Concept 005: An Interview Of Nordstrom Men’s Sam Lobban And Union Los Angeles Founder Chris Gibbs

Founded in 1989, Union’s history first started in New York’s Soho with the gracious ambition of giving a space to young, local designers on their way to recognition. The Los Angeles shop followed a few years later and strived to maintain the same principle born thirty years ago: embracing the creativity of fresh designers within the city while being inspired by trends coming from Japan and the UK. Union Los Angeles has now become one of LA’s prime destinations for men's contemporary fashion and streetwear. Earlier this month, Chris Gibbs, who used to work at the original NYC shop and is now the owner and operator behind Union LA, announced Union’s first ever collaboration with a national retailer: Nordstrom.

Concept 005: Union & Company features over 170 exclusive pieces across clothing, accessories and shoes from a roster of 13 brands curated by Chris Gibbs and Sam Lobban, Nordstrom’s vice president of men’s fashion. We had the opportunity to speak to both of them about their recent collaboration, but mostly about streetwear, its evolution, and its relationship to high fashion.

AUTRE: How did the two of you meet?

SAM LOBBAN: Chris and I were introduced by a mutual friend, and then we would bump into each other in showrooms during Fashion Week market around the world and talk shop. We always seemed to have a similar vibe on product and brands, which I for one found interesting and pretty cool given our very different professional backgrounds.

CHRIS GIBBS: Sam seems to remember us meeting in Tokyo…but I don’t remember that specifically. I just know that over the course of the men’s fashion gauntlet: Tokyo, Paris, Italy, NYC…I would often see Sam in the usual haunts, and over time, recognized that we shared a lot of sensibilities and we formed a friendship.

AUTRE: In collaboration on this concept project, what were some of the first conversations you had about what you wanted this pop-up to look like, and which brands you wanted to include?

SAM LOBBAN: From the start, the Union & Company concept was about giving Chris and the team a platform to tell the Union story to our customers. It was important to us that we convey what Union is all about, but at the same time have its own unique spin as a pop-up concept, hence the thirteen brand, 170-piece exclusive capsule collection featuring all but two brands which Union usually carries. For the additional two - Cactus Plant Flea Market and No Vacancy Inn - both Chris and I are fans of what each brand does, and thought they would add an interesting addition to the concept as a whole.

AUTRE: Were there any particular inspirations that you both found to be the driving force behind this pop-up? Whether it be a different concept store, another city, or even a style of design?

SAM LOBBAN: From my perspective the major inspirations would be the ideas behind Union and what they stand for: great product, an open and inclusive environment and representing a diverse range of brands and ideas across price points. I think it would be fair to say that the campaign and overall aesthetic feels pretty rooted in LA style too!

AUTRE: Are there any brands that you think are ushering in a new wave of streetwear design?

SAM LOBBAN: I think what Cactus Plant Flea Market is doing is super cool, along with the Camp High guys...I like their super interesting take on color, graphic and print placement & technique on jersey, sweat weights and shapes.

AUTRE: Do you think these kinds of pop-ups risk putting cult streetwear at risk of becoming too mainstream?

CHRIS GIBBS: I do think there is a narrative where that can happen… And some brands might succumb to the glitz and glamour of it all by overdoing it. But we (Union) have a thirty-year track record of ‘keeping it real’ and by that I guess I mean playing the long game and never overexposing any one brand or trend. The core of our business has, for some time now been Japanese street wear and three of the four brands we started with over fourteen years ago are still the leading brands in our store (Neighborhood, Wtaps and Visvim). My feeling has always been as long as you keep true to your brand ethos and don’t start doing things and making product that isn’t really true to the brand, then you don’t run the risk of saturation. This project is the perfect example. It’s a two-month pop up with a highly curated edit of brands and styles in only ten doors in the world. That isn’t mainstream.

AUTRE: Do you think streetwear has become less accessible to consumers due to the influx of luxury brands tailoring their aesthetics?

SAM LOBBAN: Personally I think the opposite; aside from the ambiguity of what ‘streetwear’ as a term really means - which seems to be a catchall for anything cool that’s going on in menswear at this point - I’d argue that more customers than ever can and want to buy into streetwear because of the range of price points available. At Nordstrom we have Union tees for $42 to Dior tees for $560, and everything in between.

AUTRE: Do you think streetwear has evolved along with high fashion brands as they have adapted to their collections to appeal to more trend-oriented customers?

CHRIS GIBBS: Sam kind of spoke to the “catchall-ness” of the term streetwear. So this is kind of tough to answer. My job as a curator, for lack of a better term, is to try and sift through everything and bring the best to our customers. Not to sound repetitive but again I would lean on our thirsty+ year history of being Los Angeles’s best kept secret. Correct me if I am wrong, but Autre is a LA-based magazine who has covered many brands we sell, designers we offer, artists we support and this might be the first article about us. And I kind of like that. There is something kind of cool and mysterious about what and how Union exists. Guess I digressed there, sorry. Ok, so the question was has streetwear evolved to be more trendy? Some parts of it have for sure…some of streetwear’s most respected and longstanding brands are now household names, that said, others are still wildly successful, yet still super niche and underground. Streetwear is very pluralistic in that way.

AUTRE: Has the ethos behind streetwear as a cultural concept been diminished by high fashion?

CHRIS GIBBS: I will admit, I do think high fashion brands are doing their best to use the ‘streetwear’ playbook and unlike most streetwear brands, high-fashion brands have multimillion dollar ad campaigns and marketing teams behind them. And I will go a step further and say some are doing a really good job at it. I suppose for me we have always been a niche store and have largely enjoyed support from the customer who really gets it. The guys and girls who want honest, organic and holistic take on fashion. In those people we will always have support and they aren’t as easily lured away as most. There are some high fashion brands that for sure are using streetwear’s new found popularity to keep themselves relevant, while others are working with, not against streetwear in a more collaborative way that I think is healthier.

AUTRE: Do either of you think that there is any single city that consistently ignites global streetwear trends?

SAM LOBBAN: I think by its very nature a number of major cities add their own trends to the global streetwear conversation, rather than any single one. I think there are lines which you could draw back to New York, LA, Tokyo, London and beyond.

AUTRE: Would you consider Los Angeles to be a city of a trend-starters or of trend-followers?

CHRIS GIBBS: What I would say is this, I am a firm believer that streetwear was born in NYC, but at some point during the early ought’s it seemed to migrate west or at the very least become bicoastal. So there is a very strong, very dope LA version of streetwear, which is a community that I think is really dope. The Japanese streetwear that we introduced to the US, for example was really done from LA and that is a huge part of streetwear. And for Union we wouldn’t be here today without the support and patronage of some really dope trend setters in Los Angeles.

AUTRE: How would you describe the fashion aesthetic of this generation?

CHRIS GIBBS: My wet dream. A truly free and democratic mix of all genres and subgenres of fashion - high, low, vintage, contemporary, hippie, cross dressing, you name it.

AUTRE: Do either of you have any trend forecast predictions for the near future of streetwear?

CHRIS GIBBS: As high fashion willingly blurs the lines, the pendulum can swing both ways…streetwear will start using their playbook, but through a younger more innovative lens.


The pop-up shops will be available July 11 through September 1 at select Nordstrom stores and




Brutal Beauty: An Interview of Artist and Muse Michele Lamy On Organizing Rick Owens' First Furniture Exhibition

On a cold, rainy night, the day before the private opening, we huddled in the cab of a moving truck to chat about furniture, music and fashion. It may have been a symbolic coincidence that Michele Lamy was in the driver's seat, clutching on to the huge steering wheel, but maybe it wasn't. It's true – although the furniture line is a true collaboration, Lamy does most of the general contracting and she is organizing the exhibition all on her own. But it’s obvious that she is used to it and loves the process, and Rick is happy to take a back seat. 

Despite her diminutive frame, Lamy’s primal and mystical energy seems enough to muster ample kinetic energy to move hundreds of tons of concrete, alabaster and marble. The way she talks (with a thick, rough French accent), gesticulates, moves her eyes - the way her jewelry and stacked rings move with an orchestral clattering - is hypnotic. It is no wonder that the creative class has flocked to her – like an oasis in an indefinable desert of sameness – for the last couple of decades. It's no wonder why she and Rick have become a centrifugal force in the world of fashion and art.

Lamy is anything but ordinary. In some circles, you may know Lamy because of her relationship to fashion and furniture designer Rick Owens. Indeed, there are many clichés to describe her relationship to her partner: muse, alter ego, better half, right hand woman and so on. But more than anything, Lamy is a vital counterpart - a long lost spiritual and creative twin. That Owens and Lamy found each other in this modern artistic wilderness is kismet in the form of nuclear fusion, but it is not terribly surprising. Before the two were globally recognized, Michele owned a famous restaurant in Los Angeles called Les Deux Café and Owens was honing his craft in a studio across the street. While both Michele and Owens are mercilessly creative - Lamy really took the reigns with the furniture side of their output. Lamy almost exclusively heads all production, which takes her on material buying trips around the world looking for rare skins and fur, wood, bone and marble.

Open now at MOCA's Pacific Design Center outpost, you can experience an immersive exhibition of new furniture pieces designed by Owens, but spearheaded and organized by Lamy. A large alabaster wall, marble benches, camel skin ottomans and an ox bone settee - you can move your fingers across and through all the pieces. The furniture is a perfect, brutalist, and antiestablishment vision for a bombed out future where we must carve out our palaces from the ruins of factories and government headquarters. Complimenting the furniture are works by the late sculptural painter Steven Parrino, whose works capture the same anarchy and vision as the furniture. 

In the following interview, we chat with Michele Lamy about the exhibition, her past as the iconic ringleader at Les Deux Café and what she misses most about the Los Angeles she left behind before leaving for Paris with Rick Owens.

BJ PANDA BEAR: How have you been? I’ve been seeing you pop around and I know you’re working on this upcoming exhibition. How is everything coming along with it?

MICHELE LAMY: So, we are almost done. Just finishing up. I like the process so there is a thing that we’ve built and it’s just outside of Paris. We have this big atelier and then we did a warehouse in Los Angeles. For example, we do a lot of pieces in concrete, which is difficult to move, paying for the weight of the concrete for sending on a plane because we are always late. And then we found this great warehouse that’s on Highland and Romaine. Now we move in to MOCA and there is a little bit of adjustment because it’s still an institution, but it’s cool. We can break stuff, we can repair stuff up there, but for example you cannot drink a cup of tea. I don’t know why - it’s just the rules. When you’ve finished building something, you cannot have tea. I’m sure you can come in with a gun, but you cannot have tea.

BJ PANDA BEAR: That's insane! Where did the origin of the furniture come from? 

LAMY: When we move somewhere, we always do the furniture. We moved so many times. A gallery said it looked like a collection so I took it from there to produce it. It turned into two collections. It turned into gallery showings, we have dealers. We just keep doing it.

BJ PANDA BEAR: You’re always so hands on when we see all the documentation of your work. Have you always been so hands on with every single detail and the luxury.

LAMY: Which luxury?

BJ PANDA BEAR: Like all the images of you picking out slabs of marble and everything.

LAMY: Yeah you know I completely fell in love with doing this. The material, and there is something about the story behind making the pieces. We have a collection where everything is coming from Pakistan. In another collection, we are finding camel fur in the Empty Quarters desert in Abu Dhabi. But everything is produced just outside of Paris. That’s just where we find the right people.

BJ PANDA BEAR: What type of music is inspiring for you? What have you been listening to lately?

LAMY: I’m very into techno, house. I love radio stations, but now they are so lacking. There were so many and they’ve disappeared. I listen here on the internet from France like continuous house music, but I like LSD from A$AP [Rocky], I like his music.

BJ PANDA BEAR: You and A$AP are close, right?

LAMY: Yep. We just did a performance together at Art Basel Miami. It was fantastic. I was so happy. It was in the Design District on a roof. Silencio, a club from Paris, opened it. It was this space and it was a performance with Caecilia Tripp. Where you never see her, but she is there. We were there. It was a nice courtyard in the design district, so the location was good. It was not a hotel, it was more its own space.

BJ PANDA BEAR: When you were laying out and organizing the exhibition, was there a central focus or drive for this particular project?

LAMY: Yeah, There was a special focus. The one thing is the prong. It is represented everywhere even if you don’t see it, because it’s the way that we attach a bench of six meters – by two prongs, there is flow. It is floating. It looks like you need to hammer something, but it is about floating. The paintings are hung on the side. The space was sort of difficult, because it is very high and there’s not so much space on the first floor. Then we made this huge wall in alabaster that is a weeping wall. That piece - you know, I did feel good because coming to LA, I was sort of seeking a home, found the right warehouse, and then we were able to make this space our space. And changing the dynamic of the space, that’s usually what I’ve seen is always a challenge.

BJ PANDA BEAR: You’re used to transforming spaces, right? Your place in Paris doesn’t have a specific living room, or even a specific kitchen.

LAMY: Right right.

BJ PANDA BEAR: It is often said that you are the muse behind the show, but also that you’re kind of spearheading all of it. What are your personal muses and inspirations for design? Do you have a muse yourself?

LAMY: I don’t know what a muse is in that way. When you are with someone and you are doing things together and people say that because it is too difficult to say what exactly it is. I’m sure there is something I am inspired by. I’m old enough that all of these pieces of inspiration are melting into something more personal for me. People I admire is more because they have the guts to do what they’re meant to do and especially now with what just happened in the election, I think people have to be strong and do something they believe in.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Since this is like a comeback to LA for you, have there been any restaurants or places new here that you really love?

LAMY: I came a couple of times to do this exhibition. So I’ve had time to visit many places here. This time around, I live at the Chateau. When I was with Rick, we lived for two years at the Chateau, because we got attacked at the house we lived in. I have some friends and I gave them a tour of Traction Avenue and where there used to be factories are now galleries. I am really, really happy to see that little part of downtown – it is still the same, sort of, like SCI-Arc is still there. It was always good, except Al’s Bar is closed, but American Hotel is still there. They always say there was no one there before. They were there. We weren't so underground, but the prices were different. I always liked Little Tokyo and Koreatown – and Korean baths! My favorite thing, I think they are better here than in Korea. Of course the beach, it is beautiful. I was at the beach for Thanksgiving. There were not many people there – just people skateboarding on Venice Beach.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Can we chat a little about Les Deux Cafe or is that something you’d rather not? Cause I’ve heard so many stories.

LAMY: You know it was fantastic. It has been like twelve years of doing this. It was great, it was a time. Me and Rick were living across the street. Now it’s set to be demolished in a few months. Everything there is going to be demolished because it is going to be a mall. Another mall.

BJ PANDA BEAR: That’s so nuts…

LAMY: You know there has been a story in Another Magazine written by Chris Wallace who was a maître d' at Les Deux Cafe. Then we had this great artist, Konstantin Kakanias, who did these drawings, because at the time people did not have cell phones so it was preferential to taking a picture. And because it was a private place, the drawing was so much better to help tell the stories.

BJ PANDA BEAR: I love hearing the stories.

LAMY: It made it even better. There was no Instagram. Can you believe? It was so long ago. It worked though, we had so many great stories.

BJ PANDA BEAR: They’re so epic. I don’t even know if some of them are real.

LAMY: That was a very great time.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Are you going to be spending more time in Los Angeles? What took you guys so long to come back? Does Rick ever come here?

LAMY: You know before this MOCA story, we never came back. Rick you know, he is not coming for the exhibition. We don’t want to be analyzing all of this, but at the same time it’s a lot of things that are happening so he decided not to come here and let me do all the work alone. I know that next year, we are going to be in Europe a lot. Lots of time in Venice for the Biennale, so it seems like these things are happening and then Rick is going to our show in Milano. But I feel very at home in New York.

BJ PANDA BEAR: In New York, really? I’ve heard stories about Rick not liking New York. Does he ever go there?

LAMY: Yeah he doesn’t come there.

BJ PANDA BEAR: I was going to ask about the crystal and foam you’re planning on working with. How did you guys get involved with that kind of material?

LAMY: One thing to the next. Right now in this show, there is foam. The main thing in this show that changed the old perspective is a big wall of carved alabaster - the weeping wall. That is so heavy. There’s a lot of totems. It’s difficult to explain without seeing it.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Can you talk a little bit about Steven Parrino’s work in the show?

LAMY: It started because we are doing a show at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. It was a Carol Rama show and they asked us to be guests with our furniture. It was this combination because there is something on the wall, and then something on the floor. So then when Phillipe Vergne asked us to do a show, we thought it would be nice to work with somebody, and who is better than Steven Parrino? I know that we always liked him and his work is very related to our work. Lot’s of canvases that you think are collapsed, but are actually very controlled.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Did you get to meet him when he was around?

LAMY: Not at all, because all the years he was in Europe, I was here. I did know about him. I could have met him in Paris, but I didn’t. He was more known in Europe than in the States and he had a lot of collectors in Geneva. Did you like his work?

BJ PANDA BEAR: I like his work and his minimalist sort of nihilistic work. It reminds me a bit of Alan Vega’s work from Suicide and I like that deconstructed sort of connection between music and fashion.

LAMY: Steven Parrino’s work is very connected to those worlds. It speaks very well to this show at MOCA.

Rick Owens: Furniture will be on view until April 2, 2017 at MOCA Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. Interview by BJ Panda Bear. Intro text and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

The Interminable Apprentice: An Interview Of Fine Jewelry Designer Elie Top

Elie Top may just be one of the most glamorous men in Paris. Working silently under the likes of Yves Saint Laurent before his passing, and Alber Elbaz for Lanvin before Elbaz left the helm of the fashion house, Top has gained a keen and sharp insight into the world of luxury jewelry and accessory making. Elbaz’s exit was a perfect excuse for Top to take what he learned as an interminable apprentice and start his own eponymously named label. His new collection, entitled Mécaniques Célestes, is an insight into the ornamental aesthete’s lifelong fascination with all things baroque, classical and talismanic. Gold, diamonds, precious stones and other metals reinterpret the armillary sphere – tiny universes atop a finger, atop a breastbone; perfect and encapsulated. When we met Top, we ambushed him with an interview proposal during a cigarette break from hosting his recent pop up at Maxfield’s in Los Angeles (it was his first ever visit to Los Angeles). Our conversation oscillated between his memories of working with Saint Laurent, his love for jewelry and his new collection.

SUMMER BOWIE: So when you were much younger did you know that jewelry design and accessories were going to be your career path?

TOP: What do you mean by younger? Which age? [laughs] 

BOWIE: A child.

TOP: When I was really young I was more into architecture and was sketching very precisely in a maniacal way. Mostly churches and castles. I was very inspired by the 18th century French style and Italian and Austrian things, and was very obsessed with the Baroque period. So not very modern.

BOWIE: Where in France are you from originally?

TOP: I was born in the very north of France, close to Belgium in the countryside. So really a very small village. There were factories because it’s kind of an industrial area, but at the same time, there’s a lot of farms and animals. So it’s a strange mix between both.

BOWIE: So not that many Baroque influences.

TOP: Yeah, I don’t know why I’m obsessed with that! I went to Italy for the first time when I was quite young. I was maybe nine the first time I went to Rome, then I went to Venice, then I went to Bavaria, and I used to go quite often to Versailles and places like that. But around eleven or twelve I decided I wanted to work in fashion and I started to sketch more fashion things...but not especially accessories. It was more general - but then I went to fashion school in Paris at seventeen. I went to work at Yves Saint Laurent when I was around nineteen as a general assistant in the studio when Yves Saint Laurent was still there.

BOWIE: How did you get that job?

TOP: Thanks to school. I went in as an intern for two months and they kept me around which was quite cool. I was doing illustrations. Then Alber [Elbaz] arrived because he was doing the Rive Gauche collections. It was late 90s and that’s how I met him; when I was twenty-one. I think he didn’t know exactly what to do with me and he didn’t have anybody to work on the jewels and accessories in general, because Loulou de la Falaise was no longer doing the jewelry at Yves Saint Laurent. So he just asked me to start working so I started doing sketches and working with manufacturers, which is how I got started. He encouraged me and pushed me to work in this direction. And I was working at the same time on handbags and leather goods. But progressively over the years, I just gave up everything but the jewels because it’s what I liked the most.

BOWIE: What is it about jewelry that makes it so appealing?

TOP: I think it’s quite close to what I used to sketch when I was a child. It’s the same way that I’m looking at it and the way I’m imagining it. There’s always so many variables, and it always involves these architectural problems. As I like to sketch very precisely, everything is the same thing, actually. Like all the castles and all the jewels are the same. I’m very passionate and precise so I can really sketch for hours.

BOWIE: And then you worked for Lanvin as well?

TOP: Yeah, when Alber arrived at Lanvin, he called me and we started to work together immediately.

BOWIE: And do you prefer now working on your own better than for these major fashion houses like Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent?

TOP: Hmm… It’s very different for me, because for me Alber, and Saint Laurent - and LouLou as well because I worked with her too - they felt like a continuation of my school years and they were really great mentors, because they really helped me. Alber and Loulou encouraged me and taught me a lot. And now I’ve grown up and I can do my own thing. It’s more about that freedom to do something for yourself and not for somebody else, which is very different. It’s more difficult in a way because when you work with my state of mind - I was very devoted to those people - I would do my best to please them and now I have to please myself which is something very different. [laughs]

BOWIE: Were you nervous at first about doing your own thing?

TOP: Yeah. It also took me a long time to find my own aesthetic, because it was so mixed. Like for instance with Alber, I had a lot of freedom but he was always there, so it was a mix of him and me, and it was very connected to the theme of the fashion show so we could do something one season and the opposite the season after. So it was always attached to the collection. Suddenly we were without clothes, and we were without a theme. It wasn’t coming out of me. So, I had to look at my previous work to find the elements that were really me. Because I could see how all the ribbons were completely Alber, and everything which was more Baroque and with all the mixes of materials was more my story. I realized that my story’s all about system and structure, so I tried to extract that. It took me a long time to realize and to find myself. For fifteen years I was working for so many people and a lot of clients and it became more of a mathematical exercise, where you have to find their aesthetic and then create it yourself. It was a sort of a game. But then suddenly I didn’t have anybody else and I didn’t have any other variables to work with.

BOWIE: And what was the difference between what you learned working with Alber Elbaz and Loulou de la Falaise, and what you learned working with Yves Saint Laurent?

TOP: Oh they’re all such different people. [laughs] For Loulou it was more about her own personality. She had a lot of freedom in the way that she could mix things that were very cheap with things that were very expensive. It was more about the way she was thinking about style and the way that she was mixing a lot of ethnic and Bavarian shapes. African themes mixed with Parisian couture. But she used to do it in such a free way because it was completely her own personality; very intuitive. I don’t work like her at all, because she wasn’t really sketching. She was more about taking the elements, mixing them, and it was more organic and a very sensitive experience. And actually Alber is a bit the same in his way of working because he’s not really sketching, but always doing fittings and fittings, and it’s all about words. He talks a lot as he’s trying to find the story and trying to find some keywords to define what he wants. And then he is really all about the body of the woman and...many fittings. But Yves Saint Laurent was the opposite in the way he was working. He was always sketching, very precisely, and if it wasn’t looking exactly like the sketch, he didn’t want the clothes. Alber would just be sketching basic silhouettes, and then he was progressively transforming everything and doing everything directly on the body in the fittings. He wasn’t attached to the sketch.

"At the end, sometimes, there would suddenly be one thing that was so moving, people would really start crying. And this happens so rarely because it is beyond’re not talking about fashion anymore. You’re going somewhere else."

BOWIE: And it seems like you have a more specific vision that you put on paper, and then you try to realize it very directly, as opposed to this very sensual experience where you have an idea, and you play until you find it. 

TOP: Exactly. I’m really sketching exactly what I want to see with the jewels, and I don’t move from that. Whereas Alber was working like a lot of women - Vionnet, Chanel, Grès - all those women weren’t sketching, but just doing fittings.

BOWIE: Do you have any great memories of Yves Saint Laurent? Any in particular?

TOP: Sometimes. It never happens to me anymore but sometimes--and I think it’s why people are so attached to him--during the fittings we’d have goosebumps. Sometimes when the model would come in and do a twirl in the clothes it was just so perfect, so impressive, so moving that everybody’s jaw dropped. It’s impossible to describe the experience. Even when I’m talking about it I remember it so clearly.

BOWIE: You start to get goosebumps? [laughs]

TOP: And some people would be crying during the show which was really strange because the show, to be honest, was very old-fashioned. At the end, sometimes, there would suddenly be one thing that was so moving, people would really start crying. And this happens so rarely because it is beyond’re not talking about fashion anymore. You’re going somewhere else.

BOWIE: It’s very transcendent.

TOP: And I think that’s the reason people were so attached to him. Because it was something else, not only about clothes. He was doing something else. 

BOWIE: And did you feel that yourself too?

TOP: Yeah, once I was really crying.

BOWIE: Well can you tell us a little bit about this collection?

TOP: This collection is the first I’ve shown and now I’ve developed a few new pieces and I’ve done some variations on those themes. It’s called Mécaniques Célestes. It’s all about the armillary spheres, the planets, and globes. Actually my work in the beginning was trying to unify my two aesthetic tendencies, which are from my childhood and my industrial side. And I thought it was coming from living in the middle of all these factories, and mechanical and industrial landscapes. Then my fascination for something more Baroque, more precious and narrative came, so I tried to find a way to put these two opposites together in the same piece. So that’s the reason there is this thing that you can hide or show. And when it’s closed it’s a bit more radical and pure. When you open it, for me, you’re telling something more poetic and more narrative. Then I found inspiration from the principles of globes, for instance from the sugar bowls you see in Parisian bars. I saw the way it opens and closes and I was looking in and thought, “oh that’s perfect.” And that was really my starting point. [laughs] 

So I had already sketched a few things but couldn’t find exactly what I wanted to put inside, so I was always looking for the perfect matching thing about the system and the mechanical on the inside and outside and what would be the good unity between everything. Then I found an amazing book with the same title called Mécaniques Célestes about the whole collection of these armillary spheres from a really great antique store in Paris. It’s exactly what I needed so when I found it, I sketched everything and that was really the start of it. What I also really liked was how you can always hide the most gorgeous part to give something more playful, but it depends what you wear with it. It all has to do with your own attitude and clothes.

BOWIE: Yeah it’s really quite romantic, this combination of the celestial and the industrial element. If you could describe your work in three words, what would they be?

TOP: Talking about my collection? Strangely, when it came out it was a mix of futuristic and medieval at the same time, and structure is important as well.

You can visit Elie Top's website to see more of the collection and stockists. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Interview by Summer Bowie. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Gardens of Pleasure: An Interview with Designer Yaz Bukey

On a quick trip to Los Angeles, we caught up with Paris-based designer Yaz Bukey. Her eponymous label is a trompe l’oeil pop art explosion of plexiglass that combines the aesthetics of advertising and everyday objects, like cigarette boxes and lipstick. Bukey is also an Ottoman princess and her ancestors were once the rulers of Egypt. In fact, one of those ancestors, Mehmet Ali Pasha, King of Egypt, gave the Concorde Obelisk to Napoleon. Despite her royal blood, Bukey is more modern than ever. Her collections are inspired by everything from ancient mythology to Boy George. In fact, Boy George is a customer of hers – so is Björk. Lately, Bukey has been eschewing the traditional runway presentation and showing her collections in the form of a performance that is half burlesque and half vaudeville shtick, with a splash of erotic revue. One regular performer is retired gay male pornstar François Sagat. We got a chance to catch up with Bukey in the Hollywood Hills to talk about her work, life and inspiration behind her current collection – as well as her wildly ambitious plans for the future of her label, which includes an all encompassing universe splashed with her vision. 

DOUGLAS NEILL: How do you like being in Los Angeles? Is the sunshine inspiring?

YAZ BUKEY: It’s true that we need sun. For me, I love the fact that you can be isolated and at the same time in a big city. This is the thing that I love here. That’s why I would like to move here. My dream would be to have my house with my garden. I love plants. And behind, I have my atelier, and I can work from there.

NEILL: You like having a space for peace?

BUKEY: Yes. I need that, more and more. Before, I was always thinking, “I have to stay in big cities, like Paris, London, or New York.” I think that we really need to be resourced by nature. Here, you have everything – the sea, the gardens, the desert. Everything is here.

NEILL: Your aesthetic is very unique and instantly recognizable. How would you describe it in a word or phrase?  

BUCKEY: It’s all about trompe l’oeil. Through this material – Plexiglas – I arrive to have pieces that you don’t know if it is a print, or if it is an object. Same for the home decor that I am starting to make more and more. You can have different pieces that you put on your wall. I like that a clutch can become a box that you have in your house. It’s accessory for yourself and accessory for your home.

NEILL: It transfers well from situation to situation.  

BUKEY: I like the fact that, when you wear something, people in the street say, “This reminds me of this movie or that pattern.” It’s storytelling. You don’t need to speak. Just having a piece can pop up images in your eye.

NEILL: What was it like meeting Björk and selling your first collection to her?

BUKEY: That was the first big move that happened when I launched my brand. I was sold in three stores. One was Kokon to Zai in London. They – namely, Marjan Pejoski – are very close to Björk. She did the swan dress and this big pink dress that she wore at the Cannes Film Festival. Before going to going to Cannes to show Dancing in the Dark, Björk went to the store and bought each of the pieces I had made. She started wearing it, and then she contacted me to have pieces for her show. It shifted the brand, actually. She’s so inspiring. I like when people are bold like this, you know? She’s not scared of wearing something weird, something that people can even laugh at. People could say, “Oh, that’s so ugly.” She doesn’t care. That’s a side of her that I like.

NEILL: You are a part of a really fascinating group of artist and designers in Paris. Do you inspire or influence each other?

BUKEY: We have a close group of friends. Each of us is in his own world, of course. The one that is closest to me is Vincent Darré in terms of aesthetics.

NEILL: He has a great personality. He always makes me smile.

BUKEY: He’s a very happy person. There is also Michel Gaubert, who does the music for my show. I love talking to him. Sometimes, he’s like, “Oh, I thought of you when I saw this image.” We have a lot of exchange, whether musical or otherwise. I was more into music before. I wanted to be a singer. But it was not possible due to my family. [Laughs.] They wanted me to go and do political science. I went to study it. But after three months I was like, “I don’t understand what they’re talking about. Please let me do something else.” They accepted that I do something else, but it had to be kind of like mathematics. I figured out that industrial design was not so bad. I went into graphics to be able to be close to the music industry. I wanted to do the album covers. Slowly, that shifted to perfume bottle designing. From there, I met this old lady who was the head of this very famous fashion school in Paris. Vincent went to the same school. Camille Bidault went to that school.

NEILL: Did you guys know each other before school?

BUKEY: No, we were all from different eras of the school. This lady has changed all of our lives.

NEILL: What’s her name?

BUKEY: Marie Rucki. When you arrive to that school, she says, “Everything you learned from your parents is shit. We’re going to empty it and refill it with what you like.”

NEILL: So she is responsible?

BUKEY: She is responsible for a lot of designers. The school has been there for forty years, and she’s still there. She’s over 80.

NEILL: I always attribute creativity to what people do on their own. I always forget that a teacher can be a huge influence.

BUKEY: A teacher can change your life. Or they can make you hate something.

NEILL: There’s a rumor that you are a descendant of royalty. Is this true?

BUKEY: My great great grandfather was the king of Egypt in the beginning of the 19th century. It was a family that ruled from the beginning of 1800 until 1953. The last king was King Farouk. The first was Mehmet Ali Pasha, who comes from Italy and Greece. He was the one who offered the Obelisk to Napoleon when they lost the war against him. For me, the most inspiring person from my father’s family is Princess Fawzia, who was the sister of King Farouk. She was the first wife of the Shah of Iran. She stayed there two years. She was a party girl, and she couldn’t stand it, so she left. She’s beautiful, like a Hollywood actress. I’m going to Egypt next week, actually.

NEILL: What are you doing there?

BUKEY: I have some of my father’s family there – aunts and cousins. In 1953, the family lost all of their houses and mansions – everything. Everything belongs to the state. You can still live in it, but you can’t sell anything. You can’t restore it. It’s unfortunately fading away. I haven’t been in 25 years. I’ll have to hide the tattoos. [Laughs.]

NEILL: For your collections, you stage, dramatic, beautiful, and elaborate scenes, instead of the typical runway show. Are runway shows boring to you?

BUKEY: Very boring. Sometimes, I go to support friends who do shows. All the journalists and stylists, they have so much to see right now. They travel so much. I believe you have to give them something else. I love performing. I used to perform myself, a few years ago. Unfortunately, now, I can’t during my shows, because I need to do the interviews. Being able to take care of the music, the image, the photography, the design, the furniture – for me, it’s a global art. That’s what I like.

NEILL: It’s like a painting.

BUKEY: Yeah. And I like working with the same crew. I like adding newcomers in. Now, we have more and more well-known people who want to be part of the show. They call me and say, “Hey, can I be part of the show next season?” If it fits, I’ll let them do it. I have a little list.

NEILL: Can you give an example?

BUKEY: I would love to work with Marie-Agnès Gillot. She’s one of the main dancers in the Opéra Paris. Right now, it’s not the right moment, because the next collections are not fitting her. At some point, I would love to work with her, having her dancing.

NEILL: I agree. The fashion show is…

BUKEY: It’s so quick. A show is only seven to ten minutes. Very sad.

NEILL: Now, they’re doing it where you can watch the show on the computer and buy it right away.

BUKEY: This is the thing that people started doing to avoid copying. I wish that we just did one collection per year, and that we showed it for Spring/Summer. In the end, it’s a lot of work, a lot of research. You put your heart in there, and it’s only living in the store for two months. The value is down right now. That’s why everyone tries to do things very quickly. You don’t have the time to go deeper into your research. What I liked, back in the day, was that you could be interested in an image or artist, look for it in a library, and then find other things that inspire you even more. It takes you from one spot to the other. That’s what we need right now.

NEILL: That’s exactly how I feel about collecting records.

BUKEY: Collecting records, you go to the store, you search and search. You don’t find what you’re looking for, maybe, but you will find something else.

NEILL: You don’t have enough time to research?

BUKEY: Right now, everything is quick. Three seasons ago, I worked a lot on Bob Fosse’s work. In the end, you speak to the journalists, and they don’t even know who he is. You’re like, “Come on. This is not possible.” [Laughs.] Let me do a few moves for you.

Purchase the Hibiscus Clutch here

NEILL: Do you have any hand in choreographing the performances?

BUKEY: I work with this boy who used to be my student. (I worked at Studio Berçot after I was student there.) He shifted from being a stylist to dance. He has a group called House of Drama. His name is Aymeric Bergada Du Cadet. We have this very close relationship. More or less, we do everything together. I am around Christopher Niquet a lot as well. He lives in New York. I really believe in his eye. When I finish my collection, I always say, “Hey, can you have a look at it?” He always has the right words.

NEILL: It’s like you have a little family.

BUKEY: Yes. The dancers are all young kids. I like to have those young girls around, to show them the way as well. “Maybe don’t go there… Do more of this.” I help them out with their daily looks, so they are elevated.

NEILL: What do you look for in a performer? I know you just worked with François Sagat.

BUKEY: He used to be a porn actor. Before that, he also did Studio Berçot. He was in my sister’s class. he worked in the fashion industry and then got fed up from it. I see his porn work as an artwork. He’s not afraid to have bubblegum looks. I like that. I understand very well why he went into that. Now, he has stopped after five years. He has a brand now of men’s underwear. It’s called Kick Sagat. When I asked him, “Would you perform?” He said yes. We performed together three times before, in clubs. It was quite a pain in the ass. We were dressed in cat suits, and people would pull our tails.

NEILL: A lot of unexpected issues.

BUKEY: I used to be very stressed with the performers. “Okay, you have to do it perfectly!” Now, I know that they will give it their best. Let them be. “Do how you feel the best.” There’s no competition between them. Everyone has her own character. We work with MAC for the makeup. I always tell him, “It’s not just one makeup for the show. I need one for each girl that shows best their character and personality.” It’s quite free. I like to leave each person who works with me a lot of freedom.

NEILL: Would you say anybody could come? Do you have auditions or casting?

BUKEY: Auditions, no. But, for instance, we have worked many seasons with Anna Cleveland as a model, and this season she said, “I want to dance.” She’s not a dancer, so we did more rehearsal with her. But in the end, she was amazing. The star of the show. Then again, the character has to go with the show. One season we will use someone, but the next season I have to say, “I’m sorry, but you won’t be in.” Then, they come back. It’s like a family, as you said. Also, I need to be sure they didn’t gain weight. [Laughs.]

NEILL: Where do you look for inspiration when it comes to your collections?

BUKEY: For the Hollywood collection, it was the dancing of Bob Fosse, the actresses of classic eras, Samuel Goldwyn. I make all this research, and then I pull out my own story. For the collection, My Heart Belongs to Paris, it was the Pink Panther, Henry Mancini’s music, and American in Paris. My American in Paris was an American girl tourist. She arrives to Paris. That morning, at the Café de Flore, there is a big scandal. The Mona Lisa has been stolen from the Louvre. There are many stories as to what happened – someone stabbed the Mona Lisa, someone what in love with her. I make my own story out of it.

NEILL: It sounds almost like a dream. You have all these things that you filter through.

BUKEY: Yeah. Also, there are images that were inspiring for me when I was a kid. My father was an ambassador who pretty much specialized in the Arab world. We lived in different Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, where there were no movies or anything. My father helped me a lot with my cinematographic side. We would watch and rewatch and then act out a lot of musicals.

NEILL: So that was very inspiring to your collections now?

BUKEY: Yeah, yeah. One of the first things that inspired me so much was Boy George, Culture Club. The only way out was to go to these shopping malls in Saudi Arabia and walk around. I was obsessed by the album covers. When I saw Boy George and the Culture Club I was like, “Yes!” I would dress like a mini Boy George. I put my hair in braids. My parents would freak out, of course, because I ruined all my mom’s makeup.

NEILL: Can you talk a little bit about your current collection, Gardens of Pleasure?

BUKEY: There is a cartoon in France called Asterix. It’s about a little village that fights against the Romans back in the day. There is one that is called Twelve Worlds of Asterix, where they have to do Olympic things. I started listening to the music. It was a cartoon from the 70s. I found out the guy who did the music, and I found this album that he made, Tropical Fantasy. It was amazing. I took a bit of Tropical Fantasy, and then I wanted to do my own Gardens of Eden. What will I have inside that? La chicholina, for me, is the sexual side of beauty. The birth of Venus. Poison ivy. Cupid. Aphrodite and Zeus. It’s totally different, but I do my own story.

NEILL: Do you bring a character to the story?

BUKEY: The show starts with the priestess of the island, doing the welcome dance. Then, we have different personalities who come out for different tableaux. We finish with Adam and Eve, but Adam is eating the apple.

NEILL: Where do you see you and your brand going in the future?

BUKEY: I want to grow it into the thing I call Yazbukeyland. I want to make a lifestyle around the brand. You are able to have furniture, bedsheets, glasses, rugs, oil paintings, perfume, car (the Yazmobile) – everything. You can be in that fantasy world, you know? That’s what I want.

NEILL: Is there anything that you want everybody to know?

BUKEY: Not too long ago, I saw that Boy George bought a piece of mine. I was in his concert last year in Paris, which was amazing, and he kept saying, “My friend Jerry is here!” And I though, oh, Jerry is my friend too. I contacted him and said, “I really want to do something with Boy George.” Lately, I sent him two pieces, and he wrote me back on Twitter saying, “I really loved my gifts.” He was like, “Follow me!” Like, oh my God, from age 11 to age 42, the circle is there. I really hope one day we can do something. Maybe he can sing during my show. It’s possible. He is so open. 

To find retailer's or purchase Yazbukey's collections online, click here. Photographs and interview by Douglas Neill. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Calamity Serenity: An Interview with Preston Douglas and Harry Patterson

Walking around New York Fashion Week: Men’s, you are likely to befriend other dudes that are as obsessed with fashion as you are. It makes you feel like a bit less of a weirdo. One such friend I made at this last round was Preston Douglas Boyer, a guy who looked a bit like a cross between a Hesher longhair and a teenage Supreme worshipper that was actually a Houston-based fashion designer who just released his first collection of motocross inspired and geometric printed line of garments back in February.

Boyer is something of a Hypebeast. You can watch videos of him on YouTube as a 14-year old giving his informed opinion on the latest drops of Jordan’s and luxury brand sneakers. That taste for luxury sneakers later translated towards clothes, and Boyer initially worked as a stylist for Houston and international musicians that would come from the city. Last year he took the plunge and started designing clothes that he wanted to wear, all while studying marketing at the University of Houston.

Also interesting is that his partner and brand equal is Harry Patterson, who is in charge of production for the brand. The guys are equally invested into the garments as they are into the production of the brand, indicative of kids who grew up in an era where image was everything and everywhere. Designers like Boyer are going to start appearing more in the industry. As opposed to the designers before them that found themselves influenced by Rei Kawakubo, Le Corbusier and Joy Division, we are about to see a lot of kids that have been mainlining Supreme and Nike for as long as they can remember. Read on for my conversation with the guys.

ADAM LEHRER: So yesterday you told me that you started the brand because you felt something was missing from fashion. What was that thing that you felt was missing?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: I really felt like functionality within luxury menswear was missing. You buy a jacket for $1,500, you buy a pair of jeans for $1,500, and you can have that for the rest of your life and as far as functionality goes our jacket has three jackets in one. You can style it 20 different ways. You can’t style a Saint Laurent bomber jacket like that.

LEHRER: You can’t even put it on unless you weigh less than 140 pounds (laughs).

PRESTON DOUGLAS: I want to change up the patterns. I love geometric patterns.


PRESTON DOUGLAS: Being a consumer for so long, starting with sneakers, I have an appreciation for color that I feel like a lot of menswear lacks. When I buy a piece and spend a thousand dollars on a jacket, I want that to be a piece that when I go out people are like, “What is that? Where did you get that? Who made that?” And then you tell them, "Preston Douglas."

LEHRER: So you feel that men’s fashion for a while now has been black, black, dark colors. So you want a larger pallet?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Black is my favorite color but I want a larger palette… but tasteful. I love prints but if you’re just doing all black and all whites and grays and then you just put together some print shirts, I don’t like that as much as incorporating said print into a variety of pieces.

LEHRER: You mentioned you wanted Harry to tell the stories. What were the stories with these first few designs you came up with?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Basically the collection’s called Calamity Serenity. The past two years of my life have been polar opposites. My life about two years ago was complete despair and chaos, I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. I didn’t know how to function. So that’s the calamity, the black represents that chaos.

Then before I knew it I hit this point in my life where everything started to change. My life the year after is serenity. It’s a complete antithesis to calamity and you can see that in the colors. I feel like everyone has a point in their life where they’ve been through some really dark times - when you are ready to give up. I hope my story can help someone else.

LEHRER: Growing up, what designers made you think about apparel more than footwear for a brand?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Christophe Decarnin. I remember looking at his look books. Really I got into luxury menswear because of luxury sneakers. Kris Van Assche for example. Ann Demeulemeester. Rick Owens. All these people had amazing sneakers. It’s all out there now with social media and Hypebeast and Highsnobiety.

LEHRER: Then socially too it’s become more accepted for dudes to be into fashion.

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Yeah! 8th, 9th grade when I started to get into sneakers and started my YouTube channel, I’d get called faggot or gay. Every single day all the time. I got major bullied for wearing colorful shoes, colorful Nikes. But I went to a private school so the only thing I could express myself with in terms of fashion were my shoes.

LEHRER: Exactly.

PRESTON DOUGLAS: I kind of created my own friend group and found my own path through creativity manifesting itself in a lot of different forms. First being sneakers; I had a sneaker resell business. I started a photography business. I started styling rappers and interviewing people when they came into Houston. Then with fashion, I felt like I’d been a consumer and seen enough to where I saw myself being able to fill a gap.

LEHRER: So you’ve always been entrepreneurial?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Yeah I’m an entrepreneur first because nothing can happen without it.

LEHRER: As far as growth goes, what are your highest hopes for what the brand could be in a couple years?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: In a year I’d like to be showing in New York, possibly LA. I haven’t really been out there enough yet to see if my aesthetic and my brand fits with that culture and that lifestyle. There’s a lot of people in LA I look up to with regards to the fashion industry. So keeping it within the United States first and growing my local recognition and name and getting my manufacturing down.

LEHRER: So Harry, what’s your end of the brand?

HARRY PATTERSON: I was a production designer, I started out designing stages for concerts. Mainly live music, that’s what I thought I wanted to do for a while. I’ve done a lot of stuff making music or art. But while Preston is designing the clothing I want to be designing the set.

LEHRER: So it’s not just a one-man designing type thing? You guys are working in unison to bring two different ideas into one setting?

HARRY PATTERSON: Yeah I think that’s really important. This time he hit me up when the line was done and wanted me to DJ. I got him to take photos at one of my shows in Houston and he was like “I’ll give you a deal if you DJ my fashion show.” In December I called him to catch up and I ended up doing the production for it. I was skeptical at first, I had never worked in the fashion industry before but it worked out really well. 

LEHRER: Were you interested in fashion or have you just gotten more into it now working with him?

HARRY PATTERSON: A little bit. Not as much as I am now. I never thought I’d be working in the fashion industry.

LEHRER: I feel like a lot of creative people just happen to end up in it in one way or another.

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Yeah! But the show in Houston was a really cool opportunity. I’m really glad Harry was involved because there was talk of moving Houston Fashion Week to the next level.

HARRY PATTERSON:  I actually thought that was what fashion week would be like when I went. I was like “ehh I’ve seen this in the galleria before,” this is going to be a bunch of clothes I’d wear to church. So it surprised me. In the past three days I’ve met more people in the fashion industry than I know in the music industry. It’s nice it’s smaller because it’s more of a collaborative feel.

LEHRER: Yeah I get that.

HARRY PATTERSON:  It’s harder to get that vibe with people in music. 

Shop the Preston Douglas Calamity/Serenity collection here. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Photographs by Clay Rodriguez. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

A Fashion Renegade Makes His Mark: An Interview With Designer Charles Elliot Harbison

Growing up near the Appalachian Mountains in his home state of North Carolina, New York-based fashion designer Charles Elliot Harbison was disconnected from the glitz, grunge, and all things in-between of New York fashion. Nevertheless, he still managed to find his way to aesthetics. Though it might seem surprising to the average New York cool kid, Harbison learned about style at the church. “There was propriety in it,” he says. “There was personal exhibition. There was worship. It was never thoughtless. I remember white shirts, blue blazer, bowtie, some suede bucks. That’s when I became acquainted with style.”

New York Fashion Week has solidified its position as the most commercial of all the Fashion Week’s. But as New York commerciality has reached its apex, a crop of young radical designers have emerged displaying awareness of contemporary art and pop culture and shining light back on American fashion: Eckhaus-Latta, Moses Gauntlett Cheng, Vejas, and Harbison.

But Harbison still stands out as something of a renegade even amongst this crop of wildly exciting fashion design talent. Though Harbison comes from a fine art background, having studied fine arts and painting at North Carolina State, he does not shy away from things traditionally “chic,” inspired by the luxurious approach to sportswear his mother employed when he was a child. He has leaned towards the subversive since he started his brand three years ago, employing a gender-neutral approach to his garments far before the industry jumped on the trend. But even with that, it’s not hard to imagine Park Avenue women loving to wear his modernist, color-blocked, and astoundingly beautiful clothes, allowing him a customer far wider in demographics that some of his contemporaries could ever conceive of reaching. “I don’t think [subversiveness] has to be relegated to just casual wear or crude construction,” says Harbison. “I want to do it through the filter of elegance, expense, and aspiration.”

Harbison also has some serious fashion education. Having learned about textiles and fabrics in Central Asia, studied fashion as a post-grad at Parsons, and worked for Michael Kors, Billy Reid, and Luca Luca, he has a leg up on his contemporaries with flat-out knowledge over the construction of garments. How would you describe those garments? This writer would say, “subtly striking.” They aren’t unwearable pieces of clothing architecture or tattered to shreds in the name of art. Harbison creates a form-flattering silhouette and then applies blocks of vibrant color to make the statement. They are the types of clothes that you find yourself staring at without realizing it. “Color, texture, embellishment, contrast, valence, proportion,” says Harbison. “I just wanted to be true to that when I started Harbison.”

He also has the ability to tell stories without grandiose displays of conceptual creation. Everything that Harbison presents in his shows, he sells. Much like Dries Van Noten, or even Yves Saint Laurent (minus the couture), he adheres to the tenets of ready-to-wear. And yet, he still conveys strong and discernible ideas. Patti Smith is the brand’s muse, and Harbison has also told stories centered around Erykah Badu, Aaliyah, and Nica Rothschild. The strong and cultured women that breathe in his garments has attracted the attention of Beyoncé, who wore custom Harbison to Kanye’s Yeezy Season 1 presentation (and Solangé wore the same in Paris some weeks later) and brought massive attention to the brand. “What the muse does is allow me to work them into my stories,” says Harbison.

When I meet Harbison in his small, clothes-filled office near Manhattan’s City Hall, he is in great spirits despite a busy morning. Though his brand sat out the last NYFW, he is still moving forward. His next collection will be the first “gender-neutral” collection where the clothes are cut in ways to fit a man and a woman’s body. He laughs a lot, and has an ease in explaining his ideas that is absent in a lot of creatives. We spoke at length about his history and the direction of the brand.

LEHRER: Are you still religious now?

HARBISON: I have a spiritual practice. I go to church in Harlem. It feeds me culturally as well as spiritually. It’s nice to have this whisper of my early life an hour away. [I live] in Bushwick. Every Sunday, I get to be around black people from the South.

LEHRER: Does it ever rub you the wrong way that something you’ve been doing for a while, gender-neutral collections, is now a trend and being done by like, Burberry?

HARBISON: It completely bothers me. When I launched [the brand] in 2013 it was inconceivable for the buyer to understand a man in a womenswear lookbook. They couldn’t understand seeing one coat on her and the same coat on him. From a market point of view, this is a women’s collection. But the cuts are neutral. This is how my friends and I live. When I was at Michael Kors, I would wear women’s samples as a dude. I never felt like my masculinity was compromised. Of course, I’m queer, but I saw straight guys and girls doing the same thing. By and large, America is slow to this idea. You have Selfridges with their gender-neutral merchandising.

LEHRER: They had a gender-neutral section in their store. Like, Hood by Air and J.W. Anderson.

HARBISON: Fully. You have Gucci putting dudes in pussy bow blouses. You have Jayden Smith as the face of Louis Vuitton womenswear. I feel like a lot of that gets filtered through novelty, comedy, and trend. But for me, it’s just a way of dressing that makes sense. I want to do it from a slick point of view. It makes me a better designer and marketer.

LEHRER: A lot of brands will throw dudes in a women’s lookbook or a show for a statement. You’re thinking about it in terms of the products.

HARBISON: The pant cut, we fit on a guy and a girl. The tunic cut, we do it in a way that works well on him, but it gives her tailoring options if she wants to do something more waisted. The transformability of the clothes allows them to become whatever you want them to become. It’s not just a visual statement. The shit feels good. There are a lot of clothes that are “exclusively for women,” but even that’s not true. Like, dude, it’s your life. If he wants to wear a dress, I don’t care. I just want to make cool ass shit that makes people happy.

LEHRER: Do you feel like buyers are starting to have a bigger say in what the collection is?

HARBISON: Store buyers, often, now see themselves as the end-all-be-all. It removes a lot of the excitement from the shopping and dressing process. What if someone had done that to McQueen? What if someone had done that to Galliano?

LEHRER: I shudder to think of the buyer telling Alexander McQueen what to do.

HARBISON: In the beginning, McQueen and Galliano were making crude but interesting stuff. There were problems with construction, but there was an idea there, and it was supported by the industry. It wasn’t until they got money that you saw their actual genius. Their processes were supported.

LEHRER: Color is a big part of your collections. Your brand came out three years ago, and at the time, the big predominant thing was street goth, ninja goth. Were you put off by the excessive use of black?

HARBISON: No, not put off. But I did want to offer something different. I design through the filter of art and modernism. The beginning of my arts education was in fine arts and painting. I love fine arts first.

LEHRER: When did you decide to transition from art to fashion?

HARBISON: In undergrad, I ended up weaving seventeen yards of this beautiful fabric. For me, it was like speaking to my Native American heritage. It didn’t feel right to wrap it on a canvas. So I thought to make some garments. That moment in undergrad, my junior year, was when I decided to figure this shit out.

LEHRER: You went to central Asia to study textiles. What did you learn over there?

HARBISON: I studied in Turkmenistan in undergrad – indigenous fabric construction. When I graduated, an opportunity came up to go back to the region for a year. I hadn’t found a job, so I thought, why not? I wanted to understand more about myself. There was so much mystery around that area. It’s an area that no one has really claimed. It’s former Soviet territory, but the population is South Asian, and they look East Asian in language and food. It’s influenced by the Middle East. It was also my first time out of the country, and it was the best decision I made. Fell in love with the fabrics. Spent time with students in their villages, and saw how they lived so casually amongst beautiful things.

LEHRER: And then you started working so you went to Parsons for some post-grad work, and then went to work?

HARBISON: I cut my teeth at Michael Kors Collection. 

LEHRER: Your designs are much more radical than Michael Kors. What did you learn from him?

HARBISON: I learned so much: quality, detail, fabric, merchandising, selling, and how to dress people. Michael knows his way around client connection in a really amazing way. There’s an approach to his fashion that is really respectful of the genre. Though I approach novelty and art, I wanted [my clothes] to be rooted in shapes that are classic. I don’t make a lot of conceptual pieces. I love sportswear, so being with Michael was the best place for me. 

LEHRER: You said you started your own brand by accident. What was that accident?

HARBISON: I burnt out. I was at Billy Reid and walked away. I started traveling. I had an Eat Pray Love experience. It was awesome. I read Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and that changed my life. She and Robert [Mapplethorpe] were the muses for my first capsule. I came back to New York from St. Croix. I had an interview at some collection, and when I walked in I thought, “I’ll be damned if I can do that.” Fashion week was coming up, and I didn’t want to skip a season. So I just made my own samples and shot some thing myself. Those images fell in the hands of Mark Holgate at Vogue and Virginie Smith. They said, “Do you want this to be a thing? We’ll feature you.” It’s been a hella crazy ride since.

LEHRER: I want to ask you about Patti Smith. You said she was the brand’s muse. What is it about her that you find so inspiring? Aside from, well, everything.

HARBISON: Beside everything she’s ever done? Patti walks this modern line of femininity, which I think is amazing. In her relationship with Robert, she was the stronger entity. He was the more fragile of the two. The relationship was beautiful and modern in that way. I find Patti’s lack of self-consciousness aspirational. She and Robert were vehemently sure of what they wanted in New York. That reminded me to take the risk. I was also able to touch this late ‘60s world that I love. In my mind, I feel I would have really done well in that time period touching on the modernist artists that I love. 

LEHRER: You’ve done collections based on Sade, Aaliyah, Erykah Badu. Do you always design with a specific woman in mind?

HARBISON: For example, last spring I imagined Erykah Badu singing in a Zen garden carrying a Bryce Marden painting. This story allowed me to imagine seemingly contradicting things and bring them together. That’s a challenge that I like. I want to offer things you’ve never seen before.

LEHRER: New York has gotten known of being the most commercial of the fashion weeks, but there is a whole crop of designers and brands coming on the scene who are making innovative things. Why do you think this is happening now? Has the commercialization hit a tipping point that is being rebelled against?

HARBISON: Completely. You see the evidence in the industry itself. The commerciality is no longer commercial.

LEHRER: The biggest brands are all struggling too.

HARBISON: Exactly. For younger designers, there’s no desire to make something you already see in the world. Design based on replication doesn’t feel responsible. Also, with a global market, we’re comparing ourselves to everything around the world, even things that aren’t “high fashion.” Everything becomes a reference point. Everything influences what we find fresh, new, artful, and relevant. 

LEHRER: You said you don’t want to be Ralph Lauren overnight. Would you ever want to be that big?

HARBISON: Yeah. [Laughs.] I love designing things. I feel like I have a dialogue for cars, homes, architecture. I love aesthetics. I would love to have the opportunity to configure aesthetics in different areas. As far as how big Ralph is, that is something that I think I’m still grappling with. For me, what is most valuable is having a lot of product for people to opt into. I want a lot of product in the world.

LEHRER: You sat out this fashion week. People talk about the speed of the industry – Raf leaving Dior, etc. Is that something you struggle with or not?

HARBISON: Yeah. The speed of the industry has brought me to my knees before. I think it can compromise design integrity. For me, skipping out this show season, I needed it from the business standpoint. I needed to figure out how to approach these marketing events in a way that’s more thoughtful of the business revenue. How do I give all these eyes access to the collection? You can opt out of [the traditional fashion schedule]. You don’t have to make four collections a year. You can make one. You can do this thing however you want to do it. That’s why I have so much respect for Raf and him walking away [from Dior]. It no longer worked for him, and that’s wonderful.

LEHRER: He’s supposed to be this radical, punk designer. Dior was weighing on him for a number of years. It was like he said, “Fuck that.”

HARBISON: Exactly. To be happy. How modern is that?

LEHRER: Did you have designers or artists that you looked up to when you first got into this? 

HARBISON: Yeah, Dries [Van Noten] and Azzedine [Alaia]. 

LEHRER: I was thinking about Dries when you were saying everything comes down to product. Dries has a way of telling a story only using pieces that he will sell on the racks. That’s definitely what I see with you. 

HARBISON: Thank you. That’s the goal. Dries has created a world that’s wholly his. His client base is totally devoted. My favorite pieces to wear are all Dries. I want to make that the case for Harbison. “I’m always going to go back to Harbison because it makes me happy.” I want my customers to say that

Visit Charles Harbison's website to see current collections. Text, interview and photographs by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Viva Africa: Five Questions For Legendary Photographer Malick Sidibé On The Occasion Of His Collaboration With Designer Zainab Sumu

photograph by Olivier Sultan

In a way, you could say that Malick Sidibé was the ultimate nightlife and street life photographer. His images of a postcolonial Africa – namely in Bamako (the capital of Mali) – captured a zeitgeist full of joie de vivre and desperate to reclaim its identity after French rule. Some of his most iconic images were taken at concerts and youth clubs, like the Christmas Eve, Happy Club. It was in this club where one his most famous images was taken: a couple dressed to the nines, dancing barefoot under the night sky. Indeed, his images ooze with a delicious sense of style and swagger. At eighty years of age, Sidibé has put his camera down, but has recently teamed up with Boston-based designer Zainab Sumu for a limited edition mens and womens t-shirt collection. It is the photographer’s first ever collaboration.  Sumu, who started her brand Primitive Modern just last fall, has chosen four photographs from Sidibé’s extensive archive from the 60s and 70s to place on t-shirts printed with designs using indigenous Malian printing techniques. The collection of tees, in an edition of 140, is a natural evolution from the designer’s capsule collection of silk scarves inspired by artisanal Northern and West African dyeing techniques. Autre was lucky enough to ask the legendary Malick Sidibé some questions, through his son Karim, about his collaboration with Zainab Sumu and what the photographer’s archive says about the future of Africa.

How did you team up with Zainab Sumu?

We have always been on the lookout for interesting partners who first and foremost appreciate the work of my father. In Zainab we found someone not only passionate about his work aesthetic (which of course is so important), but we especially appreciated this quest she’s on in regards to helping strengthen the economic situation for us in Mali. She’s all about a positive representation of Africa and that was a vital part of my Dad’s legacy.

What was the collaboration process like?

The collaboration was most definitely a collaborative effort between Mody (my older brother) and Zainab. When we initially discussed the project she had very clearly pinpointed select images from the archive that reflected my Dad’s sense of fun and beauty and style, you could say. I remember Zainab making a lot of notes when she visited the studio in Bamako in 2015.

You are a major representative for Africa, and you have become a major part of dissolving a lot of myths about Africa's place in the world, what is the current atmosphere like and what would you like people to know about Africa in the 21st century?

Dad’s photographs were taken in post-colonial Mali, when self-expression was vital and raw and fresh, a response to the political regime. So most certainly Dad was lucky to have captured images during such a pivotal time in our country’s history. When many people think of African portraiture they immediately think of Malick Sidibé. His work was always about embracing individuality and essentially, during that time young people had a reason to be rebellious. 

What do your father’s images say about the future of Mali and Africa? 

In a way those images from his archive all represent hope for a better day. Today the people of Africa continue to be hopeful yet there is an overwhelming sense of disillusionment among our communities. We’re trying to change that. 

Do you want to continue collaborating with younger artists?

We try to stay open-minded but it’s very much an instinctive connection for us and we try to guard our father’s legacy with great care. By producing these t-shirts with my father’s photographs, it is way for everyone have to access to art. Importantly, also, it’s about presenting these works as a kind of object d’art, therefore my father’s work can be seen not just on the walls of museum’s or galleries but also on the bodies of many from the next generation.

Visit Zainab Sumu's website to purchase t-shirts from the Malick Sidibé collection. Click here to get a rare glimpse inside Sidibé's studio and click here to check out Sume's photographic travel diary through Mali. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Subculture Capital: A Conversation With Valerie Steele On the Line Between Fashion and Fantasy And Her New Book About Queen Of New York Nightlife Susanne Bartsch

Thomas Skou

Fashion and nightlife are enmeshed in a seductive tango that relies on the notion of pleasure. I often wonder if the pleasure of fashion is about dressing for yourself or for being seen? One could make the same argument about going out on the town. Indeed, there are many ways fashion and nightlife mirror one another. Each is an art as well as enterprise; each is mercurial; each can convey status and each sets and rejects trends, most typically from the ground up. If you’ve ever danced in a packed club or slithered your way into an outfit, you know that both fashion and nightlife are a celebration of the individual body—how it feels, how it looks, how it moves.

In fashion historian Valerie Steele’s latest book, Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch, which was released today by Yale University Press, readers can delight in a marriage of fashion and nightlife that examines each as an elevated art form. Her book presents approximately 200 looks from the personal wardrobe of Queen of New York Nightlife, Susanne Barstch. Bartsch, who is known not only for her elaborate parties, in particular, The Love Ball, which ultimately raised more than $2.5 million for AIDS research and advocacy, but also for celebrating the performative aspect of fashion as wearable art. New York, known to set the bar for both fashion and nightlife was Bartsch’s playground in the 1980s. And play she did, with a fantastic collection of avant-garde looks from Rachel Auburn, Body Map, Leigh Bowery, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, Mr. Pearl, Vivienne Westwood, and Zaldy. For the first time, Bartsch’s admirers can thumb through her wardrobe and feast their eyes on the corsets and headpieces, the bodices and gowns, the glitter and artistry worn by the impresario back when New York City itself was untailored, unsavory, and unadulterated.

Dr. Steele is the director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, has curated or co-curated many innovative and award-winning exhibitions, including London Fashion, The CorsetFemme Fatale Gothic: Dark Glamour, Daphne Guinness, and many more. Autre was able to have a one on one conversation with Dr. Steele about Susanne Barstch’s place in the history of nightlife and fashion, subculture capital, and whether fashion is fantasy, or an intermingling of both.

Jill Di Donato: You talk about how democratic Susanne was—the motley crew that she brings together. But through experience in the New York club scene—especially the idea of the velvet ropes—there seems to be a paradox there.

Valerie Steele: That’s what Susanne’s contemporaries were pointing out. She was different because she was much more inclusive. Most of the club scenes were very much the velvet-rope type—keeping out all but the elite. She was much more about having a heterogeneous group coming, in terms of race, age, class, and sexual identity.

JD: What clubs did Susanne work with?

VS: Savage, Bentley’s, and Copacabana were the three main clubs that I mention. But there were events from any number of organizations, ranging from the CFDA to Armani.

JD: How would you characterize 1980s club fashion?

VS: In terms of what you see in the show, you see a lot of people from her world who are very much in that post-punk, post-glam look. They are highly decorated. There’s a lot of do-it-yourself and gender-bending.

JD: What do you think of punk today? Do you think it is dead?

VS: It exists on multiple levels. On one hand, new generations keep re-discovering punk styles. On the other hand, fashion designers keep reviving what they think of as punk style. Both of those things are happening simultaneously. They don’t mean the same thing. I realized that when I did my gothic show. Goth kids were doing something different than what designers were doing, but both were drawing on some of the same sources.

JD: What do you think of club fashion today?

VS: I really don’t know very much about it. It’s not—per se—the point of the show. The show was to explore the outer-fringes of the fashion world, the fashion underground, and its relation to the more commercial, mainstream fashion. My impression is that the club scene today has much less of an influence on the mainstream fashion system than it did in the past. However, that’s always subject to change. Fashion is always about pendulum swings.

JD: You use the term “subculture capital.” Could you explain that a little bit?

VS: The idea of cultural capital is that it’s an inherited capital—not necessarily economic—but certain cultural things. You went to a school where you learned certain things. You have the right kind of manners. You have inherited things from your culture that will brand you as a member of a particular elite. Subcultural capital, then, exists within various subcultures. You know the right kind of music. You might know the band personally. You would know things that were valuable within that subculture that would make you an “insider.”

"For whatever reason, I’m drawn to the hidden meaning of fashion."

JD: Do you feel all subculture will eventually become mainstream?

VS: I don’t think it’s so much that subculture becomes mainstream. I think aspects of subculture are constantly being appropriated by the mainstream. That can be painful for members of the subculture. When I did my book Fetish, I interviewed all of these leather guys. I asked, “What do you think of Versaci’s collection?” They said, “We hate it!” I asked, “Why? It’s so cool.” They said, “Now no one can tell if we’re people who mean it or who are doing it for the fashion statement.” The point is, the fashion system is a great, big vacuum cleaner that hoovers up all kinds of good looks. It vacuumed up hippies, punks, fetish, glam. You can’t blame the system; that’s what they do. But when it’s incorporated into the fashion system, it does mean something different. It doesn’t mean that members of the subculture can’t retain, for themselves, a different set of meanings. It just means that it’s no longer a secret subculture.

JD: Appropriation has such a negative connotation, but can it be a compliment?

VS: It’s inevitable. Just suck it up, because it’s going to happen. You can fight against it, but it’s like pissing in the wind. It’s not going to help you.

: You had said that fashion was the F word a long time ago. Do you still feel that way?

VS: That article was about the attitudes about academia in fashion, specifically, not in the culture in general. When I was in grad school, people in universities thought of fashion as bourgeois, conformist, anti-feminist, and superficial. Everything bad. I think there’s more of a respect for people studying fashion as a legitimate topic, in large part because of queer studies. Traditional feminism was anti-fashion, saying it was oppressive to women. Within the queer studies movement, there was a sense that fashion could be turned to one’s own purposes. It could be subversive or self-expressive. Eventually, that got through to people in academia. That said, there are still very, very few places where you can get a Ph.D in fashion. Very few. No room has been made for it in the academic framework, possibly because it’s such a cross-disciplinary field. Where would you put it? It’s like how women’s studies, basically, got dumped in the English department. Fashion studies—would it go in art history? It could fit there, but also in other departments.

Autre: Last year, The Museum at FIT lifted the photography ban, to the delight of Instagram feeds of fashion lovers. Did you have anything to do with the museum allowing photos on Instagram?

VS: Yes, I was very keen on that. The media manager and I did some research, and it became quite clear that museums all around the country were allowing photography. It was this old hold-out against a new generation—refusing to allow things to be photographed. I had to push to get that through. Other members of the museum were really anxious about it. But that’s how a younger generation relates to things. It’s very important to allow photographing in the gallery.

Autre: From Instagram, it seems the crowd-favorite is The Blonds piece, with the jaws. Do you have a favorite?

VS: Anything by Mr. Pearl. I’ve known Mr. Pearl since the eighties. I interviewed him for my Fetish book, for my corset book. I took him on a tour to the Fashion Institute to see their corset stuff. I’ve known him for a very long time, and I think he’s brilliant. He is the founder of high-fashion corsetry. It was very nice for me to see so many of his pieces that Susanne had saved. We showed them to a curator from Somerset House, and they’re going to be doing a show for Mr. Pearl in 2017 in London. It’s well-deserved. If I could acquire things from Susanne’s collection, it would be the jaws corset, and one of Mr. Pearl’s corsets.

Autre: In the “classic ten” context, what’s the one wardrobe staple you could not do without?

VS: Oh, I suppose shoes, don’t you think?

Autre: Anything particular—a heel? A boot?

VS: No, it depends. It could be a shoe, a boot, a sandal. It could even be a sneaker. (Before I did my first book, I knew nothing about sneakers. Now, I’m becoming obsessed with them.) But I do love hats. I have so many of them piled up. I don’t understand why there aren’t more hats.

JD: What would Susanne’s message to contemporary youth culture be?

VS: Accept who you are. Be pleased with who you are. I’ve talked to lots of people, and they’ve all said to me how encouraging and liberating it would be to meet Susanne. They might feel like a freak out in the real world, but she would come up to them and say, “You’re a superstar! You’re so cool!” I think that enthusiastic acceptance has been one of her great contributions. Whatever her spaces are—whether they’ve been parties or her store—they have been spaces of acceptance. Everyone talks about trans kids. Way back when she had her store, she had a trans person receptionist. She’s been way ahead of her time in that way.

JD: Is there something in Susanne’s work in particular that gives you inspiration?

VS: I’m drawn to things that are subcultural aspects of fashion. My friend Richard Martin—he used to be the director at FIT—said to me once, “Val, we always write the same book, don’t we?” All of his books were about fashion as art. All mine were fashion in terms of sex, gender, and subculture. For whatever reason, I’m drawn to the hidden meaning of fashion.

JD: Do you know if Susanne took her makeup off before bed?

VS: You know, I never asked her. But she’s Swiss German, so I bet. They are very clean.  

Find over 80 looks from Bartsch’s personal wardrobe at the exhibit, Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch, which runs through December 5, at The Museum at FIT. You can purchase the book here. Intro text and interview by Jill Di Donato with additional reportage by Van Arthur. 

A Pantone Dream In Rib-Knit: An Interview With Designer Giuliana Raggiani i

The turtleneck has had a bizarre reputation. Like a pop star with a long career, it had a murky past (worn by sailors and thieves looking for a warm outfit for prowling in the night), caused a sensation when it first hit the scene, began slowly fading into the background, then started acting strangely in front of the press (think of the beatnik and his beret or Steve Jobs’ monograph wardrobe of Issey Miyake-designed turtlenecks), but now the turtleneck is making a comeback in a big way. Last February, when the fall 2015 collections started hitting the runways, the turtleneck hit the spotlight for a sartorial revival, like an aging diva getting her groove back. This is why designer Giuliana Raggiani is right on the money. Her label Giu Giu’s fall collection is highlighted with classic wide-ribbed turtlenecks that can be layered or worn a la carte, depending on how brisk the weather. Raggiani’s love of turtlenecks dates back to the fashion staple’s glory days – her grandmother, Palmira Giglia, was responsible for the “Nonna Turtleneck,” which sold at her luxury womenswear boutique on Boston’s Newbury Street. They became a must-have for any discerning, chic woman’s wardrobe. In fact, there are a lot of things going on in Giu Giu’s fall collection that encapsulate Raggiani’s passions, interests and biographical background. The color palette – brown, amber, dashes of fuschia and hints of blue – is borrowed from Gustave Klimpt’s “Le Tre Età Della Donna” or “The three ages of woman,” which depicts a woman in her three major life stages: childhood, adulthood and old age. There are also pieces that are inspired by her background in ballet – the slouchy, cozy knitwear that a dancer may wear during warm-up is contrasted with pieces that mirror the linear rigidity of plies and pirouettes. And the title of the collection, Tangling, comes from the practice of meditative "doodling,” which is called zentangling – a practice that is said to lead one to more mindful living. Examples of these doodles can be found in the textiles and patterns of the collection. We got a chance to catch up with Giuliana Raggiani to discuss her new collection, its inspirations, and her love for turtlenecks. 

Oliver Kupper: So, tell me a little bit about your background, when did you know that you wanted to become a clothing designer? 

Giuliana Raggiani: Honestly, I think I expected to become anything but that. I grew up in New England in a first generation Italian family, and from an early age my Nonna taught me the importance of craftsmanship in clothing. Frequent trips to Neiman Marcus and Saks, embroidery lessons, and the importance of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes in one’s wardrobe. At the time, I’d roll my eyes, but secretly took mental notes. 

As I got older, being part of a ballet company left me with a strict schedule, and little time for exploration in design. So it wasn't really until I had to trade in my point shoes for a pencil when I reconnected with fashion. This eventually led me to moving to New York and attending Parsons School of Design, and then discovering my love of knitwear at Central Saint Martins in London. Serendipity is funny. That’s when you know some things are just meant to be. When it’s out of your control, yet falls together like it was already mapped out for you. 

OK: What is your personal design philosophy? 

GR: Clothing should be a template for a person to feel comfortable in your own skin. Like you’re wearing nothing, and everything at the same time, because it feels so good on your physical body. I try to always design with a mindful intention - Garments that excite the senses more than just visually. Touch. Mixing textures through fiber & stitch, the ability to explore, roll, tie, twist, reverse, etc… Engaging your inner child & play. One of the main reasons I love knitwear. It makes the possibilities in achieving this endless.

OK: Can you tell us about your love of turtlenecks? 

GR: It’s not so much any turtleneck, but specifically the “Nonna Turtleneck.” Palmira Giglia, my grandmother, was the genius behind these pieces. They were produced under her original line “Vaccaro,” which sold at her infamous luxury boutique on Boston’s Newbury Street from the 60s to early 90s. A staple item in every woman’s wardrobe. A weird little squiggle silhouette off the body, yet when worn, voilà! Perfection. Completely covered, yet effortlessly sexy and chic. These turtlenecks were everything to her. She kept an archive of every color from each season, which I remember vividly as a child - A pantone dream in rib-knit form. When she passed away exactly one year ago, as an homage to her, I decided to reincarnate them under the “Giu Giu” label. 

"Completely covered, yet effortlessly sexy and chic. These turtlenecks were everything to her. She kept an archive of every color from each season, which I remember vividly as a child - A pantone dream in rib-knit form."

OK: Who is the Giu Giu woman – can you describe her? 

GR: She’s a chameleon. She can be a he too…has a sense of humor, and an air of quiet confidence. Weird, but sophisticated, has a soft spot for nostalgia, and an appreciation for good design. I want her (or him) to feel like their decision in wearing a Giu Giu piece doesn't confine them in a “category.” It’s a blank canvas kind of label, with a bold energy. Ageless and genderless. 

OK: Do you have a personal design hero – in fashion or otherwise?

GR: In Fashion: aside from Nonna ~ Dries Van Noten, Kansai Yamamoto. Otherwise: Charles & Ray Eames, Marina Abramovic, Erwin Wurm 

OK: Okay, lets talk about the current collection – its inspired by your background in ballet right? 

GR: Right. I’m usually drawn to extreme contrasts. There was something about the rigid and linear movements of ballet, versus the dancer’s relaxed warm-up silhouettes and layering that I wanted to reflect in this collection. The matching suit-sets (symbolizing the aesthetic “perfection” in ballet), knitted in cozy qualities (enhancing that undone, off-stage dancer appeal). The palette was inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “Le Tre Età Della Donna," a piece recently gifted to me, and close to my heart.

OK: What is Zentangling?

GR: My best friend’s mom came to visit from Hawaii last year and she shared this new practice with me. To tangle means to doodle, so it’s essentially meditative doodling. I gave it a go and fell in love. The results led me to the different intarsias and repetitive stitch patterns seen in the textiles throughout the collection. “A mindful practice on pen & paper, using slow, careful, and deliberate strokes. As you create your tangles you relax, gain focus, and may find unexpected inspiration.” 

You can learn more about Giu Giu and see the full AW 2015 collection by visiting the label's official website. The collection is also available for preorder here. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Siki Im: A Fierce Warrior of Design Takes His Brands to the Next Level

photograph by Youngjun Koo

Growing up in Germany, New York-based designer Siki Im was passionate about skateboarding, punk rock, hip-hop, art, graffiti, and unwittingly, fashion. Luckily for his rabid fans that pick up every single one of his pieces released under his Siki Im or Den Im brands, Im has never abandoned those passions. In fact, his influences live and breathe within the materials found in every single one of his collections.

Originally interested in art, Im grew disillusioned with the business of art and decided to unleash his creativity in a more applied field. He studied architecture at Oxford University, but a chance meeting with David Vandewal, who was designing under Dries Van Noten and later Raf Simons, saw Im plunge headfirst into the world of fashion design, “He really liked what I was wearing, and offered me a job,” says Siki Im.

Im first worked as a designer for Karl Lagerfeld, and later took on the duties of head designer for Helmut Lang after the namesake designer retired from fashion for a full-time career in visual art.

In 2009, Im started his own brand Siki Im, and later the more relaxed brand, Den Im. His menswear collections are startlingly personal, and Im designs with his interests and passions embedded into every detail. He envisions his brand as more than just fashion; he thinks of it in terms of a multi-disciplinary creative studio. The studio has also designed cars, furniture, and all manner of design-friendly objects. Im has just collaborated on a highly successful collection of activewear with Isaora, and won the Woolmark prize for menswear for his innovative use of wool.

Im debuted his Spring-Summer 2016 collection, entitled ‘Youth Museum,’ at the first New York Fashion Week: Men’s in July. The collection was personal, reflecting on Im’s youth as a skateboarder dreaming of one day living in the city that fascinated him, New York. The presentation, that included opera singer Anthony Constanza singing LCD Soundsystem’s ‘New York I love You’ and a finale set to Sonic Youth’s ‘100 %’, was a revelation. For the first time in the two brands’ existences, Im opted to show the Siki Im and Den Im collections together, highlighting the garments’ transformative abilities. What makes Im special as a designer is his ability to draw on his own influences while still being talented enough to create garments that allow the wearer a multitude of options for styling. The whole collection felt very much as if Siki Im is about to be regarded as one of the best designers working today. Im and I sat down to speak about his collection, his interests, and the sophistication of taste created by the Internet.

Adam Lehrer: Growing up as a skateboarder, what was it about New York that obsessed you as opposed to say, LA?

Siki Im: It was probably that I couldn’t identify with the “LA scene:” the weather, the beach, “super chill,” and all that. In Germany, where I grew up, it was pretty rough and urban. I liked that, that’s what drew me to New York.

Yeah in Germany in ’91 to ’92, skateboarding wasn’t mainstream at all. It exposed me to music like the Descendants and Operation Ivy. In the ‘90s, skateboarding was kind of connected to hip-hop, and kind of connected to punk and hardcore.

It was a sub-culture that led to a lot of other culture. I’ve always loved hip-hop and hardcore punk.

AL: You have a wide breadth of influences and interests, have you always been predisposed to getting obsessed with various bits of culture?

SI: I always liked some weird shit but it’s not intentional. It might be because I grew up bi-culturally and was into sub-cultures and nothing mainstream. I was curious to see the world from a different angle. I never had a mentor. I just did a ton of research. We didn’t have Internet; It was all about going to shows. I saw Shelter, Youth of Today, and other bands. And then the hardcore scene had magazines and records. I was into vegan cooking and anti-fascist literature. It wasn’t just about music; it was a whole culture. I’d go to this record shop to buy DIY records. It was the same thing with hip-hop at the time: it wasn’t big. I went to youth centers and there’d be people with backpacks and spray cans that would be free-styling.

AL: Do you miss that at all?

SI: I just downloaded Spotify, and I think it’s great but I don’t use it. It’s too easy. I make music so I know how much effort and time goes into making a song. I remember buying a record and smelling the plastic, reading the lyrics, and looking at the credits. I do miss it. But I don’t want to be nostalgic. That’s kind of what the Spring-Summer 2016 collection, “Youth Museum,” is about.  I’m very proud of and happy about how I spent my youth. I did a lot of cool stuff. My memories are strong and inspiring. But, I need to move forward. I can’t live in my past or in nostalgia.

The way I read it, especially when you had that amazing opera singer come out and sing the LCD Soundsystem song, “New York I love you, But You’re Bringing me Down,” was saying that New York is different but we’re still here, we might as well enjoy it.

I think you wrote it quite well in your article: you love [New York] and you hate it. There are so many great things here, but there are also things that make you want to leave. But you can’t leave for some reason. The good thing about working in design and fashion is that while it’s all about trend and youth, the work is also about me.

AL: How did you develop an interest in architecture? Was it just because you were fascinated with the urban environment?

SI: I was actually about to go to art school. I had my first exhibition when I was 17. I was really into graffiti and after that I started painting. I did an apprenticeship painting with a successful artist. I got accepted into some good art schools in Germany. But, I wanted to do something applied. I didn’t have much knowledge about architecture, but I always loved spaces and buildings without really knowing why. I admired a few architects like the Bauhaus architects and le Corbusier. I decided to study in England, because architecture in Germany is more widely regarded as engineering where as in England it’s more design.

AL: More creative?

SI: Exactly. The school that I went too thought of architecture in a conceptual way. Again, I was faced with weird shit.

AL: How’d you like living in England?

SI: It was cool. I was a studious super nerd. But we would go to London once a month to see a show. At that time I was really into breakbeats, ninja tune, all that stuff.

AL: Were you always interested in clothes; did you have favorite brands?

SI: Funny enough, I think I was always into fashion. Skateboarding helped me with style and gave me a taste for styling. I remember in 9th grade I was supposed to do an internship. I applied for fashion companies in Cologne, but I got an internship with a photographer. I was interested in fashion without realizing it.

AL: You started working right off the bat with amazing designers, how did you end up working with those guys?

SI: I met this guy who came from Belgium that was a designer for Dries [Van Noten] and Raf [Simons], David Vandewal.

AL: (laughs)

SI: No seriously, it was that easy almost! Like right away, I was his assistant. And now he’s my stylist.

AL: Oh shit.

SI: Yeah, now I’m his boss!

AL: That must be gratifying.

SI: (laughs) No we’re just a really good team, you know? We have really similar taste, so it makes working easier. I was really lucky. I didn’t need to apply for anything.

AL: I’m curious about what your day-to-day was like with Karl Lagerfeld, were you designing with him?

SI: Yeah I was designing men’s and women’s: fittings, going to factories, and traveling around the world. At that time he was really into New York so he would come once a month. He’s super funny and totally different than what people see from the outside. Among designers he’s known as super funny, witty, and smart. He has so much knowledge.

AL: And then at Helmut Lang you were head designer after he left the company?

SI: Yeah, the Karl Lagerfeld studio had closed and I was looking for a new job and they had just started the new Helmut Lang, so I just joined them.

"Everything is elevated now. We are making high fashion but we find inspiration in Cholos and farmers in Kenya."

AL: I can imagine that was stressful taking over for someone like Helmut, he was one of the most legendary designers of the ‘90s.

SI: Yeah, there was a lot of baggage, especially because he was one of my favorite designers and I have a lot of his pieces. It was challenging in the beginning. I think we did a great job to give the brand a new identity.

AL: So how did you come to the decision to start the Siki Im brand and design firm?

SI: I always dreamed of having my own creative studio and 2009 was the right time to do it. I had no idea it was going to start with fashion. I envisioned it as a multi-faceted design studio. So now we don’t just do fashion; we do furniture, interior spaces, cars, and products. That’s what interests me

AL: I was curious because it does seem like there are some pretty exciting menswear designers based in New York right now that actually just showed in New York.

SI: Which ones?

AL: There’s you, Robert Gellar, Alexandre Plokhov, Patrik Ervell, Proper Gang. But then there’s so many designers that still do shows in Paris. It’s obviously the first NYFWM, and I know you were a big part of putting it together, do you see it maybe growing to the same level as Paris and London, or is that the idea?

SI: I think so. It’s just started. I think it’s a strong city. But I think it’s just as important to have an identity. It was great to separate the men’s shows from the women’s to give us more of a voice and to show our true colors instead of playing second fiddle at the womenswear shows.  

AL: For me it felt like, for you and Robert especially, those shows are going to take the brands to the next level, and I feel that type of creativity puts New York Fashion Week: Men’s on the map, maybe even more so than your Calvin’s and your Ralph’s.

SI: I think that it’s all important. If it was all Robert and I, that would be boring too. That’s what makes us human. I think everyone has a voice. I’m just blessed that people like what I do. I love showing here. Everyone is always telling you to show in Paris, and there are business reasons, such as buyers and production, to go to Paris, but I love New York. Let’s make New York cooler. New York, will never and should never be like Paris. We should have our own identity.

AL: Do you think that menswear as a business is really as on the upswing that the New York Times Style section says it is?

SI: I mean, if the New York Times says it then it must be true….? No I’m just kidding.

AL: (laughs)

SI: I think it is. The average man is more into culture in general. I think Apple actually had a huge influence on exposing culture to more people and making us more aware of design and details. That extends to movies, to music, to better TV shows. All the TV shows are amazing! It all cultivates a more refined taste. It is all part of one evolution.

AL: Would you ever be interested in taking on womenswear?

SI: Yeah I love womenswear. That’s what I did in my past. We have women’s stores and women’s editorials. We cut in woman sizes. It’s just a matter of time and infrastructure to do a women’s collection.

AL: I know you’re probably crazy busy as it is, but would you ever run your own brand and also take on one of the big houses?

SI: That’s a good opportunity for sure. It’s a different way of designing. You are creative within certain outlined boundaries and parameters. That’s what makes a great designer. But, if I was going to take something on, I would want it to be a brand totally opposite to my own brand. I would rather do some really Madonna brand, like how Raf modernized Dior. If the ideologies are too similar to my own brand, than it’s almost boring.

AL: So, let’s talk about the new collection. You’ve said that this is your most personal collection yet. Why now did you feel like it was the right time to do an almost autobiographical collection of garments?

SI: I think I put my interests and soul into every collection, but this season it was just going back to how I grew up in the ‘90s. Instead of using a concept or theme, I used my story and my youth. When CFDA announced the separation of men’s and women’s fashion week and we wanted to be a part of it, we decided it made sense to do our extension line, Den Im, together with Siki Im in the show

AL: It looked great, by the way.

SI: Thanks! It was definitely because the main line is pretty out there and we wanted to make the show a little more approachable. It was a challenge because both lines have their own identities, but can also live together. It became a challenge to make the show feel natural. I usually wear both together.

AL: Yeah I have a few Den Im pieces and what I think is really cool is I have this asymmetrical hoodie with two zippers, and I can wear it like that or I can wrap it around me, or I can make it look a little more abstract if I want to. Is that a conscious decision at all?

SI: Yeah, totally. How you wear it is up to you, and I love that. We can only propose certain ways to wear it that we think are different and fresh. But we do love to give you a lot of freedom. I love movies that have an ending that is open to interpretation. For me, that is more human.

AL: That’s really cool, it’s like the Sopranos fade to black ending.

SI: Amazing, yeah.

AL: I hate how style editors talk about ‘elevated streetwear’ in that it almost feels demeaning. Like, you take someone like Nasir Mazhar and call it streetwear, but that guy is an amazing designer of fashion.

SI: Yeah, we’ve been doing so-called ‘elevated streetwear’ since our third season. When Americana was still in we started doing drop-crotch sweats and elongated t-shirts. But think of it this way, Jay-Z is an elevated rapper.

AL: (laughs) That is true.

SI: He is a CEO multi-millionaire. It’s the same thing with the iPhone, it’s an elevated gadget. Everything is elevated now. We are making high fashion but we find inspiration in Cholos and farmers in Kenya. It’s also a marketing tool.

AL: I feel like it just might be an overused term, to me fashion is being able to spot things that are beautiful or cool and re-purposing them for high fashion. Maybe I’m over-thinking it.

SI: Not over-thinking it, what it is, I can tell from your tone that you are maybe a little annoyed by the labeling.

AL: I just think an amazing designer is an amazing designer.

SI: But people just label things. I’m sure Alice in Chains didn’t want to be grunge. But it’s just easier for marketing. We’re humans, we’re dumb. We like to put everything in boxes.

AL: Yeah.

SI: What does streetwear mean now anyways? There are kids in the street wearing $300 sneakers, and there are yuppies wearing $300 sneakers. Everything is democratic, but also flat, and that’s great. My job is to make it less flat, whatever that means. At least people look cooler. In the ‘80s the yuppie was super ugly, now the yuppie has an iPhone and probably rides a fixed gear bike. That’s the new yuppie. That’s you and me.

AL: (Laughs) That’s true, and smart. So you have all these new collaborations coming out with the eyewear, I just saw the Isaora running gear. How do these collaborations come about?

SI: I really like the idea of being a design-led creative studio. For me, as a young small company, these collaborations are great ways to show people what I’m into and what I like to design. Our running line started because Rick from Isaora wears my clothes and I wear his clothes. And, we thought it would be cool to do a little collaboration, and it turned out to be a huge success, actually. It’s been crazy. And on trend. I love anything design: sunglasses, ceramics, homewear, water bottles. I love that shit.

AL: Does it feel like more and more of these opportunities are coming up?

SI: We just got accepted to be a part of CFDA and that’s a huge honor. The Woolmark next round is in January, and just keep designing good stuff and being challenged by it. 

You can learn more about Siki Im by visiting the brand's official website. Text and interview by Autre's fashion editor-at-large, Adam Lehrer

Exploring Margiela's Genius: An Interview with Alison Chernick

photograph courtesy of Chernick

photograph courtesy of Chernick

How do you make a documentary about a subject who never shows his face and insists on being interviewed only by fax? When the subject is Martin Margiela and his eponymously named cult label Maison Martin Margiela, the legend alone is enough material. In the short documentary The Artist Is Absent, an obvious riff on Marina Abramović’s highly present retrospective performance at MoMA, documentarian filmmaker and writer Alison Chernick explores the myth, the legend, and the genius that is Margiela. Indeed, Margiela was a pivotal and controversial fulcrum in the world of high fashion – upcycling car seatbelts, blonde wigs and winter gloves, he created garments that defined sartorial rebellion and he made fashion adventurous. Starting with his breakout collection in 1989 and ending with his abrupt departure in 2009, the collections produced by Maison Margiela defied convention. The documentary, which has been produced by the Yoox Group, features the likes of Jean Paul Gautier, Raf Simons, and Geert Bruloot, who is largely credited with discovering Margiela and his talents. In the following interview, Chernick, who has created award-winning documentaries exploring artists like Matthew Barney and Julian Schnabel, talks to Autre about her first fashion documentary and her journey unlocking the mystery of Margiela. 

Autre: You’ve done a lot of documentaries about major contemporary visual artists, like Matthew Barney and Julian Schnabel, what was different about making a documentary about a designer versus making a documentary about an artist?  

Alison Chernick: A documentary on a fashion designer comes with an innate rhythm, a visual aesthetic, a beat that gives the footage fluidity as fashion is so much about body movement.  Fortunately for me he also is a complex and intriguing character so the film can also offer some deep commentary as well. A film on a visual artist is a totally different beast, often more esoteric with less of a natural rhythm.

Autre: What did you personally learn or discover about Margiela through the making of this documentary?

Chernick: What an original thinker he was. He was a leader, a provocateur, a maverick, a sentimentalist…the anti-designer. 

Autre: There has been a recent wave of documentaries about designers, why do you think fashion is being noticed more and more outside of the fashion world?

Chernick: Fashion is accessible to the masses and that’s why fashion films have such a large following. Everyone has to wear clothes; therefore each can connect to this material, literally, in some form or other.

Autre: If you were able to sit down with Margiela, what would you ask him?

Chernick: I'd chat with him about his new paintings - he's been painting and I look forward to seeing them.

A rare 1992 photo of Martin Margiela. Archives Villa Noailles

Autre: Have you always wanted to make documentary films?

Chernick: I sort of fell into it -- but there is an endless wealth of material to document, so there is never a shortage of topics -- its all pending accessibility

Autre: Can you name one documentary that really floored you, a documentary that made you want to make the same kind of films?

Chernick: How about docufiction? I often find that fiction can often get to the truth before documentary…I was floored by Hirokazu Koreeda's Nobody Knows. I’m also a big fan of Maurice Pialat. The Cove was pretty mind-blowing. Capturing the Friedmans was also was riveting. 

 Autre: Are there plans to making a feature length Margiela documentary?

Chernick: Not sure…not as of right now, but there has been talk.

Autre: What do you hope the audience watching the documentary will learn about the designer?

Chernick: I hope it will inspire artists to put fear aside and think outside the box, lead and don't follow. Follow your instinct. 

Autre: What’s next?

Chernick: Docufiction!

The Artist is Present will see its premier on Yoox – a premier fashion destination. There will also be selections from Margiela’s past collections available for purchase. You can explore Alison Chernick’s previous films on her website. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper