There’s a handful of fashion designers that keep the Charing Cross Road ethos of the previous Central Saint Martins campus alive, and Raimund Berthold is one of them. His Soho studio is serene and white, that is, if it would be completely empty. There’s aluminium foil covering walls (a moodboard-to-be), two full rails with his new collection stand between the cutting tables and kitchenette, an intern is nearly strangling himself with metres of name labels, a ‘shit or bust’ image covers the wall, and there’s a plate full of sweet pastries on the table that’s gently being pushed toward me, while I take a seat. “This is the challenge… Will she eat, just before fashion week?” Laughter fills the studio and immediately breaks the ice. No bucket, no challenge, a warm reception.
Raimund grew up in Austria. His family was involved in the hotel business (ski resorts), making it a natural choice to study hotel management, though he’s always had an interest in fashion design. “They didn’t know anyone in fashion,” he says, “ there weren’t any fashion colleges even.” Travelling a lot to New York and London, resulted into meeting loads of fashion people, which led him to eventually think, “fuck it, I just have to do fashion.” It was just a matter of finding a way to make it work. Next step: studying at Central Saint Martins. Raimund graduated from the MA menswear course in 2005, and then started his own label, Berthold.
While eating a Danish pastry, Raimund talks about the style range of his recent collection, and says he’s trying to keep it simple (in a way) by sticking mostly to black. “You don’t want to split it over too many different fabrics and colours, otherwise production becomes difficult as well,” he says, “Minimal is back anyway, which I always encourage. Love it already. People always push me for colour, but it’s difficult.”
Why should he, I wonder? He explains that there are two sides involved. Firstly, the buyer’s side: they looks at their customers, who like all black everything. Secondly, the press side, who request lots of colour. “You know stylists, they can’t pick black, because it just doesn’t shoot very well. Or, it just doesn’t show up or fit in with whatever they’re doing. You always have to have colour; which I sort of get around a little bit by using print. It amuses me more. Last season, I worked with a great artist called Tara Langford. I just let her do her own thing without getting involved with fashion. I said “you just do your art and then reapply it as a print.”
Print or colour has never been the thing for Raimund, not even in his Saint Martins days. When he did research for his graduate collection in 2005, the starting point became 9/11. “I just found this book with beautiful images; terrible but beautiful. It was of these shops in Manhattan and all the windows were blown in. But on the inside, everything was covered in this fine dust. Almost like powdered sugar, and everything, all the garments, bags, tills… everything was just white. It almost looked like someone had spray painted it in a white powder, it looked amazing and very haunting. So I used that as a start for the collection, and I experimented a lot with textures.”
In design terms, it’s always shape first. “I always have to push myself to pick the colours for the collection, because I’ve no interest initially. For me, the research is almost never colour based, everything is printed out in black and white, so I don’t distract myself. It’s all about the shape and the silhouette, that’s what attracts me. Figuring out a silhouette, drape, whatever, and then I think about colour. Regarding print projects, I never have a garment in mind. I work with the artists, and once I have a print I like, then I think ‘what shall we put it on? Where would it look nice?’ So no, colour is never on my mind.”
“It’s very easy to get sidetracked by other people’s visions. I find that is very true with lots of people, even starting at college. All collections are starting to look quite same-y, because you get a little bit paranoid and you think “oh God, someone’s doing something better” and it sort of morphs into that.”
As a full-on colour collection is out of the question; I’m trying to imagine Katrantzou prints in his studio, and ask what the most experimental thing is that he’s ever done. The answer is unexpectedly amusing.
“I got part of a collection – funnily enough for the MA – made in a sex shop. That was pretty weird, because, my God, they have things there…it was pretty unmentionable. They made lots of tents for the weirdest reasons, let’s say they called them the ‘piss tents’, with funnels… Really weird stuff. Louise [Wilson], God bless her, put me in touch with them; how she knew them, I don’t know! They were amazing, the weirdest people, like really really fetishy hardcore, rubber and kinky stuff. There were things hanging from the ceilings, like chains and swings. They were brilliant though, we had such a laugh there, they were such nice people.”
His studio, I find out a bit later, is filled with artworks. They’re pretty much everywhere. On the floor, attached to the walls as plexiglass seats (with a ‘don’t sit!’ sign on it), in the bathroom, everywhere. In the corner of one room, there are a few slabs of cement – an artwork that still needs to be installed properly, which originally comprised a crushed can of coke that a cleaner threw away by accident. He then had to call up the gallery to have the artist crush another one, cos, you know, you cannot really call it ‘art’ anymore when you demolish them yourself. It should come as no surprise that when I ask, “you’re pretty into art, aren’t you?” he smilingly says yes. “It probably influences my fashion design work much more than I think,” he says.
“Reena Spaulings gallery is literally a brothel. You walk up to the first floor, and it’s like one big long room, and you still see the colour changes for all the little separation rooms where the prostitutes would work from.”
When I ask him if there’s a gallery he’s particularly fond of, I didn’t expect a barrage of galleries to be released from his mouth, as it does – very energetically and with more passion than I’ve heard some designers talk about a bias cut. He talks about a ‘weird garage space in Mayfair’ called ‘Project Native Informant’, which is run by his American friend who ‘finds all the young, super cool artists – before they’re super cool – and puts them on.’ He mentions the Approach Gallery and Maureen Paley, “she’s the godmother of the East-end in terms of galleries. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across her: American with a beehive and kind of stern looking. She looks like you don’t want to call her names.” He goes on to talk about Reena Spaulings, which is an old brothel in New York’s Chinatown “It’s literally a brothel. You walk up to the first floor, and it’s like one big long room, and you still see the colour changes for all the little separation rooms where the prostitutes would work from.”
He mentions many galleries, but what does he usually look at inside those walls? I read in an article on the Guardian that the art in his house has got a slightly dark edge to it, which he says is true, but not intentional. Though a lot of his collection is very minimalist (‘almost like a blank canvas with some splatters on it’), he does has some pieces that simply aren’t ‘that painterly’. He talks about his David Altmejd sculpture, which is “basically a head with human hair on it, but it’s upside down, it’s got fangs and lots of different colours in the face; then there’s an opening where the ear is and inside there’s some crystals.”
How does he usually select? Is it something that immediately strikes him, or rather lingers on in his mind?
“It’s usually the instant attraction, and then, if I know the artist, then it’s quite easy. Then it’s just a matter of negotiation. If I don’t know the artist, then I have to do a bit of research. Sometimes I see an artwork, then I look at all their other work – easily, on my phone in a booth at Frieze or whatever – and actually think “I don’t like any of the other pieces”. So it puts it all in context, and it makes you realise that actually you don’t like the aesthetic, and the sensibility of the artist at all. Sometimes, it’s the other way around, and the gallery suggests something and says they think you like; you research it, you fall in love with it, and it all sort of falls into place.
Shifting the conversation back to his profession, he says that he also collects fashion, but they’re always army pieces. “I’m usually not so much interested in the piece itself, but in solutions. Army solutions are brilliant – they always find such a clever way of hiding this and fastening that,” he says. Raimund admits to taking inspiration from some of these subtle ancient solutions, and works them into his collections. Does he ever look at what other designers are doing? Not necessarily. “I’m very bad at keeping up with things. I go through my magazines, but I’m not following too much.”
I murmur ‘that’s good,’ as a sign of approval, and he says, “I think it is, definitely, because it’s very easy to get sidetracked by other people’s visions. I find that is very true with lots of people, even starting at college. All collections are starting to look quite same-y, because you get a little bit paranoid and you think “oh God, someone’s doing something better” and it sort of morphs into that. I think it’s quite healthy not to bother too much.”
“Minimal is back anyway, which I always encourage. Love it already. People always push me for colour, but it’s difficult.”
Is there anything memorable, I ask, that Louise has said to him which he remembers?
“Oh my God, she said so many things. One time, it was quite early on and we had a deadline – we had a project and then a tutorial with her. About a week before, I had a one to one tutorial with her, and I don’t know how it came about, but she was talking about summer holidays and “I’m going to Bali”, because she had a house in Bali. So I said, “funnily enough, I’ve just been invited to go to Bali, to go on someones plane”, it sounds bad, but that’s how it was, and she said “why don’t you?” and I said “well, we’ve got a very big deadline with you coming up”. She was on a diet – as always – and she had a crispbread with some weird turkey bacon thing on it – it was so dry -and she just threw it on the table and said “you’re the biggest fucking wanker I’ve ever met in my entire fucking life, how stupid, of course you’re going to Bali, it’s a great chance, fuck the deadline.” I just thought “wow”, because for me that was such a shock because I was not used to that kind of thinking; it just set the scene for the whole MA. If you had a good excuse, then just do it, run with it, have fun, and then work really hard afterward.”
Though Raimund didn’t go to Bali in the end (and did meet the deadline), his approach to life seems pretty clear: just fucking go for it, enjoy life, have a laugh, collect ancient tables with meat slabs and put them in your bathroom, so that inspiration will rain down on you when you take a piss.
Have a look at Raimund’s new collection on Berthold-uk.com