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ludovic de saint sernin paris designer
Photography Scott West

The Paris-based designer taking inspiration from art, photography & Xtina

The Dazed 100er and LVMH Prize finalist Ludovic de Saint Sernin is making a case for his sexy, minimal designs after just two collections

The continuous influx of upcoming designers climbing the ranks in the fashion industry is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it means there are always new, exciting faces to watch, but on the other, the oversaturation makes some feel like they have no chance of getting noticed. This was exactly the case for Paris-based designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin, who was studying to become a lawyer before following his true creative calling. “I studied a regular course because my mum was like: ‘you can’t go straight into fashion because you never know if it’s going to work out for you’,” the designer told us.

After studying womenswear at the Duperré School of Applied Arts in Paris, de Saint Sernin worked under Olivier Rousteing at the OTT glam house that is Balmain. Even more surprising than his legal past, once you look at his sexy, minimal menswear designs. Deciding to go it alone after learning his craft at the Parisian house, he started his own label following a trip to Japan, where some savvy shop owners took interest in clothes he had made. “They were like ‘Fashion week is coming up, you should do something’. And I was like ‘I can try and do something’,” he explains.

No sequins in sight, his sex-infused designs utilise leather to create sleek coats, trousers, and impractical lace-up briefs. Elsewhere, Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography, or Dalí’s art inspire wrestling singlets created out of ceramic cutouts stitched together. After only two collections, the designer is already gaining recognition in the industry, being featured as one of the designers in this year’s Dazed 100, as well as one of the finalists for the 2018 LVMH Prize.

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner Marine Serre, the designer is up against the likes of A-COLD-WALL*, Charles Jeffrey, Kwaidan Editions, and Eckhaus Latta – with the winner to be announced on June 6. Following that, he will be presenting his SS19 collection at PFW – likely to include both menswear and womenswear, after the designer launched a female-focussed line earlier this year. 

Here, we talk to de Saint Sernin about starting his own label, and what’s next for him.

Before you started your own label, you worked at Balmain under Olivier Rousteing. What was that like?

Ludovic de Saint Sernin: I worked there for two years but then the aesthetic of Balmain changed and it went in a direction that wasn’t what I was into. I decided that it was better for me to leave. I just had this voice in my head saying, ‘you need to go and try and do your own thing, while you still have the balls to get out of it’. When you’re a designer in the studio, you can see as time goes by that people are more consumed by the brand that they work for, rather than what really animates them. I just thought I was going to give it a shot and see where it takes me.

Your aesthetic is the polar opposite to Balmain. Was it always something you were interested in?

Ludovic de Saint Sernin: For sure it was always there. I would come dressed up in Loewe and Olivier would be like ‘what are you doing here, why are you not wearing a sequin dress, or bodycon?’ It was always that kind of joke. From my perspective, it was good for them to have me, because then I would bring something different to the table.

In terms of my aesthetic, because I came from Balmain before, that would be the first thing that people would get to know about me so I wanted to de-Balmain-ise and make everything very simple. Very much about the purity of the silhouette and about the garments and the boys. It was about setting a mood, with not only the pieces but also the boys – the imagery as a whole.

“There is a double entendre to all the things that I do. There is always that mood and sexual tension in the pieces” – Ludovic de Saint Sernin

How did you go about starting your own label?

Ludovic de Saint Sernin: It just kind of happened organically. Basically, it was through Instagram. I was doing what everyone does on Instagram and then I got very bored of the narcissism of it. So, I was like, ‘let’s try to take pictures of boys, that look like me from a distance and trick the people to look at it.’ I was dressing them in my own clothes that I wear. Then I was like, ‘I want to dress them’ so I started to do a few pieces.

It pushed me to do a bigger collection and then someone offered me a venue. It all came together, I asked around if people would be interested in getting involved with the project – helping with hair, makeup, casting, everything. This amazing team came together, all of a sudden and we just did that for the show. It was amazing.

What was the idea behind your debut collection? 

Ludovic de Saint Sernin: My first collection was a coming-of-age story. It was about me coming out as well. Coming out and embracing it all. It became an example for some of my friends that were out, but they were not out to their parents. It became something that people could relate to. It’s strange when your personal story can resonate with other people. I thought it would be good to express that in my collection but not in an obvious way.

Sex is obviously a big part of it too?

Ludovic de Saint Sernin: There is sex in it too, there is a double entendre to all the things that I do. For instance, the boys at the first presentation. It was in this beautiful location and we had a jungle of plants. You might think the boys were just walking around, but the idea was that they were cruising. So they were checking each other out. 

You only know this because I’m telling you, it’s not in your face. I don’t like to provoke people, because I think it can make people uncomfortable – that’s never my intention. There is always that mood and sexual tension in the pieces. The thing that really came out of the first presentation were the leather briefs. And this blew up, all the boys wanted them. It’s cool because, the first guys that tried them on were like ‘oh my god, they’re so sexy and empowering’.

“The thing that really came out of the first presentation were the leather briefs. All the boys wanted them. It’s cool because, the first guys that tried them on were like ‘oh my god, they’re so sexy and empowering’” – Ludovic de Saint Sernin

Art and photography often inspire your collections. Why is that important? 

Ludovic de Saint Sernin: There are so many extremes right now in the industry. Some designers take fashion so seriously. Or on the other hand, it’s trashy. I want to mix a bit of both because I would be really interested to see an amazing exhibition while at the same time I’m happy to watch an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I want to express that in my clothes and just have fun with it. I love to have funny pop references. One of the pieces from the first collection was inspired by Christina Aguilera’s album. You might not think that looking at the piece, but some people picked up on it. It’s having that pop reference and stripping it down to something minimal. Then it becomes me. 

Your clothes are often referred to as ‘unisex’ but you just started a womenswear line. Why? 

Ludovic de Saint Sernin: It was always meant to be worn by women and men. It’s not a commercial thing, it really is for both. Since the beginning, I’ve shown on boys during men’s Fashion Week in Paris but it turns out that a lot of the buyers buy the collection for women. Even the women that came to the shows were like ‘oh I love this, I could totally see myself in this’. It’s so cool to have women think that when they’re looking at a boy barely dressed.

My idea was to really build this imagery, and it was really focused on men’s imagery. Even though the collection was for both, the idea was to challenge my audience and the people that follow me to tell them and teach them that it is for both. And some pieces are not unisex just because of the body, they’re not the same. So there were a few pieces I introduced specifically as womenswear, but it doesn’t mean that I would all of a sudden do a show for women. Because I can’t afford it right now. I’d love too, but it’s easier for me to just do both at the same time. It halves the budget. That’s the reality of being a young designer.

After just two collections, you’ve been shortlisted as a finalist for the LVMH Prize. How does that feel? 

Ludovic de Saint Sernin: It’s pretty surreal that I’m already in such an amazing competition. The other finalists are so good, it’s overwhelming. I’ve been looking at the work of some of them since I was in school, so for me to be in the same league, it’s pretty amazing. Even if it ends here for me, I’m super happy already.

It’s amazing that you get to meet all these people in such a short amount of them. There are 49 people on the jury that you meet over 48 hours, and among them were Nicolas Ghesquière, Gaia Repossi, Bella Hadid. For a young designer to have their work introduced to Nicolas Ghesquière, that’s huge. The final is going to be even more intense because you’re standing in a room in front of Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, and Haider Ackermann.

How would winning allow you to grow the brand? 

Ludovic de Saint Sernin: I started the brand in my apartment and I’m still here, but the space has been turned into a studio/atelier. I’ve got interns now and a team, but I just need more space. The next big thing that I have to do on my list is the campaign for AW18, and again I’ll need a budget for that. It’s going to help me make these things I really want happen.

It would ease everything and in terms of exposure, it’s amazing. The mentorship of LVMH, that’s going to be helpful. When you look at Marine Serre, who won last year, she just did an amazing show.

What’s next? Have you begun working on your next collection? 

Ludovic de Saint Sernin: Yeah, I’ve already started working on it. I always do a little inspiration trip and I was in LA right after the last show. I’ve been shopping, doing a bit of research, trying on clothes for hours to see what would be cool for the next season. I bought some books as well. I’m excited for next season. I love winter and I was really excited to do a more elaborated silhouette, more layers... but spring/summer is so much fun.