Dear Diane and Shaded Viewers,
Jean-Pierre Braganza has been a fixture on the London Fashion Week schedule for nearly a decade. Focusing on futuristic digital prints, geometric structure and strong tailoring, the Canadian designer manages to take subjects ranging from faeries to cyber wolds and turn them into a range of wearable yet unique garments, gathering a steady following of devotees along the way. In the following interview, Braganza discusses the inspiration behind his upcoming S/S 13 collection, the beauty of darkness and Freudian theories of creativity...
You first knew that you wanted to do fashion when you started going to runway shows, but was there a certain moment or show in specific that set the ball rolling?
That show in particular, McQueen [pointing to an image of a spray paint covered Shalom Harlow during the S/S 1999 finale on his wall]. It was just groundbreaking. There was something about that particular time that spoke to me and made me want to do it. It was a genuine epiphany; I was studying Fine Arts at York University in Toronto back then. I was chosen to do a solo exhibition in the university hall, but on the day of my show, I found myself more concerned with what I was going to wear that night. I thought to myself, why am I so obsessing over clothes, it's about the artwork. Intuitively, something was telling me to jump boat. But I was very naive to, because I thought, I'd rather be a successful fashion designer than a starving artist. Turns out, it's all a big lie [laughs].
How has your outlook on the industry changed since your runway debut in 2004?
I recently, as in four seasons ago, stepped back. Really, in order to know where you're going, you must know where you've been, like Freud said. I really looked back and concluded that I am more evolutionary than revolutionary. I have rejected that categorising or packaging a season into one particular idea. But there are natural influences and there has to be a cohesion whether I like it or not. Every season has its themes but there are so many facets to the aesthetic of Jean-Pierre Braganza. I choose to constantly explore it in many different ways but always adhering to that idea of evolution. I started out as being rock 'n' roll through and through, even having played drums in a band.
What type of music was it?
Heavy industrial rock. It was such a nothing band though, just me and my mates in high school. But there's always a hard, austere edge to my work because of that heavy metal influence. I'm really harsh in my aesthetics, almost macabre, but you don't see it in the work. Visually, I do like the dark side of life, the aesthetics of the dark and the beauty of things like gargoyles, Renaissance periods and medieval times. There's beauty in anything — that's my philosophy. I get pissed off at bad design, I can't stand it and get very emotional about it, but then I do appreciate things across the spectrum. Regardless of how little creativity there is, I always try to see the beauty in everything.
On that note of past design periods, in your last collection you were referencing Victorian style. What was the idea behind that?
It was an aesthetic choice. I'm a history buff and never really did Victoriana before. God rest his soul, Lee McQueen did it very well, but I wouldn't want to adhere to a theme to that degree. I like to interpret things in my own modern way. The collection started out being very Victorian but as with the nature of my drawing or design, it's constantly evolving as I do it. Maybe it's my Achilles heel, but I don't think a theme should impose itself on the creative process. The process is there for a reason and for artists to develop ideas through it, but I would never want a thought, whether it's a theme or a story, to infringe on not creating something that is beautiful in my mind.
What else inspires you during the creative process?
My religion is Tool. I'm really obsessed with them. The imagery that that band comes up with hits me hard in the heart. H.R. Giger is another hero of mine, Dali of course, the list really goes on. At the moment, I'm delving into abstract art by the very talented Ukrainian artist Zinaida Likhacheva.
She is a beautiful, intelligent woman whom I admire, and our friendship resulted in a collaboration. I'm working on incorporating her unique aesthetic into my prints for S/S 13. She has become my muse and it's amazing to work with such a beautiful and intelligent woman. Her beauty helps my design process. This collection will definitely be for a more mature woman than my previous ones, so the silhouettes will be more accommodating for real women. I'm bringing back some rock elements to it as well, it's going to be a bit more deconstructed than recently. To sum it up: abstract geometry for a modern woman.
Generally in your designs there is a fusion of structured tailoring with futuristic prints. What is it that draws you to this mixture of these almost opposite elements?
Maybe it's ADD, but I don't want to limit myself to one particular aspect of design or aesthetic. I appreciate everything in the history of art and would not want to ever just cover one sole affinity, one sole vision aesthetically or have an empirical vision. I prefer to be more broad in my analysis of the world and interpret a lot of artwork. That can send a mixed message, but I'm lucky because even though I don't feel like I have a distinct style, people do say 'Oh that's very Jean-Pierre' in my approach to design. But to be honest, I've become quite pessimistic in my view of design and art.
Why is that?
We live in a postmodern world that is cannibalising itself. I think we are regurgitating too many ideas, it's stagnant. The only thing that is progressing is technology. And with that there is limitations because we, and especially in my vocation, are limited to just the human form. I used to back in the day, but now I don't like pushing shapes and ideas just for the sake of it. I've evolved into a designer where it has to make sense, it has to have some relationship with the human. It's more about the clothing and finding that intelligence in interpreting something new, or something old and reintroducing it in a new way. That's the responsibility of fashion designers. Some don't really embrace it as opposed to others, but it's crucial to find the client that you design for and to respect them. I didn't from the start, I was quite a dreamer. I designed for the creative journey but then the outcome of that is quite lonely because maybe the odd journalist will think it's groundbreaking or cool but it's just that. That alone doesn't serve a purpose, especially for a guy like me who has created this empire on my own. I wasn't blessed with a silver spoon in my mouth so I had to build it up through blood, sweat and tears and a lot of that is through sales. If it's only groundbreaking, it just won't sell.
What are your thoughts on branching out into Pre-collections? In the retail sense it's quite important but at the same time, this cycle of fashion where you're expected to churn out one thing after the other is a bit insane.
Ideas get diluted and teams will get exhausted. You're absolutely right. It is a sick industry, it's a really fucked up scenario too, doing four collections a year is a genuine mind fuck, especially for a young label. But Pre does make sense financially and it's kind of a simple formula too. You're thinking of a new idea, you subtly introduce it and then in the main line, that's when you truly explore it. It's a bridge really, you amalgamate the bestsellers of the previous season and new ideas of the next season, making it more accessible to the shops. But for the moment, I'm raising my hands and saying I can only do so much. I think it's necessary and healthy to have a life outside of work, yet I'm a walking contradiction because I want it all and to do it all but at the same time still have a life. The truth is, one has to be sacrificed.
Marina Abramovic once did an artist's manifesto stating things such as: the artist should suffer. Do you see yourself as needing a strict space to work in or is it a more organic process?
I've always struggled and I think I always will. That's just the nature of any creative mind. There will always be a struggle no matter what, whether it's monetary of environmentally or really just emotionally. There will always be demons to address and that's kind of how I look at my career. If I weren't working I would just go nuts. And Freud's idea of sublimation, this notion of these inmates addressing their anguish and pain through being prolific in making art, I think that's really in a nutshell what I do. I'm such a workaholic and love doing what I do mainly because it's just me curing my malaise. Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable, as George Barnard Shaw would say. But there is a formulaic way, once the seasons kind of meld into each other and you just get into a routine. I'm fortunate or unfortunate to not have that infrastructure and discipline that some mega houses have. A label like mine is so multi-disciplinary, it goes across the board, we all do everything together and that's what I believe in. I create a seasonal family and just love interacting with them, giving them challenges and giving myself challenges and twisting things up. It's part of that process of building collections that I really love. Obviously I'm a benevolent tyrant, I micro-manage, but I do oversee everything. I'm always here, but it's what I love to do.
Read the full interview here.