Finalist in the last “Star Academy” show (the French equivalent of “American Idol”), he’s performed alongside bold-face names including Celine Dion, Liza Minelli, James Blunt, Madonna, during the course of the 4-month show. He went on to release a single, started his own music label, and is now preparing for a music tour. On the fashion side, his men’s clothing line, Elektrode, sold online and in his Paris boutique, has developed a strong following over the last 6 years.
I spent some time with him at the Vegas trade show recently, and got some interesting insights into his creative process (translated from French)…
How has your music influenced your designs?
The clothing line is the result of my singing career. I had to find things to wear on-stage, realized that I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for in other brands, so I decided to create my own line. Music also influences my designs, I listen to music when sketching, generally somewhere outside on a bench in Paris. I imagine what I’d be wearing while performing or attending various parties, wake up in the morning and think, “What do I want to wear today?” If it doesn’t exist, I just make it…I also challenge myself to find new ways of de-constructing shirts or pants. I don’t follow fashion trends. I think people don’t want to dress for others as much as they’d want to dress for themselves, for how they feel.
So you are actually designing for yourself, or for others?
It may seem somewhat presumptuous of me, but the brand was born in this fashion – for my own personal pleasure. I still follow my own heart and don’t pay attention to trends or to what others are doing. I don’t have a design school education, but have the hands-on experience. However, I listen to my customers a lot, and try to spend as much time as possible in the store, to listen to their ideas. Often, they’ll try on a shirt, have ideas on what they’d like, and many of their ideas are great. My customers have a creative streak and are very open to new ideas, so I value their feedback.
How do you move creatively between the two disciplines – fashion & music? How does the creative process differ between the two? Which one do you prefer?
Even when I write my songs, I always start with images. When I listen to a song, I ‘see’ the music, I see images. For me, both disciplines are completely connected. Just look at music videos today and see how the music is so connected to the images it goes with. Likewise, different fashion styles have their own musical universe and musical influences connected with it. When I hear people tell me that music and fashion have nothing to do with each other, and that I’m spreading myself thin, to the contrary, I think it’s a common universe, it’s my universe. There’s nothing distracting about moving from one to the other, it actually gives me some balance…
How did you start your music career?
I started singing at 5-6 years old, in elementary school. I would do my own little shows at the cafeteria while others were eating, I knew at that age that I wanted to be a singer. I took music and voice lessons. Got them for free, because they all saw something in me. Then I started performing musical theater through high school, after which I left the countryside and moved to Paris.
I was quickly scouted by the TV Show “Star Academy” (similar to your version of “American Idol”) where I finished as a finalist (second to the winner). Then I got out a single, started my own music label, and voila…So music has always been part of my life. Being a singer was pretty much a given, not a choice…
How do you approach fashion design, what inspires you? How has your design evolved over the last few years?
I don’t look to fashion for inspiration, but seek inspiration from my experiences: listening to music and the images it creates in my mind. I’d look at something like the silver border of a coffee cup, and then wonder how that would look as a collar for a tee-shirt…I keep images in my mind, then try to render them in clothing – not always easy. I’m often inspired by shapes and optical illusions which I then transpose to clothing — I’ll see someone from far away, and say “wow, it’s great what they’re wearing”; then when I get closer, it’s not at all what I was expecting to see…Take for example, the shirt with the wrinkled collar: one day, I saw a guy wearing a white shirt and a white scarf, and I thought, from far away, that it was a single piece of clothing – it was not. And I thought,”I have to make something that combines both, so I did.” I take a little inspiration from people in the street, also.
In the beginning, I did a lot of club wear: sleeveless shirts, crazy colors, big designs. I did the same thing every newbie designer does: crazy colors, with crazy cuts, with crazy accessories – everything but the kitchen sink, as you’d say… I allowed myself to be somewhat polluted by others’ work, by what other brands were doing. But I realized that each time I did that, it was a failure. In the beginning, it was ‘more is less’, and then you start realizing that ‘less is more’…So I started focusing on a more mature, more discreet audience, whose choices were more sophisticated. I have a style, I own it, but now I don’t scream it.
What has been the biggest growth challenge for you, as a designer and musician?
In both disciplines, it’s somewhat personal, has a lot to do with my own idea of what is a musician and designer. I love what I’m doing. I hear so many people around me say “I’m a singer”, “I’m a fashion designer”, and it’s not so much the case. I think that before saying you’re a ‘creative’, you must step back and really consider, if, in effect, you really created something, if you deserve that title, or if you have the talent. And my greatest challenge is to do what I do, and feel every day that I create something. I have this internal drive to push myself further each day in my designs and my music…and one of these days, I’ll do something that combines both music and fashion…
Who’s your biggest music inspiration?
In music, I’m inspired by sounds, things that I hear around me right and left, unexpected rhythms that I may hear in the street. I take my inspiration more from what’s around me than from people…
If you could do or be anything right now, what would you do?
In the professional realm, I’d want to create an immense complex open night and day, with everything – music, nightclub, hair calon, cinema, bar, sports club – sharing the same musical vibe and look-and-feel. I have a certain environment in mind. Otherwise, I would create a huge center that helps the homeless, people and animals together. A place where they can help each other, a sort of refuge for lost people and animals. It might sound a bit cheesy, but really, this is what I’d do, all being equal and possible.
France and US. – different languages, of course, do they speak the same design languages? What do you see as the biggest differences between the two countries?
There’s a huge difference in perception. The same thing worn in France by a specific type of customer, would appeal to an absolutely different one in the U.S. Take the [men’’s] harem pants, for example: here [in the U.S.] they’re more popular with the rapper, hip-hop community, but in France, it’s the edgy fashionista crowd that really embraces them. I think France is ahead in some areas, and the US in other areas, but they balance each other out, there’s a real back-and-forth between the two. Basically, it comes down to this: France is a single market, from North to South, where everyone is pretty much the same, everyone wears the same thing. In the US, from one side of the country to another, it’s not the same thing, there are so many differences. In the US, people look at a piece of clothing and appreciate its value, its utility, what it brings first, whereas in France, people are more focused on beauty and form of the garment, then worry about its utility. In the U.S. form follows function, whereas in France, where we’re used to kings wearing panty hose, function follows form…
Photos: Matthieu Dortomb