“I was thinking of his pictures as a window into the past of a character for my show,” says Dilan Lurr, creative director of Belgian brand Namacheko, of his recent FW20 collaboration with renowned US photographer Gregory Crewdson. “It was very much informed by his work, but also by what he is inspired by, movies like Blue Velvet, or the melodrama of Hitchcock. These are very central in his work and his artistic reference so I just followed reference points in his work to do the collection.”
Weaving characters and stories into its collections, Lurr’s aesthetic and design ethos finds harmony in Crewdson’s framing of a ‘perfect, still world’ – positioning and capturing dreamlike, cinematic stills of suburban and natural world America. Though they flirt with a flavour of the mise-en-scene, divorced from context, Crewdson’s pictures are unapologetically committed to the singular moment. Caught in an obscurity between the strange and familiar, his images land themselves firmly in the camp of the surreal.
Namacheko’s FW20 pieces feature works by Crewdson curated by Lurr to create stories that speak to the garment they are cast across (for example, the lonely beauty queen translated into an angora knit with diagonal cable pattern representing a pageant sash), while the accompanying campaign has been captured by MFA students in the Photo Dept. of the Yale School of Art where Crewdson is a professor and director. Not only does the collection fuse generational and cultural influences, it exhibits a neoteric union between fashion and photography. Despite its poetic title, Somnambulism (sleepwalking, in honour of Gregory Crewdson’s ethereal mindset), there’s nothing sleepy about this collection.
Below, we speak to both Lurr and Crewdson about their FW20 Namacheko collaboration.
Stevie Cannell: Talk me through the collaboration process.
Gregory Crewdson: Dilan approached me out of the blue and I was immediately fascinated, firstly because I had no direct link to the fashion world because I am operating in a very different realm. It could actually be argued that I am the least fashionable person in the world – certainly during the pandemic.
GC: Yes, literally! [both laugh] But due to my disconnect from fashion I was intrigued because I was interested in seeing how my pictures could operate in an entirely different context – I’m used to seeing them perfectly printed on the wall of galleries. The parameter was that I put my entire trust in Dilan with his very unique vision in terms of fashion and design. I gave him access to all the pictures that I’ve made and have already been seen in the world – a retrospectively selected group of pictures that were already familiar. That was important to me because then they could be defamiliarised in a different context… repurposed is the word, I guess.
SC: The altered medium changes the audience’s relation to the images. It’s almost like the images are mediated by the garment.
Gregory: Exactly. I gave Dilan artistic license, I didn’t want to interfere because I made the pictures and that was my creative input. I didn’t want to interrupt his remake of the work. We would meet by Zoom and he’d show me examples of stuff he’d made – I was impressed! I wanted to give him all the space he needed.
“There’s Dilan’s vision of the world, there’s my vision of the world, and there’s another that is created from that.”
SC: Do you feel that your relationship with your images changed after seeing them in a different context?
GC: That always happens. You make a body of work and you guard it, you keep it private. Then at a certain point, you have a show or something and you have to let them go anyway. You have to release them. So of course, it changed enormously. In a greater sense, they now function as garments and that’s really interesting.
SC: How do you think the garments work with your imagery?
GC: I think with any collaboration they come from different points of view, and they create what I would call a ‘third meaning’. There’s Dilan’s vision of the world, there’s my vision of the world, and there’s another that is created from that. Because the conversation started about a year ago, we had no idea we would be in the situation we’re in now, you know, with the pandemic. I think this adds another layer of meaning. It’s very hard to view art now, in terms of galleries: I have a show of new work in Los Angeles, which you can now only view by appointment, so everyone is trying to figure out how to get work seen outside of galleries. The idea that this work, these clothes, now exist outside of galleries in a very different realm is a gift because it gives new life to these pictures.
“I like the way a photograph is suspended in time and perpetually caught between something that came before and something that will come after. There is a certain power in it.”
SC: Many have likened lockdown to ‘life on pause’ and you mentioned your pictures emulating a ‘perfect, still world’. With lockdown forcing a stillness on many, does this alter the ideal that ‘stillness’ once held?
GC: My work has always dealt with distance, there has always been a remote, voyeuristic quality. I think like with anything, things take on a different meaning in a new context, and we’re all in a new context. I think all of my pictures have taken on an intended meaning that no one could ever have imagined.
SC: Your pictures present a flavour of the mise-en-scene, like a still from a greater narrative. Speaking with Dilan, he stressed this idea of the story and of characters. How important do you feel it is to ‘press pause’, especially in the commotion of the modern world?
GC: Interestingly, photography is all about pause – the still moment. The thing about any image is that it’s a single moment caught between a before and an after, so in a way, photography is a certain type of storytelling, unlike a movie or a novel. In my own work, I really respond to that suspension, that pause. I love movies and I certainly use cinematic production in my work, but I like bringing the look of a movie into a single image. I like the way a photograph is suspended in time and perpetually caught between something that came before and something that will come after. There is a certain power in it.
SC: Stillness works dialectically – both as a place to escape to and a place to be trapped.
GC: I think that’s well put. There is a certain freedom in the suspension, but there is also a kind of claustrophobia in it. I want to try and capture both. In my pictures, I use a lot of framing devices: windows, doorways and mirrors. All this is referencing a certain way of seeing and representing, but also trying to create a frame around the subjects, to try and enclose them and make them feel like they’re being watched. There is definitely an inherent voyeurism in photography in general, and specifically in my work, for sure.
SC: The photographs for this collection were shot exclusively in Great Barrington, Pittsfield. What symbolism does this landscape hold for you?
GC: I was after something that felt both familiar but very ordinary. Locations should feel very nondescript – nothing exotic. They should feel very American, very outside of time. I want the beauty to come out of the light, and the world that’s created by photography.
SC: How do you find the locations for your sets and images?
GC: I just drive around repeatedly in my car, then I’ll strike upon something that I think could possibly accommodate one of my pictures. I’ll go back over and over again. So it’s location scouting months before we start shooting, it’s a laboured process.
SC: This collaboration also features the work of nine different students…
GC: I’m the director of an undergraduate programme at Yale, and Dilan and I were having a conversation about how to photograph the new line. We were bouncing around ideas and then I came up with the idea of getting the second-year students to make their own pictures using Dilan’s line. They photographed themselves and they came out great! It was completely their own thing and I hadn’t even seen all the pictures. I was seeing them as they were coming out on Instagram, you know? I thought it was a great opportunity for them and also a great opportunity for Dilan because it feels new and fresh.
SC: How did the collaboration with Gregory first come about?
Dilan Lurr: I knew of Gregory’s work from way back, but I had never looked at it for reference for my collections, to be honest. I was more interested in his work as a reference for my photography. But I thought I needed to do something outside of my comfort zone, so I contacted him and explained what I wanted to do. I was thinking of his pictures as a window into the past of a character for my show. I asked permission to print some of his photos in a very specific type of printing technique, and I think he got quite excited about the possibilities.
SC: How far were the designs of pieces informed by the images, if at all?
DL: It was very symbiotic actually. I contacted him pretty much straight away after my summer show in June, and we decided in August that we would work together. We set certain types of rules for the referencing, and for what we would look at. It was very much informed by his work, but also by what he is inspired by, movies like Blue Velvet, or the melodrama of Hitchcock. These are very central in his work and his artistic reference so I just followed reference points in his work to do the collection. Of course, I am from a different generation, so there is a natural progression or change through it, but it was very much hand-in-hand.
SC: Did you start from a single word or mood board and work out from there, or did you find that a theme emerged more organically?
DL: With this collection, it was more about creating stories around the characters that are in his pictures and then putting those into the perspective of clothes. It could be the beauty queen, for example, we identified a beauty queen in his pictures, a former beauty queen at prom. This amazing lady that we see in Gregory’s pictures, she is past that time, she is very removed and alone, but you can still see that beauty. For that specific character we did an angora knit with a diagonal cable in a contrast colour so it works like the sash that beauty queens wear. We did it in a bright yellow, but the diagonal knit was in an orange-red, which we matched with black socks and brown shoes. We did it in angora so it would have an aged feeling because we agreed that in Gregory’s photos there is nothing that can tell you about a certain time. We tried to mix elements and blur anything that would indicate a specific time, to try and get at the outside of time.
SC: There’s certainly a concept of timelessness that continues through to your silhouettes.
DL: I’m from a different background to Gregory. In the Middle East, men traditionally wear suits. My dad was one of them, I remember following him to the tailor to get a new suit and this is a very strong memory for me. Also, I studied Civil Engineering at university, so for me, building something that lasts throughout time is very important. In my general way of thinking about clothes or collections, it has to have that timelessness, or be outside of time. It has to have a certain type of innovation to avoid becoming historic. Timeless can also become boring or historic, so you need to bring an element of innovation in order to refresh perspective. Timeless is a very good word, but it can also be bad.
SC: The idea of going back to the classics… it can become too comfortable.
DL: Exactly. To be honest, I don’t even think that’s particularly sustainable as a designer, to do timeless and classic just as it is. We can propose that, but it’s already something that’s out there. If we even consider making something new with the resources, then we should do just that.
“With this collection, it was more about creating stories around the characters that are in his pictures and then putting those into the perspective of clothes.”
SC: Talking of something new, talk me through those capes.
DL: Obviously there is a lot of dramatic atmosphere in Gregory’s pictures, and a lot of photos featuring beds, especially in his series Twilight – this was the central body of work that we took images from. We were thinking of making something in large-scale because these pictures are large-scale in reality, but we were thinking of how to do this in a non-vulgar way. We were also looking at a lot of Hitchcock and this era that he portrays, the art deco world and its luxury, how women would hold their little fur capes. In Twilight, you can see a loneliness in these luxurious bedrooms. So we were marrying those reference points.
When you hold a cape around yourself and walk about with it, it really gives off the poetic gesture of holding onto your memories. For example, in one of those capes there is a dinner table at a suburban house where two children are sitting with their father and their mother is coming in completely naked. One of the children is looking down at the table, the other is looking at his mother very scared. We had one of the boys walking with that around him in a suit. For me, that’s a poetic gesture about certain memories and traumas that will never leave us but form us. There is a storyline in these pictures.
SC: Your collections are often inspired by your Kurdish upbringing and your youth. What drew you to Crewdson’s America-based photography for this season?
DL: America is a very central figure where I come from, people look up to America. They look at it as a heaven, a paradise, a utopia. It’s really interesting to see the naked truth of America that Gregory portrays in his pictures. I was about nine years old when my family moved from Kurdistan, so I do have quite good memories of my parents, of their friends and the conversations they used to have – and still do – about America; this idea, this dream. I grew up seeing it very differently, and I think Gregory’s way of portraying America is very truthful, and especially in current time.
SC: Gregory’s work has a sense of the surreal and the uncanny, is this something you tried to mirror in the collection?
DL: By the time we were making the looks I was videoing a lot and sending them to Gregory. He was the one to come up with the name Somnambulism (sleepwalking), which I think is perfect. I was more interested in seeing the pictures as memories seen by my characters. The dreamlike scenario is really interesting, and I was so grateful to Gregory for coming up with that name because it fits the collection so well.
See more of the collection here.