The winner of the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography, Liège designer Jean-Paul Lespagnard first conformed to expectations, before branching out to explore various other paths. A press darling, insatiable creator and Belgian fashion firebrand with an endearing personality, this great explorer has been at the forefront of defining the boundaries of fashion 2.0.
You won Hyères in 2008. That was one hell of an introduction and an immersion into a sector that was about to change dramatically a few years later. You saw those changes coming, didn’t you?
After the festival, I started my career by exploring the classic fashion set-up. I was offered collaborations in Japan and projects in Paris, but the 2008 crisis stopped everything in its tracks, or almost did. As a result, I had to think differently. My creative process is mostly based on a need to observe things and analyse them. I cannot throw myself into a project without understanding the social setting in which I am working. During fashion week in Paris, when I was presenting my collections to international buyers in show rooms, I quickly realised that the fashion set-up, as it was organised at that time, was no longer in touch with the real world. At that time, I introduced the idea of “see now, buy now” before many others. This approach was different from the standard rhythm in the sector. My observations from that time would not lead to any real change until last March, which was the beginning of the pandemic. It’s a shame.
You say you wanted to create your own game. A game that involves, among other things, your Extra-Ordinaire shop and a project that is based on your analysis of a sector that is overly compartmentalised. Can you explain?
When I was presenting my clothes in Paris, I always included items. For me, they were an integral part of the story of the collection. However, when I found my collections in international boutiques, like Corso Como in Milan, the absence of items made the collection less coherent, less relevant to my world. This frustration gave me the idea for this boutique, which mixes clothing and items.
We talk a lot about artisans today, but, for you, this is the very foundation of your creative process.
In my profession, what interests me is contact with people, personal exchanges and expertise. For the cushions that we sell in the shop, I collaborate with an artisan from Bombay. I never approach an artisan with a specific idea. What interests me is observing how they work and adapting my requests to that. It is the intersection of their story and my story that gives the creation its meaning. Today, I am delighted when I find out that this artisan is inspired by my style – the mixture of different fabrics – in their own work. I feel like my process makes sense.
Travel is a key part of your life, but you do not get attached to a single approach.
To me, manufacturing abroad is not a goal in itself. Similarly, manufacturing in Belgium is not a goal in itself. For certain pieces, I work with Belgian workshops. For others, I will look at India. This is not because it is cheap, but because I find real added value in terms of the exchange. No matter where I am, I feel like I am working locally in some way.
You have been making dance and theatre costumes since 2004, but, in the past year, you have been working on a relatively new project for you: developing co-working spaces.
When Silversquare asked me to develop their future co-working space in the Guillemins district of Liège, I was interested in starting something from scratch. In order to understand the essence of spaces like this, I went to work in shared offices for several months. Again, I needed to understand, observe and analyse. No matter what I am doing, I want to be more than a creator who just introduces colours and materials to a piece of clothing, an item or a space. I am Walloon, Belgian, European and a global citizen. The way I see things, local and international are always blending together. What interests me is the intersection; that’s the foundation for everything.