Interview: Jens Laugesen, Jean-François Carly & Marcus Werner Hed

published on 25 March 2004

Designer Jens Laugesen and image-makers Jean-François Carly and Marcus Werner Hed spoke to Michelle Duguid about collaborating on the designer's A/W 04 fashion film.

Designer Jens Laugesen and image-makers Jean-François Carly and Marcus Werner Hed spoke to Michelle Duguid about collaborating on the designer's A/W 04 fashion film.

Jens Laugesen

Michelle Duguid: Jens, please tell me about this collection.

Jens Laugesen: What was important was to mark a new start. My previous collection, (for which I made the film with Nick Knight) was an end to a story that I started at St Martins. The whole 'Ground Zero' project was an investigation of what was in fashion after I had deconstructed it. I needed to examine the deconstructing of fashion because I never felt part of that movement when I lived and worked in Paris. The last show was called 'Outsize 01' with the subtitle 'Inside Out'. 'Outsize' because I wanted to create a bigger silhouette, and 'Inside Out' because I felt a need to create objects in which the ideas came from the inside to the outside. I think there has been too much Postmodernist revival and fantastic decoration in design recently - I have found it all annoying to look at. I want to design things that come from my body and headspace. The original idea for the collection was to clone a t-shirt and a shirt, half and half. I like the idea of a hybrid reconstruction. I was in Tokyo last November and I was inspired by the Japanese way of dressing. They love European clothes, but they are always too big for them so they wear them all scrunched up and too long. Maybe that is why they like my clothes, because it actually already has that casualness.

MD: This is the first collection since the 'Ground Zero trilogy'.When did you know that a new period of design had started?

JL: I made the decision that that period of my life was over when I made the film with Nick Knight in the studio. I was in awe of him because of his history in fashion photography, and I had found his book 'Skinhead' so inspiring throughout my design process. The film helped me see, from a distance, what we had been doing in the design process. Myself, Alastair McKimm and Camilla work really intensely on things. To take myself away and go into the photographic studio with my clothes gave me the distance I needed. It was also why I called it 'Ground Zero: Faith and Chaos', because my ideas were quite chaotic. The music was quite chaotic. The inspiration from my own youth in the 1980s was quite dark. The inspiration from Nick's book of skinheads which was, I found, quite introverted and not pretty. I knew that this was a dark tunnel but I had faith that at the end of the tunnel would be something light. This lightness was for me the 'Outsize' '01 collection. I am not sure that everyone has faith in that sort of chaos, but I do.

MD: You show at London Fashion Week under the banner of a new generation designer. Do you think you will see any difference in your design practice when that comes to an end?

JL: It will be very significant as it will be another period of my life ending, during which I have developed my business. It has grown from 'Jen's little business' with two stockists, to a much more committed business with 20 shops, a new studio and actual employment contracts. It is now a brand. The nature of the media is to always want to find new talent and that is great. The new generation sponsorship is fantastic. Without that push I wouldn't be here today. What is fantastic about London is that so many people want to believe in young designers and push for them to happen. Of course, there is a problem after three or four seasons when that sponsorship ends. I made a decision that I would use that time to make a business to be able to survive by itself.

MD: Can you explain to me how you view yourself in relation to other designers?

JL: The formal aspect of me can be seen by how I react to the white shirt. If I put the shirt on a white stand and look at it I simply see a white toile that I can cut into and drape with. That is where I deconstruct my cutting and reconstruct my reasoning. Sometimes at the end of the shows when I am hanging things up, I see a sweatshirt hung upside down and I see couture shapes, almost like Balenciaga. Other people would never view my work like Balanciaga but I see those shapes. I hope that I design for a reason. I am 36 now and I am on my second career, having worked for other designers before. I didn't really enjoy that period of time although I had a good career and a salary. Today being a good designer means that I can do my job with a skill and get something out if it. I can communicate my ideas through a t-shirt which people buy and wear there is something humane about that. I didn't become a designer to be a superstar posing at the end of a catwalk. I have to do the shows as it is important to see an idea to its logical conclusion, taking what I need from the idea. However, I hate going down a catwalk at the end of the show. It is not a moment when I feel like smiling and cheering the most because I am really tired by that point.

MD: You are known for your monochromatic palate. Do you ever think in terms of bold colours and pattern?

JL: It would be very easy for me to do a pink dress. That's just a trick to give more attention to things that are not important. For me, it is about the stitching and the construction. I started the last show with a white shirt with a triple neckline, which was my concept piece for the whole show - the creation of a bigger silhouette. If this had been designed in print form then the concept would not have been so definite. There is a bigger chance of getting your message across without colour. When I use print it is more about referencing the collection. I like the collection to be self referential and not about referencing other people's work. If I was to do a flower print I would then have to make sure that there was a flower somewhere else in the collection, be it a photograph of a flower that would then become a print. I even tried to do a floaty dress this season but I designed it in a tuxedo print so that it was not too pretty. I do have an idea for print and colour for next season, but of course I am going to do it my own way.

MD: You design for men and for woman. Does sexuality play a part in the design process?

JL: My designs are definitely asexual. The patterns are the same for men and women. If you are a skinny guy you can wear the same pair of trousers as a girl. I don't really like the formal idea of the body shapes dictating design. I sell a lot of garments in unisex shops in Japan. Although I have shown menswear on the catwalk I am not really attacking the men's market. I do it simply to create the mood of the androgynous and the unisex. At the end of the day everyone wears t-shirts. It only has sexuality when it has the body of Pamela Anderson in it. That is not the body shape I design for.

MD: You have had a long-standing collaboration with Jean-François Carly and Alastair McKimm. Can you describe their roles and your working relationship?

JL: Alastair McKimm has been a long-term collaborator. He is the stylist for my shows but not in a traditional sense. We collaborate on the whole collection; he doesn't just come in at the last minute and change everything. He helps me with fabric choices, the fit of the garment, the design process. It is an ongoing process. Jean-François Carly has been taking back stage photographs at my shows for a long time and I have always thought they were beautiful. This time it was suggested that we should document the process with a video camera. We thought about the idea and he suggested bringing Marcus Werner Hed in to also work on it. It has been a really nice process to step back and not be the art director. I would hate to force my vision onto other people - that isn't really going to help anybody move forward.

MD: How do you feel when you see your clothes in magazines, interpreted by people you don't necessarily collaborate with?

JL: I think it is positive for people to want to use my clothes. At that point it is not really my work anymore. It is about seeing what other people can bring to it. I can't control all of it. I would like to become better at communicating my ideas so that you could take the clothes as they are and not need to style them. I'm not Comme de Garçons or Martin Margiela yet. Nobody messes with a Margiela outfit.

I wanted to show the beauty inside the person, the 'real' personality of the girl as opposed to the model.

MD: Marcus and Jean-François, how would you describe what you do to someone who didn't know much about image making?

Jean-François Carly: I am a photographer and a film-maker. I am interested in people, what they think, expressions, and their place in society. Every film tries to extract the mood of a moment. I don't try to change what is happening. It is what it is. Of course sometimes I add extra footages to amplify or modify the perception of the previous or forthcoming images.

Marcus Werner Hed: I conceive ideas, which are then translated visually.

MD: Explain to me how you work when you are not part of this team?

JFC: When you are doing a photo shoot or film shoot, even if it is based around a personal idea that you have visualised already, it is always in the collaboration with other people that contribute to it: model, stylist, hair and make up, that it develops. It is important to talk about the project to everybody beforehand. They can make some suggestions and we move forward. I always see it as teamwork. The result could change from what you visualise before, which is a good thing in general. The only time I work completely individually is when I do my personal work. Then I am alone, confronted by myself. I think it is also important to isolate yourself sometimes. It allows you to reflect on the sensibility of the moment. ?Marcus Werner Hed: Most of the time, I work in collaborations. Individually I do research, however when I work on any kind of execution I'm always more or less dependent on a team.

MD: How did you come about working on the project and what was your role?

JFC: When I was a student of photography I did a lot of backstage catwalk photography. The idea of filming the models came to me six months ago. I asked Jens a month before the show if he was interested and if I could do some portraits and stills backstage, and if I could film the shoot. I wanted to be able to concentrate on documenting the models. He liked the idea and got it immediately. I had worked with Marcus Werner Hed before on a film for Maria Chen Pascual and I asked him if he wanted to be part of the project. He liked the idea and we started to talk more about it.

MWH: I was working on another project with Jean-Franois that led to me being invited to collaborate on this. I worked on the project in the capacity of director.

MD: Tell me about the film?

JFC: I knew Jens' collection and his vision and wanted to document a girl in the middle of all that backstage tension that builds up during the preparation before the actual show. I wanted to capture the raw emotion. Shooting the film during the build up to the show meant that we didn't have time to work out the pose. It was much more organic. I wanted to show the beauty inside the person, the 'real' personality of the girl as opposed to the model. You deform the clothes and the natural expression with fashion photography. You don't have to even think about the styling of the clothes with this. There is therefore, a true beauty with a quick portrait. It is quite impressive when you see the differences of expressions, face and body language between all the girls and the one boy. They have strong characters and I wanted to go deeper in to their souls. Film is the answer, but not an answer to 'what is beauty?'! That is another question all together.

JL: JFC and I both like the concept of the straight up. It plays a part in the design process. We always use Camilla as the model and take a front view, side view, back view picture. Documenting the collection like that allows us to see it more clearly. If you document it this way you can morph photographs together instead of having to draw things again. When we cut a sleeve off a toile you can guarantee that two outfits later we will need those sleeves again. The off cuts are as important as whet remains. Society edits everything and what is left in the bin is negated. I actually think that what is negated from life is more important than what we choose to keep. What I liked was that we documented the backstage without really knowing what we were going to do with it after. I know that a lot of photographers reference films, artists and other photographers, which I think is a bit copycat. It is more about finding people that you share a mutual understanding and then you create a way of working. The accidents often turn into an aesthetic. The accident of experiencing the backstage madness turns out to be very important.

MWH: The film is a piece of fashion in itself. Even though subliminally positioning itself outside the normative structures by dealing with the process rather than the result, it is still within the parameters of fashion.

MD: What was your impetus for the project?

JFC: I already had the white cloth for the background! (Joking!) I think I had a certain vision both in terms of the cinematography, and the intellectual motivation to explore the spontaneity and inspiration of the moment.

MWH: Foucault and the Maids of Honour.

MD: In the film we can hear you engage with the models, and all the background noise. How do you feel about opening up the process of shooting to the audience?

JFC: It was more to show the portrait itself and how the models react to the camera. There are 20-30 seconds when I was changing the back of the camera and that time produced the most interesting footage. The models went through all types of emotions from excitement to boredom. I don't think it de-mystifies the shoot process. The backstage lighting is not perfect, but I like that light. The stills remind me of the work of a Belgium painter called Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921). He always used the same girl who was androgynous and slightly virginal. The choice of the model is really important to all of us.

MWH: The process is where my interest lies. In fashion today, the end result is used too much as a device for capitalist conditioning. The process is the only honest thing left. I am also interested in the moments in-between the shots as that is where elements of humanity have some exposure.

MD: It has been said that Jens' start in fashion came about because of his fascination with photography. How does his profound interest in what you do affect your collaborations?

JFC: I like the vision of the designer. It is a very natural process. I don't want to force things. I like the fact that Jens has a strong vision and a strong cultural response.

JL: I expect Karl Lagerfeld got into photography because he probably got fed up of telling the art team how to do their job and thought he would do it himself. That is not my desire. If people can add something to the team and the image making process then that is good.

MD: Do you see images differently in motion?

JFC: My eye is quite constructed. I studied science at college and I have a 'square' brain. The moving picture cuts into the square and makes my vision more fluid and sensitive. I like this new way to see things. My brain is open to a new sensibility.

JL: I think that the new sensibility comes from three-dimensionality. If you look at things in the last century it was all very flat and 2-D. I think now we can talk about visuals in 2-D and 3-D and that is really exciting. As a designer, if you put a white shirt onto a body it becomes engaged in that shape. What you thought was the original shape changes. A flat version is then chaotic. It is all about the movement.

MWH: Completely: when you deal with motion image, I think you actually deal with time rather than images.

MD: Which designers would you like to work with in the future?

JFC: Blaak and Ann Demeulemeester.

MWH: Haider Ackermann, Miki Fukai, Rei Kawakubo, Martin Margiela, Raf Simons and Junya Watanabe.



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