Christophe Coppens : a knack for self-renewal

Christophe Coppens : a knack for self-renewal

Category: Interviews
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© Nathalie Gabay

Nomadic, fearless and passionate, Christophe Coppens escapes all definitions and categories. If ‘artist’, ‘designer’ -or ‘director’- are some of the labels he may, or may have not, felt comfortable with throughout his career, what is nevertheless fascinating and truly special about Coppens is how his own life tends to be an ongoing act of prolific creation.

In fact, reinventing himself seems as natural to Coppens as breathing, and he is rarely where you’d expect him to be. Currently based in Brussels, he seems to have found within opera a medium that suits him perfectly. In fact, he describes his creative collaboration with the Royal Theater de La Monnaie as a wonderful and privileged experience.

Norma - La Monnaie © Karl Forster - Christophe Coppens

This year, Coppens will unveil his idiosyncratic take on Turandot, one of Puccini’s most famous works. Instead of using historical and familiar elements, he will transpose it to the present day and surprise us with a bold new vision. We sat down with Coppens to discuss his unusual career path, in which ways he’s drawn toward clothing, and why opera seems to fulfill most of his creative needs.

ESWC © Marc Tops
Can you talk to me about your ongoing collaboration with La Monnaie?

This is going to be my 4th opera with them. I actually started preparing it 4 years ago, but of course the pandemic got in the way and delayed everything. For ‘Turandot’, which will be unveiled in mid-June, I’m in charge of directing, sets and costumes.

Does it ever feel like a one-man show, given the fact that you simultaneously work on key aspects of the production?

Actually, it’s more the opposite for me. Opera is team work, and I’m lucky to have the best people working with me at La Monnaie. Operas are huge productions and many things need to be planned in advance. The extraordinary thing with La Monnaie is that everything is made on the spot, and there are several ateliers with their respective know-how and expertise. When it comes to costumes, it functions precisely like a Couture house, with one atelier focused on flou and the other dedicated to tailoring.

Norma - La Monnaie © Karl Forster - Christophe Coppens
You became famous internationally as a milliner and also worked within an atelier structure back then. Is the atelier format important for you creatively?

In the past, I did work on accessories, art installations and interior design projects. I envisage opera as the medium where everything comes together, which makes it very satisfactory and complete. It sort of gave a new meaning to everything I had done in the past, because opera deals with so many different levels at once. I studied Theater when I was a teenager, so in a way it’s almost like going back to my roots in an odd way.

It’s the totality of it that appeals to you, isn’t it?

Yes. You have to think about many aspects constantly and everything is always intertwined.

KMSKA © Christophe Coppens
At the same time, even when you were focusing on accessories, you often worked with singers or artists on very specific projects. Is it the performance aspect that always triggered you?

Absolutely. I can’t think of anything creative without including a performative component in it. It’s definitely part of my creative process and what I gravitate toward. In fact, I was always more interested in the storytelling aspect than the commercial dimension of fashion.

The Miraculous Mandarin - La Monnaie © Christophe Coppens
You are currently based in Brussels, but also lived in Wallonia, Madrid and Los Angeles.How do you explain this nomadic behavior?

It’s interesting, because before I returned to Brussels, one of my friends warned me that returning to your country after a few years would likely be a strange experience. I guess I’m not really sure what my home is, even after all those years. That’s what makes me nomadic, but it also gives me a certain lightness in the end. I like the idea that I could pack everything and be gone within a few days.

Norma - La Monnaie © Karl Forster - Christophe Coppens
Did you often feel like an outsider? Have you ever felt like you belonged somewhere?

Well, I’ve always inhabited several creative worlds at once. People either see it as a strength or a weakness, but I don’t think I could do things differently. For the time being, I’m happy in Brussels.

Norma - La Monnaie © Karl Forster - Christophe Coppens
How do you look at the fashion industry today and what do you think about it?

That’s quite a tough question to answer, because despite a growing commercialization within the industry, there are also young designers doing their own thing and not wanting to go to Paris to show their work. They just want to be creative and sustainability is completely normal for them. In the end, the ongoing pressure to sell and make more money does kill creativity.

KMSKA © Marc Tops
What is your relationship to clothing and fashion design?

It’s strange, because I feel instinctively drawn to clothes, and picking up a piece of fabric to turn it into a garment seems completely natural to me.

Does this mean you might do something related to fashion again?

We will see, but I’m definitely not excluding that possibility.

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