In a room full of pink balloons during the last day at CSM Degree Show,1Granary met up with Louis Barthelemy, recent CSM graduate, who also happens to be a Styliste Foulard at Christian Dior Couture, to speak about his graduate collection and life at Christian Dior. Louis was inspired by the Countess di Castiglione, 19th century italian aristocrat, mistress of Emperor Napoleon III of France and a fashion icon and muse before the photographic lens of faded 19th century. Louis’s collection was thought through from head to toe: impressive in their scale and form the custom made head pieces, romantic variations of boulé silhouette, colourful and playful prints that would linger through the pleats of luxurious fabrics and sky-scraper heels tied with velvet ribbons – perfect gear for the Countess to seduce a stranger on her last party at a nightclub! “Lustrous and lustful” would be the words to describe Barthelemy’s graduate collection. And Louis would be probably best described as a blossoming flower with Christian Dior’s Bois d’Argent scent.
P.S. Louis has also presented his grad collection along with Lucas Leclere (of whom we posted earlier) during the Paris Couture week.
Tell us about your background.
I am French, I was born in Léon. I moved to London at the age of ten with my family. My father was already working in the UK, so my mother, brother and I went to live with him. I went to the French Lycée in South Kensington, and I was basically brought up there. It was a very academic, conservative environment, but then again, being in London allowed us to really blossom, it really gave me that passion for… fashion! Every Fashion Week the National History Museum were organising a Fashion Week there, it was very exciting as a little kid to see all those models walking around and seeing all this fashion scene happening in front of the school. Since, I’ve decided to stay in the UK and continue my studies at Central Saint Martins. It’s only been two years since I’ve been back in France and rediscovering the French lifestyle, that I had missed for almost thirteen years.
So, after high school you applied for Central Saint Martins?
Yes, straight away for Foundation.
How would you describe your years here at CSM?
I did the foundation, so I was here for four years in total. I think the foundation, for me, was the most incredible experience because there were no conditions. From that conservative environment to that creative, energetic, completely camp world that Saint Martins offers I was in shock. I discovered myself completely and discovered amazing people – my best friends now. The foundation year gave me the will to stay longer on the CSM adventure.
I had initially applied for womenswear, but I failed. I had just turned eighteen and was very immature, I was not so body-conscious and aware of the body, it was a great lesson. So I got on Fashion Design and Marketing by default, really. I had no clue about marketing and it’s actually there where I was doing the course that I blossomed, and I discovered prints and many other mediums. Now that I think back to the course, I really don’t regret going through that pathway. It was a smaller class, you get to be more focused. We had amazing tutors, who had joined the course for a specific project, such as Stephen Jones. Having to work and show your student project to professional people from the industry is important.
Who inspired and influenced you the most during the school years?
I had my friend Lucas, who was initially my boyfriend. I think throughout the whole process of our studies, despite all the drama that you can imagine, he was… he was my left arm, helper, friend. His advice was the only one I really listened to.
During my year out, I met this incredible woman, Danielle, who gave me the chance to express myself freely at Dior Design, in scarves. She gave me so much confidence, she taught me almost everything. She introduced me to amazing people in the industry.
I had another friend called Daul Kim, who was a Korean model and we met during London Fashion Week. During my second year, she helped me to be a lot more focused and she gave me a lot of confidence, as well. I think, thanks to her, I’ve been able to get to places I never would have thought of. She helped me to shine in interviews for internships.
What was your final year like?
I haven’t had the time to look back at it. It’s been intense and went so quickly. I feel like another person… it is really an accomplishment. I had to organise myself very differently. Throughout the whole year, I have to admit, I felt extremely lonely, but luckily I had my friend Lucas. Without him, I think, I would have gone through depression. I had literally no spare time. During weekdays, I’d work at Dior, or sometimes at the weekend, or the evening. I would go to CSM one day a week, or once every two weeks to see teachers for tutorials. The time I had left was used to produce a collection. I gave myself my own timetable, knowing that if I had to follow the school ones with all the holidays, it would have been almost impossible to produce anything. I remember back in September, I was fabric sourcing and I had done all the research before going to university. I just carried on working on it like a sadistic, obsessed person. I’ve had the chance to work with amazing suppliers, who I met through Dior. They’ve been extremely supportive, so thanks to them I’ve had prints, accessories and hats of amazing quality. This has allowed me to work on prints with a different approach to volume. At Dior, I normally work flat on the scarves. This is something that I have found completely overwhelming and I’m willing to carry on doing in the future.
Tell us about your collection.
The collection is inspired by the Countess Castiglione, who was an Italian countess. She was sent to France at the court of Napoleon the Third when Italy was being invaded by Austrians to plead the cause of her country. She was a beautiful woman and was seventeen, she seduced the Emperor and became his mistress. And Napoleon, being seduced by Castiglione, decided to protect Italy from the Austrians. After that affair, she returned to her native country, came back to Paris, single and fabulous. She attended a lot of parties where she would wear contemporary couture of the time and she had all these men at her knees. She was such a seducing character. The characteristics and personality adhere to that woman I dreamt of when I initially wanted to design that collection. It’s based on Castiglione, who wakes up after a hundred years in Paris to go for her last appearance in the palace, a former theatre that turned into a night club in the seventies. It introduced gay culture and disco, to houses that were conservative until then – Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton. It was an extremely eclectic crowd. The idea is Castiglione comes to the club in her flamboyant clothes.
This is when I wanted to introduce prints to the collection. It’s a medium that I’ve loved a lot during my year out and tell that amusing anecdote throughout the prints. This is why you see many men standing above her, Castiglione herself, a caricature, the art deco graphics, drinking champagne, wearing heart shaped sunglasses in the nightclub. I’ve tried to recreate the very puffed, boulé silhouette in different ways through pleats.
Who is your ideal lady?
My dream lady is probably a female alter ego, extremely confident, a lot of humour. She hides behind that very cool attitude, a lot of fantasy and freedom. She is extremely glamourous and feminine. Fashion is an industry obsessed with youth and beauty, you have to flaunt it!
In three words, how would you describe your whole experience at CSM?
It has been blossoming, overwhelming and quite lonely – but in a good way!
Can you tell us any crazy or memorable stories from your years here?
Memorable stories at CSM… I remember in foundation, this whole new scene of nightlife that I’d never seen before at Boombox. I was seventeen, we’d go there every Sunday. I was obsessed! I’d be dancing in my pants in Kensington till one in the morning… Or evening?! Being in the same class as Lucas was fun as well. As back in Charing Cross, I don’t know why we were like little raunchy teenage dogs, we’d always meet up in the bathroom and have sex. It was amazing to do this where no one cared really. It’s fine to be camp and filthy! This year I haven’t experienced anything similar. I’ve come in during the morning and left in the evening, missing out on all that student life.
For you, what is special about Saint Martins?
It is special because Saint Martins gives you all the freedom you want. There is almost no structure, no education; you are left alone and it doesn’t impose anything to you. So if you are a creative mind, you can feel free and express yourself as you wish. As opposed to French fashion schools, who are extremely based on technique and neglect, the whole creative side. But in order to be creative, I believe you need a lot of time and freedom to find yourself, CSM allows you all of this.
What is the most important thing you learnt at school?
Never take yourself seriously.
For the past two years you’ve been working for Dior, tell us about it?
Initially, I wanted to go to Italy to do an internship. It’s a country I’ve always loved and I’ve always wanted to live there. In the end, I got put forward for an internship by my tutor to go to Galliano, a designer I love. I went to the interview, got the position, went there for three months. I got a job at couture, I got along very well with the Galliano team, and it was the house I’d always dreamt of working for. I didn’t ever think that this could ever happen! I had previously had an experience working at Hermes with Marios Schwab, but that fantasy, that dream of Dior was ther.
Then at Dior, I studied Haute Couture in the Galliano studio. At some point I’d been proposed to draw scarves. Since they had no scarf designer at the time, they really wanted to expand on those accessories. I started really casually. My boss at the time, Danielle, said to me, “Louis take it easy, don’t freak out, life is beautiful at Dior. We are asking you to draw, just do your best and we’ll see from that.” That really positive and shared environment allowed me to feel completely free. In only a few months, I felt so comfortable there that they proposed a position for one more year. So I had to postpone my final year at Saint Martins, which in a way was good because I don’t think I was ready to go back. During this year, I had been designing and producing so many scarves that they offered me a proper position as a scarf designer; designing all kinds of textile accessories for the house. At the time when they proposed that contract, I mentioned the fact that I wanted to finish at Saint Martins because the college had approached me, telling me that either I come back or I don’t. The house (Dior) have been very supportive, offering me to finalise my studies and my collection while I still produce scarves for them.
What are your duties at Dior?
I’m in charge of designing scarves mainly. Illustration and graphic design take up most of my time. From the drawings, they are sent away to be printed. which are then studied and translated into frames. From those frames, I decline the drawings in different colour variations. Other duties involved are designing textiles, accessories, such as stoles and cashmere. Also fur accessories for women, capes and evening stoles. It’s an interesting position because you are focused on small products. It is very straightforward. You draw what is on a scarf, or you work on a drawing which is then weaved in a jacquard, so you get into a bit of textiles, or you work with fur, or embroidery. I think to start with, it was a great exercise because you work with so many different suppliers in different medium.
Did you ever want to do womenswear?
I do in the future, but I’m glad I’m going through this stage because I’m able to discover lots more of different things. I’ve discovered a love for prints, colours, fur pieces and the technicalities involved. The world of fur is it’s own universe. In the few years coming, I wish to carry on working on prints, but on a different scale. In the future for sure, I would like to do womenswear, but I am at this stage where I feel I have so much to learn from prints.
Apart from work, what do you do for fun?
I love partying, dancing – always at home! I love chilling with friends, going to exhibitions and travelling to art fairs. I am obsessed with working out, I adore swimming, travelling and sex.
What would be your advice for students on the industry?
I would advise a second year student to take a year out, elsewhere to London. I believe the industry really is abroad in Paris, Italy and New York. Missing out on the year out is crazy. It is the most important year of the whole degree. You learn everything, meet so many people and you gain so much confidence from being involved in tasks that have an impact on a company’s collection.
Then in final year – be yourself. Always follow your instinct and your heart, be stubborn, but question yourself constantly. If you have a good friend, or soul mate that will help you question, it will help a lot. Stick to your own timetable, don’t try to fit in boxes. You know yourself, your limits and what you are good at. Just try to give yourself a routine and stick to it. Please avoid alcohol towards the end of the year. You’ll gain weight, you’ll look gross and you won’t be so productive.
Do you think that it is important to be skinny in the industry?
It is extremely important, actually! (Laugshs) It helps, but the most important thing is to have a lot of humour and be comfortable with yourself, without being in anyone’s face. Good education and humour will save you, never take yourself seriously even if you look like a tough nazi officer!
Tell us more about Dior.
Dior is, surprisingly, an extremely corporate environment. You’d be surprised that when working in accessories, how exposed you are to marketing. You work very closely with people in production team, giving you budgets and targets. I had no clue, especially at Dior. It imposed a routine and discipline that really helps you be more focused. It’s a shock when you discover a couture house that is really exposed to this. To me, Dior is a house I recognise myself in, in the archives, in the crazy, hysterical, Galliano years. I love the contrast and sense of opulence that comes out of the creations in the house. It is something that moves and fills me. I’ve really missed not working there this year, Dior is almost a home to me. You have a family, you get to stay there a bit too much. It can be a love-hate relationship, going through ups and downs, but that is what makes you passionate about this house. Sometimes you sit completely grey and dull, the next day it feels pink, fresh and romantic. I felt bipolar when I was there!
For students who want to apply there, is it best to have portfolios that fit Dior?
I don’t think you need to correspond to the Dior aesthetic. My work from second year, before I entered the house, it was similar, but not especially Gallianoesque. You should know that when you start, you’ll be working on small details that will be digested by so many different people. You need to be ready to get yourself involved in small aspects of the creative process. You learn so much from it.
Do you want to stay in Dior?
Yes. For the moment, I don’t question myself, Dior has been so supportive and understanding towards my ambitions and university. I am extremely thankful, and look forward to going back full time, doing my very best. Who knows how long it is going to last. I wish to catch the train and continue the journey.
Interviewed by Altynai Osmoeva