Interview by Filep Motwary
Suzanne von Aichinger is a modern archetype of the Parisian muse, in spite of the fact that she was born in Germany, and grew up in Canada. She was discovered by the legendary illustrator Antonio Lopez, whom she considers to be one of the great influences in her life, as well as a very close friend. She inspired and collaborated closely in the design studios, with Christian Lacroix, John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier. Suzanne von Aichinger posed for iconic photographers Serge Lutens, Paolo Roversi, Mario Testino, Jean Loup Sieff, Ali Madhavi, David Seidner, and strutted down the catwalks of Yves St Laurent, Thierry Mugler, Claude Montana, Gianni Versace, Christian Dior (Galliano) , Hermes, Martin Margiela, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier. In Greek mythology, the Sirens with the irresistible charm of their song, lured mariners to their destruction on the rocks surrounding their island..
In modern mythology, Sirens are dressed in Rick Owens, pose for photographer René Habermacher and share their secrets and thoughts on current and past affairs with Filep Motwary…
“I always liked her and when we finally became friends, I liked her even more. In the following conversation Suzanne shares her thoughts on fashion, music, talent, the water, mythology and other obscurities. You are about to discover the muse, the model, the artist, the stylist..
I caught her leg on her daybreak between styling for a Vogue photo shoot and organizing a major project.”
FILEP MOTWARY: Hi beautiful? So it was very difficult to catch you in the past two months. What have you been up to?
SUZANNE von AICHINGER: I know Filep. I’ve been a little like Houdini…escaping. But for a good reason. I had plenty of work and styling projects
Tell me more about it please. It seems you work non-stop.
It’s been good for me lately. I’ve been styling some perfume campaigns, editorials for Russian Vogue, Italian Vanity Fair, doing photos with Dita, and now I’m preparing another perfume campaign, and a major photo shoot with one of the MOST gorgeous women on the planet.
Oh Gosh, indeed its a lot. You mean the actress, Elisa Sednaoui? Ali posted a shot of her on twitter…
Oh what a beauty Elisa is!!! But, I’m referring to another lady…very iconic. I don’t know if I should say who it is. I don’t like to talk about things before they come out…
I understand. How easy it is for you to collaborate with people. What a concept needs to have in order to get you involved in it?
Collaborating with people is my ultimate way of creating. I find the dynamic of working with another or others, stimulating, and proven a successful way of expression for me.
How do you make your choices? Is money an important motive or not always?
There has to be an element that compels me, something that excites my imagination. I also have to feel that I have something relevant to bring to the story. Money is very often not a motive. But, sometimes it is an essential part of creation. We must also live, make a living, etc. You have to know when to give and when to sell!! There is no shame in being paid for a job well done. Andy Warhol considered making money the highest art form. I’m not sure that I adhere to this philosophy, but I don’t love being broke either. I like the freedom that having some cash on hand can procure you.
On the other hand there might be talented people, who would love your contribution but, lets say, cannot afford you. How would you react in such conditions?
I usually say YES to a project, which stimulates me. It’s not about the $$$. It’s about the action. I believe in working with people that I consider talented or kindred spirits. As people of great talent have wanted to work with me, when I had no money to pay them. Just for the sheer joy of seeing an idea become a reality.
I wanted to ask you about the photo shoot you just did with René Habermacher. It’s so iconic, yet in a very special way. How was working with René?
I loved it. We had a beautiful day together, with a great creative team. We wanted to express in this series, something that is based more on personality, than fashion. I feel that there are many stories to be told in my future with René. There is a quality in his vision that is very strong and appealing.
Exactly my point. The photographs serve our conversation so right! I’m very happy that Rick Owens was so positive when I contacted him for the garments. He is always so nice to me. Also for the fact that we shot his winter collection which is by far my favorite!
So am I! I LOVE Rick! He is one of my favorites. And, his fashion is timeless. I know that this can sound cliché, but if you have some pieces by Rick from 12 years ago, they are as relevant as pieces that he has made 2 days ago. They don’t go in and out of fashion. They have their own essence and place.
Having in mind that Rick’s clothes are so special, yet the 2000′s are the epitome of diversity. Each designer points out a different outline every season, there is so much choice. How do you see fashion now yourself, as a stylist?
It’s hard for me to answer this. I see many great things happening, no doubt. But, I see a lot of nonsense going on as well. There is not enough power any more in the hands of the creators. Now, big design houses change designers like they change their underwear. Just ridiculous. There is no time for the designer in place to create a brand identity, that he is fired. And very often, they find out that they’ve been fired, by reading about it in the papers.
It’s as if the financial/commercial people at the heads of some houses, envied the position of creator, and wished to usurp it. They believe that they are capable of being the creator. WRONG!!!!
But most of the Houses belong in companies like LVMH or PRADA. I think it’s difficult to be the head designer, no matter where you work if the House belongs to someone else. No? For example Chloe changed designer four times since 2001…
There are, thank goodness, some examples where this situation is working favorably for the house and the designer, like Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs at Vuitton.
But in many cases, it has been very difficult for the designers. It can be financially rewarding, if you can stay in place for more than a few seasons, but you do sell a part of your soul to the devil. And then you sometimes lose your name, and have stylists imposed upon you to tell you what to do, and how to show your collection, and editors telling you they don’t want to see this or that. It used to be that if anyone tried to tell the big designers what to do, they would be told where to get off. No one dared anyway. They knew better I suppose. Now, there are sometimes treated like puppets, and not really given a chance to express themselves. It takes a few years to create a brand identity. I’ve seen some real talent thrown out of houses for no reason. It’s bewildering. There are so many revolving doors, my head spins just thinking of it.
You have my vote on that! Do you mind if we talk about your past?
(laughs) Let’s talk about my past Filep.
Tell me about you posing for Ali’s illustrations…You told me on the phone the other day that you were at a friend’s place posing for him…
Indeed for the last few days I’ve been posing for some illustrations, done by Ali Mahdavi and it’s been such a wonderful experience. It reminded me of when I worked with Antonio somehow. We had Lars Nilsson collaborate as art director, and Catherine Baba doing the styling.
I didn’t know that Ali is also an illustrator. He is such a sweetheart
Yes, Ali is a brilliant artist, who graduated from the Beaux Arts de Paris with the highest honors, and he was at one point selected to eventually teach anatomy classes…a great honor in view of the fact that it was the school of Delacroix, Géricault, etc.
Well, Ali is such an impressive and kaleidoscopic personality… How did you guys meet in the first place?
He was a friend of Lars Nilsson who at the time was the first assistant of Christian Lacroix. I thought that he was very moving and beautiful. We have become very close, like brother and sister, and are very inspired by each other. He also has a great sense of the absurd, which corresponds to me very much. it makes me feel at home.
It seems that you are one of those women that men become obsessed with. I know, cause this is what happened to me. At a younger age, when I used to see you on TV, especially doing Lacroix, there was something about you that in a way made me feel like we new each other from before….
Although I’m not very keen in believing past lives and so on… There was something about you.
Oh Filep, first of all, yes, I’ve experienced the feeling of meeting someone that you feel you’ve known forever, transcending time and lifetimes, meetings that happen on other planes, dimensions, dream worlds, which I believe to be as real, if not even more real than the world that we recognize as real.
Is this what happened with Antonio Lopez too?
Antonio was and continues to be a great part of my life and the same goes for almost everyone who had the great fortune of knowing him.
What’s the story behind your relationship?
We met through Bob Starr in NY, who spotted me shopping at Balducci’s, across the vegetable aisle!. I was sent to meet Antonio by Bob Starr. I had heard of him, of course. He was IT! A living legend! So I walked into his studio, and the first thing I saw on the wall was the Andy Warhol portrait of Antonio in the entrance. I was asked to wait in a little area behind a screen and when Antonio came around to introduce himself, he looked me up and down asked me if I wanted to pose for him right away! Of course I said YES! And he put me in a Charles James gown. The “Shrimp or Siren” gown. (…)
When Antonio started to draw me, he became possessed like a demon, making grunting and growling sounds, with his face distorting. He was finding the magic getting in touch with other worldly visions…the essence. It was very powerful! I thought that he was going to attack me, he was so intense in his drawing, so beautiful, and with the first line that came out of his pencil onto the paper, the essence of everything was there. He was a visionary and a genius; as well as his partner Juan Ramos, who held a primordial importance in this dynamic.
I had heard of Antonio and I realized that I was stepping into a world of incredible beauty, creation in the purest sense of the word. These boys were the real deal. And they were so kind, sweet, and lovely. It was sooo glamorous!
Nobody posed better than Antonio. He taught all the major models everything. He was infused with spirit. He saw things that were invisible to mere mortals eyes!
Well, thought your career, you worked with the most peculiar creators from the fashion fields. I mean… Antonio Lopez, then it was Serge Lutens, then Lacroix, Galliano, Gaultier, Ali Mahdavi… All of these men had a thing with strange beauty… like yours allow me to say. You still work with some of them till this day.
But they’re all so strange, so individual and so strong. Their vision, their work. What do you thing they see in you?
Well, I don’t know if it’s strange beauty, although I take this as a compliment. Antonio once said that I was a classic beauty according to the standards of the great masters, and the sculptures of ancient Greece, and Rome
Yes, this is what my friend Rene told me about you too when I told him I wanted to interview you. We both agreed to what I baptized you: A Siren!
But it’s true that I was never considered to be the girl next door, I never saw myself that way
I preferred a woman with more mystery, and mythological dimension. I always, since CHILDHOOD, was fascinated with Greek mythology, ancient Egypt and magic
So Siren fits then?
Yes, Siren fits very well and swimming is one of my favourite things. I love the water: I miss it. When I haven’t had a chance to swim for a while, I long to meet a body of water again…
I saw some pictures of you in water. You looked ravishing with no make-up on. So lets go back to your story. After Antonio it was Serge?
I love to connect with artists who have very powerful vision like Serge Lutens, who is another incredible genius, and uncompromising in his vision or with Christian Lacroix, for whom I was one of his muses for the Haute Couture. It was a lovely time. Christian Lacroix, along with Claude Montana at Lanvin, brought the focus back to Haute Couture, which at that time had taken second place. Because of the great creators of the 80′s, such as Claude, Mugler, Alaia, Comme des Garcons, etc He had a very beautiful moment and important impact. Couture became alive again! It was so opulent
He was my second love after Montana. I was devastated when his House closed down. Lacroix always impressed me with his elegant frivolousness.
He had a very beautiful moment and important impact. Couture became alive again!
Yes, I agree on this one. So special and also very a sweet person. Very human. I interviewed him about a year ago. I still go back and read our conversation from time to time or exchanging emails.
His weakness was the ready to wear..
If only his Couture vision had been translated in a better way, to the RTW, it would have made more sense. I feel it is very sad and wrong for his house to close. Indeed a big mistake that there was no support there.
I so agree. It seems strange not to have been supported by the government or anyone who could buy the house. It’s a shame.
And how did you end up with Galliano and Gaultier?
Well, after Lacroix, I was taking acting classes with a geat teacher, who had worked with James Dean, Elia Kazan, was the husband of Carole Baker (Baby Doll) Tenesse Williams, etc..
John was starting his first HC collection at Givenchy, and was looking for a muse. He didn’t care for the women that he was being introduced to. She had to be an actress, know how to move, be this and that. Basically, someone who could feed his imaginary. Lars Nilsson told the person at Givenchy, “Oh, just call Suzanne!” very simple..
So he wanted something more than a simple model.. But you ended up having more responsibilities there in the end…?
Of course! John wanted magic, inspiration. My job was to help them see the thing that they were looking for! By movement, voices, speaking, provoking. I also brought my own style, style elements, my experience, which at some points in my life, I thought to be quite absurd. I love to daydream and play. I love to make up different personages and create situations that amuse my friends and me. We would be very obsessive about things. When I started to work with John, I realized that all of this play-acting and invention had a purpose. He was receiving all of this and feeding off of it. And the exchange was mutual. His enthusiasm fed me, so that I could give even more.
Did you find it hard serving the role of the muse? Difficult?
it was fun and flowed beautifully, very rewarding as well. John was incredibly generous. And, when he trusted you and your vision, he really gave his full trust. So I was a part of his creative team. He was intelligent and had confidence in his team to delegate. Very rare!! The hard part was manoeuvring through some in house politics, and dealing with jealousy of some co-workers.
How long was your collaboration? You walked his show for Summer 2011, you had the last exit. correct?
We worked together for 4 or 5 years..? And yes, I did his last show, and closed the show! What a great honour, because it was a show about his muses. It was a very emotional experience for me, because I hadn’t been back to the house of Galliano in 10 years, and to see all the people who work there, whom I hadn’t seen in such a long time. All those friendly faces… and Steven Robinson no longer there..
We were all genuinely moved, and happy to see one another again. It was really beautiful. I lived the best years of Galliano. Saw his great ascension. It was an incredible time with many stories to tell. Truly, I feel blessed to have worked so closely with such a brilliant magical man.
Gaultier was before Galliano or after?
Jean-Paul came after John. I was working with Maria Luisa for a brief moment- another very educational experience- when I got a phone call from Lionel Vermeil, who said that Jean Paul would like to work with me on his Couture collection, and if I was interested. Of course I was! So I started to do a few fittings for him, and manipulated the “toiles” and shifted them around to what felt right.
I had a point of view and strong opinion, and wasn’t afraid or intimidated to say what I felt. Jean Paul needed this. This was the reason why Lionel wanted me there in the first place. So Jean Paul asked me to do consulting mainly for Gaultier Paris, his haute couture collection. It was great!
I think all creators who are important need this..
Yes, I think so too! You must have a woman involved in the creation. We are after all the ones who will be wearing the clothes.
Do you mind if I ask you about your music? Well I don’t know much about it but I saw some videos on YouTube and its pretty intense. They way you perform with the rest of your team – Its three different music groups right?
Music has always, as far back as I can remember, been the NUMBER 1 important outlet and inspiration in my life.
I was obsessed with Snow White when I was a child. The music and story are very deep, profound, dark and romantic.
I always had quite an unusual, and relatively extreme, if not to say advanced taste in music. When I was 10 years old, I was listening to Pink Floyd, Santana, Dylan, Joan Baez, Thelonius Monk, Eartha Kitt, military marching music, and of course the music of Walt Disney.
Then one day, my sister told me about Alice Cooper. At this point my life changed. Everything made sense. Here was a man, so beautiful and his name was Alice. He wore corsets, makeup and high heels, had snakes, and was electrocuted, or hung at a gallows, or decapitated at the end of his shows.
This spoke to me in a way that I had never felt before, I related to this very deeply. I was Alice Cooper. My parents thought it to be a little unusual for a little girl. I wanted my room to be painted black, and thought it to be very Romanesque to sleep in a coffin, like Sarah Bernard.
I LOVE THIS!
I was then also listening to King Crimson, early Genesis (with Peter Gabriel only!), Johnny Winter, The Stooges, Brian Eno, early Roxy Music (the first 5 albums only!), which was quite sophisticated for a child really. I wanted to be a DJ, maybe even a rock star, but I liked the idea of being a male rock star.
But how did you get involved in it finally?
I was making music mixes and compilations. Some of them for Rick Owens actually! And then started to record some of my vocals, doing strange improves, etc…
I met Timo Ellis, who is a multi instrumentalist, prodigy, heard some of these recordings and he loved them, so we did some sessions together, with John Paul Keenon (Japa) an extraordinarily great drummer. I couldn’t believe that these guys would be interested in working on this project!
So we recorded Gluttonius “Roman Style” and I also recorded some things with their band The Netherlands.
When you perform you are in a complete disguise. Why do you hide your beautiful face? Also, like Lopez you become very intense, which is totally opposite from what I got when I first met you. Really impressive I must say..
Yes, I became The Face Of Wool”. I liked to perform this way because hiding my face brought out another dimension and power to the persona. It transcends sex, male or female, a being which is mythological, who can shift the elements, move mountains, etc…
Some people found it sometimes disturbing or scary, but in fact The Face of Wool is a positive, powerful, and very humorous person.
Where can someone officially listen to your music?
Anytime. It’s on MySpace. I haven’t performed with the Netherlands for a while because I’m in Paris, and they are in NY. But, truly, they are one of the most prodigious bands on the planet. That is why I wanted to do a piece with you on this band. Very important! One day, people will be talking about this, and they will be hailed as geniuses. I know it. And I am NEVER wrong when I have that feeling.
I also performed with Billy Hough last summer in Provincetown. I had fans even (laughs) so great! He had Michael Cunningham reading poetry, and John Cameron Mitchell (from Hedwig and the Angry Inch) singing, ect
I performed “THE END” by The Doors, and it brought the house down, very haunting, like a witch almost, possessed. Wow it was amazing. Billy and Paul Hough and Sue Goldberg. They rule.
Suzanne I want to see one of these performances.
Well there is no video online of this that I know of. But there is footage, because there is a documentary being made on Billy Hough, who is another very important figure of underground stream of consciousness poet, musician. VERY IMPORTANT!!
And lastly there is THE SUZANNES, which is about film, music and pagan, experimental noise performance…
Named after you I suppose?
Well the name happened by chance. I was with Johnny Blueyes and Seth Kirby and Ana Matronic. We wanted to make a short film and so we went to my friend’s house near Stonehenge, and the vague story -line that we had drawn out, took on a whole other form, and became “The Suzannes”.
What was the last thing that stimulated you?
The collaboration with Haider Ackermann, whom I greatly admire, for Vogue.
A muse described by Loulou de la Falaise as "the modern archetype of the Parisian woman", Suzanne lives and works in Paris. She was discovered by the legendary illustrator Antonio Lopez, whom she considers to be one of the great influences in her life.... She is now the fashion editor for PARIS IS DEAD.