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…