What sustains or inspires you in your work?
I draw considerable inspiration from France, particularly French films from the late 60s New Wave era, which feature my favourite actors Belmondo - whom I am particularly fond of - Piccoli and Montand. You don’t see that kind of elegance nowadays. Every gesture was evocative: the way they held their cigarette, wore their clothes, carried themselves… Once leather jackets arrived, ties were loosened and the look changed completely. Yet these were still the same objects. I find that fascinating. The New Wave is exactly that, a wave that ebbs and flows, a tireless source of inspiration. I still watch those films and often find something new, a detail that catches my eye and may come back to me two years later in a flash of inspiration.
In the Parisian area of Saint-Germain, where I am fortunate to live, I enjoy sitting at the café terraces, as I do wherever I am for that matter, whether it be in Tokyo, New York or Ibiza. It’s important to take the time to observe passers-by, there’s always something about them, a combination of colours, a shape, a borrowed detail that becomes part of someone’s look. I work on my collections by taking notes which are then decanted into my Parisian world. In the end, the preliminary step to any creation is taking the time to observe.
Which individuals do you particularly admire?
There is one actor I love, one of the last French actors to emanate the energy of the New Wave: Vincent Lindon. I think he is the only one who has the same codes as that generation. His style is meticulous: the same suit, the same shoes… He wears his clothes in exactly the same way each time, combining vintage pieces in his outfits. He is truly passionate about his clothes yet only talks about them in private. His clothes are never picked out by a stylist because he knows exactly what suits him. When you know yourself well, your preferences and what suits you, there is a natural choice that occurs, one that even dominates over your own desires.
It is a little like Vadim at the port of Saint-Tropez, standing with his white T-shirt and espadrilles: nobody can do it better. There were people like Godard, Truffaut and Jean-Pierre Léaud who knew how to carry off clothes well. While we were inundated with American idols such as Steve McQueen and Marlon Brando, in France, we had elegance and a way of wearing pieces which were more difficult to pull off; we used a more coded language than the Americans with effortless flair. The film star Jack Nicholson even said himself: “It all began with the New Wave in France”. This is also true for women. Just look at Romy Schneider in César and Rosalie, always head to toe in Saint Laurent. The French style from that era still infuses into today’s collections.
What are your favourite materials? How do you approach them? How important is a material?
Real clothes are the fruit of skilled work and fine material. Separating the two is a recipe for failure, or half a piece of clothing! My grandfather was a tailor, his shop was full of fabrics and I discovered each one by touching them. It should never be forgotten that clothes are above all tactile. Material is both essential and sensitive. When I began Officine Générale in 2012, I immediately wanted to offer clothes that lasted, aged and left the marks of time on their fabric. This is what makes the clothes so beautiful but also so difficult to execute. I do not adhere to throwaway clothes; making them last already made sense back then, and now it has become a natural choice for many of our customers.
You have a different relationship with a piece of clothing which has been made to last, there is a complicity, a sentimental bond that is created with a fabric that accompanies you.
We all know the challenges that come with the need for novelty in the world of fashion, but our challenge - and it’s fascinating - is to reinvent an obvious shape, to continue to twist a wardrobe. It is so simple to make an oversize T-shirt or hoody, but to make a jacket that falls impeccably requires real precision and extreme attention to the details of the cut. When you wear it, that’s when the magic happens and you can see the real difference. Beyond that, one’s own identity is paramount, free of strass and unnecessary glamour, I dislike the superfluous above all else. Objects must be meaningful and age, because only integrity lasts. It is harder to renew simple products than to use dizzying extravagance that often makes you faint.
Are there any design or architecture styles with which you feel a particular affinity more than others?
I like raw forms. I have an eternal passion for the work of Tadao Ando, the way he blends concrete, wood and plants. His Casa Wabi in Mexico is a monument of immense beauty and simplicity, with its terrace and lap pool that extends out to the sea’s edge, raw wood and concrete walls. He has managed to create something extraordinary with just three elements.
Similarly, Vervoordt uses a particularly limited architectural vocabulary which derives from a uniform concept: using an understated and precise blend of forms and materials, he creates a timeless design that changes over time.
I live in uniform, mine is based on three colours: navy, white and grey, with a touch of light blue and olive green. I am always dressed according to these three colours, every day. I wear one of two styles of trousers, a white T-shirt and a grey jacket. I have abandoned colour. I look at too many fabrics every day to think about what I’m going to wear in the morning. We have sacrificed comfort at the altar of style. What matters to me is knowing I will feel good in my clothes.
Constraint can inspire creativity. You mention using a limited palette and materials. How would you describe your creative approach?
I cannot create a piece of clothing that I would not wear myself. I do not have a very wide spectrum, but I think there is a sense of honesty in what I create. I have no desire to project fantasy onto others. I suppose this could be seen as a limitation but it doesn’t feel like a constraint, on the contrary, I accept it as my reality. You need to embrace who you are in order to create. I design products that I desire, almost in an autobiographical manner when you think about it. I stay within a particular world but I want it to be universal and extremely accessible; humility always makes things more elegant. That’s why I like to spend time in my stores, serving customers who don’t recognise me yet, this enables me to learn more. I only leave my personal scope to offer my customers a wider range of colours than I wear on a daily basis.
How does control fit into your life? How do you deal with it?
I am a workaholic. I never take a break. I am incapable of stopping, I feel the need to experience things first hand. I have made some progress though, I took time out to analyse myself and I realised that I needed to stop trying to control everything, that nobody can work alone. You need to surround yourself with others and dedicate time and space to creation and style, a moment of emptiness and calm to recharge your batteries and catch your breath. Not being able to take a step back is one of the dangers of my business. Knowing how to delegate is the key to reclaiming control over the creative process and the product.
My personal and professional lives are intertwined, there is no line between the two, so I force myself to take time out to create but also to build on relationships. Time is not eternal; it is a luxury. When the weeks become too short, you know something must change.
Our family home in Luberon, and north Ibiza, with its fascinating red soil. I like being near the sea, I find it calming and it reminds me of my childhood in Brittany, where I was born. I also feel good in New York, it is like my second home and I miss it terribly, I haven’t been back since February because of the current circumstances.
In New York, you always stay at the eternal Mercer Hotel designed by Liaigre (who recently passed away). It is like a ritual... Do you have any other rituals?
I am in fact very fond of rituals, I never get tired of staying in this hotel. I could ask for the same room, have a coffee in the same place, eat dinner at the same restaurant and eat the same thing for days. I think permanent rituals actually help us grow, much to the discontent of my wife! I find these set details and this almost methodological daily pattern comforting.
It's a way of freeing up bandwidth, of not missing out on something to stay focused?
Absolutely, a little like an athlete, it’s about getting yourself into the best mental and physical condition. Without this preparation, you cannot perform at your best. We go back to this idea of comfort, which is essential to me. The Mercer Hotel has become a touchstone, it is visually soothing, an eternal landmark that doesn’t hinder my path, rather it helps me stay on track.
Do you have a particular object or good-luck charm that you cherish? How much does it weigh?
My old watch which I have been wearing for over 25 years. Its weight has become an integral part of my wrist. My balance depends on its exact weight.
I have other watches that I bought on a whim, but I cannot bring myself to wear them, this is the only one that calms me. When I cannot feel its characteristic weight, it is like something is missing. So, I promised myself I would not buy any more watches.
My other fetish item would be my Converse shoes. I wear them all year around and I will wear them all my life, I would love to collaborate with Converse.
If le gramme were a garment, what would it be?
A navy blue double cashmere coat of 900 grams, wear-resistant...