The recently-opened exhibition “IT’S MY OWN, AN EVERYDAY FASHION STORY” on former Belgian label OWN, running till June 2018 at MAD Brussels, is not a retrospective. It’s just not. Even if there are archive pieces on display. Walk back with us: OWN was a Brussels fashion label and store founded by prolific French designers Thierry Rondenet & Hervé Yvrenogeau. Between 1999 and 2007 they forged wardrobes for men and women, placing question marks behind established fashion codes and norms. For fourteen years, they also shaped the minds of young creative power like LVMH prize winner Marine Serre as educators at La Cambre. Many high-profile collabs later (Margiela, Balenciaga, Gaultier, adidas, Vuitton, Acne…) they are currently prepping the arrival of a brand new fashion BA for the French Fashion Institute in collaboration with the Chambre Syndicale de la couture Parisienne, which they will be helming in the future.
Looking to put on an expo, OWN invited a range of creative spirits – from florist Thierry Boutémy to designer Mariam Mazmishvili and footwear designer Joachim de Callataÿ to name a few – to delve into their archives and reinvent them in a new vein. Among this talented swirl, the singular photographer and DOP Nicolas Karakatsanis (whose current exhibition 'DISGRACERS' at Alice Gallery is still a marvel not to be missed) & his partner, talented director Leonardo Van Dijl, shine most alluringly. This ‘Everyday Fashion Story’ is a journey into the manifold manifestations of fashion, from the everyday object to the desired fantasy. As objects of artistic interpretation or as pieces of mere cloth, fashion has always had the power to transform and subvert and who better than the poetic eye of Nicolas Karakatsanis meets Leonardo Van Dijl to add new dimension in the form of 11 ineffable portraits?
On two separate occasions, KNOTORYUS sat down with both the OWN founders Thierry & Hervé as well as Nicolas & Leonardo to get into the dynamics of each duo, looking in to move ahead, the fashion industry’s challenges and how to create timeless (fashion) imagery.
THIERRY & HERVÉ
Interview by Immi Abraham
KNOTORYUS: Thierry and Hervé, how did it make you feel to see your work reinterpreted by all of these different artists?
THIERRY RONDENET: “What I’ve experienced is a mixture of surprise and a sort of rediscovery of our work. The contributors had carte blanche, resulting in total freedom that’s still tethered to our universe. For example, our collaboration with Nicolas Karakatsanis and Leonardo Van Dijl: Nicolas had never even heard of OWN before so it was nice to have Leonardo go through our archives and make a selection and have them shoot everything without Hervé and I there. They were in Senegal working on a movie and they talked about creating some of the images there. It’s very interesting because it represents a different journey into our work.”
HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “The main thing for us was to present a different look at what we have done in the past. The final selection on display ended up being very random because it was completely not up to us, but decided by the people who donated their clothes back to us.”
THIERRY RONDENET: “We didn’t have a single piece left from our OWN collections. We had to phone friends asking for their OWN garments and we made a selection. It was nice to see what they had decided to keep, it speaks to what they love.”
KNOTORYUS: You weren’t looking to be nostalgic about your work with this expo, but did all of these donations bring back certain memories?
THIERRY RONDENET: “Nostalgia wasn’t the game, but when you receive all of these garments and go through all of the pictures and show invitations, it can be difficult, actually. It’s not easy to take a look at your past, especially when you want to say something different for the future. Like a love story, sometimes you just want to change the narrative.”
KNOTORYUS: Was the non-retrospective route a conscious decision from the jump?
THIERRY RONDENET: “We just didn’t have the archives for a retrospective, but even if we did, I don’t think we would have gone for it. I can understand a Balenciaga or Dior retrospective because when you look at the garments, they’re something extraordinary. Our work is very much an ‘everyday fashion story’.”
HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “Nicolas actually wanted to buy some of our clothing but he didn’t know we weren’t producing anything anymore. (laughs) I was very surprised, because he’s so very precise in his clothing, he’ll have on a nice Berluti jacket... I was very pleased by that, some stuff is fifteen years old but there’s still a sensibility about them that looks good today.”
THIERRY RONDENET: “It’s nice that it still provokes desire, even in an exhibition.”
KNOTORYUS: What drew you to want to work with Nicolas and Leonardo, specifically?
THIERRY RONDENET: “We discovered Nicolas’s work a few years ago and bought one of his pictures. When you see his art, it’s not really fashion photography. It’s deeper.”
HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “His art is about the human body, the corporal, and colours. Those are related to fashion, in a way and we love the way Nicolas and Leo work together, it’s very poetic, painterly and with a lot of sensitivity.”
KNOTORYUS: How did you feel when they presented their works to you?
THIERRY RONDENET: “It was amazing, sometimes I didn’t even recognize the clothes.”
HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “And it didn’t matter.”
THIERRY RONDENET: “Also, to see it on new casting was quite special.”
HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “We were just proud that they accepted our invitation.”
KNOTORYUS: The results are quite extraordinary. What would you like the people who visit the expo to experience or take away from their visit?
THIERRY RONDENET: “We want to widen the scope in which people see fashion. It’s not just about glamour, it can be, but it can also be something mundane. It can be a drawing on a vase with Thierry Boutémy flowers. It can be a choreography workshop.”
HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “The expo is more about creation, it’s not about a new it-bag or a new campaign, but it’s more about creation through clothing.”
KNOTORYUS: And collaboration.
THIERRY RONDENET: “Exactly.”
KNOTORYUS: You both taught at La Cambre for over 14 years and you’re now creating a new fashion department in Paris. What is it about working with students that you still love?
THIERRY RONDENET: “It’s just so refreshing. They don’t see fashion history the way we do. They don’t have the kind of boundaries we have because we know more. They’re very ‘décomplexé’, with no hang-ups. Teaching is about following the student and trying to find the best solution so they get their own signature. I prefer them to go off in a direction that I may not understand and finish something of their own. Afterwards, they can always try something else; you need to fail at school sometimes. It’s also really nice to see former students create their own labels, like Marine Serre.”
KNOTORYUS: What do you try to instill in your students the most?
HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “To find their own way.”
THIERRY RONDENET: “It’s about creativity, it’s not about taste. It’s not about what we like or don’t like, we’re not artistic directors for the students.”
HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “School is where you can experiment, lose yourself and find the real you.”
KNOTORYUS: And for the new school, what will your focus be?
THIERRY RONDENET: “We’re focused on creation, because unfortunately a big creative school is missing in Paris. We don’t have anything like Central Saint Martins, La Cambre or the Antwerp Fashion Department. We’re at an important place in fashion right now, it’s about sustainability, the way we live and how it’s problematic. The school will also be more focused on the social and cultural aspects of fashion. We’re starting to develop partnerships with different cultural institutions in Paris such as Palais de Tokyo, Centre Nationale de la Danse.”
HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “Fashion is also about the ways you can nourish yourself to create or to find new ways of expression.”
THIERRY RONDENET: "If you venture outside fashion, it’s easier to find a way to speak about fashion. When ‘fashion’ fits inside fashion, it’s the end for me. It doesn’t make any sense. You feel this in the new generation; they want to do things differently. Things are changing.”
KNOTORYUS: It’s definitely a time of change.
THIERRY RONDENET: “You have to be new, modern, avant-garde every minute and in the end you just can’t keep this up, it’s impossible. You have to create a new rhythm in fashion.”
KNOTORYUS: Is that your hope for fashion? It’s still very hardcore right now.
THIERRY RONDENET: “Yes, exactly. But with a focus on sustainability because fashion is the second-most polluting industry. We need to change a lot.”
KNOTORYUS: You’ve been working together for over 25 years, have you noticed a change in your way of working? Has the dynamic shifted?
THIERRY RONDENET: “No, not that much. For our educational projects, it’s a little different, but for other projects it’s quite the same. It’s the same philosophy.”
HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “What’s interesting about working in a duo; it’s a bit like working in a studio. When you have an idea, you need to express it, develop it and convince the other person. When you’re the sole creator, you just make things and don’t have anyone to mull it over with. On the other hand, you can have a great idea but the other person doesn’t like it, and you have to fight for what you want. It’s really like in a studio, there are other designers there and everybody has a different idea and you bring those together. That’s what I like and prefer. Fashion is very much a team effort.”
THIERRY RONDENET: “That’s why, in the new school, I want to have the students do collective work as well. Because if you don’t understand this, you don’t understand fashion. It’s teamwork. It’s like Li Edelkoort said, it’s a pity that in fashion you don’t have the entire team run out on the runway when the show is over. At the end of the movie, you see the director and then all of the names of the people who worked on it. It would make sense that everyone is out on the catwalk. We know that it’s not one person who made it all happen. But fashion is a bit old-fashioned sometimes.”
HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “You see more of that collective spirit now with Vetements and GmbH.”
KNOTORYUS: Of course that's what you were already doing in 1993 with the precursor to OWN, Union pour le Vêtement.
THIERRY RONDENET & HERVÉ YVRENOGEAU: “Very true!”
NICOLAS & LEONARDO
Interview by Dominique Nzeyimana
KNOTORYUS: Here I am once more.
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: "But in real life, that’s fun."
KNOTORYUS: True, my last interview with Nicolas was via Skype. The three of us have been spending some time together lately preparing for his solo-show 'DISGRACERS' and we discussed a lot, but I'm going to pretend to be oblivious to some things, starting with: how exactly did you two get involved with the 'IT'S MY OWN' expo?
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “Alice van den Abeele mentioned there being an interest by OWN for a collaborative expo in 2018 as they had already purchased some of my work during the ‘Adjusting Infinity’ show at Alice Gallery. I was interested in the fashion angle and that's right about the time I met Leonardo. He had told me about a story concept for a shoot he had in mind and after meeting with OWN, I had a feeling we could bring both stories together. I was looking to create a disconnect between my current show at Alice and the one at MAD, so it’s not just the same pictures. For MAD, the concept was not about anything being staged. For me, it was the right fit to bring Leo into the mix so I could adapt my style and position myself in a more flexible way.”
KNOTORYUS: Leo, what was the original story you had told Nicolas?
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “I thought it’d be cool to do a fashion shoot in the vein of what Balenciaga and Vetements are doing, with a very ambiguous and fluid style. I wanted to approach a shoot from a more theoretical framework: studying how Kate Moss is usually photographed and then do the same with a fifty year-old black man as a subject, for example. That was my concept back then, eventually we ended up someplace else.”
KNOTORYUS: And the OWN story clicked into place with this other one.
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “We were in Senegal because Nicolas was shooting the Koen Mortier film ‘Un Ange’ and I was filming the making-of footage. That was the ideal time to research this shoot. We brought OWN garments with us to Senegal. Eventually we ended up shooting several pictures in Belgium.”
KNOTORYUS: How did the outfit selection work?
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “Thierry and Hervé had an archive available at the museum but there was not as much left when it was my turn to make a selection. Not like the amount they have on show now. I didn’t know OWN that well, I knew the store. They stopped producing when I was a teenager, it was a bit early to get to know them well but OWN was one of those original concept stores, even before ones like Hunting and Collecting.”
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “It’s pretty odd to not have an archive, but they did produce a lot of clothes, not just one season’s worth.”
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “I get it, if you’re just two creators and there's no 'machine'. Raf Simons doesn’t have an archive of his early years either. What was cool was that we were going to Senegal and the OWN collection being very colourful worked well over there. We were wondering if our images would mesh with the expo as a whole. But I had the impression that that was the case. They fit in a dark OWN universe.”
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “I think the pictures are universal enough. The few images that were explicitly about the clothing, Thierry and Hervé didn’t want to use. They were more focused on it not being too much about the garments and more about our world and that we incorporate the feeling of OWN into that. I thought the split would be more even at first. For example, the picture of a guy in the OWN bathrobe? It’s their design but you can hardly see. A few people came up to say they thought that was the most beautiful one, actually.”
KNOTORYUS: We felt the same, that one and the image with the karate suit.
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “We were shooting and all of a sudden these people were out there doing karate at 9 PM. That’s not something you’d instantly associate with Africa. We didn’t want to create these clichéd images, that didn’t fit in the abstraction we were going for. That karate image is so out of focus that you could almost envision the suits being from a fashionable brand too. It could be something OWN had made, a two-piece suit or something. During the image selection process, that was cool to play around with.”
KNOTORYUS: On opening night, I got the “Dominique, do you know who made what?” question about five times and then I said: “You don’t ask Inez & Vinoodh who made what either!”. But I have to ask, how did the collaboration work?
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “Nicolas is so generous to give me credit but if he hadn’t, we would’ve been just as close a couple. But because the visual result is really ‘Nicolas’, for me, it doesn’t matter if I made a certain image, to me it’s still as if he made the picture.”
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “I disagree. To me, it’s not just the execution, it’s about the concept too. And the idea started from what Leo wanted to go for and we took it from there. That’s a big part of it. If it’s purely about who did what, then I may have done more lighting and photography, but Leo found the models, went to the archives, picked out the clothing, did the styling. That’s just as much part of what is being shot. If you change the outfit, you get a different picture. I understand Leo thinking that he didn’t do much in that sense but that’s not actually the case, because you start with the people and the clothing. I think it’s a perfect split in that sense. I could perfectly envision us collaborating again.”
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “We’re able to talk things through. The credit doesn’t matter that much to me, but I know that in a context like this one, we’re a good team and I’m able to contribute something. For his personal work he wants to make his own decisions, which I had to learn to respect. But in the future, I’d like to collaborate like this again. "
KNOTORYUS: You are a film director by trade, but you’ve got experience when it comes to styling, how did that start out?
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “I was a photography intern at Vice and I became a fashion intern when I was 18, but that was more because I didn’t want to leave. I helped out other stylists at first, which made it easier for me to start styling myself because I got to know which brands to use and which not to. I learned a lot from that experience about fashion and aesthetics, but things change so rapidly. There are very few things I styled back then that I’d still put in my portfolio because so much of it has become outdated. That taught me the difference between trends and fashion.”
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “It also depends on the visualization. The clothes can become outdated but the way they have been presented can be modern.”
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “And vice versa. That’s what I liked about working with Nicolas, because I knew that I need to place the fashion in the background, actually. Some of the images I prefer over others, for example the image of the girl in the yellow dress: from a fashion photography standpoint, I feel like it all really comes together well. I think that that image will still look good in ten years.”
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “That’s why, going forward, I’m curious to see in which different ways – whether it’s fashion or music – we could work together again.”
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “But it’s not like we’re ‘Van Dijl & Karakatsanis’ now.” (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: Nicolas, Thierry and Hervé mentioned you asking whether a certain piece was for sale. I had to laugh, because I know you can be such a supporter of the arts. I remember a couple of years ago when you did a shoot I produced and styled, you ended up buying several pieces from one of the designers -Devon Halfnight Leflufy- whose graduation collection among others we were shooting. Which OWN garment did you want to take home this time?
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “We dropped by MAD Brussels the morning of the press conference and I thought the mis-en-scene was very nice, I liked how Thierry and Hervé had covered their clothes in transparent wrapping plastic, I thought the combination of that was beautiful. For me, clothes can be something of a sculpture or object. There was also a big bath towel in the window display at MAD, I thought that was a really beautiful piece.”
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “I want that one.”
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “I think it was Hervé who said he was fascinated by bath towels. By the way, did you hear about how his and Thierry's portraits came together?”
KNOTORYUS: I thought they were great, so I'd love to hear this story.
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “Nicolas was asked to shoot a portrait of them and I remarked: “Wouldn’t it be nice if you positioned them as a mirror image, back to back?”
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “We tested with ourselves as models first.”
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “And that looked good. So we ended up shooting Thierry and Hervé like that, we both took pictures.”
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “The concept was yours, I executed it technically and then we fine-tuned it together.”
KNOTORYUS: Super collaborative.
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “When I look at those portraits, I don’t think I’d say: I took that picture."
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “The production and styling that went into it isn’t really my thing. You take charge of that, which makes it so that you start influencing the end result. With me, it’s more: “Oh, you’re wearing that? Okay, then we’ll work with that.” When I just do it on my own then it’s more of a gut feeling and less prepared. With Leo, things have been decided conceptually, the basics, and there’s more thought going into the clothing. I have some basic ideas on the matter, but I’m not giving a story to the person I’m photographing. Leo gives them an idea of what it will generally end up like. It’s a totally different way of working, really.”
KNOTORYUS: Is that you saying Leo is more sociable?
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “For sure. With me, there’s also of a lack of fear which makes me believe things will end up alright. With Leo, the preparation comes more out of a fear of not ending up with anything.”
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “That’s due to being a film director. If someone forgot to bring something but you need it, then you can go look for it but meanwhile everyone’s standing there and you are losing money.”
KNOTORYUS: Have you been photographing for a long time, Leo?
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: "I always shoot things on my iPhone. I should really shoot more in real life. It’s a dream, but I don’t dare approach it too much. I find it even hard to talk about."
KNOTORYUS: If life has taught me anything is that you need to speak out your dreams and aspirations, Leo. Sorry for that little Oprah-moment, but it's true.
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “At my first job I was working with photographers more advanced than me and I didn’t want to portray myself as one. It’s easier to pigeonhole yourself into “I do fashion”.
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “Because we got to know each other really well this past year, at many different points in time I’ve seen that, just as much with an iPhone as with cameras, Leo has a very specific eye and when he shoots by himself, he works in a totally different way, it’s much more composed. There’s a lot more control, almost wanting to see the finished image on his screen when the picture was just taken. With me, it’s very different. I know on the spot if I have something to work with, but there’s still a second stadium of discovery that involves colouring and grading. All of that is added on top, and I’m aware of that.”
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “I also literally don’t have the knowledge about certain lenses and stuff. I’m studying up now, but it also means that I aim to go for the perfect image, whereas you know perfectly which material you’re working with, which is why you don’t have to reach for perfection in the moment.”
KNOTORYUS: Does it bother you that you don't have the same technical knowhow as Nicolas? You certainly picked a partner that will make catching up hard.
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “I still let him do his thing, in his time of discovery. He might ask for advice but he will just as much discover it by doing.”
KNOTORYUS: Maybe all that technical knowhow isn’t necessary, if you have your own style. Then that could be more of your thing, rather than trying to cram all of that technical knowledge in your head and maybe lose your voice in the process.
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “It's also because I worked at a place where the ‘fuck technical skills’ mind-set reigned supreme. Technical knowledge can mean different things, it can literally be about lenses and understanding what a diaphragm is, but it also about knowing where to position yourself in a space to capture the lighting you need. I’m lucky my boyfriend is the master. The way Nicolas interprets light, it’s fantastic to watch.”
KNOTORYUS: What’s next for you, Leo?
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “I’m writing a feature film about girls. That's all I can say. It’s very hard, I have to do a lot of research.”
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “You’re at the stage just before the writing of your script, or you’re starting out, right?”
LEONARDO VAN DIJL: “Yes, but I’m slow in that sense because I want to do things correctly and I want to have the perfect scenario and when I know it’s good enough for me, I want to start shooting.”
KNOTORYUS: Nicolas, can we talk about some of the Prada work you did?
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: “Willy Vanderperre shot the campaigns and I was DOP for the film versions he directed. In the Prada showroom in Milan, where they host the runways shows, they put up big prints of all of these drawings and they edited it as if they walk through comic book frames. I recently ran into some people who work for Prada at Willy’s London exhibit and because I was booked on fiction work last year, I couldn't make some Prada-projects Willy asked me for and they told me they missed me. I appreciate how there’s a bit of a family feeling on set, it’s such a big company, but it’s often the same people you deal with. Prada is still family-owned, so you sense they really like get the same people together when possible. So one of the projects I worked on with Willy was just for Instagram, clips of 10 seconds long. They make longer versions but often it’s very short.”
KNOTORYUS: You don’t mind if a client says it’s for Instagram? It’s not: “You know I worked on multiple Oscar-nominated movies, right?”
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: (laughs) "Not at all."
KNOTORYUS: I know when this interview is published you will have done new work directed by Mr. Vanderperre for Signora Miuccia, but the first fashion project he asked you to work on was for Dior when Raf Simons was still there.
NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: "Yes, indeed. That was a bit different. At Dior we had separate dedicated shooting days. But it was also a couple of years ago, so Instagram was less impactful. What I really enjoy about these Prada projects too is waiting to see what Olivier Rizzo does with the collections and how Willy frames everything. I don’t know how other photographers work but once the selection is made on set, those images are literally what you see on the billboards later. I can really recognize the things we shot on set, it’s not as if it’s a totally different photograph. I think that’s just great."
KNOTORYUS: Well, thank you both and Nicolas, I'll be seeing you soon, because there's another great project coming up that we are both working on. So like it or not: we are not done talking.
LEONARDO VAN DIJL & NICOLAS KARAKATSANIS: Thank you!