Friday, August 8, 2008

Stylemaker Q&A: Gilles Montezin

Gilles Montezin’s work has appeared in the Sex and the City movie and he’s dressed big-name actresses. And he’s coming to—Milwaukee? That’s right, Montezin is taking part in Milwaukee’s Fashion Week, October 3–6.
Montezin studied at LEcole de la Haute Couture and went on to work for Opera Bastille and couturiers Loris Azzarro and Christian Lacroix Couture. In 2006 Montezin moved to New York and started his own line called—you guessed it—Gilles Montezin.
I asked Montezin about his experiences in the couture world, his favorite look he’s designed and what how he got involved in Fashion Week.

How did you become involved in Milwaukee Fashion Week? What will you be doing during this week?
A good friend of mine, Jean Vouté Pratt (who is a wonderful stylist) will be a guest speaker for Milwaukee Fashion Week. [She] talked to Hillary Fry, the organizer of the event about me, and Hillary called me!
Hillary Fry was generous enough to give me a prime spot in the calendar of MFW and she offered me to show at the Milwaukee Art Museum on the last day. I could not have dreamed of better!
I will present pieces that are typical of mine, also some pieces that were in movies or worn by celebrities. The final group will be a “Hommage a Yves St. Laurent” who passed away this June.

How was it working for Loris Azzarro and Christian LaCroix Couture? What was a day in the life like working there?
Monsieur Lacroix is a fantastic being; he really takes good care of people that work with him. He will try to use the product of every artisan that presents their work to him.
He wants to work with everybody and make them evolve in their art! [He is] a great artist!
I remember a night when everybody was home and asleep, it must have been 3 a.m., and I was with the chief of the workshop. We started to play with fabric to do a dress to present to Mr. Lacroix the next day and we draped, twisted and pleated the fabric according to Mr. Lacroix’s explanations of his sketch, with his poetry and images … It was magical.
I went home to rest [while] everyone was coming in to start their day and my head was full of the lights and shadows on the fabric—with the pleats and folds—magical!
Mr. Lacroix saw the dress the next day and loved it! He did not change a single crease!

Do you have a favorite look or garment you’ve made? Why?
I like very much a coat I did: it is a huge black-and-white wool coat with houndstooth in velvet printed on it—fantastic!
Mary Tyler Moore told me it was her new best friend!
Debra Messing tried it on in Saks New York, but she has reactions to wool. She left the store, then came back and said, “I will have to suffer, but I cannot leave without it! I have to have it!”
Top model Carmen del’Orifice used it for a photo shoot for a Barbara Walters special (see above). She made me promise to make one for her too!

What are the trademarks of a Gilles Montezin “look”?
A woman cannot be discreet and demure when she wants to wear my clothes.
I like to do bold and strong pieces that accentuate the personality of the woman who will wear them. I am not afraid of patterns and colors too!

How was dressing the Sex and the City actresses? Any other movies in the works?
The women at SATC are so enthusiastic about clothes; it is a designer’s dream!
And Patricia Field is such an icon, you cannot help but adore her.
After SATC, costume designer Patricia Field did another movie, Confessions of a Shopaholic. And she also used some of my favorite pieces for the actresses!
I have also been asked to do a collection for the inaugural ball in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with Saks Fifth Avenue.

Where do you draw your inspiration from? Are you influenced by other designers? If so, who and why?
We are all influenced by each other—it is a very tight fabric! We all try to say something and use the same language—fabrics and buttons. I adore seeing the work of other designers. I think there are great designers out there.
Some of my favorites are Lacroix, Galliano, McQueen and Saint Laurent.
Lacroix is probably the most influential couturier of them all; he really set trends by being creative, not by being “fashionable.” Women want to wear his clothes because they are beautiful, not because they are “trendy.”
Galliano is the exuberant one, he is a magician with volume and colors!
McQueen with his poetic visions will probably lead us into the “look of the 21st century.” (Every century has a specific look. We haven’t found the one for this new century; probably it is too early or we are too commercially oriented to do so!)
Saint Laurent was a woman’s man: he really made women look and feel modern, elegant and gorgeous. He helped to define what women should wear according to their lifestyle and their needs. He was very closely connected to their needs.

What is the most complicated look or sewing technique to do? Are you sewing it start to finish, or do you have assistants that help you?
The invention of the sewing machine really revolutionized the way people conceive clothes. Before, everything was handmade so the techniques were created to make clothes by building them.
Now, with mass product clothes, we just put the pieces together, like a formula, a puzzle. Every garment is made the same way.
Haute couture in a way is very close to the old-fashioned way of doing clothes. You have to forget everything about the modern way of dressmaking and create the piece as if it was the first dress on earth. And that is why it’s also very close to art. You have to have a love affair with the dress! You don’t do couture dresses by the thousands, it is artisanally made, like a painting—it has a soul!

Any favorite colors/patterns or fabrics you tend to use often? Where do you find your fabrics?
I love patterns and textured fabrics! It gives an extra presence to the clothing.
We don’t get to see prints or textures too often now because it costs more. I try to choose colors that will be flattering for the women who will wear the clothes.
All of my fabrics are from France, Spain or Italy.

How many people work for you, and how is production split up when you’re making the clothing?
I am very lucky to have the most wonderful team to work with. They are people who are very interested in what they are doing. [They’re] also very competent, and want to contribute to the beauty of the clothes. I worship them every day!
My luck doesn’t stop there: I am also very privileged to work with an excellent contractor who takes care of my production. His reputation is excellent for working with the top American designers.

Many people are confused by the term “haute couture.” Can you explain the meaning, and explain what a “couturier” is?
Wow! I am very impressed you asked that question!
First of all “Haute couture” is a trademark. It is a registered name just like “Champagne.” One cannot use it legally without permission. Haute couture is a group of people that created a syndicate, and decided to create clothing of extreme quality, design and making. They even created a school to make sure workers would study and work with their specific techniques—I was lucky enough to study there! You have to be part of the club, pay fees and respect rules.
While working on their collections couturiers are mostly concerned with the way the clothes are built; it is an experimental way of designing and constructing clothes.
It is very much like doing a sculpture; one never knows how it is going to look until it is finished. It implies a lot of time evaluating the proportions, mix of colors and textures. Just like a painter would “build” a painting, spot by spot, color by color. Take time away from it, then come back to correct here and put more there …
I worked on a dress by Lacroix that was borrowed by French actress Sabine Azema for an award night, and at the end of the night, the dress was wilted, like a flower! It was so touching.

How does French fashion compare to fashion in the United States?
I think it is all in the state of mind of the customers.
European women like to dress accordingly to people they will meet during the day and the events they will go to. Clothes are like an accessory for them to meet people and to go to places.
American women dress accordingly to what they will do during the day: the clothes have to be practical, functional and serve a purpose, above all. It has to have pockets, be comfortable, not too warm …
A European woman will carry around a pair of sexy kitten heels, perfume and a nice bracelet.
An American woman will carry sneakers, deodorant and her car’s logo key ring!

What is your favorite thing about being a part of the fashion industry, and what’s your least favorite part?
I like to think I play a role in making women look their best and feel good about themselves. It is constantly on my mind when creating my dresses.
What I like the least: success is all a question of who you know and when. Many very talented designers never get to be known because of lack of exposure. Success has nothing to do with talent!

How does New York compare to Paris? What do you like about each?
Paris offers centuries of knowledge in every aspect of the arts. You choose what will most influence your vision! You are constantly surrounded with arts! But to do business it is very difficult.
New York offers an open door to people who want to do things. You want to do it? You just do it! People here are hard workers!

See Gilles Montezin’s work on October 6th during Milwaukee Fashion Week’s Indudstry Icons Day.

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