The Belgian FIT graduate who has worked side by side with Yves Saint Laurent for years, has sidestepped the official Parisian fashion schedule, replacing the more and more theatrical fashion shows by offering his clientele a huge and calm space in the center of Paris. Jean-Paul Knott welcomed his buyers from all over the world in the 10th district of Paris from 28th June to 3rd July 2013.
In the following interview the editor attempts to delve into the world of JEANPAULKNOTT and presents the idea behind his latest SS 14 Collection “I am not an angel”.
To start with, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your brand that shares the same name?
JPK: I worked for a long time for Yves Saint Laurent and I was Yves Saint Laurent’s assistant on Haute Couture and Ready-to-Wear. My supervisor was Loulou de la Falaise who just passed away recently. I worked with them for 13 years and then I decided to go somewhere else, to try to get a job but I couldn’t see where I could work after Yves Saint Laurent. I needed to live, to survive, to eat – so I started my business. Mainly because I didn’t find anybody with whom I would like to work.
Does your brand reflect your personality? How so?
JPK: Yes, I think (laughing). Of course, somehow I think a designer can only talk about what he knows and what he is about. Therefore, my brand and designs are about who I am with what I believe in and how I live.
What is the DNA of your brand?
JPK: We try to work on the ideas of new luxury, comfort or ease. A luxury that is more for yourself than for others. I would say the DNA is about sober elegance.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
JPK: Traveling. I have travelled a lot throughout my life and I spend most of my time away from home. So it is always about traveling, about seeing things in different ways.
When are you travelintg? And how many times a year?
JPK: I have not taken any holiday in the last three years. Over the last 13 years, I think I went on holiday three times. But I spend most of my time traveling and I do what I like, so I am most of the time on holiday.
I am eight times a year in Japan, four times a year in China. Then I come to Paris four times a year for collection time, four times a year to New York for Fashion Week. All together it adds up to 20 times a year.
So you are always presenting your collections on a routine basis at these different places. How are you showcasing your collections (via showroom or fashion show)?
JPK: It depends. We try to do one show a year, but never at the same place. I used to do shows in Paris only. I stopped because I think people get bored after a while. Then I started doing them in Japan, China, then in Australia, then in New York. And now it is more ‘wherever’ as long as it is not Paris.
Can you explain why?
JPK: For Prêt-à-Porter in Paris, there are about 300 shows on the calendar and it’s about the same off the calendar. Why try to compete, why try to fight? It’s better to do it in a different way somehow and I don’t need to prove myself anymore, I set things up and found a way so that my company runs.
How has the reaction from international buyers been? Where are your buyers from?
JPK: They are from all over the world. Paris is good as it offers a platform for buyers from all over the world. In New York, Japan and Belgium you only get local buyers. The scope does not widen more than that, whereas in Paris, you get world market. But I would say that the strongest country this year is Korea, it’s been like that over the last two to three seasons. Korea has picked up and most of it has happened in Asia altogether. I was reading an article about luxury and fashion market in “Libération” this morning and it explained that 60% was in Asia today.
Do you think that most of your clients are from Asia because of your collaboration with TORMORROWLAND in Japan?
JPK: Of course it helps to have TOMORROWLAND as a collaborator but I also believe that the fashion market altogether is stronger in Asia. People are interested in fashion. I was in Isetan three weeks ago and I was shocked because people were queuing to pay and it’s something you don’t even see at “Bon Marché” on Saturday anymore. It’s feels like another century where people were queuing to buy something.
What other collaborations do you have at the moment?
JPK: Many. I work also for a Chinese company called “Ellasay” and a year ago we started a license collaboration with diamond makers, jewelry makers and the biggest importers of watches in Europe called “Casa Gi” actually.
What was your inspiration for your current collection you are presenting in Paris?
JPK: For Womenswear the whole idea of the collection is based on “not to play, not to work and not to enjoy”. This season’s theme is “I’m not an angel”. The same idea “not to work, not to play and not to enjoy” applies for Menswear. It’s working on the same concept of raw versus sophisticated. It is also working on the idea of an entire wardrobe, playing a bit more with the idea of daytime party clothes, which is also part of ladies. It’s pushing a little bit more to an extreme menswear, mixing things up, working on finishing details, comfort and ease. We added quite a lot of colors actually, never seen before in my collections even for men. Maybe I’m happy and I want more colors (…) the collection has seven shirts for the seven days of the week, we have one jacket, one coat, one pair of denim – but the denim comes from Japan and is made in Japan, it is called “Not Denim”. Both collections are influenced by architecture because I like architecture a lot. I like shapes a lot so I worked on the idea of squares and circles. You put a square on the circle, you put a circle on the square – so on Mens T-shirts it becomes big circles that make a shape, or squares becomes like a frame to silhouettes of a T-shirt. It is really working on shapes. Clothing becoming like architecture in a way.
What is the idea behind “I’m not an angel”?
JPK: At the beginning of the collection I was reading a book about the 20s/30s writer, journalist and intellectual Annemarie Schwarzenbach. Originally from Switzerland and belonging to the haute bourgeoisie, she spent most of her time traveling around the world. Being a homosexual, she could not be married to her husband, a French ambassador in Iran and therefore ran away with her girlfriend. This aspect of liberation and liberty can also be found in les “Lettres Persanes” and this is why I have always wondered what Annemarie would wear and the gender roles in how things contrast. For example: the opposition between softness and rigidity or between sensitivity and toughness all intertwining to make what modernity is today (…).
I always try to have a person in my mind when I work on a new collection. Usually, it is what I have read, what I have seen. This person inspires the color range and wardrobe of my collection. I believe that a wardrobe should help a person feel good throughout the day – from morning to evening,
Do you try to offer a whole product range?
JPK: Yes but I don’t like the idea of the whole range of product, it’s more like what I believe we need today to have a nice life. I’m not trying to make extremely avant-gardist clothes. I try to make clothes that make people feel good. Perhaps by looking better, they will feel better and look at life on the bright side and maybe they will be more in love which is the important side of life.
Who is the Jean Paul Knott woman?
JPK: She is a 30 to 45 woman to be honest. She is an intellectual and usually works in liberal arts whether it is law, medicine or art. She needs to be free, open and easy going because my clothes are for people that want an easy life
Do you have any celebrities that you are dressing?
JPK: Yes but I don’t like that. You have to talk to my press agent for this. I know it’s a reality today but I believe my clothes are for people, not only for superstars. I fight this idea. It’s a reality and we do it but for me it’s more important to see my clothes on a nice girl walking down the street than a superstar on a magazine. I prefer the reality of the nice girl walking down the street.
Apart from Japan, where else do you source from?
JPK: All over the world today. Jean Paul Knott Men and Women is a European and Belgian production. Knott Men is half produced in Belgium and part of it is produced in Japan, knitwear is produced in China. Knott ladies is mostly produced in Japan except knitwear, which produced in Hong Kong.
What can you say about fast fashion?
JPK: There is a beautiful sentence from Rei Kawakubo “nice clothes are expensive, you can’t make nice cheap”.
What do you think about production in less developed countries such as Bangladesh?
JPK: Or China? I think there are two different stories to talk about. Actually, I was maybe one of the first designers to go and work in China. 13 years ago, I accepted my first job in China for a Chinese company. Everybody was telling me “are you crazy, you shouldn’t be doing that”. Today, when I go to a Chinese factory, I realize how lucky I am, but when I see how they work, I wish I could have this in Belgium. Workers even have a place for their kids to play, good workers that are intelligent get the chance to study and stay in the company – these are the points that are difficult to get in Europe today. So I don’t know which one is the most developed country nowadays. Then of course, I am against the use of children, I am and have been a friend of the United Nations for the last 10 years, now each season we are working on small products and small development for them – I think it is somehow nice to do fashion and find a cause into it, that’s why I do those things. I am actually working on collaboration with “Skin”: an association for women who have had breast cancer. It is a really neat project, it is the idea that when you fight and you have cancer nothing is a problem because you are too worried about your problem but once you have dealt with it, you are supposedly safe that’s when all the problems arise because you are not the same person anymore, normally you can’t have kids anymore, and it’s the idea of an artist and a woman collaborating into building something for the future. It is a really neat project and we did the first exhibition in my art gallery in Brussels and the next one is in October in Paris and I am working on a lady collection in the bohemian style because it will be “Pink” month in October.
Having an art gallery, do you see yourself more as an artist than a designer?
JPK: No. I think I am just a designer and I am just trying to make clothes – unfortunately. I think there is a really big difference: fashion is best on applied art but it is not art. And many people try to pretend that it is but it is not.
How can Parisians buy from your collection?
JPK: This is tricky (laughing). Maybe "Galeries Lafayette" is coming over, otherwise they can do it through the Internet or our shops in Brussels. Paris is a bit of a dead city for us at the moment.
Görkem Hayta: Maybe after this interview, the “dead city” will awake embracing the recent collection “I am not an angel”.