push further the limits and barriers of any kind, we evolve, we change into a better version of ourselves, together and much stronger. The whole world is a tribe, as I see it. In every tribe you have different people but then, they all have things that are common. This is not fashion I am referring to though. It’s the emotions and the politics that can form a tribe and clothes are the tools we use to show where we belong.
FM: How can personal become global? You mentioned that using art and fashion we can open broader dialogues for the use of our bodies to connect with our emotions and influence our politics.
ML: To be in your body you need to be conscious. There’s got to be a connection between the two. If you have that then you have a way of processing your emotions in a healthier and constructive way. Achieving that ability would automatically inform your politics, individually. If everybody seeks for that connection with our inner self-politics, things will be more moral, more constructive.
FM: How does fashion serve liberty and vice versa?
ML: In a lot of Arabic countries, fashion is anti-fashion as women are forced to wear certain things in certain ways. In the Emirates, people are so proud to wear their traditional costume. When you are there you see them hiding behind these clothes but not necessarily for the reasons we think. This sort of traditional fashion these people follow reflects the politics directly in our face!
I thought it was so stupid of France for example when they put this law about the Islamic veil while at the same time you have the Catholic nuns walking around with those enormous headpieces. It didn’t make much sense to me.
So, it’s a fact that politics are getting through us by using fashion now, as it was always done of course, yet now it’s more official.
At this point I think Kim Kardashian is another great example of the contemporary culture. The other day in London, a friend of mine who is a soccer player took me out to a club. I was shocked to see that every single girl in the club was a Kim Kardashian lookalike and it was very difficult for me to decide if their bottoms were results of plastic surgery or if they wore some kind of padding to achieve that look. It was amazing. Imagine thirty-five Kims in the same place. Overall it’s an extraordinary phenomenon and very interesting. Kim Kardashian is very pragmatic, as I know a bit of her in person, and she is someone that changed our culture in the recent years.
Some artists did it in the past, like Orlan for example, but that was on a different scale compared to the impact Kim has on the contemporary society.
FM: How are myths in fashion getting developed around certain subjects or people? How does fantasy serve reality? Should it, in contemporary culture? Is there room for nuance, fantasy and extravagance?
ML: It could be irrelevant now and perhaps tomorrow someone does an extravagant show as such and is automatically considered as the best! This is something that can change at any given moment. We still have some of this extravagance today, for example Karl Lagerfeld’s version of Chanel but I am not sure it’s the same — it is still extravagance, only in a different way.
When John Travolta was doing his dance routines back in the day, his vest became so popular on a global level.
There will always be things that touch you more than others and there will always be myths; it’s their meaning that changes depending on the context we experience them through.
Kim Kardashian’s reality is others people’s fantasy and especially now with the social media; we build our own myths that can fit into the square photo Instagram allows you to upload.
FM: You have worked within a ready-to-wear designer approach, as much as with designing furniture alongside Rick Owens. How do these different approaches go together? How do you see the body in relation to the furniture?
ML: We started this project from home and our personal needs to dress the environment we lived in, to be able to behave as ourselves. Even if this is a collection that is sold in galleries, it comes from our home and the way me and Rick like to sit, to work, to read or relax but everything in relation to our bodies. It’s also very personal.
Lichting 2018 Panel Members
LICHTING 2018 JURY PANEL V01
The concept of ‘Lichting’ is simple: the best academy graduates of one year in one central catwalk show. In the audience are the 700 most important people for the next step in their careers: fashion journalists and influential stylists, ready to spot the next big thing; CEO’s and design managers on the look-out for talent; and the all-important players-behind-the-scenes, all eager to see what the nation’s academies have brought forth this year.
Lichting was founded in 2007 to bridge the gap between the academies and students on the one side and the talent-hungry fashion industry on the other. Lichting brings together the very best of each of Holland’s seven fashion academies. As a result, Lichting is one of the most highly principled fashion events in the Netherlands, both in terms of quality and representation.
Lichting is a project of HTNK Fashion Recruitment & Consultancy and Amsterdam Fashion Week.
Last year’s winner is Danial Aitouganov of the Amsterdam Fashion Institute in 2015 it was Nikki Duijst of the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, in 2014 it was Bastian Visch also of the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, 2013’s winner was Henriëtte Tilanus of ArtEZ, 2012’s winner was Yvonne Kwok of AMFI Amsterdam Fashion Institute. The 2011 winner was Sanne Schepers of ArtEZ and the 2010 winner was Marije de Haan of the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. The Belgian Ann Boogaerts from the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts took the prize in 2009, Anneloes van Osselaer of AMFI Amsterdam Fashion Institute in 2008, and Ivo Mittelmijer of ArtEZ was the first one to ever win the prize in 2007.
Both decision makers within the audience and a professional international panel of fashion connaisseurs will decide who receives the Lichting award.
This year’s Jury Panel were
Alvise Bullo (Junior Research Manager Creative Talents LVMH Fashion Group)
Christopher New (Course Leader BA Fashion Menswear and Fashion Programme Academic Quality Coordinator Central Saint Martins)
Filep Motwary (Independent curator and author, photographer, fashion features editor Dapper Dan Magazine) Gry Nissen (Creative Director)
Video by FREQUIN TV
As part of the Polimoda fashion publication THEOREM[A]: The Body, Emotion + Politics in Fashion, author and curator Filep Motwary spoke with iconic image maker Nick Knight, one of the world’s most influential and visionary photographers and founder of the award-winning fashion website SHOWstudio.
Published exclusively online, Motwary’s gripping interview with Knight explores the essence and perception of the body, poetic emotion and politics, touching specifically on the issues and controversies surrounding the current state of fashion. Read the interview on POLIMODA by pressing here.
In April 2018, Joyce Hong Kong released a wonderful booklet focusing on Thom Browne and both his men and womenswear collections. The 23-page, hard-print publication, featured an interview and a selection of backstage photography by Filep Motwary.
[Fragments from the] Interview with Nick Knight by Filep Motwary
As part of the Polimoda fashion publication THEOREM[A]: The Body, Emotion + Politics in Fashion its author, curator and fashion journalist Filep Motwary spoke with iconic image maker Nick Knight, one of the world’s most influential and visionary photographers and founder of the award-winning fashion website SHOWstudio.
Published exclusively online, Motwary’s gripping interview with Knight explores the essence and perception of the body, poetic emotion and politics, touching specifically on the issues and controversies surrounding the current state of fashion.
Mr Knight, being a photographer and film director, what would be your observation, your verdict on the body? How would you say documenting fashion serves in understanding the body?
I just got out of a lesson where I am doing Pilates, so for the last – probably eight years – I have a personal trainer teaching me Pilates, which I did partly because I used to work with a 10”x8” plate camera, which is, I don’t know if you know, a big camera that takes one sheet of film to shoot at a time. It’s about the size of a television set and really hard to move around with.
So working with that I started to tear all the muscles of my lower back and had really bad back pain. Generally speaking, photography is physically demanding work, so I thought to myself, this is ridiculous! I just turned 50 and I’m in pain, this is not good and I won’t be able to keep doing the things I love. I will not be able to stand up from a kneeling position to a standing position 300 times a day, and I got to get back into shape if I want to keep taking photographs. Pilates helped me! I wasn’t particularly sporty at school, it was just something I wasn’t into, but I‘ve always been tall and slender so my build belongs to someone who should have been into those things, if you want.
So now, from my 50th year onwards, I am discovering how my body works, the muscles in my body and how everything is linked and connected and that it is not just about parts. I find these functions all very fascinating, this physicality of how the body works. I don’t know if you are aware that the original plan was that I would become a doctor?
No, actually, I didn’t know.
Yes, I started that course but never finished it, I just wasn’t interested in the hours it demanded to study and I was absolutely passionate about photography. But it still means I put some sort of scientific approach to my work and I have much fascination about anything scientific. Actually, I don’t think that the teaching of science and the arts should be things separated, they should be joined together. To get back to your question, since you have asked me specifically about the body, yes, I think it’s a pretty important part of understanding photography. I have a very good assistant, Britt Lloyd, and I am teaching her all the physical exercises she has to do, and although she is in her 20’s, she has actually started doing them now so she can maintain her creativity throughout her life. Photography is an incredibly physical pastime, it’s a performance and not just standing with a camera and clicking a button; certainly not in the way I work. You are moving a lot, even creating positions for the model and telling them how they should pose. So you are kind of modelling as well while you are taking the image. The body is incredibly important!
How would you say documenting fashion serves in understanding the body? What about our society?
The way a fashion designer creates a garment has a lot to do with understanding how it will function and how it will look on the body. So the thing you are photographing has been designed for either helping the body to move, show it, at times by exaggerating proportions and making them look more or less than they are. So the body is fashion’s starting point in any case. Whereas we approach it with some sort of altering designs like corsets or high heels – which also serve to shape the body – or whereas it is the way that people put different tones of color – which makes the body get an even more different shape – the body is the beginning of everything fashion, as it is in photography where things are very much created around the body and for its presentation.
Are you interested in the “self” of a model? How does your creative communication evolve?
Of course, because you are creating an image or filming a person and that person is in an interaction with you, which forms a sort of relationship – which is different for every case – because you always have different relationships with everybody around you. Some are more personal, others, less – which doesn’t mean better or profound – but still they are different sorts of relationships. The understanding of who the model is and how they work is important as you are photographing not an object but someone who is very much alive. This person will give you things if you know how to take them or how to ask for them. So you need to understand this is a person and this is a different person to everybody else. This person has different skills, emotions and different ways of working. Part of the enjoyment is that you discover people through the lens. A good photographer, a good image maker, should live all their life through their lens. Every desire you have should not be expressed in any other form than through your lens. You often see people, total strangers that you just walk up to on the street or other times it’s people that you know a lot about. It might be the Queen of England, a famous film star, for instance.
So you know what it is that you are looking at and you have knowledge about it. Yet when you put them in front of the camera, you are still discovering them. To me it’s always a terrifying process, there’s never a session which I would do that is easy, although it might appear relaxed, in all my sessions I am trying to create things I’ve never seen before. So, I am always looking to discover things on the model and, you know, something I could be truly enchanted by.
Understanding the person you are working with in front of you has a lot to do with respect, something I am much loyal to. I don’t mind who it is whether it’s a huge Hollywood star or a young model that just started. They are all the same to me and I respect everybody in front of me.
Back to fashion and how it serves us, do you think we are connected to the clothes we choose to wear? Do we seek a deeper meaning into clothing?
I tend to believe that fashion is the strongest form of self-expression and probably one of the greatest art forms we have along with opera, ballet, painting, cinema and all those things. Fashion, certainly in Britain and probably also in North America, has been slightly played down in its importance to our society as an art form. None of us would just get dressed randomly; we make a series of choices that will be expressed to some degree and show who we are. The image that you create is expressed through the fashions you wear. Fashion is shaping the society.
If you look at the opposite of our societies in the West, if you look at the societies under dictators, the first thing that is taken away from people is the ability to express themselves through fashion. Dictators will make everybody look the same and will try to eliminate personality by removing the personal choice of freedom. You see awful examples of that in concentration camps or in prisons. It’s the dehumanisation of society by dressing them in uniforms, as the first step to control them. This is the reverse of fashion, while some of us enjoy playing with it [fashion] only a few people acknowledge it.
My father, for instance, was a psychologist who worked for the government in Britain and he would say, “I’m not into fashion at all” and “a gentleman should not be noticed by his apprentice” and all that. In all 84 years of his life, I never saw him in a pair of jeans, a t-shirt or trainers. I never saw him in anything trendy.
But he had a very strong sense of what he was wearing and awareness of what he thought he should look like, or better, how a gentleman should look like. He would dress to fit in with the British Government society. If you went into the building where he worked it was painted in all sorts of muted colours; there was not even any hint of decoration. My mother was the complete opposite, but that’s a different story. That’s why they were a couple, I guess. But I think yes, it is incredibly important, people almost despite themselves will express how they feel and who they are through fashion.
If you start to look at the armed forces, the military and how they are dressed, they have a very functional approach when it comes to fashion. But when it comes to decoration, which of course is an extension of fashion or art, the military is very interesting to look at because it’s so weirdly wrong. I went once to an officer’s mess where they all go to have their lunch and they had painted the room baby pink! I thought, “really?” It was a very low ceiling room, not even three metres high and they had put chandeliers! They have no artistic understanding whatsoever.
I don’t know if this answers your question, but people express themselves very clearly, while some people are good at it and know how to do it, other people can’t. But I think everybody does it and everybody to some degree chooses what he or she is going to wear as an expression of our personal freedom.
When I grew up in Britain in the 1970s, it was very focused on the clothes you wore. In my case, I was part of a gang and I had to wear identical clothes with the rest of the members. Something you can see in any gang-based culture. The tiny indicators of your identity are expressed through your clothes and also, as a skinhead that I was, that fashion was about change. The first person that would have a certain form of “sta-pressed” looked better than everybody else. The same went for the first person that would get a pair of penny loafers or whatever. We were kids you know, we didn’t have any money and no access to real fashion, so we were dressing in sort of certain codes that were important within the gang and clothes that carried signals. We should always see fashion not just in terms of what we see on the catwalk but most importantly of what we see on the street!
Where does fashion meet with emotion?
Emotion is the symbol of life! The clothes that I get to photograph have been made with emotion and have been created by people who are incredibly responsive to life itself, who are connected emotionally to life. The problem with the artists or the problem the artists have is that they are incredibly sensitive to things that others would not be upset about or pay attention to. They can find joy in things that don’t matter to most people. Somebody like Alexander McQueen might have found incredible joy just by walking to work and seeing somebody on the street and might have been transported by that in the same way that somebody else might do something that he’d hated and would have pushed him into deep despair.
So yes, artists are very sensitive. They are simply beings that in some ways are able to control how strong their emotions are and that’s what we want from them. They see things we cannot see, respond to all the different stimuli around them and they show us the world we miss. If you walked down the street and you missed you know, the leaves of the tree and how they decay to a certain tone, you miss a symphony of colours. I am perhaps overexpressing myself here but yes, emotion is vital to creativity and thus fashion!
What about in photography. Can you put this type of emotion in a context and explain it?
It’s a very hard thing to do, to be honest. When you are working, it’s a flow of energy and you sometimes feel that everything is incredibly hard, that nothing works. It feels like trying to swim through honey. But then something happens, and things start falling into place and suddenly you feel the opposite of how you felt five minutes before and that everything is possible. It’s almost like a transcendental state where everything becomes much easier, maybe easy its not the right word; there’s not so much difficulty in the flow of creating that certain imagery at the end. Most photo sessions are hard and you have to work your way through them.
Then I reach a point where I see forms happening in front of me, a visual poetry. It’s like watching a musical form, the way the model moves or how the clothes float, the intensity of colours and how they change. It’s literally like watching a poem in front of me. When you get to that stage it is easy to take photographs but before it’s like an untuned orchestra, literally a mess (laughs)
– the taking of the photograph is just the starting point – but then when you look at the file or the negative or whatever you used to produce that photograph, you start to look at all parameters of that file. Then you look what you can do – traditionally in the darkroom, but now realistically on your computer screen – you start to look the parameters of it and how to combine it with other pictures, thinking, “if I put this next to this” and so on. And sometimes certain combinations can bring an even more exciting melody in front of me, an even more surprising poem and it goes on and on. I can spend a month or more working on images after I had taken them, so it’s a slight misunderstanding of how photography happens or how everything happens until you can actually say for a fact this is the moment where something happened and this is when I got something that I am very pleased with.
It’s true that you can look at a session and say that’s it, that’s my story. Sometimes you don’t see it; sometimes you are too busy working on the energy of the shoot that you don’t see that you are creating energy, neither are you looking for that particular divine moment. Other times you think you have nothing until you look at the image out of context and have a different and immediate understanding of it. Also, it’s a very different understanding of what you see with your eyes and what the film is recording. The same with post-production; what you can do then! Now there are so many exciting possibilities of how you can change the image that you took in the camera and make more of it, a new image, that I think there is a slight reluctance to believe anything other than a photographer is someone who goes into the studio or to a scenario and takes an amazing picture, and that is what a photographer is.
A photographer is an artist who thinks!
Can we manoeuvre emotion through fashion? For some reason I am thinking of Kate Bush and her Cloudbusting song, chasing the clouds away for clearer skies…
Of course! That’s what designers do. They create visual symphonies to be put in front of an audience – if you look at their planning and their timing. I mean I worked closely with a few designers like Gareth Pugh, Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano. I have seen the process of how they prepare for a show and that is a series of emotional juxtapositions. So they manipulate their audience, both with music, the clothes, the presentation, the lighting and the idea. If you look back at some of the Alexander McQueen shows they are incredibly strong with bits of audience manipulation, a fashion theatre based on people and their emotions.
Recently, I did this film for Gareth Pugh because he did not present a collection this season in terms of putting the clothes on the catwalk. So we did a film together that was a very powerfully emotional one and we presented it at the BFI IMAX in London on a huge screen of 50 foot by 70! Massive, it was like a building. I had to sit and watch it with the audience, and you know it’s about 16-17 minutes long and at the end of the film I looked at the audience and they were all sitting with their mouths open; obviously the film had a strong emotional impact on them. So yes, absolutely, we create emotion for clothes and their presentation!
On a completely different level, when I grew up I was a skinhead, so I was part of a gang. People seeing me would be frightened if they didn’t know anything about me. By just looking at me they would presume a whole bunch of things about me because of the way I looked and dressed. This is an example of how fashion can manipulate people’s emotions! We can have it on a street level or through the higher cultural forms of the world. Yes! Fashion is absolutely there to manipulate!
The ways models present fashions on the catwalk changes every decade. It seems that in the past we had ceremonial moments, at times very lively, dance was even incorporated on the runway etc. We witness how a model’s posture has changed, the use of hands, and the choreography that is now a rather straight walking line. How would you explain this phenomenon?
It’s a complex set of different influences but I think that at the core of it, the business of fashion is to blame. The business of fashion is wrong in my opinion.
Fashion is presented by a series of dandies, artists, people who are flamboyant and that very is much is the role of John Galliano who is an eccentric dandy artist, or Rei Kawakubo … all these people serve to some degree as a role model. In the 80’s I think we saw a real commercialisation of the industry of fashion which then went on more profoundly in the 90’s; I think there was a real corporate take over of fashion and models’ expressions, they were giving them a personality on the catwalk. Partly because they had to present 70 garments in a line, on a wide catwalk and get it done quickly so it would sell, so the buyers would see them and blah blah blah. A lot of fashion kind of went into that formula but I think partly it was a way of saying, “OK, this is about the clothes and not about the models”, partly some designers didn’t want that slightly catwalk presentation that models made popular in the 70’s and the 80’s, and they no longer wanted that sort of overly character full presentation. It was cooler and more in fashion to present the clothes in a way that Margiela did or Helmut Lang, shows where models were not encouraged to be emotional. And these ways became fashionable suddenly, and they still are.
At one point it was very fashionable to have Pat Cleveland dancing down the catwalk but fashion changes as people want things they haven’t seen before, so there are different moves that happen and this is one thing. I think the current state of the business of fashion is due to the over-commercialisation of corporatisation of fashion. There is a definite swing back towards much more emphasis on the models now. It was just a set of different influences, commerce and different things that formed how fashion is now presented, without any room or possibility for models’ self-expression. Just a straight-line walk, no smile and that’s it. If you looked at some of Moschino’s shows, they were very much about him and loving the models and sending them out to perform because they were big personalities. You have so many models now and if you’re putting a show with 70 people in, 70 different looks, like Mr Armani does, for example, or Prada, you need to have a good show plan as it is indeed very hard having 70 people in character or expressing their emotions. There’s a lot of stuff going on!
And without saying anything nasty about these people, these designers are trying to say something with their clothes and they are talking to a set of journalists who are very good at understanding what their message is. In a way having a model who is dancing and making an emotional presentation of the garments just doesn’t seem appropriate for them. So there are different reasons, some have to do with commerce and others with fashion.
What about POP stars?
Pop stars are in a way their own fashion designers. Certainly those people I have worked with like Lady Gaga or Bjork are. The moment Gaga would put on a young designer he’d become famous in an instant. Her catwalk was from the front of her hotel to the limousine, which is a distance of four metres, and that alone would create a new designer every day! There is such a thirst for images of her. It works the same with other stars. You get A$AP Rocky to wear your belt, your belt will sell.
People like Kate Moss or Kanye West, every time they step foot into the world there are 50, 100 people wanting to photograph them and they share these pictures across the world. Whether it’s Kim Kardashian or Lady Gaga, these are people that have incredible force in fashion. I worked with Lee McQueen and John Galliano, then I worked with Lady Gaga and Kanye West and trust me, they are designers in the same way. They all express fashion powerfully and they helped to change how fashion looks today.
I remember Kanye saying to me, “this is my girl, she is called Kim I’m gonna put her on the cover of American Vogue and she will become the most famous woman in the world”. I thought OK, good luck… and he did. So these are people who have the power and a grasp on media and whatever they do is news to the rest of us.
If you look at a magazine like Vogue, I don’t know what Italian Vogue sells but the British Vogue is probably 150K to 200K, American Vogue perhaps a million and a half per month while Kim Kardashian has 100 something million followers who check on her every second. She is a much bigger platform, if you want, than any of the conventional magazines, and I think what’s really been the shift, at least for me in the last 20 years, is that the power of the magazine is drained away. The magazine was the one place we would rely on from the 40’s until 10 years ago as the only way to understand fashion, with a strong voice and opinion.
Now that voice is lost. Other people have the voice now. You cannot expect somebody who has 100 million followers to not have a voice that is louder than a magazine that only sells 10 thousand copies. You are irrelevant!
And I think what people have held onto for this past 20 years is this belief that what happens in magazines we all know is important, whereas it isn’t.
People like Gosha Rubchinskiy do not need that sort of press, they do not think of that sort of press. Fashion expressed itself in a certain way for over 100 years and now this has changed to a completely new way. All change, in my opinion, is probably for the better. Humans by definition are always in search of new things anyway, so what we are looking for at the moment is better ways of functioning in fashion, perhaps less control. Part of the problem with the magazines, the reason for their own downhill is because they would say, “you know, so and so takes five pages of advertising every month, therefore they have their clothes in. Not only that, I need to have an interview with them, feature them in total looks …” and it became very much an antiquity.
As a reader you were not shown the best of fashion, you were shown what the advertisers have bought, and the magazines were not anymore a creative place where you wanted to be. Of course, the advertisers wanted to see their money on the pages but then they stopped fashion from being expressive and emotional or as beautiful as it has to be.
Not more than 20 years ago, designers such as McQueen and John Galliano were creating entire collections inspired by tribes, global historical references, and folklore. Today this approach is considered inappropriate. What happened in between?
I think when we had those awful changes, McQueen taking his own life, Isabella Blow taking her own life and then John Galliano collapsing to the pressures of working for a large company, that was a very low moment in fashion. Just because John was such a huge force, Lee (McQueen) was such a huge force and their loss was like losing Da Vinci or Mozart, if you follow me! You can’t just ignore these losses and its effects as it was such a real shockwave to fashion and right afterwards there was a huge void left that was very hard to fill or replace.
What is left now for us is to look to more emerging designers from a ground-roots level and not so much at designers who have lived through that.
Yohji and Rei, for example, they’ve been creating for more than 40 years now, so they have seen the changes and have also felt and experienced the loss of people like Galliano for a certain amount of time as much as everybody else did.
The theatricality in McQueen’s shows, and to the same degree John’s spectacular presentations, didn’t seem appropriate afterwards, for others to rush in and fill that vacuum, fill in the void. So I think people in respect for what these great people so genuinely offered to fashion, they changed the ways of presenting and looking at things. I think you have spectacle now but it doesn’t feel hearts-on as it’s very corporate. You have spectacle with people like Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel…
Yes, but it’s a different kind of spectacle.
It is absolutely a different kind of spectacle, yes. To me, I have all respect for Karl Lagerfeld, yet it doesn’t feel like it touches the heart. There’s a problem there and it has to do with business and when it gets too much involved you lose the point of the art. You see the same issues in paintings or any other form of creative expression. In the last ten years or so there has been much more involvement of business in fashion and it slightly killed the creativity and alienated people, they feel they’ve just been sold to big companies and brand new markets that are opening up in the East, in Russia and elsewhere and there is this rush to make more and more money. It doesn’t feel like the right way to behave at the moment, so I think the over commerciality of it has been awful. However, there are a lot of interesting things going on and not everybody is the same. There are people who are doing interesting things, there are new brands coming up like OFF-White or Alyx. All these newer brands are doing things in a very different way and they are looking at sports, they search for ways to mix sports and couture, for instance. And they all come from a system they have been shut out from!
They created their own system. It’s fantastic!
Gosha Rubchinskiy, when he sells his clothes (at SHOWstudio) we’d sell them within a day; you know he has a massive fan base.
And now there’s another phenomenon, clothes changing hands as soon as they are sold. The resellers, they walk into a shop like MachineA or Supreme, for example, they would buy a t-shirt for 80 pounds and re-sell it to some kid just outside the boutique for 200 pounds or sell it on eBay for 400 pounds. We have a very different economy around fashion at the moment. There’s been such a change in the way fashion expresses itself, the way it operates, the system of fashion has happened in the last 20 years, since I started SHOWstudio, not because of it but since I started it. We are looking at a really, really different landscape.
But you also contributed to forming this landscape, at least artistically with SHOWstudio. Before you established your platform it was a bit chaotic with how someone could express in a multilayered way and forms instead of just one. You came along and sort of opened the window for the whole world. Since then it has exploded into a creative tsunami, it’s truly remarkable!
Thank you, I’d like to think so. There was a certain need for a change in the system, not only I felt that, but the people did as well. But I do think there’s a whole new way of working and a new way of looking and expressing yourself through fashion. To my mind now we have become more artistic and better than perhaps 5-10 years ago. Of course, there’s always good people doing good things…
I want to ask you about the phenomenon of the “designer tribe”: Balmain, Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme Des Garcons, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten…? Why, in your opinion, we have this need to belong?
Different things. Probably we all seek confirmation that we are worthy of being here or for someone to tell us “Yes, you have done a good job, yes, you are exciting”. We are all looking for praise and ways to underline what we are doing in life and perhaps we are looking at how other people are succeeding or they are proposing something that seems appealing and attractive to us. To some degree that’s demonstrated by emulating that, we dress in a particular way because it says things about what we like and us. In a similar way to what people did in the 1950’s, you know, the Bobby Soxers, for example, who liked Frank Sinatra or the fans of The Beatles later or whoever it was back then. Those people loved these pop stars and the only way to show their love or devotion was to mimic the way these stars would dress.
Certainly people like Rick Owens or Rei Kawakubo have got that same adoration as pop stars had in the past. Not everybody is going to get your dressing codes but some people and the people that you care about will; and you want them to be exactly right.
One day you wear a pair of trousers that touch your shoes, the next day you want to wear a pair of trousers that is three inches above your shoe. To some extent, it is about the globality of emotion, as we all, at least to some degree, have the same influences. We see the same films, read the same books, eat the same food, understand the same things. Now we can speak pretty much a global conversation, so I can get on my phone and publish a picture and it will be seen in Mexico and Moscow at the same time. We have global audiences now, global communication and those people in Mexico or Melbourne can all write to me and talk to me, and I can see what they have done too. Today is about global consciousness, and I think many other things are coming our way. Trends will in time manifest themselves across the world; however, there are still different societies and cultures that understand these changes differently. The people from Saudi Arabia or other countries in the Middle East have a very different way of expressing themselves because, let’s say, culturally you are not allowed to have a tattoo, you are not allowed to be gay and so on.
So these things affect how people express themselves and they how people use fashion. It’s the first time in human existence that we are able to communicate at this level, we still have very different cultures, very different moralities and desires. You know North America is a case in point, it’s a very different culture from Italy or France. Part of the problem of global communication is the people who control some of those huge platforms impose the morality of their country based on a financial model that is only based on a few people. These are some of the problems we will have to deal with in the future, but I think we will find solutions.
In your opinion, to what level we are conscious of what we see, buy, or wear? Does it matter and does the longevity of these tribes depend on the creative timeline of the designer’s relevancy or will it be infinite?
No, as all fashion is based on change. We can have enormous respect for things but it doesn’t mean they should be fashionable. I think there’s enormous respect for people like Rei Kawakubo. Younger people though, don’t know who these legendary people are and I’m not sure if that really matters in the end, to be honest. They will find out and they will put them in respect in terms of their later lives, but I don’t think necessarily that’s a bad thing. Particularly when working within fashion and fashion being a strange, future-based medium and art form – you are always looking at the future, you are always predicting and it’s never about what you see now but what is coming next.
I think this is a very different way of understanding the art form; a painting is not that, a film is not that.
Fashion is about predicting our future desires. To some degree, it’s good that younger people are freed from the past because it’s not necessarily important to understand the past when you desire something. You don’t know why you desire it but you do!
I see so many students coming out of Central Saint Martins; others post things on Instagram. Who makes sense of the world in terms of their values? I think what they propose is very pure, it isn’t so referenced and it isn’t so codified. It is only when you work for 30 or 40 years then you understand the value for some of those image makers or designers. But I don’t think to create something in fashion, which is some sort of common desire that you are proposing to people, this is how they all want to be and how they all want to look. They can perhaps endorse the same values with the designer who suggests.
That’s the point perhaps where you have to be knowledgeable of the past and respectful. Our human desire is incredibly strong and it’s the power that pushes fashion forward, but I think desire comes from a whole different range of effects. I see it a lot on young people I check on Instagram. The references they combine are incredible and this is not because they know too much. Their youth gives them the freedom to combine whatever they like, the freedom to create and not the burden of the past. Knowing too much does not free us, on the contrary, it keeps us in a frame.
In fashion, it is easy to make a statement, but then you have to do it again in six months’ time. Ten years later and after many statements you start asking yourself, what am I doing, why am I here. That is the point when you start questioning the reasons you got involved in the first place.
Young designers’ original proposals are about rejecting whatever already exists. They want to start from scratch. Look at what Yohji and Rei did when they started; they were rejecting Western fashion, they were rejecting even Japanese fashion, they created their own vocabulary that is still relevant today!
All photography by Filep Motwary for Joyce Hong Kong, featuring Jacquemus, Sacai, Undercover, Haider Ackermann, Rick Owens, Sacai, Thom Browne, Giambattisra Valli, Yohji Yamamoto, Esteban Cortazar
All photography by Filep Motwary © for Dapper Dan Magazine
Spring 2019 collections, Paris. Backstage photography by Filep Motwary for Dapper Dan Magazine social media and FB page © Yohji Yamamoto, Lanvin, Thom Browne, Sacai, Rick Owens GmBH, Y/Project, Dries Van Noten
Interview by Filep Motwary
Katerina Jebb’s way of documenting fashion, the body, garments and objects is a form of immortalizing diverse (or not) aesthetics and contexts as it goes beyond photography, releasing imagery from any notion of perspective. This painstaking digital scanning process re-contextualizes the gaze (our gaze) onto the historic or contemporary artefacts she encounters in such a precise manner that it feels almost like the work of an archivist.It has already been a year since her major retrospective, Deus ex Machina at the Réattu Museum in the French city of Arles, which featured 111 works—the biggest monographic exhibition of her work in 20 years.
Jebb is now busy preparing some projects along with her participation at the MET’s Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibition—for which she has created some outstanding visuals—that opens in May and is curated by Andrew Bolton, adding one more remarkable project to her long list of collaborations with academics and museums.At first, we thought this interview would never happen, as Katerina had to decline our request due to a heavy schedule and her daily,long-distance phone calls with her retouchers and team in Paris.Two weeks after our first Facetime conversation in Paris, she calls me from Harlem, NYC.
FILEP MOTWARY: Katerina, we have already seen some of the scans you have created for the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibition at the Met Fifth Avenue. What was your brief and can you talk us through the process of this collaboration?
KATERINA JEBB: I was commissioned by the Met to make two books to illustrate the exhibition. The first book focuses on the collection of the Vatican and the second documents about 150 works from the history of costume and fashion. I employ a scanner to reproduce a precise facsimile of the object or costume and then I montage the files together to create a life-size document. This process has taken five months and the work of eight highly skilled retouchers to achieve the given results for the museum’s exhibition catalogue.
FM: This is not the first time you have collaborated with a museum and its curators. What is it about your work that academia finds so fascinating?
KJ: They may appreciate that it’s a brutal and precise document of an object. It’s a very exacting medium, which exposes the subject nakedly and throws the background into abstraction. The final document can be a compilation of up to 50 files montaged together, which is quite laborious and so the viewer can perhaps feel the time that was invested into each image. I call them hand-carved coffins.
FM: What does it mean to be free in photography?
KJ: To be free in photography or image making means making images only for oneself or only for those who entrust their vision to you.
FM: Is it frustrating to have a hierarchy forced on you while working?
KJ: I am never aware that there is a hierarchy. Of course, the objective is to render an object material in a digital landscape, which will eventually be published or exhibited without entering into a realm of hierarchy. My practice is very straightforward and recognizable as being mine so I am in a relationship of trust from the beginning.
FM: Why do you think we exhibit fashion in museums?
KJ: Fashion is one of the most persuasive languages in existence. It can be as powerful as art, theatre or music and it’s so easy to consume and dispose of. Exhibiting fashion in museums is a vital force, which speaks to all walks of society. It’s also a cultural necessity as fashion has amassed so much wealth and is able to provide funding for the structural preservation of museums the world over.
Almost everyone relates to clothing and can employ fashion as a daily practice to express himself or herself. The resting place of clothing and fashion is often within the confines of a museum where these relics live on as a testament to their time.
FM: We’ve been working on reconstructing the body and proportion through clothing for centuries…
KJ: Curiosity is an inherent personality trait of all human beings and is directly linked to progress. Humans are informavores: information and discoveries stimulate the brain in the same way that food and sex do and so by constructing new forms and functional attire, men and women can express a myriad of feelings.
FM: What about emotion in general? Can we manoeuvre emotion through fashion?
KJ: Certainly we can! Clothing is inextricably linked to emotion. Almost every woman remembers what she wore on the day that she met her husband, for her wedding day or to carry her baby home from the hospital. I don’t know how men remember clothing compared to how women do but I know that my emotional attachment to clothing is very present.
FM: In what way can you maintain a dialogue with your audience?
KJ: I am rather absent. My fluency of language and imagery in the domain of social networks isn’t very evolved. I don’t define myself by my presence on social media. I’m not against it for others butit’s not really my thing.
FM: It is important for your work to raise questions?
KJ: Yes, maybe. I may make a work because I want to understand what the subject is about.I act first and then I might question my action later, but often not. I’m quite accepting of the things I do. Honestly, I prefer others to ask the questions. Making things is so fulfilling that the question has already been answered in the making of the work.
FM: What would you say are the subjects that interest you the most and are the most consistent in your work?
KJ: Modern literature, strange objects, functional or dysfunctional, historical phenomena belonging to dead people. I am interested in marginal and obscure characters; people who escape the mainstream, who are off the radar and more specifically those who are free and live out of the system. I collect rare books and make scanned documents. I do this for myself and will eventually show the works somewhere. I like the conflicting aspects of “poetic brutality” and it’s a recurring theme in my imagery.
FM: I have always wondered why you photograph objects in the way you do.
KJ: No idea. It just comes out of me naturally. Actually,they aren’t photographs; they are scanned documents. There is a difference, primarily being the factor of time. Sometimes a work can take weeks. It’s not the same medium as a photograph, which can be taken at an exposure time of 1/25 of a second. The Tomb of Balthus took one day to scan in a Swiss village, one week to construct the montage and then one week to calibrate the colour balance and to make a 2.5-metre print.
FM: How much time did it take you to scan that bottle of Chanel No. 5 with the pieces of meat inside, for instance?
KJ: Not very long. I think it took longer to buy the meat and gently coax it into the bottle.
FM: How many years have you been serving the art of photography through HD scanning?
KJ: 23 years or so.
FM: And how this has helped you evolve?
KJ: It’s like occupational therapy. I am delighted to have a vocation.
FM: Does being misconstrued concern you?
KJ: No. The people who need and want to understand my work or me will understand. Life is too short to have to explain things.
FM: What would be your definition of freedom?
KJ: Freedom is the ultimate luxury and the ultimate goal in any given scenario. I am so lucky to have a lot of freedom.
How connected are fashion designers to the body they design for today? Is there truly a way for the body to be trained in order to serve fashion? How can you manoeuvre emotion through your work? Each era has its dominant themes and fashion readily reflects them. Fashion as a reflection of society is also a privileged lens to see things more consciously. The necessity to sharpen the focus on the interlinked trilogy of the body, the mind, and politics is what has seamlessly been questioned in this provocative series of interviews.
Curator, author, journalist, photographer and costume designer Filep Motwary releases his latest book ideated by Polimoda, THEOREM[A]: The Body, Emotion + Politics in Fashion, published by Skira Editore. Formatted as a series of interviews with select contemporary fashion key figures, the book investigates the dressed body as a political statement, focusing on the linked trilogy of the mind, body and politics.
In his provocative series of interviews, Motwary spoke with participants chosen for their professional integrity, their body of work and vast knowledge of historical and contemporary fashion, among other factors. Interviews were conducted with Hussein Chalayan, Jean Paul Gaultier, Pamela Golbin, Iris van Herpen, Harold Koda, Michèle Lamy, Thierry-Maxime Loriot, Antonio Mancinelli, Suzy Menkes, Violeta Sanchez, Valerie Steele, Jun Takahashi, Olivier Theyskens, Viktor & Rolf with a foreword by Danilo Venturi. The interviews each explore the essence and perception of the body, poetic emotion and politics, touching specifically on the issues and controversies surrounding the current state of fashion.”
THEOREM[A]: The Body, Emotion + Politics in Fashion was published by Skira and is available for purchase online.
An additional interview with Nick Knight is available exclusively on the Polimoda Journal.
Distributed in USA, Canada, Central & South America by ARTBOOK | D.A.P. 75, Broad StreetSuite 630, New York, NY 10004, USA.Distributed elsewhere in the world by Thames and Hudson Ltd., 181A High Holborn, LondonWC1V 7QX, United Kingdom.
Portrait photo by Astra Marina Cabras
A collaboration with MaxiMa Boutiques in Nicosia
Photography and Art Direction Filep Motwary.
MakeUp Elena Tsangaridou
A collaboration with MaxiMa Boutiques in Nicosia
Photography and Art Direction Filep Motwary
Make-Up Andreas Zen
Filep Motwary: In Parallel _ 2 out of 5
Apr 27 2018 to Jun 2 2018
During his eight-year tenure as a self-taught photographer and portraitist, Filep Motwary has captured the changing face of Fashion and Beauty as well as created his own visual language and approach communicating both to the outside. Motwary was initially trained as a fashion designer and worked for prestigious houses such as Dior and Galliano, Chloe as well as through his own brand until 2009.
His costumery has been exhibited on several occasions and through museums and exhibitions at Centre Pompidou (FR), Modemuseum Hasselt, La Gaîté Lyrique (FR) The Groninger Museum (NL) Centraal Museum (NL), Gaite Lyrique (FR), MICHAEL CACOYIANNES FOUNDATION (GR), LANITIS FOUNDATION (CY), PREMIERE VISION (FR) […].
In the meantime he launched a fashion blog (2004-2015), which was soon ranked as one of the top in the world, alongside “The Business of Fashion”, “Anna Dello Russo”, “Style Salvage” […] Blogging opened the way for him to discover other interests, such as writing and fashion photography, by creating the documentation of his life and global acquaintances, on a daily basis. This dual identity leads him to conceive and curate last year’s exhibition ‘Haute-a-Porter’ at the Modemuseum Hasselt and the publication of its best-selling accompanying book. There he investigated the fine line that separates or ultimately unifies, Couture and Pret-a- Porter.
In this new project under the aegis of Loukia & Michael Zampelas Art Museum that is presented this month until June 2, 2018, Motwary focuses on two of the many aspects concluding his body of work: a selection of his most favourite photographs along with his journalistic ventures for Dapper Dan magazine.
Portrait photo of Charles Jeffrey by Filep Motwary ©