We continue our conversation with BEAUGAN in this posts, we further interview Christopher and Miko.
How do you source your materials? Do you go to Japan or Paris to source fabrics?
Christopher: The funny thing about Japan is that it has an image of being a very modern, high-tech country filled with robots and bullets trains, but in the fashion industry, it’s the opposite. Some fabric mills don’t even have emails or proper working cellphones, so the only way to contact them is through a fax machine.
Miko: Phone calls, fax machine, or go there physically.
Christopher: Fax machines are everywhere in Japan – you’d be surprised. What we do was, literally, get into our car and drive to these places like a road trip. We’ve been driving throughout Japan to visit these mills in person, to see what they’re doing. We got a car and we sleep in the back. We really like going out there and seeing all these people. Then through them, we’ve been learning a bit more about fabric creation, which is kind of shocking to realise how little I knew about fabrics. We met a guy at the Shiga prefecture – his speciality is the ‘Tateito’ warp thread. A fabric usually is a combination of vertical and horizontal threads, and this guy’s job is just to do the vertical thread. When we visited, it was like a time slip where we travel back in time. His studio was in a very old industrial building with old computers where they use punch cards to do fabric patterns. The punch cards will tell the needles when to go up and down, and it’s a very old method of making fabrics. His job is to put these vertical threads onto these rolls to be woven. He’s taking jobs from all over Japan from different companies, but he was explaining how frustrating it is for him as an artisan, because his job is to align every single thread in a roll which has thousands of threads across, and each thread has to be adjusted to go into these fabrics.
When you think about the fabric, each vertical thread has to be controlled individually, and this is something we actually don’t think about. He puts on each roll and each thread into the machine, and he has to adjust the tension independently. And he was complaining about designers these days who don’t even realize that, first of all, each thread is adjusted individually, so it means that each thread is an opportunity to design, and you can change each thread in a row. He was showing us the fabrics he made that he individually changed – it almost looks like magic because he would lay one half of the fabric next to the other side of the fabric, and it would be a completely different colour, but if you look at the fabric from far, it’s the same colour. He was saying that when a designer requests for grey vertical threads, he would be frustrated because there are infinite ways to make this grey. You can twist and alternate a white and a black thread together to make a grey. So you can make a 3D grey.
Miko: He said fabric is not 2D, it’s 3D right?
Christopher: Yeah. He’s only getting people ordering “just make this in grey colour” or “make a thousand threads in this one colour”, so what’s his job then? It’s not fun at all. We meet these sorts of people through travelling around the country. It’s the reason why what we’re doing here kind of reaffirms what we believe in. When we talk to a fabric supplier and ask something to be done a certain way, we would find out that effectively, that way doesn’t exist anymore because big companies want unification, and all the fabrics have just become more unified and boring. So when we come with our tiny orders and asked if they could make this extremely complicated fabric, it’s difficult. We need to do it to keep it alive, there are fabric artisans we work with who are probably the last of the line. There are techniques that have been around for 100 years that don’t get orders from big companies and most designers – just “freaks” like us.
What I like about BEAUGAN is that you introduce this knowledge and vision on slow fashion that is specifically from Japan to the world. Everyone will get to know these techniques, treatments and ways of construction due to your work, and I find it very interesting. I don't know any other designer who does it this way you guys do.
Christopher: Thank you, that's very nice.
That's really inspiring for others to hear as well, that you really pay homage to the old artisans and the old ways of crafting because it literally is not going to be here anymore in a few years.
Christopher: Yeah, that's the worry. For example, when I find some vintage garments, sometimes they just have very beautiful, remarkable fabrics, but unfortunately, when we take them to a modern production place, they don't have the technique to replicate it and the end result won't be what you’re looking for. We really do need to keep good things around if we can, otherwise life gets a bit boring.
You both mentioned workwear and military, and how every assembling and attachments on your garments have a functional purpose. What does this say about your vision on fashion, and do you think every item needs to be functional?
Christopher: I think I had this feeling coming from Antwerp in the current era. I think we’re going through a very maximalist era in fashion. The Antwerp designers are doing very well at the moment. They’re very creative, wild and flamboyant with their designs which I really appreciate. But at the same time, I’m feeling a bit overdosed – I’m not super experienced but I’ve been in fashion for over 10 years and I’m starting to feel a little tired of that kind of attitude to fashion. That kind of showing off and chasing trends... I don’t find that attractive anymore.
Coming from a viewpoint of someone who’s deeply in love with fashion and someone who wants to study the depths of fashion, I feel like I am really studying clothing and design. There’s the 10 Principles of Good Design by Dieter Rams. He’s very well-known for his work at Braun, which in turn inspired designers like Johnny Ive of Apple and Marc Newson. And among the list is that design should be unintrusive. It means it shouldn’t be in your face. It should be relaxed and reserved, and it can just sit in the background. I find that very appealing somehow, particularly for fashion because fashion tends to have the opposite stereotype – fashion is very in your face, show-offy, look-at-me… I like the idea that fashion is like a product to better your life and a tool for people to use. We don’t want every product in life to be in strange shapes or multicoloured. We do like to have simplicity in our lives quite often, but somehow fashion is not always the case. So for me, I felt it’s very interesting coming from an Antwerp background to try and view things from the other side of the fence, like an opposing viewpoint. So looking at fashion from a product standpoint, that’s where the utility comes to mind. The whole adage of form follows function. Basically, the design speaks for itself. You should know how to use a product when you see it – it should be intuitive and instinctive. I like that. What’s nice about workwear and the vintage military is that they weren’t designed to look good, they were just designed purely for function. The most direct method of making pockets? That’s how they did it. There’s no messing around so for me, it’s a pure, honest and beautiful product. So it’s what I’ve been researching the last couple of years by digging up archive pieces, analysing and recreating them. I think I’ll take that in a different direction in the future, but at the moment, my preoccupation has been just making simple, functional daily wear because what’s the point of fashion if you can’t enjoy it? If you don’t wear it every day. If it doesn’t make your life better every day then it just becomes some art piece.
Can you tell us more about your recent FW21 collection? What types of utilitarian or vintage military garments did you take as inspiration for this collection?
Christopher: We looked at the Canadian Mark for combat jacket and pants. It first appeared in the late ’60s — I don’t think they still use the patterns today but it had really nice 3D pocketing which is diagonal on the chests and it has a nice curve and boxy silhouette which I really like. It’s quite charming despite the fact that it’s designed for killing [laughs]... It’s a very charming silhouette and one that I haven’t seen so much.
One of the key garments that got my attention was the Beuys suit, inspired by the Beuys Felt series. As you know, the Beuys suit is not a functional garment from the past, but rather an art initiative that wasn’t meant to be worn. Can you tell us more about this particular design and why you wanted to recreate it?
Christopher: I really like this artist – the things that he wrote are very interesting, especially the social-political commentary that he made. He had this idea about materials being raw, and that there’s a story that he said where he was shot down as a Nazi pilot and he fell into the mountains, collected by some tribe people who wrapped him in a felt blanket with some animal fur. They were debunked but his myth-making stories were really nice. So he made the series about survival, always using rendered animal fat and felt which are such raw materials. I’ve always liked such an aesthetic, even the meaning behind it. I’ve always seen this iconic felt suit. Particularly nowadays, with Instagram, it keeps popping up and still remains relevant even though the piece was made more than 50 years ago. People still think that it’s super cool now, so it obviously has a lot of power and meaning behind it. It’s very attractive as a piece, and I would just want to recreate that and pay homage to him as an artist and what he was thinking and representing.
I felt that functionally, felt as a garment is a bit different — it’s scratchy. We found a way of making something that looks like felt but is essentially a woven fabric. What we did was we weaved together four threads in different colours — a warm grey, a light cool grey, orange and blue – to make this kind of grey like you would see in upholstery felt. It’s been woven very tightly in wool and shrunk down, so the fibres have become very torn and condensed. After that, it’s being treated and washed to raise the fibres of the thread. So it looks like felt, in all intent and purposes, but it’s a woven fabric that has been originally created for us by us as a homage to the suit.
I tried to replicate how the suit looks as it’s hanging, referencing lots of different pictures, because, obviously, I don’t get to touch the real one. Just by doing lots of referential images and research to recreate the balance. It was very difficult to do that and have a garment that also looks nice when it’s on your body. I think we achieved it in the end but it was a really fun project. Because of this type of fabric we created, we can do things like cutting the seams raw so we don’t have to do any finishing for the seams. We made it look like the original felt suit. It wasn’t intended to be worn as a real garment but we made it, and it looks and seems like it. Thanks to Joseph Beuys’ genius.
Can we expect more creations inspired by art projects from the past?
Christopher: I think that there’s maybe a shirt that I’m looking at by some 54:27. Artist and history often have very interesting styles because perhaps people in fashion are a bit like outsiders – they don’t play by the rules so much which is why they often have their own sense of style, and I find that quite fascinating. In a way, they’re looking at the way artist and musicians dress as a muse. It’s a common thing that fashion designers do. There’s certainly going to be some influences in the future, looking at some styling.
Can you give us a sneak peek of what’s coming for SS22?
Miko: BEAUGAN gives off an image that everything is in dorozome dark brown or dorozome black, but next season you can expect more colours from nature. Lots of colours from natural materials, as well as how we apply Arimatsu Shibori — a traditional Japanese tie-dying technique. We met a young guy who is reviving that technique into garments so we wanted to use that craft in this collection.
Christopher: In English, we just call it tie-dye but it’s kind of rude to call it that. It’s got its whole language, and there are thousands of different patterns.
Miko: Each religion has its own tie-dye technique. Africa and Asia… In Japan, there are maybe more fine works and variations. I don’t say Japan is better or the first, just different and their approach is more fine and intense.