Dazed Digital


Jean-Charles de Castelbajac

November 30, 2012

We close with an epic interview with the French fashion visionary. Et Bonne nuit.

  • Text by Satellite Voices

Text by Sofia Nebiolo and Christophe Victoor
Photography courtesy of Jean-Charles de Castelbajac 

Jean-Charles de Castelbaljac, an iconic member of French fashion exposes the smells, sights, sounds and memories that make JCDC tick.

Satellite Voices: We would like to know if you consider yourself more as a designer or more as an artist?
JCDC: I started my career as an artist and I use fashion as a medium. I don't think today you can make the difference because actually my concern is to create something blurry, a blur, it's not to work on glamour, you know? I would say I consider myself more as an artist, I’m not concerned as fashion by itself but fashion as an installation. Something more transversal I would say.

When I do a show, essentially, the meaning of the fashion is an extraordinary vector! The way I install it, the décor, the band, the sound, the invitation, the light, everything is important to create this emotion.

Artist is a terminology without limit, there is no frontier, around the world of an artist and 20th Century has seen a huge emergence of artist, what I call artist entrepreneur. I would say I am an artist entrepreneur.

SV: In term of daily work, you're introduced as a Parisian designer, are you trying to modify that? I have seen your newly introduced website that is only about your art...
JCDC: Yes, of course.

SV: Is that something you're trying to show more and more?
JCDC: Let's say I crystalize it on the blog but my reality, my everyday reality, I work on so many different projects. But, actually today my collections are what has kept me alive for the 44 years. To do a fashion show like this was very sane, it saved my life because being an artist the deadlines are not very precise, so I always like fashion for that.

SV: When would you say you moved from art to fashion, what moved you?
JCDC: At the beginning I was very inspired by working clothes, a very archeological dimension of fashion, something was linked to history. For ten years I was practicing clothes like a shelter, like something to protect, the human body and so linked to this point of archeology and I was also looking for a lost material, lost technique. Very suddenly around ‘74 I realized my work was looking like art de pauvre, and this was a movement in Italy working on very poor material and me, I was working on poor blankets, on poor materials to wash the floor.

The link was existing without even knowing because I wasn't totally involved in art in this period. And more and more I have understood that people that have agreed with my work were people that were particularity either extravagant, either different, either unique. In the beginning I was not really linked to fashion, it's just maybe now that the kids have started to appreciate my work that I also crystallize my art work and the medium that is fashion, that I can really be one side as a fashion designer one side as an artist and a bridge between both. I am a bridge builder, between kids and their future, history and art, art and fashion.

SV: When you were a kid did your mother who I know was a designer, influence you?
JCDC: No, I was influenced by my ancestors who were heroes. My first ambition was to be a hero, so it was, the idea of dying, the idea of sacrifice, the idea of danger... to drive fast, to be at the edge of a cliff and to look down, to drink one full bottle of vodka... My idea of being a hero was very particular it was linked to the dangerous death. But then I suppose everyone wants to be a hero.

My first project was that, of being a hero. I had not understood how I could participate with the world changing and I was looking to my ancestors, reading of the procession with King Richard the Lionheart, in 1190 and I was thinking “Oh my God!” How can I reach that galaxy? At one point I started to understand that, maybe in meeting Malcolm McLaren, because Malcolm really introduced me to a political conscious, to link your art to something that is full of sense, but without knowing... And around ‘73 I started to have a more concrete approach to heroism and a more concrete approach as to what can be my contribution to a social revolution.

SV: How did you meet Mr. McLaren?
JCDC: I was feeling alone in Paris and I was getting quite popular. I had a cover of American Vogue but I was doing weird things... the Vogue cover with a t-shirt as a bandage, and I was going to London because there has always been the shelter of my loneliness... And I see this small store on King's Road and I love it! It was filled with chicken bones and I was doing t-shirts with bandages and I find myself thinking we are a part of the same family!

SV: What year was this?
JCDC: Beginning of '73 and then Malcolm showed up in October '73 at my house and said, "Can I come with a band to visit you next month." The band was the New York Dolls! So it was in November '73. It was my birthday, we all went to La Couple and it was 20 of us, Malcolm said, "I invite you to La Couple and the Dolls sing happy birthday to you!" I have a picture of that!

SV: Interesting years! So Malcolm McLaren was also a mix between art and fashion, no?
JCDC: Yes, but of course. 

SV: And a huge bridge into that culture?
JCDC: Those are the only people that are interesting, that have transversitality that don't focus on a reduced universe, it’s in our curiosity.

SV: What inspires you now?
JCDC: So many things, in the world of music there is a lot! I have a big project with Crystal Castles, with Alice and Ethan around JCDC because we are friends for a long time, we have a commune. Actually, their real hero is Malcolm and it is really a shame they never met.

Also, ballet is inspiring to me. I am very fascinated what is coming from authenticity and the sense of provoking accident with the modernity. I just did a scenography in Creteil, which received a beautiful review in the Los Angles Times. It was called "Ceremony" and it was like a scenography of a rock concert. I am very involved in scenography, I love that to control the actors, to provoke the emotion! It’s really WOW!

SV: Would you say that this type if scenography is also an art, like what you did with BHV?
JCDC: I don't see any limit. I think art in the 20th Century is linked to becoming a virus, like Niche used to say. "Rare things for Rare People" but I believe in art that you can practice, art like going to Disneyland... this is my vision of art today. I have a beautiful project as a ghost train as an installation for the Foundation Vuitton. It all passes through fear, through all the emotions that humans endure. Beautiful images against the smell of stinking... and then the worst images. It smells good! You go into a room and you see a desert and it's freezing. And you go into a room looking like Alaska and it's so warm!

SV: Yes, yes, like what your work was with L'Hotel.
JCDC: You know all about me!

SV: CastelBaljac land!
JCDC: Yes, this is my project! I don't think fashion is reserved to an elite! I don't think it's enough to open the window of a department store for five days to get half of a Jimmy Choo. I think it has to be open all the time and the same for art. It all has to be low cost luxury and practicing and generosity as a strength. This is my main project

SV: We have spoken about music and we want to know how you choose artists that play at your shows? Is it an instinct?
JCDC: No, I go to Caribou on MySpace and I go to his ten favorite bands and I start with dance and I listen to what this guy likes... Strange and weird, it's like a genealogical tree, as I am a Ghostbuster in art, I am really a weird sound buster on the Internet.

SV: And if JCDC had to sound like something?
JCDC: It would have to sound different. It would have to sound spectacular. Telling something irrational but with something familiar.

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