Swiss-German Roman Rudolph meets me at an old patisserie in Soho, where students used to hang before the college relocated from Charing Cross road to King’s Cross. He greets me and immediately comments on my perfume. “Who are you wearing? Like, perfume? Tralala?” I’m surprised. It’s Penhaligon’s collaboration with Meadham Kirchhoff – one of the labels Roman worked with while completing his Central Saint Martins BA Fashion studies.
On his placement year, Roman went to Paris and worked at Lanvin for the whole year. He remembers that when he first started to become interested in fashion, the brand was ‘so hip’ – think big shoulders. “Somehow, it wasn’t so cool anymore. With the whole shift in Paris – Balenciaga/Ghesquiere and Raf/Dior, it wasn’t so cool anymore, to intern there. Nobody wanted to go. But then last year, suddenly tonnes of us were coming, I mean, there were about six or seven people from Saint Martins there,” he says. The internship turned out to be great. “There are no shitty jobs. It’s all draping, pattern cutting; you’re quite involved as an intern,” he says. “You work as an assistant.” Apparently, Alber [Elbaz] knows everybody’s names – even those of people who are there for a short stint. Though Creative Directors mostly seem a bit difficult, ‘Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy: you hear it’s horrendous,’ Lanvin was nice.
“They had about seven designers, and then they all had an assistant. It was quite amazing how they could totally change a collection within half a week, because they have so many people working on it.” He reminisces about the Chanel documentary starring Karl Lagerfeld that he watched before he went to Paris. “Before Karl arrives, it starts to get quite hectic in the studio. People call, ‘oh Karl is coming in five minutes!’, and then in two minutes he’s almost there and gets out of the taxi,” he says. “It was similar at Lanvin. Alber was literally the king.”
The magic fabric
Coming from an architecture background (“my architecture degree was very technical. I mean, I didn’t finish it entirely, I did a few years. I just found the process a bit too slow.”), Roman has always been technical. Having gained experience working in 3D, draping at Lanvin – discarding the seemingly endless drawings that they do in other ateliers- he became excited about continuing to do this with his final collection. Though, he didn’t exactly do what he initially expected. “I was so excited for final year. When I was on placement year, I was literally thinking about it all the time I was working. But then you know, you get bored of it if you think too much,” he says. “Often you have ideas and they are quite abstract. It’s very hard to note them down, and sometimes once you do nail them down, you kind of kill them, so can’t use them anymore.”
Though the main concept was centred on construction, and the collection started with the peculiar metal fabric that he’d found, the shoes were also an essential part. ” I’ve always wanted the shoes. I saw them once on a friend who had theses espadrilles which just lace up your leg. I was obsessed with them- for over a year now. I only wanted the shoes. I didn’t know what my collection was going to look like.”
So, Roman got sponsored by a Swiss company, Schoeller, which produces high performance fabrics that are fire retardant, and used in uniforms for police- and firemen. The metal is strong, made up of extremely tough fibres that make it difficult and unreliable to work with. “I had about forty metres of it and I couldn’t really toile with it, and there’s nothing really similar to the way it behaves. Once the grain changes a bit on the pattern, it does something very different to what you anticipated. On normal fabric, you can kind of guess what it does, but here, it might shoot somewhere else or it creates big volumes.”
Make it solid gold
Consequently, he really had to adapt. It was a ‘work in progress’, so he could never present a finished product to show what he was doing. Yet, some things were easy to show, like the fabric and color. “I really wanted to use the fabric, and they didn’t have it in any other colour than gold. That’s why I did gold. It was quite simple.” His tutors were ecstatic. “When I told my tutors ‘I have this fabric but it’s only in gold’, they loved it. Like, ‘oh my god, you could make an all gold collection’. I wasn’t sure, I didn’t want to just have one fabric, and they said, ‘no no, it’s just six looks, make everything in gold’.” It wouldn’t have always been his choice, though. ” If we would have talked last year and you asked me, ‘would you do a collection in all gold?’, I would say ‘of course not, that’s so stupid’.”
He always knew how he didn’t want the collection to look, making his research process one of elimination. Obsessed with draping and fascinated by ancient society, he wanted to continue the idea of wrapping clothes around the body, rather than having stitched garments. “There is something quite nice, the idea of having some amazing fabric wrapped around your body. But then, it’s not relevant today, just strapping some clothes to someone.”
Thinking about his year at Central Saint Martins, he reflects: “I think they want us to create something a bit more pure – well not ‘pure’, that sounds a bit wanky, but, you know, an ‘essence’ of things. In my collection, I think it’s very concentrated. Because it’s all gold, it’s all the same fabric. But now from that, I could draw a much more diluted collection.”
He admits that he didn’t have a healthy relationship with his work. “Even by the internal show, I was so sick of my project, because it’s always the same fabric, all the same colour. Though he had enough finished garments to show twelve looks, he took it down to eight for the press show. “I discussed it with Howard and Willy. Thinking about it, they were right in saying, ‘don’t show it all, because it’s all gold. Don’t make people sick of it’. I would have loved to show ten or twelve, but then, looking back, it doesn’t explain any more if I show more looks. It would have just been three more for the sake of it.”
Roman doesn’t see himself launching his own brand, and neither is he interested in doing an MA. “I think when you work in a house, you get design projects which you can make quite extreme. Other people are there to tear them down and make them more appropriate.” He’d like to work for a company that allows him to be a hands-on designer, that will have to make him deal with different aspects of design, “rather than just self-indulged designers- ‘oh my god, I love my ideas’- you know?”. Which is a good thing, but also hard, as many graduates struggle to find jobs in fashion, despite being qualified to design. “We study for years. Come on, it’s fashion. Either you’re a good designer or not, you mainly find that out in the industry, because school is one thing…”
He wrote his dissertation about copy-culture in fashion, a subject he feels strongly about. He admits he is obsessed with Style.com himself, but think that lots of collections are Style.com hit parades. “It’s like their research. I did hear a news story that said companies are drawing their inspiration literally from Style.com.” Roman feels that big companies still have a duty to be fashion forward. “There’s a greater idea of dress, rather than being reduced to seasonal trends and sales. This is very important for the industry, because that’s what it’s based on.” He believes that the designers should push a bit. “You can copy their looks, but you can’t copy how they think and see the world. That’s why they will always create better stuff. I mean Phoebe Philo, Céline, is so relevant. You see her work in so many collections. I mean, they might not be so relevant at some points after a while, but these are the people. They’re like pace makers.”
What does he think of pace makers and fame? “In architecture, the star architect, Roy Colbert, said he would rather be an architect again, rather than a star architect. What architecture means in 2014, I don’t know, just bringing too much pop culture. I think a lot of people want to a [fashion] designer and take a bow at the end of the show. They want to be like that.”
“I had loads of conversations last year with designer friends in Paris. They all told me, ‘you will become sarcastic and you will be swallowed up by the industry’. I think it’s really something you feel happening.” Let’s hope that won’t happen to this golden boy.