Monday 5 November 2012

EXCLUSIVE interview with Haute Couture designer Maurizio Galante

Maurizio Galante, as he describes himself at one point during this interview is ‘crazy’! What else can you call a man who makes a dress out of thousands of red seeds, each painstakingly punched to create holes for threads to be woven together and is then topped off with an angel-like bolero made of majestic feathers?

It is kinda surreal and out of this world!

Interviewing him has left me in awe, reminding me why I fell in love with fashion in the first place at 7 years old - staying awake at 10pm to watch one of Elie Saab’s couture shows on TV and try to recreate them for my doll the next day from scraps of fabric - which I tore from my dresses or leftover fabric from my mom’s latest custom-made frock.

It was love and it became an obsession. Something stronger than me, that even after an education and career unrelated to fashion I had to take a turn and share it through this blog.
So how can I not, when presented this rare chance, interview one of the very very few Haute Couture houses founder in the flesh? Sitting next to him and his business associate (his co-designer for non-fashion objects and talented artist in his own right Tal Lancman) I was transformed back to that little girl, daydreaming about his surreal creations which are wearable art pieces, so inspiring and genuine, a world’s apart from vanity dressing and fast changing fashion trends.

A dress which took over 700 hours to make, a precision and technique which needs an OCD person to practice and an armchair made to resemble cold marble when it’s in fact inviting and comfy. You can never expect what’s next from Maurizio Galante who will be in Singapore for his show at the French Couture Week later this month at MBS The Shoppes.

Photos don't give justice for the amazing detailing of Maurizio Galante's
bloleros. The red flamingo one (right) is apparently the best sold item
and even celebrated architect Zaha Hadid owns one!

Honestly, if I was given the choice to interview Maurizio Glanate or Karl Lagerfield (who as head of Chanel is part f the same highly exclusive Chambre Syndicate de Haute Couture as Maurizio) I would still choose Maurizio. Reason is, while I respect Karl’s work for Chanel – when it comes to Haute Couture, Galante is the man who founded and is still heading his own house and to me poses a much more interesting perspective. Plus his techniques, signature and approach to design are more intriguing in my opinion.

So with no further ado, here’s my interview with Maurizio and Tal who also gave me a peek at some of their extraordinary work and future plans – and an invite to their showroom in Paris, which I will happily plan for sometime early next year, when their ‘Haute Couture by Size’ initiative kicks off! :-)

For more information on Haute Couture Fashion Week Singapore, visit their facebook page to stay updated.

Bonjour Singapore: What made you decide to do ‘couture’ in the first place?

Maurizio Galante: I love the artisanal and hand-made aspect of it which I think represents the culture, memory and history of a nation. You know like when you see the quality and high level of work, you immediately understand the soul of the people.

In addition to fashion, you also design interior pieces and have an interest in architecture. How do you see the correlation between these mediums? How does your design approach differ in each one?

Maurizio: (The design approach) is really similar in all my work. I’m not a fashion designer. I’m a designer and my fashion creations are more of design objects so when you dress my clothes, you dress objects, that’s it. Anyways I think every dress you put on your body, it’s an object in the first place.

Does that mean you look at fashion more as an art?

Maurizio: Yes it is an instrument to translate, to tell what we have inside.

When you design, do you have a muse in mind or do you imagine anyone wearing your garments?

Maurizio: I think I design for pleasure. The pleasure to see, to sell and to buy and that’s it.

What inspires you?

Maurizio: Emotion and nature; Because in nature you have balance. You really find a sense of everything in for example when you see a plant or a bird… everything has a sense and I’m really fascinated by it.

At the age of 30, you became the youngest permanent member of the highly exclusive Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. How does it make you feel that at such a young age you had your name and work put along some fashion greats like Christian Dior, Madame Gres among others?

Maurizio: I don’t think about this because I’m really projecting the future. I never stopped to see the present.

Your designs have probably more eccentricity in terms of colours and obvious crafty element than we normally see in the Haute Couture world. Why is that?

Maurizio: what you see outside in my work is just the result of really huge construction inside.

Tal: The construction of the garments from inside is very important in Maurizio’s case because it’s more like flexible architecture so the outside of the garment is not decorative, it’s a result of building the garment and then the garment behaves and moves in a certain way. This movement is the most beautiful part of his work. It’s not about the decorative at all.

Maurizio: It’s the same story when you say ‘Oh wow this plant has a beautiful flower’. But the flower is just a result of a plant. The plant has not only flower, it has leaves and other things…

So what is your work’s signature?

Maurizio: My signature is repetition of simple elements. When you repeat something simple it becomes rich in the simplicity and sometimes It is sophisticated.

Through repeating simple elements, Maurizio has created some
complex and rich designs like this stunning dress, made of  countless
squares of fabric... just amazing!

Is there a reason why you design a lot of ‘bolero’ in your collections?

Maurizio: Because It’s easy to dress. I think today more and more when you go to cocktails and parties, the places are getting smaller and smaller and you only see the top part of a person in that sense.

What about the signature red flamingo bolero (which he shows me the photo of it in the limited edition Maurizio Galate hand-stitched book)?

Maurizio: This is our best sold item! Architect Zaha Hadid has one.

Tal: Regarding Zaha, she appreciate it a lot. She has visited us several times and in fact almost every collection she buys something. In our very first meeting with her, it was a compliment to listen to what she says to Maurizio. She told him ‘I love the construction’. Everybody says I really like the colour, the fabric, etc… The rest of women normally just see the outside, the exterior but she saw the inside and appreciated the construction!

A miniature of the flamingo bolero,, hand-made on the cover of
Maurizio Galante's limited edition book...

This is how the bolero is made... unbelievable patience and technique!

And the result could not be more stunning...

Initial sketches of the bolero with sample fabric, all documented in the book!

So who are your clients normally? Where do they come from?

Maurizio: All over the world, now we have clients from China, Australia, US, Brazil, Japan… everywhere.

More stunning bolero...

This one is probably my favourite pieces from Maurizio!

The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture has been criticized for its elitism and the fact that it has very rigid rules in terms of accepting new designer and all. Do you think this need to change for Haute Couture to survive?

Maurizio: No I don’t think so. I don’t know why it’s a problem for Haute Couture to be considered as an ‘elite’ product (and I personally don’t think it is an elite product either). Anyways we have in our culture different levels and certain levels are not for everybody in terms that some people don’t understand the quality of the work and don’t appreciate it. So it’s not about the money. Anybody can have money but the culture and the sensibility to understand the work and beauty of Haute Couture, is not for everybody.

Tal: Yesterday we had a discussion about elegance. It’s not possible to buy elegance. You can have all the money in the world and you can spend this money on beautiful clothes and wear them and it’s not sure that the result will be elegant. And then you can wear nothing at all, something very simple and can be extremely elegant.
I think the connection between the women who are attracted to Maurizio’s work and the objects that he creates is about pleasure and about understanding the object and appreciating it. And I think all these women first of all, they understand themselves, who they are and then they recognize that the object correspond to them.

Are you familiar with couture designers in Asia? What do you think of ‘Asian couture’?

Maurizio: I am familiar a little bit with designers in China and Japan. I think Asian people understand more what elegance is because it’s really in their DNA.

What do you think of their work? Do you think any of them would be invited as guest member of the Chambre? Would you invite any of them?

Maurizio: Why not. We have some people coming from Lebanon, from Russia so why not. it’s important that the designers have something to tell, something to give to everybody. I think it is generosity.

Who did Christian Dior couture better: Galliano or Raf Simmons?

Maurizio: Christian Dior himself!

If you would retire, who would you like to take over from you?

Maurizio: it’s not my decision really, it’s the manager’s decision. I live in the present and I don’t really think about it. I still have a lot to do…

What’s the relevance of Haute Couture nowadays when our lives are becoming more and more fast paced, and even ballgowns can be mass-produced? Does it belong only in the museum?

Maurizio: we are more and more becoming two different segments: very high and very low, the middle doesn’t exist anymore. The couture gives everybody a sense of direction, it’s possible to study what’s impossible to study in ready to wear. It’s a really beautiful laboratory to understand what the future is.

More than this, it is really important because I think we’re getting out of this industrial era into another era where the man and what he does with his hand is more important than a machine. And in the coming era, the artisanal part is really relevant and in Haute Couture it is the base.

What do you think of ‘nouvelle couture’ with people like Bouchra Jarrar and Rabih Kayrouz creating technically more ‘simple’ or ‘minimal’ couture compared for example to the in some of the pieces you create?

Maurizio: I think there is a place for everybody. In fact I am the godfather of Rabih. I was the one to introduce him to the federation and recommend him to be invited.

Tal: Rabih was the only designer Maurizio has accepted to introduce to the Chambre despite being approached several times by a number of designers who aspire to belong to the federation. He found that Rabih’s work was on the right level in that sense.

From 106 fashion houses doing Haute Couture in 1946 to 12 in 2012. Why do you think the number has decreased so much?

Maurizio: Because it’s really expensive, not only in terms of money but in terms of time. But again this is what it takes to do the looks. Why not, we are another lot and we are the best.

What keeps you going then? If it’s so hard and costly to maintain why are you still doing it?

Maurizio: Because we are crazy…. That’s it!

Do you see yourself switching to prêt-a-porter at some point?

Maurizio: Why not but in a different way. We have started thinking of developing the label in massive way in terms of accessories, total living, furniture… And in January we have a fashion presentation for ‘Couture by size.’ This is a new step for couture which we named ‘Couture by size’ as we are taking iconic pieces from my collections and making them available in sizes S,M,L,XL.

Tal: The concept is basically as following. When you normally come to buy an Haute Couture piece by Maurizio Galante, a significant part of the budget is for the service since it requires 3 or sometimes 4 fittings and sometimes we travel abroad to meet the client etc... All this is very costly and of course then there is the after-services for reparation and small modifications. 

When we will launch the ‘Couture by size’ collection then all the service cost is put aside. You pay for Haute Couture quality garment but by size. That means we will create couture which is much more accessible for another level of the market.

This is not a story about only money, it’s sometimes difficult for client to fly to Paris for fittings plus with some iconic pieces with particular shape, it is possible to make this project.

Any advice for young designers who want to pursue a career in couture?

Maurizio: the most important thing is information. When you are informed, you are 70% on the right way.

How important is technique then?

Maurizio: Technique comes with experience. Slowly slowly, this is something you study but you need to have something inside in the first place.

where do you see Haute Couture in 10 years?

Maurizio: I think more and more limited, exclusive and very high level in terms of technique and finishing. More sophisticated!

Why did you decide to come to Singapore as part of HCFW?

Maurizio: throughout my career, I did a lot of Haute Couture fashion shows in Japan, China, Brazil, London. I think Singapore has a very beautiful mix between different cultures and nations. It’s interesting. And in terms of organization, business and quality of life it s great as well!

Maurizio and Tal talk about 3 iconic pieces and highlights from the Maurizio Galante limited edition book:

'Louis XV goes to Sparta' marble print armchair, by Maurizio Galanta and Tal Lancman

Maurizio: We won the Wallpaper award for this chair. We play on surprise and emotion because I think same in fashion. When today we have everything at home, We don’t need anything but sometimes when you see something you start smiling. This is what we want to create.

Tal: We like to create special impact like when you approach the object from faraway it looks something different from what it is. The marble for example, you expect it to be hard and cold but is in fact the chair is very inviting.

Swan feathers and seeds red dress:

Maurizio: We made this from seeds from a typical plant in Brazil. We first made a mesh and then inserted eash seed in a square, punched holes in it to pass the thread.

Tal: The feathers were a big hit and we are now in the process of making silver jewellery with feathers. All inspired by the accessories he made for the shows but he now interpreted them in a more wearable way.

Sketches showing the process of making this dress which is made of seeds
and topped off with exquisite feathers bolero.

The macro details are just incredible!

Collaboration with iconic French photographer Sarah Moon

Tal: Sarah Moon usually produces one photo for each project she does. But for this collaboration – for the limited edition book- one of the only times in her career she accepted to produce a series of images for the book around the notion of ‘red’. The result was amazing!

Sara Moon's haunting photos from the collaboration with Maurizio on his book.

Painted ballerinas....

Still feels surreal to have met 2 design geniuses like Maurizio Galante (right)
and Tal Lancman (left)!