Bernhard Willhelm Knows The Future

Bernhard Willhelm Knows The Future

EARLIER THIS FALL, WE GAVE FASHION DESIGNER AND ARTIST BERNHARD WILLHELM A CALL AT HIS STUDIO IN L.A., WHERE HE TIPPED US OFF TO HIS NEW PROJECT AT MOCA. NOW THAT THE NEWS ABOUT THE SHOW IS OFFICIALLY OUT, YOU CAN READ THE BELOW THE REST OF WHAT WE CAUGHT UP ON.

EARLIER THIS FALL, WE GAVE FASHION DESIGNER AND ARTIST BERNHARD WILLHELM A CALL AT HIS STUDIO IN L.A., WHERE HE TIPPED US OFF TO HIS NEW PROJECT AT MOCA. NOW THAT THE NEWS ABOUT THE SHOW IS OFFICIALLY OUT, YOU CAN READ THE BELOW THE REST OF WHAT WE CAUGHT UP ON.

December 10, 2014. In February 2015, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles will present the first American museum exhibition of collaborators Bernhard Willhelm and Jutta Kraus, "Bernhard Willhelm 3000: When Fashion Shows The Danger Then Fashion Is The Danger." Besides their F/W '15 collection, the installation will exhibit sculpture, video, photography, and displayed objects hand-picked by Willhelm.

Both Willhelm and Kraus studied fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and the University of Westminster in London before launching Bernhard Willhelm in 1999, debuting an artful presentation in Paris. Since then, they have never followed the rules of fashion, opting to dissect the runway show, the photo shoot and the runway on their own terms, and borrowing from a diverse range of cultures in their inspirations. Collaborations with Björk, Olaf Breuning, and other major artists have put them on the map in both art and fashion circles, and their attention to both aesthetic and context have landed them big fashion prizes (including an ANDAM

award from the French Minister of Culture in 2005) and museum representation (including the Athens Biennale and retrospectives in Modemuseum, Antwerp in 2007-08 and Groninger Museum, Netherlands in 2009-10).

A "thinking-forward exhibition," the designers describe the upcoming MOCA show as a "response to the iniformity of consumerism in the 21st century as well as a forecast of the fashion experience in the 22nd century." So, what does the future of fashion hold?

I was just in LA for a press trip, and basically was told by a lot of people that LA is a fashion capital now. I didn't really see it.

BERNHARD WILHELM Fashion capital- I mean, is there any fashion capital in America? That's the question. And where are the clothes made? I mean, all the companies, the big companies, like Ralph Lauren and Hilfiger, most of it is made in China. Of course part of it is made in Italy, but the American textile industry is kind of dead, except maybe American Apparel but there is a very big scandal there right now. So, it depends a little bit on the perception of how people are designing here, but it's made somewhere else, you know?

So, why LA? Is it the Hollywood glamour? Isn't that why Tom Ford is having his show in LA- the Oscars?

BW Tom Ford was not doing fashion shows anymore. He was not part of the calendar anymore. And now he is doing shows again, huge super models, huge budgets. So he is back on the calendar and back on track. I don't know what to say about it. We are really not doing shows. At the moment for us it's just the opposite, we actually did ten years in Paris and now I came here. We are actually in the Hollywood Hills and I have a nice view of the valley and we are actually quite isolated. There is Hollywood glamour, yes, but I am more a kid of the '80s and '90s. That is the thing with fashion, there are no rules. Hollywood glamour is part of fashion but it has always been back, it has always been in fashion.

Do you think fashion is more of a global culture now, because you can see everything online?

BW It is interesting you mentioned Tom Ford, because at one point it started with eyewear because sunglasses sell, and the perfumes, and now they started again with clothes. And he sold his Andy Warhol, so he kind of had an investment. I don't know. The system is so difficult to say what works for each designer, because each designer has a different character and a different approach. And our approach had to do with freedom and now we are still part of the system, but we are doing it our way.

So what do you feel you were breaking free from?

BW I have been doing shows in Belgium for ten years and sometimes in Paris I did four shows a season, two men and two women. And after ten years, now I am 41, and I said I don't want to do the shows and I want to go away from Paris. It is very exhausting to work as a designer on that level. We were working with six people. And I understand if there is 40 or 50 people, but [otherwise] is very difficult right now to be an independent designer, a young designer, and to do shows.

Your look books are not shot on traditional models, and there were some personalities in your last one.

BW There are always different personalities, but not necessarily personalities. Sometimes it's very rich kids or some ex-boyfriend of a celebrity. It is always people around the glamour. People don't know who they really are, but these people definitely have a special aura. There is always a story behind it, how people would interact with our clothes. It was clear in our last collection.

Who was the celebrity ex-boyfriend?

BW It was the ex-boyfriend of David Geffen, one of the richest gay people here in LA...

And Lauren Avery was one of them?

BW Yes, she's great, and there is Hunter, the son of a stunt man. And ex-models, older people. I like to have different age groups.

I love seeing the old people in your clothes.

BW And you know it works, it is not only on models. I am very tired of models. And fashion and models, because you know, it is always the same.

Can you tell me about your relationship with Vivienne Westwood?

BW Vivienne is someone I was working with when I was a student, I know quite well the people there. It has never been mentioned that I should [work there], but it's one of the few labels that kind of stayed true to their own spirits. So of course it would be nice to design for them. But nothing has been talked about or organized. These are some of the mysteries in fashion, I mean that she is still working in fashion. It is a little miracle to have one person like her. And now she is doing a lot for the environment, and that is very rare, I would say.

You can still recognize her in her clothes, it's obvious that her hands are part of the construction.

BW Definitely. And she is a very good pattern maker, so there are a few people in fashion, maybe Azzedine Alaïa, Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake. For the rest, it is becoming a little like one big soup.

And who out of your colleagues and mentors do you keep in contact with?

BW They all went in different directions. I went to class with Kris Van Assche and now he is at Dior, but we don't have contact. Then Haider Ackermann was in my class but he didn't finish class, and we don't really see each other. And Christian Wijnants was a Belgian guy. He is very good in knitwear. And for the rest, it has been 20 years now. So from school, there aren't that many contacts.

I know you move around a lot, because you have shown in Germany, did you do a show in Mexico?

BW No, we moved to Mexico for three or four months. It was a first time, and we decided to give each other a little break. Two years after, we came here to L.A. We were in Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City.

Was that an inspiration, the setting?

BW Fashion is a very repetitive job, when you design collections, you have the deadlines and you have to be finished then. Sometimes it helps you because the routine stays the same. And sometimes a change of place can be liberating. For me it has to do with the energy flow, to change place, there is something happening and often in your mind and body, you feel different. And that often makes the collection look different, with a change of place and approach. And normally we are bound to one place, the studio, and usually it is six people, ten people if it is a busy time. And with that little team, it is possible to move around. The line is produced in Japan, and that enables us to live anywhere in the world.

So do you think you will stay a while in LA or move again?

BW The plan for the moment is two years. I also have a Visa for two years. And then after that we will gather the team and decide if we should move or stay. It's about being more spontaneous. Maybe I don't have the money, but I do have the freedom. So this is what you can actually enjoy, because you can move around. You can be at different places and you can have a new approach.

You can see it in the clothes and it's exciting. What are you working on next?

BW Now we are working on the next winter collection, and I am also trying to put a museum show at MOCA together... I can tell you more about that later.

"Bernhard Willhelm 3000: When Fashion Shows The Danger Then Fashion Is The Danger" will be on display at MOCA Pacific Design Center from February 7 to May 17, 2015.

geoffrey lillemon, work in progress #2 for bernhard willhelm 3000, 2014. Silicone, hair, mixed media. Courtesy bernhard Willhelm studio.

geoffrey lillemon, work in progress #3 for bernhard willhelm 3000, 2014. Silicone, hair, mixed media. Courtesy bernhard Willhelm studio.

Credits: IMAGES COURTESY BERNHARD WILLHELM STUDIO

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