With all the hullabaloo over the retro-inspired looks dominating the headlines these days, one has the impression that professionals in the rag trade are ignoring the challenge of the impending new century. The fact is, most of the garments photographed and televised today are designed for the media and the purpose is to hawk perfume and leather goods rather than anticipate or suggest what we might wear at the turn of the century. For a glimpse of what the future may hold, you have to get away from the big names and go off the beaten track where young designers are experimenting with new concepts and materials for the 21st century.
Pia Myrvold’s Cyber-Couture
In her showroom overlooking the bustling boulevard de Strasbourg, Pia Myrvold is busy finishing the last details of her newest collection, called “Memory.” Somewhat frenzied by the phone ringing off the hook and her assistants rushing to and fro, the attractive blonde smiles, then promptly explains, “This season, I’m putting all my efforts into my exhibition. It uses sound with different kinds of intelligence. It’s sound you can touch. I’ve been making suits with synthesizers. The sounds have been programmed in advance, but the girl sets it into action by touching the jacket, which activates the sound panels in the room.” Multimedia fashion with a link to art and music. How original! Myrvold adds, “I’m very passionate about art. I make clothes but I also create forums for cultural exchanges.”
Reaching toward the rack of clothes hovering over her, Myrvold proudly shows off a sampling from her various “movements” in fashion: dresses cut in simple lines made from Louvre shopping bags, pantsuits featuring a patchwork of photos representing Jean Nouvel’s Fondation Cartier and the Institut du Monde Arabe, a jacket and top streaked with colorful contact sheets of a model photographed in Myrvold’s clothes by Vogue photographer Warren Dadd. It is obvious the designer is well rooted in the world of fine art.
Born in Stavanger, Norway, Myrvold began her career as an artist who made clothes to support herself. At 23, she contributed costume and set designs and instrument building to the Chameleon Circus, a performance group based on improvisation and free music organized by Randy Naylor. In the years that followed, she participated in other productions, installations and exhibitions throughout Scandinavia and held her own art shows, featuring her paintings, sculpture, multimedia projects and “wearable art,” at galleries in Rome, New York and eventually Paris. “In 1992 I did a project with Randy and other deconstructionist artists at the Parc de la Villette, where I was commissioned by Bernard Tschumi to create a 500 square meter textile installation, ‘Village des Voiles’ during ‘Festival Etc.’ It was in Paris that she felt the desire to combine her passion for art with the world of style.
“With fashion I discovered a greater potential for creativity. I like that you can work with others who also have lots of different ideas. I finally got on the Chambre Syndicale des Createurs calendar in October 1994 with my collection, ‘In-Formation,’ the idea being clothes were in the process of formation but always changing, evolving. The next collection, ‘Paris I.D,’ was based on plastic bags. I spoke to museums, bookshops and stores, collecting every plastic bag I could get my hands on. It was an infrastructure project that connected high and low art. My ‘Internet Software’ collection was made of tulle with [ribbon embroidery lines copying the pattern of microchips. Next came ‘Urban Reality.’ I added bits of concrete to the clothing and used industrial plastics. There was a direct connection with the ‘Paris Identity’ and ‘Internet Software’ collections. In the summer of ’96, my ‘Extensions’ collection represented another point of view where clothes became an extension of the soul. I strongly feel that clothes are an object reflecting the interior as well as the exterior. It’s not just about manufacturing. I believe clothes go beyond simple consumption.
“My ‘Interface’ collection touched on psychology. Interfaces are the most important element in technology today. Since we can make the interface chauvinistic or racist, for example, I feel it’s very important to make the right kind of interface. I’m very political when it comes to this kind of thing. Printing on cloth represents the infrastructure. I’ve also become involved with music. Music and text work well with my clothes. I also do the choreography and use videos and music clips as the backdrop for my fashion shows which, in turn, could also be used for MTV or a similar types of television shows or videos.”
“Clothes as Publishing” was the subject of her next collection. Each garment emphasized the importance of clothes as a means of self-expression while exploring the possibilities of publishing ideas on clothes. “With the summer ’97 collection called ‘Edition One,’ I’m the editor-in-chief. I invited people of different fields to contribute. I showed them the Paris plastic bag collection and asked them to continue the research. I’ve worked with Jean Nouvel, Bernard Tschumi. Using Photoshop [software], I printed sound waves of Raphael Elig’s voice. With the collection ‘Edition: Urbanity,’ Norbert Hillaire gave me materials and new techniques to work with. I scanned them into the computer and transfered the prints onto cloth. ‘Body Theory – Second Edition’ features published fragments of Taslima Nasrin’s poem where she describes her body as a sitar being played by nature, along with my own words printed on inlays and incorporated into the garments.” The theory of the body is expressed through shapes, volumes and textures of the clothes, the fragments of the text becoming intellectual surprises.
“Production [of the clothing] is not easy,” Myrvold notes. “My print transfers are limited to A3 [paper size]. I scan in the image and adjust it according to the size of the garment. Depending on the size of the garment I can stretch or shrink the image to fit the proportions. I call it ‘cyber-couture’ since I make the clothes to order. On the other hand, I never waste material. I’ve minimized material waste. I feel I’m going toward a more effective use of energy and new materials.” But this system does have its drawbacks. “Volume is small and the prices are high,” she admits. “I’m trying to figure out how I can create something more affordable so more people can wear my things and talk about my work.”
This month marks the opening of Pia’s new web site, www.pia-Myrvold.com, which will also feature links to the sights, sounds and inspirations of the artists, writers and architects who inspire each collection. The public is invited to discover this artist-designer at the Cercle Norvégien (242, rue de Rivoli, 1er), where an exhibition of her installations, paintings, graphics and artwear will take place October 7.
Jean Fixo’s Menswear Alternatives
After years of receiving press kits from young designers always stating, “I work in noble fabrics…,” I’d say to my students, “The day someone comes to me announcing they’ve cut a collection from burlap, I’ll do a story on him.” Sure enough, two years ago, I was invited to an art opening and fashion show by Jean Fixo, a young Parisian whose collection was based on – you got it – burlap bags.
Fixo laughs when I tell him this anecdote, then confesses, “I have no formal training in fashion. My background is in management. I began making clothes for me and then for my friends. My first collection was 12 years ago, doing what I like best – interesting shapes and materials that have a totally different history of their own. In order to finance my fashion business, I created a computer consultant company 10 years ago, for management, which employs 25 people. This helps me finance my fashion.”
The night of that 1995 show, guests were treated to an exhibition of a friend’s paintings on coffee bean bags from Brazil, which was clearly the inspiration for the small summer collection of men’s burlap jackets over lightweight shirts and trousers. Throughout the four years his company has existed, Fixo has turned out menswear collections based on dish towels, compressed felt, Hawaiian prints and even hospital bandages. If this all sounds totally off the wall, visit the young designer section at the Forum des Halles (near Porte Berger, first basement level), where his clothes are sold. Though the fabrics are highly unusual and the colors sometimes screeching, the silhouettes are simple, easy to wear and well made.
“In general,” Fixo says, “the stronger pieces, which are the most creative, are the ones that sell. People don’t come to me to buy classic looks because they know they can go to someone like Calvin Klein or Armani for that. Today, my success lies in the more unique items. The problem is, of course, I only sell a few pieces. But I have to accept this as the way to go and stick with it. Each time the store in Les Halles sells something, they call and say, ‘Guess what, we sold one of your Hawaiian suits.’ So I’m hoping for a better economy and that the future will be rosy. Right now, I have a small but faithful clientele who come back every season to buy my more unusual items. This suits me just fine because these are the kind of things I enjoy designing. I’m hoping their numbers will grow as the years go on.
“I find most men’s clothes so boring. Unfortunately suits are moving to a standardized look: a three-button suit in grey super 80 [wool]. In women’s wear, there’s lots of great things, whereas with menswear there’s not enough. I want to bring new ideas, new colors and materials into menswear.”
Big textile factories are beginning to work with smaller designers to help them realize their cutting-edge creations, because they see the potential for growth offered by the development of new materials. “I’m working with Woolmark right now,” Fixo says. “The major textile firms all tend do the same thing and, as a result, are encountering competition with Asian companies. With [young] designers, there’s the possibility of tapping new ideas. I’m currently working on developing a linen and cotton blend. It’s a linen that’s washable and easier to wear. Though I’m working on this, I’ll still stick to using materials originating from outside of fashion.” And then, with a gleam in his eye, he confides, “My next collection will feature clothing made from painter’s canvas.”