CSM graduate Pierre-Louis Auvray – otherwise known as @forbiddenkn0wledge – made his New York Fashion Week debut last night
Pierre-Louis Auvray made his debut at New York Fashion Week last night, although it seems it hasn’t yet sunk all the way in. “I’m so stressed but really excited,” he beamed with nervous energy a few hours before the show.
Winning a spot on VFiles’ Runway Showcase alongside London’s Wesley Harriott, and Antwerp-based designers Di Du and Nico Verhaegen, Auvray’s surrealist collection set him apart from the crowd. Known for extrapolating the human body into unexpected and daringly exaggerated silhouettes, the French designer’s graduate offering was feverishly irreverent, demonstrating a total disregard for trends. But then, it’s unlikely you’d expect anything less from a former Central Saint Martins student. Now, he’s ecstatic to have been given a seat at the table as part of VFiles’ SS20 show – this season presented in partnership with Depop.
Though this is Auvray’s first show since leaving CSM behind last year, you might already be familiar with his work. While still studying at the revered London institution, the designer became embroiled in a David and Goliath-like squabble with Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele. After accusing the luxury fashion house of ‘ripping off’ his designs, he was forced to turn inward and contemplate the complex nature of ideas. “I don’t care anymore,” he shrugs. Today, he explains, he has bigger fish to fry.
Auvray’s fascination with the human body, from bulging muscles to meaty flesh, while always whimsical rather than disturbed, has moved on to reconnection, sustainability, and upcycled plastic. Asking his friends to donate their old, unwanted clothing, this time around his collection splices repurposed textural knitted pieces with motifs lifted from kids’ toys and actual games consoles. How would he describe it? “I would say it's like cyberpunk, robotic, rococo vaporwave.”
As the iconoclastic designer prepared to share his vision on one of the biggest stages in the fashion world, we caught up with him to discuss drawing inspiration from anime, casting runways, and the overarching message behind his most exciting collection yet.
How did you land a spot on the VFiles runway this season?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: I found out about VFiles because one of my friends who graduated before me won two years ago. His name was Christian Stone and he did an amazing collection called Mutant Artisanal, and he was really impressed by what they set up. They consult with you for the whole thing, all the way from make-up to styling. And when I graduated, I decided to apply. Then one day out of the blue they called me and told me I won. I was speechless. I didn’t expect to win.
Did you have to create a new collection for this show?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: Yeah, basically that's what I did because I graduated like one year ago. I applied with my graduate collection, but then I had to make like eight more looks. I started working on this collection and had my sixth look done by February, but then I broke my hip in May, so I had three months in the hospital. When I got out, l I found out I won so I had to get back to work in August.
Since graduating from Central Saint Martins, how has your work evolved?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: Well, I think it became more personal because my final year was very stressful. I had an idea of what I wanted to do but the concept wasn't really fixed and over the year I almost became calmer because I wasn’t in school anymore. So my focus is now on stuff I would actually want to wear, and it’s more personal to me. It became more about big bright colours this year, too.
“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with strong female characters in movies as well as characters with amazing costume designs like Poison Ivy, Batman, Macho Man... There were loads of these 90s movies that were really tacky but had such great costumes” – Pierre-Louis Auvray
You have a huge following on Instagram. How have you used the platform to showcase your pieces?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: I think it’s a really great platform, and it’s really nice when people compliment the stuff I post. But lately I haven't been able to use it too much because I have so much work to do and I wanted to keep the collection a surprise. I mean, I know social media can be really toxic, but for me it's also been really encouraging – when I saw what I was doing was also pleasing people.
You also interact a lot with others on there...
Pierre-Louis Auvray: Yeah, it’s a nice thing to do. And some people ask you for advice on how to apply to this thing or how to do certain things and that’s really nice, right? You feel like people really look up to you and it may sound pretentious, but it’s so positive.
The internet has always rallied behind you. In 2017, this happened in a big way when you accused Gucci of ripping off your alien-inspired digital fashion illustrations. And then Alessandro Michele ended up responding, defending his ideas, and also said he’d reach out to you. Did you ever hear from him?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: No, that never happened, but it's okay. It was really stressful and it all happened way too fast. And there were so many people asking questions. It was way too much stress.
I've changed a lot. How I feel at the moment is that we're getting into call-out culture in fashion and it's all getting a bit much. I also felt like I was a bit wrong because you can't really claim like something like an alien which is such a generic thing. So now I see it from another perspective… and yeah, I don't care. I think it’s sometimes good to have these conversations, but I’ve moved on. I was so young then.
Let’s go back to the start – how did your love of fashion begin?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: When I was a kid, I was obsessed with strong female characters in movies as well as characters with amazing costume designs like Poison Ivy, Batman, Macho Man... There were loads of these 90s movies that were really tacky but had such great costumes. I was always drawing characters this way and at some point, I wanted to switch to another thing – fashion was it.
And where did your fascination with bodybuilding come from?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: Well, it was never really about bodybuilding, but the thing was that it was a good way to go deeper and research the body. For me it started with Akira, you know the anime? There's a scene where Tetsuo mutates into a huge mutant baby and looked like a mass of flesh. That was really the starting point. I really wanted to capture this kind of grossness, thickness, this monstrous kind of thing.
Fashion has always struggled with being inclusive. Is it something that’s important to you?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: Yeah. I mean the biggest thing I'm doing with this collection is being way more inclusive because I was able to choose the models for this show. It was more of an off-the-street casting. When I design and create these looks, I have a full idea of a character in mind. I don’t draw out these super-skinny models.
Do you think the industry is changing?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: There's a lot of discussion going on. But sometimes I worry that it's just a trend or a fetishisation of some kind. That's the thing with fashion, and that's the way it works sometimes, so I don't know. I think that there's a lot of work to be done here. But using different people gives another dimension to the clothes and that's so much more interesting than just seeing one body type (wearing them).
Your new collection shows a distinct shift in your inspiration, from muscular bodies to robots, metals, and silhouettes that are harsh and structured. Where did this come from?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: My graduation collection was all about big soft muscles and now I'm doing the total opposite using metals and plastic, but they're all upcycled. We created these pieces with toys and electronics and I don't make any new plastic.
“For my new collection, I showed a lot of upcycled knitwear. I asked friends to give me their old sweaters and I found details on them and cut them up. I would say it's like cyberpunk, robotic, rococo vaporwave” – Pierre-Louis Auvray
Is sustainability important to you?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: Yeah! For my new collection, I showed a lot of upcycled knitwear. I asked friends to give me their old sweaters and I found details on them and cut them up and I tried to use almost every bit of it. I would say it’s like cyberpunk, robotic, rococo vaporwave.
One message I want to convey with this collection is that we need to create reconnection between people through their things. I work with a lot of fabrics that have already been worn, they’ve already been used, as well as toys, which for instance I’ve pulled apart to create a bodice. These are all objects that had belonged to someone before. We’re trying to create a type of connection between the wearer and these old belongings.
Your designs would look incredible on stage. Have you been approached by any performers or musicians to create looks for them?
Pierre-Louis Auvray: I really want to do more collaborations, especially with artists on music videos and stuff like that. I actually have some collaborations coming out soon but I can’t say the names right now (laughs). I’m really excited about it because it’s people I’ve really looked up to.