Representing the creative future

Lutz Huelle: The punk nature of less

The Parisian designer thinks that making fashion simpler is the only rational response to the pandemic

“I don’t know what feels right yet,” confesses Lutz Huelle, contemplating the untold hereafter of COVID-19. It is sobering to hear a designer, a role deemed so intrinsically with a forward-thinking ideology, admit that he has no clue. His vision has become a nomadic one, traversing an unimagined no man’s land with empty rails, no longer harbouring the toiles for the next season. He glances around his Parisian studio, in earshot from Le Marais, the nucleus of Huelle’s eponymous label he shares with partner David Ballu, for the past twenty years. And it wasn’t quite the anniversary setting he had in mind, “the deserted streets of Paris looking very 28 Days Later” he jokes. “Seeing the waters clear up, the streets no longer polluted with cars and no planes flying overhead. It’s very strange” shares Huelle, as Paris begins, very slowly, unwinding the lockdown from Monday onwards. Yet, the saving grace for the German designer is that he’s not one to become saturated by sentimental landmarks and milestones. “It just makes me feel old,” he laughs riotously.

Lutz Huelle

How do we govern this indeterminate history we are living through? Are we about to completely alter the rhythm as we know it for good? For Huelle, he isn’t so sure he’s got the answers. But nor does he seem so frightened by that thought. In lieu of seclusion, Huelle has taken to Instagram, curating a series of tutorials on how to deconstruct a t-shirt and thus reinvent it. “As a designer, you’re so used to being with people all the time. I don’t sit alone thinking. I work on people or with people, so to suddenly be without that is bizarre. After the first few weeks of quarantine, you realise how much you just need to work,” he stresses. “I needed a dialogue, a back-and-forth and a reaction, because with any work that I do if it’s not seen or worn by somebody, there’s no sense to it.”

“The best ideas are those that are the simplest, the ones that you don’t necessarily need anything for. It’s a stupid old t-shirt and that’s it. It’s a lesson that you could make something out of anything; with something that’s right in front of you and you have the power to change it.”

In a sequence of laid-back IGTV seminars – the new playground for designers seeking to connect – Huelle reveals his mastery: producing garments with a limited roster of items from scissors to tape. There is a method to the refinement, he goes on to share. “For the first few weeks, I didn’t even dress properly except wearing t-shirts. Everybody has a shapeless t-shirt they’ve been wearing at home for the past few weeks, so I thought “what can we do with it when not everyone can sew or has access to a sewing machine?” Adhering to the prominent wartime philosophy, Huelle has manifested the ‘make do and mend’ spirit. “The best ideas are those that are the simplest, the ones that you don’t necessarily need anything for. It’s a stupid old t-shirt and that’s it. It’s a lesson that you could make something out of anything; with something that’s right in front of you and you have the power to change it.” His passion mounts further, “Isn’t it Punk after all?” he offers, rhetorically, referencing the coquettish and androgynous looks of the anarchic era that saw ripping clothes to shreds and putting them back together again the decadent look. The résumé? “It’s unpretentious and it’s democratic,” he says astutely, salvaging in our present unity, mobilisation of the people moulded together by the chaos.

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Repurposed T-shirt by Lutz Huelle

It is not the first time Huelle has been tasked to think on his feet. Touched by the Great Recession of 2008, Huelle was forced into a radical reimagining of the future for his label. “We almost went bankrupt. We had a terrible season, we delivered badly, and we were left thinking, how are we going to go on?” Glancing around the white walls of his office, he looks for the absent incarnations, pointing out a part of his studio, pasted with photographs of every look from the past ten seasons. “It’s always an ongoing process,” he gestures to the images. “I always make sure before we go to the show that we put the last collection underneath, so I can take the next step. I question what was nice about the ones above. What could this be tomorrow? We put things together like a puzzle. It’s the fluidity of creating a show.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_USAvwo9-O/

Repurposed T-shirt by Lutz Huelle
Repurposed T-shirt by Lutz Huelle

“Seasons seem so old to me. When you look at your wardrobe, you don’t wear things once and never again.”

To borrow a phrase from Lidewij Edelkoort, a distinguished trend forecaster, “fashion is old-fashioned,” she shared provocatively at a conference back in 2016. Yet, “It’s a truth that can be changed.” Questioning how we can elucidate this change, Huelle looks toward the counterintuitive seasonal structure. “Seasons seem so old to me. When you look at your wardrobe, you don’t wear things once and never again. People don’t know how much thought a designer has put into a piece of clothing. It’s about creating a piece that people will return to. And that’s something that has value. It’s not just something that’s been put together in five seconds and sewn quickly. Obviously, there is the question of profit and overheads and paying your team, so I don’t know how far people can reduce the number of collections, but you can reduce the time clothes go on sale for and keep the clothes in store for longer.” He punctuates his outlook with fever at the news of Saint Laurent’s withdrawal from Paris Fashion Week set to make seismic waves in the industry, taking the decision to operate by their own calendar. “Would you have guessed that was going to happen? It’s awesome. It’s huge. These big brands make decisions that the rest of the industry can follow. Once one change has been made, everybody’s going to want to change something because now we can and that’s exciting.”

Lutz Huelle Archives

“The shows are not the problem. The problem is that they have become so enormous in that there’s so many of them that we’ve almost forgotten their purpose.”

“It’s funny because people are quick to say that shows are redundant. But you know what? I honestly disagree. In a show, nothing can take away from that moment where you sit, the lights go down, the music starts, and you see something new. It’s an experience. But shows are not the problem. The problem is that they have become so enormous in that there’s so many of them that we’ve almost forgotten their purpose. It was always a meeting point for buyers and the press. It wasn’t supposed to become a worldwide amusement show. That’s great that it’s become that, but we need to decide which we want to do. After all, it’s meant for everybody, so let’s make a point of really showing the people when these clothes are in the stores.” Particularly as the contagion has exacerbated counterfeit culture, he posits – one of the external threats of the coronavirus – “why show the collection six months before they can buy it when people have already seen it and it’s been copied and sold before it’s for sale. Why not deliver both at the same time?”

Lutz Huelle Archives

“Once this is over, every brand or designer will push as much as possible to make up for the losses.”

For an industry that’s been constantly grappling with a pathway of environmental consciousness, this moment of flux could be the very steppingstone it needed. As stacks of unwanted inventory sit in piles, perhaps it’s a time to rethink the hedonism that’s led us to this focal point by being less iconic in our production and more ironic? “Fashion always prides itself on being so forward-thinking, at the forefront of everything because we plan ahead. But this situation exposes the lack of modernisation from within. Maybe these changes could mean fewer clothes will end up in a heap or destroyed. Then we can produce a little less without losing all the profit margins. Perhaps people won’t want to buy as much as they were buying before? I haven’t bought anything for the past four weeks and it hasn’t changed my life in a terrible way.”

Refusing to be distracted by rose-tinted spectacles, Huelle shares, “It is daunting. Once this is over, every brand or designer will push as much as possible to make up for the losses. I don’t know how many people will get lost in this. There’s less money to go around so people will want those spaces and the attention of the consumers, particularly when you don’t have the same kind of means that maybe other brands have.” A steadying thought as a designer tasked to react to the zeitgeist, there’s solace in the current unpredictability. “No one’s dealt with anything like this before. I realise how incredible it is to go into a store and try something on. Just that physicality that you don’t miss until it’s gone.”

Lutz Huelle Archives

“Nothing beats that moment between students, tutors and friends at your final show. No FaceTime can replace that moment.”

To graduating students, set to prepare for their final collections, Huelle acknowledges the undeniable heartbreak. “Nothing beats that moment between students, tutors and friends at your final show. No FaceTime can replace that moment. Physicality means that you can randomly put a piece of fabric there and suddenly it looks amazing. It’s a tactile process you can’t take away.” While that spontaneity has presently been snatched, Huelle marks this as, “Just another bump in the road. What’s happening isn’t good, but it can be used in a positive way because the industry is all about navigating problems. You get used to it. It’s here and it’s something you have to deal with.” He apologises for the banality, “If you get through this and make a brilliant collection, you’ll be so much stronger.”

1 Granary

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With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

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