A lot of things changed since we last spoke with Faustine Steinmetz. She moved into a new studio, acquired an army of devoted interns, and has been selected to present her collection with British Fashion Council’s initiative for young designers: NewGen. As she’s rushing between factory, potential presentation spaces and handling her mill in the studio, we catch up with her on her rooftop to see what’s really been going down.
Illustration by Rozalina Burkova
Faustine sits on the rooftop of her studio in a black Pleats Please Miyake dress, despite the fact that it’s at least thirty degrees. She eats a sandwich from Tesco and a pack of BBQ flavoured crisps.
When I mention that things seem to have gone so fast since we last spoke, which was at London Fashion Week in February, she says that though it’s scary, it’s going really well. The scariest part of the NewGen journey, she says, is the prospect of letting people walk through her brain. “This is how you get something individual and interesting to really open up. You find who you are. That’s how you do something unique, but at the same time you open yourself to critique or people not liking it. It is you opening yourself completely, you’re very vulnerable.”
I agree, and mention how heart and soul often is put into art forms, before hesitantly wondering whether we should even open a discussion on the age-old question ‘if fashion can be art’.
“The first time I heard Lady Gaga – ‘Poker Face’ – I was doing my job to earn money to pay for my internship at Jeremy Scott. I was cleaning a toilet and I was thinking ‘wow, that must be the worst song I’ve ever heard’.”
Faustine disagrees with people saying that fashion is not an art form, “I see a lot of art that has absolutely no meaning, where people just do it and – in French we have an expression, we say ‘do it for free’. It means that you didn’t put a lot of thought into it. You have no justification for your work.”
She’s quick to mention the work of designers like Martin Margiela, who did have a lot of justification to their work. “Margiela had a lot of concepts, so then why would you say it’s not art? Maybe in the future, there wouldn’t be all these limits and terms that you have to put on something. Is it fashion? Is it art? Is it this? Maybe, what feels quite modern and contemporary is usually in between two things isn’t it?”
She’s quite right, in fact. Are there really many boundaries left? “Even in jewellery, I think what I usually find quite interesting, is jewellery that looks like an object or things like that.”
Here’s a thing that needs to be said: Faustine really likes objects. She says that books are her most precious objects; something that reveals her French heritage. Marguerite Duras is the first one who she mentions, “With Duras, it’s the way she writes, for me. Not so much what she writes, but the way she does, in some way as well she really talks like my Grandma.”
Then she goes on to mention Boris Vian, the author of novels written under the name of Vernon Sullivan, who wasn’t just a brilliant novelist [we approve, it’s gory, sexual, murderous and not pretentiously difficult to read] but also a jazz musician, among actor, engineer, poet… We briefly discuss music – Faustine listens to a lot of old school French music, which she thinks is justified music – before Lady Gaga suddenly kicks in the door to dominate the conversation.
“The first time I heard Lady Gaga – ‘Poker Face’ – I was doing my job to earn money to pay for my internship at Jeremy Scott. I was cleaning a toilet and I was thinking ‘wow, that must be the worst song I’ve ever heard’. Then I came to England to study at St Martins and everybody was crazy about her. Because they saw her before they heard the music. If they heard the music before looking at her, it would just be a different story. That’s the thing, it pisses me off a little bit.”
Essentially, the woman behind Gaga is just a small part of the Haus of Gaga (which essentially evolves around her), just like fashion designers who are continuously swallowed by the big conglomerates. If LVMH would approach her to acquire a stake in her company, right now, what would she say?
“I see a lot of art that has absolutely no meaning, where people just do it and – in French we have an expression, we say ‘do it for free’. It means that you didn’t put a lot of thought into it. You have no justification for your work.”
“It’s quite dangerous, I feel like a lot of designers did that, like the past generation of young designers, like Helmut Lang, Martin Margiela, have sold bits and then they’re not there anymore. It’s quite funny.” They disappear, I say. “Because, I think they probably hate it to be honest,” she responds.
It’s difficult for Faustine to imagine what it would be like to be part of a conglomerate. “I was talking with Michael [the business brains], about my designs last night. He was asking me ‘how much is this? How much is that? Is it easy to produce?’. I think it’s hard to design in that way. I find it very difficult, and I’m trying, because I don’t want my products to be unaffordable. At the end of the day, the aim is for the product to be a piece that fits into people’s lives. But it’s hard and I can’t imagine it on a much larger scale, what it must be like at that level, and the amount of sacrifices [one has to make].
On the other hand, having the helping hand of a conglomerate, has many upsides. “It does sound like a dream to me. J.W. Anderson [in conversation with Imran Amed] talked about garment technologists and that’s a dream: to have somebody who’s really going to help me to design a product, to develop the product so it looks its best at every size, and the fabric doesn’t shrink. You know, that’s the dream, so it’s kind of a difficult compromise, but those people can bring a lot to your table. They have skills in business that you will never have. “
“I’ve been forbidden to own anything in denim when I became sixteen.”
Her business partner Michael orginially comes from the tech industry, which is all about being disruptive. “[It’s about] coming in and proposing a different way of working that might be better. It’s amazing to work with somebody who has that kind of mentality. When I talk to him, I realize that in fashion we are really scared of being different. I think it’s difficult to be different in fashion, we are quite scared I think. We want to succeed.”
As ‘success’ often is measured by the amount of profit a company makes, I ask Faustine if it’s ever about money for her. “I’ve never cared about money in my life. I remember my parents would give me pocket money when I was a kid, and it didn’t matter, I could just give it to somebody else or just buy something and then not have anything for the rest of the month. It was never something that was on my mind.”
Does she like to hold onto things, then? “When I was younger, I would upset my parents a lot, because they would buy me clothes and I’d cut them up and make something else out of it. Always denim actually, I would just cut it up. I’ve been forbidden to own anything in denim actually, when I became sixteen I think. So that was the end of my experimentation. My parents were always quite shocked by this, but a lot of people close to me were exactly the same.”
Last season, Faustine was part of the ‘Ones to Watch’, and so now she applied for NewGen. She talks about the selection procedure, “Basically, you have to go and put your clothes in a room where all jury members are. They have little forms where they write about everybody’s work, and you have an interview. The interview is actually really good, because they do care about the business side. They’re not afraid to ask harsh questions about it.”
“Many nights, I dream that somebody tells me ‘the show is in two hours’, and I don’t have one outfit. People come to me, and I’m waiting for the clothes to come from the factory, and I’m like ‘oh that looks amazing!’ and there’s a label saying ‘Jeremy Scott‘ and I’m like ‘oh shit!'”
Faustine’s now getting ready to do a presentation. “I literally have people walk through my brand, that’s how I see it. It’s sort of an exhibition, but with live models, you know. What’s interesting, is that a presentation was always my end goal. I never wanted to do a runway. I mean, never say never. It’s important as a designer to really change, but I’m not really interested in runway, I’m usually much more excited when I see the backstage pictures than when I see the runway. I just don’t think it’s the best way to show clothes. You see it from very far, and it’s always the same picture with different clothes, so that you’re used to that picture. You don’t get instantly impressed by it when you see it, it’s a picture you’ve seen a hundred times before, it doesn’t give justice to amazing clothes.”
She doesn’t think that her clothes would look good on a runway, because it’s really not about the shape, but rather the texture and concept. Talking about the press, she says, “Journalists [who are] writing their articles want all the catwalk pictures to be the same. I think we’re moving back to our old ways of people not wanting to go very far to see a show in the same way. And I don’t know if they are going to go out of their way to feature different types of designers. I was talking with friends about this, like why do they need catwalk pictures? They were telling me that it’s easier to be featured when you have an actual visual, and they also said that you look more successful to people.”
“I think it’s difficult to be different in fashion, we are quite scared I think. We want to succeed.”
“I guess, the presentation is usually used as the thing that goes to the catwalk. But I feel like there is something changing: you can see in NewGen they are putting more and more people in presentations. Before, looking years back, they didn’t have presentations – they were doing catwalks and exhibitions. It’s quite interesting; and even when I look at big shows like Chanel, everybody speaks a lot about Chanel and their shows. But somehow, he [Karl Lagerfeld] is making it a little bit more like a presentation, with the supermarket, it’s like between an exhibition and a catwalk. I liked that a lot. It’s not just a runway, there is an effort there, a lot of care is really put into this.”
The sun became unbearable, so we decided to move back downstairs. Faustine sits at her loom, when she starts telling me about a particularly disturbing recurring dream. “Many nights, I dream that somebody tells me ‘the show is in two hours’, and I don’t have one outfit. People come to me, and I’m waiting for the clothes to come from the factory, and I’m like ‘oh that looks amazing!’ and there’s a label saying ‘Jeremy Scott’ and I’m like ‘oh shit!'”
“A presentation was always my end goal. I never wanted to do a runway.”
With only a few weeks left, Faustine and her team are still designing a lot, while the production of the previous collection is also still running. On top of that, she’s got to look for a venue, and design the exhibition. “We’re doing trials on the wood, seeing how it’s going to look, different types of painting, which is quite exciting.”
What’s the most exciting part? “Just doing a bit of everything. It’s so exciting to apply your vision to so many different people. That’s why I always wanted to do a label, so that I can create a world around an idea. That’s really what interests me, is to create a little planet. It’s a whole universe that you create around your name, it doesn’t get more interesting than that.”
Words by Jorinde Croese
Illustration by Rozalina Burkova
Moving image, courtesy of Faustine Steinmetz