Fashion beyond the clothes at Hyères
What’s the attraction of working in fashion if you are not a designer? That was the question that animated a key debate at Hyères Festival this weekend, where a stylist, a blogger, a runway DJ, a show producer and a makeup artist – respectively Camille Bidault Waddington, Leaf Greener, Frederic Sanchez, Etienne Russo and Stéphane Wargnier – each offered their often conflicting opinions.
Their key reason? The possibility of developing new ideas with uniquely creative people, even if their briefs often appeared impossible to realize.
One of four major debates at the Villa de Noailles, the famed festival’s nerve center, organized by the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), French fashion’s governing body, the discussion was moderated by veteran fashion intellectual Stéphane Wargnier.
Take Frederique Sanchez, a “sound illustrator” and one of the most important creators of soundtracks for major catwalk shows.
“I took the title sound illustrator, in part because of Orson Welles 1950 radio program The War of the Worlds, where he managed to convince half the population of New York that America was being invaded by aliens,” explained Sanchez, who began his career with Martine Sitbon and Martin Margiela in the late 80s.
“My family came from Spain; exiles from Franco. And my father’s only link with Spain was the radio, so that’s the origin of my link to sounds. The idea that that they can make you feel in two places at the same time,” said Sanchez who has created musical accompaniments for Prada, Hermès, Craig Green, Jil Sander and Jean Paul Gauliter, in relationships often lasting 25 years.
How did his briefs vary according to designers? “Well, some designers work with music all the time. With Marc Jacobs once he finds a piece of music he often plays it endlessly in the studio, driving his team mad and I would then take that and turn it into a huge loop. Jil Sander – she spoke a lot about the quality of clothes and often of beautiful cars, so I would pick music for a marvelous car with deep base. Rei (Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons) practically never speaks but then when you and she see the clothes it suddenly becomes clear. With Miuccia Parda we often sit and speak for four hours on politics and the world and then from that the music arrives from what we think is important,” explained Sanchez.
His vision of his own métier? It’s a little like experimental cinema, with ephemeral imagery, responded Sanchez. “It’s little like that scene in Fellini’s Roma, when they are building a new Roman metro line and they cut through rock and discover some ancient these frescos, which then disappear due to the influx of fresh air. Fashion is like that it appears and disappears. Even if Internet now has changed everything, because everything I did in the late 90s is now available again thanks to the web!”
Turning to stylist Camille Bidault Waddington, Wargnier, among other titles director of final year studies in the famed Paris fashion school, the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Mode Parisienne, asked her to define her job.
“My métier? I have loads. Either when working with a photographer for with magazine when you invent a theme; or a designer, when it can be choosing everything from fabrics to the look of the runway; or a campaign and you pick the casting and make up. At each job the role is different. But what ever you do, if you are too serious and intellectual then it does not work. It should be light. So, I’m a sort of a doctor and nurse,” argued Bidault Waddington, who has styled for such diverse houses as Marc Jacobs and Schiaparelli; and shoots for Indie magazines like Self Service and Dazed & Confused.
Show producer Etienne Russo began his career working in hotels and top restaurants in his native Belgium. “So, I worked all weekends when my friends were out at night!” said Russo, who branched into fashion after breaking into a modeling career, before returning from Japan and doing his first show production for Dries Van Noten.
“With Dries, when I began I could anything I wanted, though he did warn me to avoid religion and politics attention not to mention sex and drugs. Which made things a little complicated,” smiled Russo to general laugher from the audience of 300 in the garden of the famed villa.
Since then he went on to be producer and creative director of Dries shows 30 years, while adding Alber Elbaz of Lanvin as a client.
Alber’s brief? “Alber wants to talk about the universe of his woman and not really about the clothes. When you understand that you can begin working,” said Russo of his decade with Lanvin, which due to novel gantries, arc lights and huge lamps were generally regarded as the best lit shows ever in fashion.
“With Dries it’s more about his prints where they came from; and why they are in patchwork. It’s a lot about technique for him. Though sometimes the location just speaks to you,” said Russo recalling the legendary 50th anniversary show of Van Noten in a giant disused Procter & Gamble factory in north Paris, where 500 guests were all served dinner simultaneously on a 150-meter white table, before 150 chandeliers were drawn up high and the models walked down the table as a runway.
“What could we do better? That’s when I got my toughest briefing. The show after Dries gave me the brief: A simplicity that hurts! And I thought that’s tough. But in the end he was right, I made set with just one large lamp and very weak sound of making love it was very focused!” he recalled.
Leaf Greener, a noted Chinese editor, stylist and blogger, saw her role differently.
“I am meant to translate western brands to China – they all like to involve China, as it’s the second biggest economy in the world. But the thing is they fly into China for two days for their launch or event and they think they then ‘I know China.’ Which is actually kinda’ stupid, but they do,” she shrugged.
Born in Beijing to a mum who read endless fashion magazines, Leaf Greener moved to Shanghai and worked for Elle and Vogue China, before creating her own magazine Leaf, and becoming highly active in social media like WeChat.
“To me Beijing is like a man, while Shanghai is like a woman. Beijing is sort of Germany, while Shanghai is more like France,” concluded Greener.
Finally, the veteran makeup artist Stéphane Marais, a Breton who came to Paris aged 18, and broke into fashion by studying for just three months in a make-up school – “I realized I had learned enough” before building a book of 10 screen tests and bombarding magazines for work.
“It eventually began quickly. I had an extravagant but sensitive vision of beauty,” opined Marais, who went on to work on the early shows of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto.
“The key thing was that I was very diverse in my ideas and people realized that I could bring something different. There wasn’t anything automatic,” he insisted.
“The key motor is nothing is guaranteed. I always am nervous in my own stomach and I think you need that,” added Marais, who has collaborated with Martine Sitbon, Gaultier, Chanel and Victor & Rolf; while helping photography legends like Avedon and Penn.
His toughest brief? “Well, Penn was quite old but he could be very tough, and make actresses cry. Frankly, Monsieur Penn used to give me a cramp in my stomach. Once we were shooting Nicole Kidman for American Vogue. And she exists in something of a bubble, and she’s very nice. So, I was gently working with her, when this 90-year-old man Penn pokes me in the ribs from behind and shouts in my ears, ‘Stéphane, I don’t like cute. Shock me! Be rough!”
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