Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Fashion and the Future: Interview with Sacha Walckhoff

"It is a difficult moment to talk about fashion in Europe because it is very frivolous. But I believe you can still say a lot through fashion. I think there is the possibility to express something really interesting", says Sacha Walckhoff, photographed in Paris by Elodie Dupuis.
On the eve of his menswear spring/summer 2016 collection arriving at Christian Lacroix next month, the house's Creative Director Sacha Walckhoff talks to Jeanne-Marie Cilento from his Paris atelier about fashion, creativity and the future. SS16 photographs by CG Watkins 

TALL and handsome with an infectious laugh, Christian Lacroix's creative director Sacha Walckhoff brings his ebullient artistic energy to the house's menswear and lifestyle collections. After the eponymous couturier left the house five years ago, Mr Walckhoff has brought a fresh vision to the French brand. He worked closely with Christian Lacroix for 17 years so has a profound understanding of the house's artistic origins.

Sacha Walckhoff & Christian Lacroix during the glory years
Speaking from his Parisian studio, he says: “Today's collections are also very close to Christian Lacroix the man, even if we are not working together anymore. I'm still faithful to the spirit, the origin of the house. People associate Lacroix with very colourful prints. But I think there is another level of the brand which is about an artistic vision.” As a designer, Sacha Walckhoff works on many different projects for both fashion and interior design and brings a very passionate approach to his own creations. “I think everything in life is about what you feel, so feelings for me are very potent,” he says. “They are the foundation of the Lacroix brand too ~ it is all about creating emotions first. Then of course there are colours and prints. But the reason why the house is still alive is because it is built on feelings. I think that is why so many people are attached to Christian Lacroix.”

Dark flowers SS16. Photo: CG Watkins
He says the ideas behind the men's SS16 collections and Nouveaux Mondes home ware are contemporary yet still connected to the history of Lacroix. “I want to express tolerance and being open minded, this is what society should be. But it is very important for me to have an eye on the past and know where you are coming from. You have to know your past to go into the future. This is the theme of the collections this year. We still use the symbols of Lacroix, like flowers which could be quite traditional such as roses and peonies. But we put stripes on them and create a graphic statement and suddenly the flowers seem very modern.
"At Lacroix we have a story and yet we find a way to make it relevant. In the beginning, when I was appointed artistic director five years ago we went through the archives but I didn't want to change the designs otherwise people wouldn't recognise them. But we also realised very quickly that the things we took from the archives were not successful ~ because they were made at a special moment and now the times have changed."

Urban hubris SS16. Photo: CG Watkins
Looking at fashion on the streets, Sacha Walckhoff sees it as increasingly casual. "The problem with casual is that it is not very elegant ~ a very French statement! But you know in Paris in the 14th and 15th arrondissments, I see guys with beautiful suits and girls wearing beautiful dresses, jackets and hats. So the street style can look very good. But today people are lot fatter now than in the past and this is related to why they choose more casual wear."
As far as current trends in fashion, he still sees a slender aesthetic."People are wearing very slim lines, slim outfits and slim trousers, the young generation are still very body conscious."

The men who buy from the Christian Lacroix boutique in Paris are a heterogeneous group of artists, architects and lawyers from 25 years old upwards. "They are looking for something amusing with a good cut and good print with exquisite designs and fabrics. We are close to our clients. I am always trying to make the perfect shirts and suits. Pieces that you are happy to wear every day and then find them again in the next collection.When men find what they love, the right cut of pants or shirt ~ they don't want us to stop!"
Nature rules in the Paris suburbs. Photo: CG Watkins

Today, the fashion world has changed as luxury brands have some of their biggest clientele in Asia not Europe: "They were starving for fashion because of the political situations in their countries. I think what they are going through now is what we went through in the 1960s and 70s. Europeans are not our largest clients anymore. We have other situations that are very difficult here: people are too busy fighting for work, for places to live, really struggling. It is a difficult moment to talk about fashion in Europe because it is very frivolous. But I believe you can still say a lot through fashion. I think you have the possibility to express something interesting and the more that is expressed the better."

But the designer comments that he is surprised that many young designers are not expressing themselves as creatively as in the past with what they wear and design for themselves. "Today, when you look at men's collections that are very trendy, colourful and full of strange shapes ~ it is made for people to talk about and not to be worn. In the 1980s, we were making strange clothing but we were wearing it. We wanted to have originality and if you couldn't find what you wanted we made our own clothing. But now it is different as all of those young guys who are designing crazy outfits don't wear them. They are still wearing jeans and t-shirts as the designer and coming out on to the runway. It is very bizarre to me! It is like they are presenting clothes that they don't want to wear themselves.

Sacha Walckhoff as a young designer in Paris
"We were designing clothes and wearing them because we wanted to really express ourselves. I think fashion is becoming just an image ~ it is not real any more. Truly it is a feeling I have right now that people do not wear what they are designing. We need people who are a bit crazy and creative not only for the runway but also in real life." Mr Walckhoff  has an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion and can explain the history and provenance of a new jacket going back to influences from the Renaissance to David Bowie. But he thinks that the way new designers often just take ideas from the past directly without creating something new is very dull. "I don't think inspiration should be so literal as it is today ~ you need to transform it. I know the history of every piece of fashion. This is why at Lacroix I am always reworking designs from the past ~ but it never looks like the original. This is what is interesting in our world. I think it is a bit boring when you just take something and you reissue it. It is not something I would like to do."

Talking about the power of the fashion image today the designer believes it is more difficult to make an impact because we have visual overload. "We are bombarded by images today with the Internet and social media. It is difficult because you have to edit them all of the time. I am a bit afraid of being insensible to images in the future because there are just too many to filter through your mind. Even when you wake-up there are so many images to digest ~ even before having your coffee." Mr Walkhoff is also concerned
Colour & embroidery SS16. Photo: CG Watkins
about the increasing mechanisation of everyday life that makes us more distant from hand-crafted designs and nature.

"I was talking to [Dutch designer] Marcel Wanders, we were saying the machines will take over ~ they don't need food or rest ~ and one day there will be robots on the runway and robots making the collections and robots buying the clothes. We will be left at our country houses out of it all!" he says laughing. "With the new menswear collection, maybe it is about the fact that in an increasingly mechanised world nature is still much stronger than anything man can create. Maybe it is something unconscious trying to say that nature will always win ~ that is really the theme of this menswear collection."

Working with designer Jose Gandia, head of Lacroix's Studio Homme, on the collection, Sacha Walckhoff wanted to design classic clothes with a young and modern twist. There are very well cut suits in beautiful fabrics with linings made out of silk as well as prints and embroideries. All of the sweaters are from cotton so they are very breathable with others in Jacquard with embroidery. "The house is known for its mix and match, combining different things like prints, flowers, bright colours such as fuschia that in the end really work," says Mr Gandia. "This season we found the colours of Paris suburbs interesting, you feel like you could almost be in LA. It was very nice to shoot there."

Industrial Paris SS16. Photo: CG Watkins
For the collection's photo shoot, nature and the city were big inspirations. Mr Walckoff worked with photographer CG Watkins to shoot the pictures in the suburbs of Paris. “Nature is always stronger than man-made cities ~ here in the Parisian suburbs even though the plants grow in small spaces and on balconies ~ there is still a spirit of wildness. So we wanted to have the pictures taken in places which were quite built up but at the same time nature still managed to grow there." The photographer, who grew up in Australia, was very attracted to the idea of going to the outer suburbs in Paris to shoot. "It was really interesting and it was so busy ~ I didn't think the suburbs were so busy," Sacha Walckhoff says. "We went to a squat and saw this whole universe of people who are free and living with a certain wildness. They are constructing a new way of life. In some ways, it is a spirit that for me is quite close to what Lacroix is all about.The collection is based on both human nature and the wilderness which is coming out in the cities ~ despite the concrete."

Mr Walckhoff say the menswear collection expresses his vision of Lacroix. "Collaborating with CG Watkins who is British but raised in Australia we talked a lot about the dessert. You can feel it in all of his images. It is always good to have a link with the young photographers and the young magazines because it is the kind of customer we want to share the collection with. We have a lot of customers who are faithful to the brand. But it is also important to be connected to the young generation ~ it is a great way to do it working with young photographers."

Christian Lacroix's Nouveaux Mondes collection
The first collection of Christian Lacroix lifestyle was created in 2011. Mr Walckhoff is now responsible for overseeing the design of the menswear collections, eye wear, sunglasses lines, scarves and leather goods collections as well as home décor. The lifestyle and home wares collections have been very successful along with the menswear, but the creative director doesn't rule out a return to designing women's fashion again in the future.
Sacha Walckhoff has a special way of working artistically with his team at Lacroix. Designer Jose Gandia says: "It is a real pleasure working with Sacha as each season I discover something fresh as he presents a new book, a new artist for our inspiration. We share ideas then we work out what we want. We talk about the exhibitions we have seen and how that inspires us."

As artistic director, Sacha Walckhoff makes a presentation to his team twice a year and then the other designers have an input for specific collections. "Sometimes they propose things that make the designs richer," he says. "I like to have a creative dialogue with my colleagues when I am working ~ I feed them but they also need to feed me. I need interaction, this is my way of working. If I don't like something I just say it. But I love it when an idea comes from the studio and makes the concept deeper and more interesting. I welcome new ideas while keeping the vision of Christian Lacroix."
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