Following the announcement that Lucas Ossendrijver will be stepping down from his role as artistic director of menswear at Lanvin after thirteen stellar years, we take a look back at his SS18 story for HERO 18, styled by Ossendrijver himself.
James West: I love the way this shoot turned out, the process felt very DIY and old-school, it was tactile and hands-on to make, and that’s a feeling I got from you when you first showed us through this collection. There is so much detail, so much going on under the surface with the pieces, and I wanted to know, where do you start when you work on a collection? Do you start with all those small details and then work outwards to build a show, or do you start from more of a big picture and focus in?
Lucas Ossendrijver: I collect things, and at the beginning of the season – you know I have a wonderful team, the best team in the world I think – we do a lot of research on vintage pieces, on fabrics, on construction, on all sorts of things. So in the beginning it’s always quite wide, I leave things open. We gather images, and swatches and finishings. From there we start creating a story, but it’s never just one specific theme, things gradually fall in place during the season. Fabrics are always the first thing I do because, for me, fabric dictates almost everything. The ‘newness’ comes a lot from there, how we treat them and the way we finish them. And then actually the whole process starts, it’s really intuitive, you take things away if they don’t work, you add things during the season, all of a sudden you find something new or discover something and it’s really about following your intuition and staying open and reacting to what you see in fittings. A lot of the time, when you start with a specific moodboard or theme and then you try to make it happen, well, you know, it often doesn’t work that way. You have something in your head, but the reality of the garment when you see it, it’s maybe not as good. You have to not be afraid to change and tweak things and to go to a different place. For me, it’s all about that process.
“Fabrics are always the first thing I do because, for me, fabric dictates almost everything. The ‘newness’ comes a lot from there, how we treat them and the way we finish them.”
James: You almost have these mini-narratives happening in the collection, there’ll be one piece that has one idea and then there’ll be a sudden run of three other pieces that are all connected differently somehow. Is that a result of that way of working you just described? You’ll have an idea that you think works for those three pieces but it doesn’t have to continue, you don’t have to force it?
Lucas: Yes. You know, in a sense I might not look that way but I’m quite polemic in the way I work, I’m interested in a lot of things. Gradually, those miniature stories sort of create themselves in the collection, I don’t want to be too linear. When I think of our clients, nobody is the same, there are a lot of different demands from a lot of different countries and a lot of different body types. I also like the idea of proposing varied things and different options, what works for one client might not work for another. So I like the idea of generosity actually as a designer towards your customers and towards press. It’s not about having one linear statement because, you know, I think fashion has been about that for a long time. It has had to be as linear as possible for press because it’s easy to understand – in three looks they ‘get’ the collection. But I think in proposing more generous ideas and not being afraid to show different ideas and different options, it keeps it interesting for both journalists and clients. I think also nowadays people are so informed they don’t need soundbites, they don’t need to know in three words what the collection is about, I think they can dig in a bit deeper and discover things. Not everything should be linear, because in life not everything is linear.
James: I always feel that your menswear has a kind of attitude, you know, when you see the casting, the way the guys move, it always feels very fluid. It feels very sure of itself.
Lucas: It’s funny you should say that, I must say we do make a lot of effort on casting. I think the casting, maybe even more so for menswear, is almost more important than the clothes. How the boys walk, their character, what they can pull off, what doesn’t work on them and what does work on them. That’s actually one of the most important stages in the whole process, how things come together in the end. We see, I don’t know, about 400 boys each season, and I spend two or three days casting and it’s just about finding the right character and the right attitude, and also finding the right variety of characters so it’s not all robots, they have an expression and they’re different. That’s really what I’m always looking for, somebody you’ll remember, because you know when you see those boys and they come in and they’re all beautiful and all tall and all skinny, but after ten…
James: It’s like, “I’ve met you before…”
Lucas: [laughs] Yes, like, “Weren’t you here this morning already?” But whenever there’s something a bit off, whenever there is something a bit wrong, or they start talking, or they tell me a story about who they are – all of this, I remember them.
James: And the show looked like a very cohesive whole, even though we have talked about these mini-narratives within the collection. Is that because of the attitude of the casting do you think, or is it styling? How do you make it come together for the catwalk?
Lucas: I think a lot of times when people come before the show and I walk them though all the garments and explain everything, they’re kind of like, “OK,” and then they see it at the show and the experience is completely different. Because you don’t see all the detail, you just get a flavour of it and you just see them from afar. You feel the energy of the show and I think that makes a lot of impact, it keeps a lot of it all together. It’s the way we style it, and the way we put it together, we can have a lot of different stories, but we try to get something cohesive in the end, even though, you know, we could go from one thing to another, there’s still a certain kind of unity that we try to find.
James: And you’ve obviously got a team you’ve worked with for a while and I felt like the night before the show everything was super calm. At the run-throughs before the show everyone was super chilled out and just focused on getting things right and it’s quite a different scene from a lot of shows, where everyone’s kind of crazy and stitching stuff together at the last minute. Do you always work that way, is it always so relaxed, is that important to you?
Lucas: Yeah! Of course, some seasons are more difficult than others and some seasons you’re not quite ready, or some seasons you’re not as sure, so you’re searching. But what’s important for me is to have an atmosphere that’s open and creative, where people don’t feel afraid to talk. Whenever there is tension and stress that’s negative, I close in and I close off. I can’t function. So for me it’s important to have, at least you know, an ambience, to have an atmosphere that’s positive and good. And I think also it’s just fashion in the end, we work very hard during the season and it’s a lot of work, but it’s just bloody clothes, you know? So in the end there is one moment when you have to let go, and for me that moment is always just before the show, when we do rehearsal. You can tweak the last things, you can make the last-minute changes, but one minute before the show you realise, OK there’s nothing more we can do, we’ve done our best, we really gave everything, it’s done, you might as well try and enjoy it now. That’s the moment when I really let go, it’s out of my hands. That’s also why after the show there’s always such a relief you know [laughs]. It’s a strange kind of peaceful moment.
James: So you had this twisted cut on a lot of the pieces, that made them move around the body. Where did that idea come from? It seems relatively simple, but is it?
Lucas: It looks simple. When I look at research, and I look at old photographs, I am more interested when things are a little bit off and a little bit awkward. Then you try to achieve that, but a lot of the time it feels forced and not believable. So it’s always about finding that balance of what is real and what is too much, what could a guy wear without looking ridiculous? For me that’s always the hardest thing, when do you stop and when is it enough? But the twist thing is something I’ve been working on for several seasons and it comes back because it’s something that I think is still a way to create newness, especially this season when we tried the knitwear, it was really the idea of taking a t-shirt, something everybody wears, and trying to translate it in a bit more of a luxurious way – so we did it in knitwear and we just started draping and twisting.
James: And you also had those prints of faces on some pieces.
Lucas: Yes. Some of my assistants in the studio just went onto the street with a camera, and took pictures of random people, tourists, secretaries, the bankers in the street near here. And then we went to Montmartre and had those pictures painted by street artists. We took those and made them into prints – it’s not like the most visible thing on the catwalk, but they are things that are there, that are inside, people have to look for them and there’s a story behind it. That’s what I like about it: behind all the looks there’s a mini story.
“When I look at research, and I look at old photographs, I am more interested when things are a little bit off and a little bit awkward.”
James: I feel like some other designers might take that one idea and really milk it, and make it the whole point of the show, add a bow or some styling flourish and it’s done.
Lucas: Yes, but for me it’s not important that everybody sees every story, it’s not in your face. To be honest, we had more of those pieces that were more extreme and we took them out because you try to erase references that are too literal, we always try to go back and make it about something else, and make it about the brand and not so much about the inspiration of the season.
James: I saw you’ve said that you don’t mind the idea that the industry is speeding up, does that make you even more committed to this idea of subtleties somehow?
Lucas: Yeah absolutely, I think that’s very true. It’s so easy to get caught up and sucked up in the system. But every time I’m here in my office, even when I think about the building I’m in – I’m two floors below the bespoke made-to-measure department – I’m like, “Ok, this is where we come from, this is what we’re about.” So in the way we work we have to take in everything that’s present, everything that’s of today, but at the same time it’s about giving meaning to the heritage and giving meaning to the brand. It’s really about the clothes.
James: Those hand necklaces were quite a moment!
Lucas: [laughs] The fun thing is, hands are also a symbol that come back quite often in the collection, we used them before a few seasons ago but this season we wanted to make them into accessories and also to emphasise that a lot of the things we do are made by hand. So we made those hands, and then we had them 3D-printed and covered in leather.
James: So is it based on someone’s actual hand?
Lucas: No it’s based on a drawing and then we started making 3D printed samples, and then we changed them because they weren’t natural enough. And the funny thing is, it’s done by an artisan in Italy who does an old technique, he makes stationary objects in leather. It’s a really small atelier, and he makes all those things by hand, like boxes and presents. So to use somebody like that, to do something which is more modern and kind of abstract I found very interesting.
James: How did he feel about the brief? Like, “Can you make these tiny hands out of leather?”
Lucas: [laughs] It was a bit odd you know, but I think the end result – taking something artisanal and making it into something more modern – that’s what I like about the job.
James: And I need to ask about the flutes.
Lucas: The bags we used were based on gun holsters. So we looked at holsters and then we developed those bags and I really loved the way they are worn, I loved the way they are on the body basically, but I didn’t want to put a gun inside. And I didn’t want to put in an iPhone or something high-tech. And then I thought about what would be the most silly thing, and at the same time the most poetic, well – a flute. So we bought a wooden flute and customised it. Again, it’s about poetry, it’s about finding poetry in whatever we do, even in those chaotic times.
James: I wanted to ask you about something else. Markets are changing a lot and the way men are buying clothes is changing, especially younger men. Do you feel that?
Lucas: I think it’s a generational thing, what I see is that our traditional customers, who are a little bit older, and who have the money to spend on more expensive items, they still buy the same way. They go into the shop, they need the advice, they need to try it on, they need the fitting and they need the service. But then there is a different generation who are maybe more between 20 and 28 I would say, they buy through the internet, they buy things online, but they buy different things, they buy smaller items, sneakers, t-shirts, but not the bigger pieces. It’s a different kind of customer.
James: I’m intrigued to know how that’s going to evolve.
Lucas: Me too. Also I think the younger customers are not as brand-loyal. I think they buy what they want from one season, then they can switch to another brand. The customers that we’ve had for a long time are much more loyal and they come back for the same thing. I think it’s a very exciting moment because there are a lot of changes going on worldwide and the challenge will be to create loyalty, for a lot of brands. What do you stand for? Who do you speak to? Because I think also nowadays it’s more and more difficult to speak to everybody, you have to be so clear in your message, much clearer than before.
“I think it’s a very exciting moment because there are a lot of changes going on worldwide and the challenge will be to create loyalty, for a lot of brands. What do you stand for? Who do you speak to?”
James: It’s an interesting dichotomy because we were talking earlier about how collections can be more playful and don’t need one single soundbite to describe them, but how can you be super clear in a noisy online space with a message that’s subtle and has lots of levels? How do you think, “OK, we have all these different platforms, all these different people to talk to, we have this message that we need to get out there but at the same time I don’t just want to be like, ‘Hey it’s all about red stripy trousers.’”
Lucas: It’s a very good question and to be honest I don’t have a direct answer. It’s all about the way you communicate. For us, at the moment, we still communicate through the show, because that is the moment when everything is visible – the show is still a central moment. But I also even question that: in the future are we still going to have fashion weeks in every city? Are we still going to see all the journalists move around and during one month look at 80 shows? Is that really still the only way to communicate or should we think of something else? I think all those questions are of the moment and are valid, but for us the show is still the most important thing. Maybe in the future things will change. I think there are a lot of people questioning at the moment and I think it’s an interesting time because of that.
James: I think a lot of brands are tackling it in different ways, some are doing more projects in between the shows, more capsules and collaborations. Is that something you see could be an option for Lanvin?
Lucas: We’ve seen a lot of collaborations and we’ve seen a lot of projects from brands doing things together, or working with artists. I do wonder how long that is going to last, because it’s a lot of marketing and communication. How long are you going to keep the attention of the customers with those kind of things? It’s not a criticism at all – just a question. I don’t know.
James: You must have quite a substantial archive there from your years at Lanvin. I know when we’ve spoken to you in the past you’ve said you’re fascinated by the future, but do you ever have a rummage in there? There must be so many interesting ideas…
Lucas: To be honest no, because the archives are not here in my studio, it’s somewhere in the outskirts of Paris. They keep all the looks from the shows, from when they started. And sometimes I think maybe I should go back and have a look and get those pieces back, because they’re all archived by look, but then when I start thinking about it I find the idea uninspiring and depressing. I prefer to look to the future and to start from zero. I really don’t like looking back because it’s very hard to judge clothes from the past. That’s also why I also find it difficult to go to the museum and look at fashion, because it’s out of context, it’s not of the moment. Once a show is done, it’s already in the past so it doesn’t interest me.
James: Is it literally after the show?
Lucas: It’s the moment it goes into the showroom, which is the day after the show. We do the editing and we do a presentation for sales staff, and merchandising in the showrooms, so everything looks nice and then everything becomes a number and everything has a price and everything has a reference. Then, for me, it’s gone, it’s really gone. I look at it as a product, I don’t see the show anymore and I don’t have the emotional connection – I want to move on.
James: And then you go on holiday. If you don’t mind me asking, do you go to the same kind of place each year?
Lucas: Yeah it’s very boring, I am very boring…
James: [laughs] Yeah me too, it’s ok.
Lucas: I go to Greece and I’ve been going there for about five years, I tried different islands, I have a few favourites.
James: And can you switch off completely?
Lucas: I find that the most inspiring thing actually is to be bored. I go to Paxos and Paxos is a small island with not much to do, there’s not a lot of people, there’s nothing fancy, it’s all small and simple and at the same time I really enjoy just having a different rhythm and having a different routine. You know, go to the village in the morning to have a coffee and do grocery shopping and then go back and then take a nap and then at four you go swimming and then maybe at eight you go to a restaurant or you eat at home. It takes me like four or five days to get into it but once I’m there, my mind starts to wander off and I start to think to note things down. You need the time to be bored, you need the time to not know what to do – to just think.