Exclusive: the acclaimed art director teams up with Paco Rabanne on a new collection – here he reveals its inspirations and shares some stories from his illustrious career
For a man who isn’t a fashion designer, Peter Saville has left an indelible mark on the industry. The art director, who is known for his work with Factory Records, created some of the now-legendary Yohji Yamamoto campaigns of the late 80s and early 90s, and collaborated with Raf Simons on his AW03 collection. (Three parkas from this collection sold for over $20,000 a piece last year, and represent some of the most coveted items in menswear.) Saville also famously created Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album artwork, which has since become one of the most iconic visuals in pop culture iconography, its image reproduced on everything from t-shirts to tea cups.
Today, the art director unveils his latest fashion venture – a capsule collection with Paco Rabanne. Julien Dossena, who has been praised for transforming the brand during his three years as creative director, has admired Saville’s work since his youth – which is why he wanted to work with him. “I was a fan of his growing up, actually,” says Dossena. “As a teenager, I was always looking at his work for Factory Records.” As luck would have it, he ending up meeting Saville around a year ago, and the two got along extremely well. “We sat there for hours talking – about graphics, about fashion, about aesthetics. I knew that I wanted to work with him and that he could fit into the brand vision.”
Together, they’ve designed a collection of t-shirts, sweatshirts and more. Here, Savillle discusses the range and the cult book that inspired it, and shares some thoughts on the state of contemporary fashion and the legacy of Unknown Pleasures.
ON HOW HIS COLLABORATION WITH PACO RABANNE CAME ABOUT
“It evolved quite intuitively from meeting Julien about a year or so ago. He came to see me to talk about his role developing Paco Rabanne, the new generation for the brand. I didn’t know him, but he knew of me. It’s an ongoing surprise to me that subsequent generations know of me through my early work. I can tell you, that is very nice – as time goes by, it’s very nice.
“Julien and I liked one another, and he said he’d love me to do something at some point. So I said, well, that would be great. Six months ago the notion of doing a capsule collection came up – as far as I understood, Julien wanted to do a very simple, basic, utilitarian part of the collection: a sweatshirt, a t-shirt, underwear, some real basics, and he asked me if I had any ideas for a Paco Rabanne t-shirt. He just said ‘Peter, would you like to do something?’”
ON WHAT INSPIRED THE COLLECTION
“Inescapably, for me, whenever the name Paco Rabanne is mentioned, I immediately see one very particular collection of photographs by Jean Clemmer in 1969. They are in a book that has different titles in different countries. I know the book as Nues, and it is this archetypal collection of pictures of girls in signature Paco Rabanne metal dresses and garments on the rocks in a south of France coastline scenario.
“Doing some research, I noticed that this book was also available with the title Canned Candies, I think it must have been the English-language version with this ridiculously cliche title. Then I noticed a German-language version called, Akt in Ketten, which translates as ‘Nude in Chains’!
“I found these socio-cultural idiosyncrasies very interesting and revealing of different national psyches. These characteristics were further defined through the book cover typography.”
ON HOW BOWIE INTRODUCED HIM TO FASHION
“Fashion was fundamentally unimportant to me as a teenager in the early 1970s – like any other teenager, the ‘culture’ that mattered to me was pop music. At that age one is more likely to be into a band before you’re into a ballet dancer or a fashion designer or an architect. Pop is the entry level of cultural experience.
“My first concert was David Bowie in ’69. He was the example that image was something that you, as an ordinary person, could engage with, could be part of. He was a pop star constructing an image in a way that perhaps you could too. It was a point at which self-image and consequently fashion seemed to be accessible, no longer a removed, exclusive, privileged thing going on somewhere else in the world for other people, potentially a part of your own reality.”
ON HOW HE GOT INTO FASHION AND WORKING WITH YOHJI
“I came to understand fashion as emblematic of the zeitgeist and consequently it informed my work. The first person in fashion to recognise that synergy was Marc Ascoli. It was with Nick Knight and through Marc Ascoli that I first worked in fashion, on a campaign for Yohji Yamamoto in 1986. Marc and I got on straight away, he knew my record covers, and he saw their parallel with fashion.
“By the end of the 80s, I had developed a certain ennui with the commoditising cycle that fashion had become. I felt it had run the course of social progress and was beginning to feel like a tax on living rather than an empowerment. Yohji felt the same and I did a project for him in ’91, which he let me call ‘Game Over’.”
“I saw a news clip of a woman running from a bombing in Palestine wearing an Unknown Pleasures t-shirt. Then there’s the spaghetti dish, it’s extraordinary. Fabulous” – Peter Saville
ON FASHION IN THE 90S AND VETEMENTS
“By the 90s, it felt very much that fashion had become entirely colonised by business, in the same way that music had been; the culture of living was corporatised. In the 80s, fashion was still questioning of the status quo – when the Japanese turned up in Paris, they were making a sociocultural statement.
“When the social economy picked up again after the recession in the early 90s, the authenticity in the art of living gave way to business. At which point, art itself became the new fashion or rock’n’roll. We began to look at artists as the free-thinkers. Art became the new inspiration – where people are saying what they think, rather than what sells. Occasionally something still comes out of the margins, like Vetements revisiting the spirit of mid-90s Berlin. That was not cooked up in a boardroom.”
ON CONTEMPORARY FASHION
“I have a very different perspective on fashion now. I am more critical, but it is fascinating what is going on. Clothes and style objects are employed as mediums of self-expression. It’s not a bag, it’s an idea. It’s a sculpture, really, but it’s got a shoulder strap. It’s art-lite, actually. I didn’t find it interesting at first, but I do now. I’m still paying attention, like the guy on the hill that watches the battle and observes that it’s ‘magnificent’, but it’s not war. It’s intriguing.”
ON THE COMMODIFICATION OF UNKNOWN PLEASURES
“At the beginning it was flattering because it was obviously touching people. They wanted it on a t-shirt. Then it gets ugly because profiteers pile in. Unknown Pleasures has transcended that now to become a global icon. It is definitely one of the famous images of our time, and that’s really interesting to consider.
“I saw a news clip of a woman running from a bombing in Palestine wearing an Unknown Pleasures t-shirt. Then there’s the spaghetti dish, it’s extraordinary. Fabulous.”
ON JOY DIVISION AND IAN CURTIS
“The Joy Division story is one of the last true stories in pop. It’s a romantic tragedy. Ian’s death, sadly, was as authentic a gesture an artist can make because it was not an accident. It was not a fuck-up. It might have been influenced by some prescription medicine, but it was not an overdose. He wrote how he felt at the time and for all intents and purposes, underscored it with his life. He wrote ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and died making the point. The story is Shakespearean. It’s Romeo and Juliet. It never dies.”
Peter Saville x Paco Rabanne will be available at Dover Street Market in London from September 16, and in the Paco Rabanne boutique on Rue Cambon in Paris from September 29, as well as on pacorabanne.com