view on
— You've been to Almaty several years ago...
— Ten years ago!

— And how has it changed?
— Dramatically! When I was here last time I remember shopping malls, casinos, plasma screens; People are much more fashionable now. It's much more built up, and I like all the public art. You could feel the energy, and the power of youth — it seems young people here are really moving the industries.

— You are a fashion icon and critic at the same time, and we are interested in how you combine the two, and what is the source of inspiration for your style?
— My look has been fairly consistent, but subtly evolving for several decades. So whatever inspirations I may have at some point, are not really conscious — they come from my internal world rather than external influences. I don't look up to films, designers or magazines to help me get dressed in the morning. To be honest, I don't think about my style, and it is for others to interpret it however they want. Personally, I suppose I think of it as elegant, simple and austere. To me, my look is very normal. But I know that it may shock people who are used to seeing most everyone else in the world dress in a very similar way. I remember when I first moved to Paris 25 years ago, I could not believe how people stared. Coming from New York where anything goes and nobody really cares, it was a pretty uncomfortable feeling. I asked a friend why they stared, and he said: "because you are different, and it scares them". It was a far cry from what one imagines from a distance Paris to be like. The truth is that I don't dress to please anyone but myself.
— We noticed you are using an image of a spider in your looks a lot. That reminded us about a wonderful artist Louise Bourgeois, and her use of spiders. Spider is one of the central elements in her work, and she has several interpretations for it, one is a symbol of her mother, another is a protective totem against bad things. Are you somehow inspired by her work?
— Yes, she's a wonderful artist. Actually it's quite funny, I can't take the full responsibility for the spiders because Mario Salvucci is the real designer behind these wonderful accessories. He is Italian, but used to live in New York, when I was a designer in New York in the 80's. He would design accessories for my collections for years, and then he moved back to Perugia and was doing lights, kind of ornaments for the wall — abstract flowers casting beautiful shadows, and I was really missing his jewellery. So, a couple of years ago he relaunched his collection inspired by me and came up with the spider, but it was more his idea, I can't take credit for it. I love them, I wear them everywhere, because I also really like one ancient story about a spider. There was a man on his way to a purgatory, he committed some crimes and was condemned, but as he was walking, he saw a spider and didn't kill it, so the spider gave him a silk thread to hold on to and pull himself up from the purgatory. The spider could've saved him, but the man got greedy, because other people could climb up this silk thread too, and he was shaking them off. So, the spider took his thread back and killed the man. The spider, I think, is something quite beautiful and quite lucky, but people would either be very attracted to them, or very repulsed. And that was something, Mario said, some people could see in me, and they are either drawn to me, or are afraid. So for Mario a spider was reflective of me, I guess, and when he made them, I started wearing them regularly. Well, I wear them big, but recently he made smaller versions, so that anyone can wear them. He calls them "lucky spiders", and he is, of course, very inspired by Louise Bourgeois, and I appreciate her greatly. I remember seeing her big spider at the exhibition in Seoul, and also, I think, in Bilbao.

— Some of them are moving with exhibitions. The one comes to mind was right at the entrance of Tate Modern, so you had to walk under it before you could come inside.
— Yes, I remember seeing that one too. So, I love the spiders.
— Why did you leave fashion design for documentary filmmaking?
— Well, it wasn't that I lost interest in designing, I was living in New York and designed for my own brand for 13 years, but around 1987 things changed a lot. It seemed like 80 or 90 percent of the community in my neighbourhood were dying of AIDS, it was epidemic. They let a lot of mental patients out of the hospitals, they were all living in the streets, in the bulks; crack was a very big drug at the time. At first you felt very compassionate, but after a while you realised you had rights, too. Did I really have to walk out of my door and see someone smoking crack at 12 o'clock in the afternoon in front of my door? As for a designer, that was not very inspiring. It took me four years to leave, I had people depending on me, working for me, it was my home, my life. But I just thought: «I can't live like this». I couldn't walk on the street any more, I had to take a taxi, it's not like New York now, this was New York before Giuliani (mayor of New York — Etage) changed the city, it was really hard core. People would get mugged on the street, but they wouldn't just take the money, they would take their clothes, shoes. I could hear screaming outside my window, and I lived in the West Village, which was always very nice. I just couldn't live like that, I had to leave. So I moved to Paris, because I thought: if I stayed in fashion, where else am I going to be? It was either Paris, London, or Milan. I love Milan, I love Italians, love the food, love everything about it, but it's too small for me, everybody knows everybody there. London is exciting, has a lot of energy, but it's not that exotic, if you are an anglo-saxon. I'm not a francophile and never was, but I thought: ok, I should move to Paris, it's the capital of fashion. I had nothing set up at all. Some journalist found out that I was leaving and wanted to do a story about me. And I couldn't say I was leaving because I couldn't stand the city anymore. I had no plans whatsoever, I was just getting out, I was jumping off the bridge, that's how strategic I was — I just wanted to leave. So I said: "My passions have always been very appealing to Europeans", which was true, but because I imported all of my fabrics, they were so expensive, that I turned out to be 3 times more expensive over there — I cost more then huge brands that paid for advertising. So I said that I was going there to set up my business, but it wasn't really true. I just couldn't say I was leaving with no plans and was going to see what happens.
— And how did the idea of documentary filming come about?
— My degree is in film making.

— So you had a degree in filmmaking even before you started your fashion brand?
— Yes, but at the time when I was studying film, everybody wanted to be a director. Everybody can't be a director, but everybody wants to. Film is a team effort, it's not one on one kind of thing. And at that time I didn't really want to work with a team. I wanted to do everything myself. It was my ego, I guess, I'm not like that anymore, but that's how it was. I said ok, I'm going to do reportage photography, I like documentary, I like real life, I can shoot, I can process, I can control the situation. I did that for a while. I was living in New York with a boyfriend then, who was also a photographer, so I was using his dark room, it was when people were printing photos, this is ancient history now. I don't think it's ever a good idea that two people living together are doing the same thing. I remember we went out to dinner one time, and I said: ''You know, I don't want to do this anymore, because every time I pick up a camera, I get sick to my stomach, and it should be a pleasure, whatever you do should be
a pleasure''. And he said: "Why don't you do something obvious?" And I said: "Like what?", because I haven't thought of anything else. And he said: "Like fashion". And then the lightbulb went off, and I thought, when I was younger I always wanted to be a fashion designer, but I couldn't draw well, and I still don't. Illustration teacher used to call my work "very spontaneous", it was not very controlled. I thought, if I couldn't draw, I couldn't be a fashion designer, and, of course, it wasn't true, it's the ideas that count, although the more skills you have the better. So I went to school for 9 months to Parsons and FIT, but then I decided if I stayed there any longer I would lose all interest in designing, so I quit. I opened my own business, and I just learnt as I went, with no previous experience. But I must've done something right, because it worked for thirteen years in New York, and I even expanded to Tokyo for five years, but then I moved and abandoned it.

— Was Paris a new start for you?
— Yes, and a very hard one. The first three years were a kill- er. I knew only one person there at the time I moved. It was very difficult. I had money that lasted for a year, that should've lasted for three. I thought things would move like in New York, like with- in a year you could find your place. But in Paris it was more like three years, I was foreign, and they didn't want me there, they have a very different work ethic. I was used to working at a particular pace, but it seemed all they did was smoke and drink coffee. And in France, if you pass a three months trial period, you have a job for life. So they don't want you there. I felt like a fashion accessory in Paris, they would gladly invite me home for dinners, which is very different to New York, where you would always meet in a restaurant, but would never help me get work. But i've been there for 24 years, I got through it.

— What do you consider home now?
— Paris for 24 years now, I've lived there longer then I lived anywhere else. It's a beautiful city, it's nice, it provides a very good quality of life. Of course, it's not perfect, people don't smile a lot, they are negative by nature and arrogant. Always stressed for no reason. But once you get used to that, it's ok. Also, if you have a French friend, it lasts for life, even though it might build slowly at first. In New York you can meet someone for 2 seconds and become friends, but it might not last.


— How did you come up with the idea of ASVOFF?
— First of all, since I was a child, there were two things I loved — fashion and film. I remember first movies I saw in a drive-in cinema, wearing my pyjamas, on the back seat of my parents' car — they were the Disney Princesses movies like Cinderella, and Bambi. I used to collect movie magazines, I was obsessed with movies. But I was also obsessed with how I looked and dressed. I was into pink girlie stuff, ruffles, and all those things. As I mentioned before, I put fashion aside at first and studied film, but I couldn't work in a team, and wasn't drawing well enough for fashion. After being a designer for thirteen years in New York, moving to Paris, it was very difficult to figure out what I wanted to do. I didn't want to start my fashion business with nothing. I had no investors, and I just couldn't give it my whole being, I wasn't ready for that.

by Kathryn Ferguson
I would take any job at that point, it wasn't a matter of ego. My first job in Paris was an assistant producer at CBC, which actually meant being an on-camera person. That job was, sometimes, just guarding tripods for the cameraman because, say, you have a TV show, but the cameraman has to be at Dior show at the same time, so somebody has to watch the tripod for three hours. I did that, I didn't mind. I always say to my interns: "Wherever you go, you do whatever is necessary with a smile, and no attitude, and you'll notice your quick advancing, because people pick up on it", and they love me for it, they never want to leave. The other day I was at a photo shoot, and there was an intern — the most arrogant person, who felt like that job was beneath him, and when I spoke with the art director after, I said that I would never hire that person, because of the attitude. I believe that if you are nice to people, you rise, which is natural. I am always really good to my interns, too. A bunch of them are coming back now for my festival.

So, back to how the festival came about. In February of 2005 I was commissioned to do a road movie for the brand Eley Kishi- moto that was launching its menswear collection at the Gambo Rally, which is a car-race that goes 3 000 miles for 6 days. I've just started my blog then, so I live blogged the whole trip, it was before Twitter, and I showed the film to my contributor in LA, and he suggested to screen it in LA, but I didn't want to show just my film, so we decided to put together a festival. Again, knowing nothing, within 3 months, from May to August 3rd, I put together a festival.

I could never do that again. Now we need at least a year. But it was more like a curated program, than festival. But that was the beginning of ASVOFF. Nobody knew what the fashion film was then, and it's not like they never existed before, there were short films by Avedon and many others, but it never existed as a genre, so we always had to explain. I am still explaining what a fashion film is. But as you may have noticed, during the past three years every single brand, whether it's an independent designer or a major brand, has fashion films. So I kind of pioneered this particular form of expression.

— Which films, and in what context, have influenced your own appreciation of fashion?

— I remember seeing Anna Magnani in a black slip in The Rose Tattoo with her hair all a mess like she just rolled out of bed. I loved it, and it got me hooked on wearing black slips. I loved Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour with Catherine Deneuve and Picnic at Hanging Rock by Peter Weir; that was a period when I was into wearing only Victorian white lace. In Fellini's Juliette of the Spirits the costumes were amazing. I enjoyed the vision of fashion through the eyes of William Klein's Who Are You Polly Magoo? and Michelangelo Anto-
nioni's Blow-Up. Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant was like Cecil B. DeMille on acid. Directors like Joseph Losey, Alfred Hitchcock, Visconti, Pasolini, Peter Greena-way understood the power of fashion. Can you imagine a film like Night Porter by Liliana Cavani starring Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bgarde without such strong fashion sense? What would Death in Venice or Draughtsman's Contract have been like with banal clothes?

— Do you have a supreme idea of how ASVOFF should develop in the future or influence the society?
— The thing that always interested me, no matter what I've done, whether it was fashion, design, making films, or creating platforms like fashion blogs, was the window to creativity around the planet, not just its major capitals. I never wanted to be known as a New York designer, I wanted to be a designer. And my blog is separated from many others because it is international, I have satellite people everywhere. The festival is also set to promote talent and to network. One time we had winners of the festival from Riga, which is hardly a fashion capital, or from New Delhi — an Indian director who also showed in Paris and London. I just want to find talent wherever it is, and help connect them with producers, distributors, designers, and brands.

— In your opinion, is fashion film closer to advertising or to art?
— It's both. The idea of the festival is to show the diversity, with which you can express fashion. And, of course, fashion is influenced by art, music, film, theatre, dance, and all of those elements are involved in films. We get some advertising films, that's not the majority of submissions, but they exist, and there are many others. Some made for brands, some are commissioned, some are just somebody's idea how to express fashion. The criteria that I judge upon always varies. Does it touch me? Does it hit a cord on any level? And it could be anything: a cartoon, a documentary, a fiction, or even just plastic art. Fashion has to be the protagonist in some way, because if you have a great film, but the fashion side is crap, I can't read it as a fashion film. But if the film techniques and the fashion are working together in some way, it could be a fashion film. It's very open.

— So there is no particular criteria for a fashion film?
— No, it's very open. And that' what I like about it. Finding your own boundaries.

— What factors do you see influencing the rising popularity and sophistication of fashion films?
— There is a need for a new way of presenting fashion and catwalk shows, that to me feel very last century for the past few years. Of course, there are exceptions like Undercover, McQueen or Galliano, but for the most part, I think, brands would be better served with film and installations. It's not that designers have never used films before in place of shows, but it is more recognised as a valid way to communicate, and the obvious difference is that rather than showing your work to 200 people, 6 000 can view it in just one day. Gareth Pugh's experiments in the past couple of seasons are good examples of that. Fashion demands movement, and although I love a beautiful spread in a magazine, I also enjoy seeing things that a frozen fashion image cannot provide.
— How does the Internet change fashion?
— It took some of the power away from the old gatekeepers, who used to guard fashion, and made it accessible to anyone with an interest in fashion. With live streaming, attending shows isn't quite as important as it once was. The old way of presenting fashion to an exclusive few is over. Shows, with of course a few strong exceptions, are losing their power to make us dream. On the other hand, there are Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten, and a few others, who offer a magical quality that can only be fully appreciated when one is present at a show. But for the most part, walking up and down the catwalk just doesn't do it for us anymore. The real reason that most people need to attend shows now is to be seen themselves. To be seen is to be important enough to be in a good seat or to be seen outside a show to be photographed for their style to be documented and disseminated around the world. Either way, ultimately, it is more about self-promotion than about experiencing what is being presented by the designer.

— You also have a big experience in writing for magazines, right?
— Now I have a column in Shanghai, before I was a digital fashion reporter for Joyce, Elle France, and Vogue Paris. I fell into writing by accident, when a Japanese magazine called Composite asked me to do a story. This led to more writing gigs for elle. com and even Joyce magazine in Hong Kong, where I became the fashion editor. In 2005, I met this model in Milan and she asked me if I would be interested in trying out this new software called life-blogging. There were blogs at the time, but few covered fashion, so I decided to go for it. I liked the freedom of writing online. I am more image-driven — I don't think of myself as a great journalist — so blogging was perfect. I have never monetized it, nor do I plan to.

— We also heard that you have launched a perfume?
— Yes, in collaboration with Celso Fadelli, CEO of the perfume company Intertrade. It's a line of four fragrances: To Be Hon-est, Wanted, Shaded, and In Pursuit of Magic. To Be Honest is kind of a more spiritual side, and In Pursuit of Magic, is kind of hypnotic, Shaded is kind of a memory of salt on your skin, which is swept away, and Wanted is very sensual, with a bit of a leather note.

— Who, in your opinion, are the most innovative fashion designers and filmmakers today?
— My criteria for such a selection includes things like: do they express a personal vision through their designs; do they pay great attention to cut and fabrication; are they designing for a real client; do they take full advantage of the countless techniques and finishings available; have they researched the daily lifestyle of the client they are attempting to target and so on. Although fashion can be a fantasy on one level, they should never forget that designing fashion is about translating brilliant ideas into real products. Very few fashion designers thrive or even survive of seeing fashion purely as art.

Personally, I am always attracted to elegance, but these days there are so many interesting categories like luxury sportswear, innovative and modern collections that focus on the hidden de- tails, the quality of the textiles and, most importantly, the cut. And I think it is always important, when looking at a designer's proposal, to consider whether it is merely fashion, or whether it is something that can be relevant in terms of style. Fashion is something that has an expiration date, whereas style can go on forever and is personal — and has nothing to do with the price. Take for example, a designer like Dries Van Noten, whose work is timeless and although we call it fashion, it is really more about style. Christopher Kane, by contrast, changes his signature almost every season — that is definitely more about fashion. Other timeless designers for me are: Rick Owens, Bernhard Willhelm, Haider Ackermann, Boudicca, David Szeto.

For Fashion films, the criteria is much the same as I expressed above for fashion designers. Mike Figgis, always because he is a brilliant director and I still never can get enough of his work. Established fashion film directors like Bruce Weber and Ellen Von Unwerth always inspire in their very different styles. Newer on the fashion film scene are Mert and Marcus that work with elegance, humor and glamour, Marie Schuller got her training at SHOWstudio where she still works, but has managed to carve her own unique signature with fashion film, Stuart Blumberg has a very cinematic approach to fashion film, Jason Last is a favorite, Jessica Mitrani, I can keep going on and on, but I'll stop here.
Interview: Étage Magazine
Date: April, 2015