London Fashion Week kicked off with a bang this season with emerging French- born, London-based designer Charles Anastase’s dreamy, and brilliantly eccentric, debut London show. Leaving the Paris circuit behind for the first time in five years, Anastase revealed his romantic neo-70s vision for Spring/Summer 2009; a fusion of pretty Parisian geek-chic and Picnic at Hanging Rock tied in with punk ballerina inflections. Wowing the expectant crowd, including the influential Adrian Joffe of Dover Street Market, Anastase sent his awkwardly beautiful models down the catwalk in delicate layers of ruffled and puffed washed-silk and sheer tutu-like confections. Long legged and long locked, the models stepped tentatively down the catwalk in intensely high, chunky platforms while peering through endearingly nerdy thick-rimmed frames.
The one consistent theme throughout the self-described “abstract” collection was its merging of polar extremes; muted pastels and deep blacks, innocence and bad- girl sex-appeal, delicate and clunky were at once united. According to Anastase, this fusion of multiple themes comes from a genuine desire to create clothing that, “girls actually want to wear,” rather than designs that dictate an unreal notion of femininity. With gorgeous, not to mention well-dressed, friends including model and creative consultant Valentine Fillol-Cordier and muse Tennesse Thomas, drummer from LA-based band The Like, surrounding him, Anastase is in no short supply of fashion inspiration.
In the buzzing surrounds of London’s Shoreditch House, the endlessly amusing Charles Anastase lounged in a deep easy-chair and made his predilection for ridiculous tropical cocktails known. Pina Colada’s all round, Anastase talked art, life and obsessing over women with Indigo Clarke.
Indigo Clarke: Your recent debut in London was a definite highlight this season – how did you like showing in London for the first time?
Charles Anastase: Everyone seemed super excited it was great – I loved showing in London! I did seven shows in Paris before coming to London, and really the best shows are in Paris after all, but it was difficult for me as a young designer to get all the people I wanted to attend because it’s so busy and competitive. I had the feeling my brand wasn’t growing the way it should, and that it wasn’t really on the radar – and so it felt right to try London where emerging designers are really supported. While it was difficult in Paris, at the same time I had some amazing people really supporting me and loving my clothes like Beth Ditto. I was the first designer to dress her. I made a dress for her, and she was so happy with it she told me I had changed her perception of fashion. So, exciting things were happening for me but not necessarily in the eye of the press.
Clarke: This season though, you really had a lot of press – there was a lot online...
Charles Anastase: This has now been the first season where the web review is the most important – more important than the printed magazine in terms of immediacy. Showing in London was amazing because it just seemed that people reported on the shows online so quickly and in so many ways – on blogs and in online magazines.
Clarke: Mr Rei Kawakubo himself, Adrian Joffe, attended your show. You’ve collaborated with Comme Des Garcons in London and Tokyo before – what is that relationship like?
Charles Anastase: Yes we’re really good friends, it’s a really rich relationship. I’ve done a Christmas window at Dover Street Market for him before – I love that store. It’s one of the best, if not the best, stores in London. I stock there, and actually I’m a little bit spoilt because of this relationship (laughs). They buy a lot from me and have always supported me. It is a very personal and accessible store, Adrian has a very specific idea of what he wants the shop to be, which is very human. I have to say, I am very careful with who I stock with and have special relationships with all of the boutiques I am with – I make sure that they are all in the vein of Dover Street, with a great mix of talented designers.
Clarke: Your Spring/Summer09 collection, I read, was mirroring your first ever collection – why did you draw on your initial collection?
Charles Anastase: Yes if you remember my first collection from five years ago, I was referencing many of the same elements – that mix of extremes. I was mirroring it, but with a sense of maturity.
Clarke: What were some inspirations for the collection? It seemed very 70s and romantic, with fun elements like punky-ballerina’s thrown into the mix...
Charles Anastase: Ballerina knitwear was a big inspiration – you know those cardigans the ballerina’s wear over their tutu’s that cross over at the front? In terms of themes, the collection was completely abstract, there was no cohesive concept. If I were to translate the collection into a painting, there would be no shapes or silhouettes, just colours.
Clarke: An obvious difference between your first collection and your latest was the insanely high and chunky platform shoes!
Charles Anastase: (laughs) Yes for five years I used flat shoes on the catwalk, but then everyone started doing it – I saw Chanel and McQueen had girls in flats, so I didn’t want to do it anymore. I love the way so many designers want to see girls in stilettos all the time, it’s like a fantasy, but I think of my girl friends as human. I don’t want to think of them in pain with crazy shoes, I want them to be comfortable – they don’t have to be trying to be sexy all the time. The shoes in my show this season were amazing – they were so tall I couldn’t believe the girls could walk in them!
Clarke: I have to say, at some points they were walking rather slowly and tentatively! (laughs)
Charles Anastase: (laughs) I know, the shoes were about 15cm high! Just crazy. The platforms were by Natasha Marro who creates bondage/fetish shoes usually, and she was taught her craft by the man who created the first shoes for Vivienne Westwood. We created these crazily high shoes by asking our models to try them on and see if they could walk in them – once we saw that they worked we
decided to push the height as far as we could! We did really thick, chunky heels and they were so well designed – none of my models fell over which happened quite a few times this season. Did you see Prada and that model that fell over twice!?
Clarke: And your chunky, almost awkward, shoes and glasses contrasted so well with your delicate washed-silk clothing...
Charles Anastase: Yes I loved combining the delicate washed-silk pieces with chunky, crazy elements like the shoes and thick-rimmed glasses. It is contrasting diverging themes, challenging ideas of what is pretty and feminine. My aesthetic is really just feminine at its core, and that is the challenge for me – to create clothing women will wear and feel happy in. I just can’t bear the gay vision. I don’t want to create clothing for girls through a gay man’s eyes – I want to make clothing that girls want to wear – I am obsessed with women.
Clarke: You initially made a name for yourself in Europe and the US as an artist – exhibiting drawings, as well as creating works for fashion magazines and even for a Calvin Klein campaign – do you still draw?
Charles Anastase: I am an artist. I still draw and I work across many mediums. I have this ability where I am able to create a lot of different things – I can make furniture, clothing, art, prints. My drawings are very realistic, and like my clothing design, there is always a balance between light and dark, masculine and feminine, delicate and strong, innocence and experience – that is the key for me. When I design clothing, this balance is very important.
Clarke: Yes, I think it makes your clothing a lot more accessible as it reflects multiple facets of a girls’ personality – mixing femininity with other elements, it’s a lot more human...
Charles Anastase: You know, this is why I am successful with my designs because someone like you, who I only met a few weeks ago, completely understands me and my work. For me, that is real success, being able to communicate with girls who could, and would, wear my designs. I care about what girls would actually want to wear. There is gay fashion – Balenciaga, Alaia, Givenchy – guys making fashion for some fantasy version of a woman. I don’t understand it – the gay designers who have created fashion as we know it aren't really designing for women at all. I love women designers – Zhandra Rhodes, Coco Chanel, Consuelo Castiglioni of Marni, women that were able to magically create something out of nothing. For us men, we have to learn a lot from this. When I am attracted to clothing, it is never designed by a man.
Clarke: You must be a sucker for great female musicians too...
Charles Anastase: Yes even with music, I love Patti Smith, PJ Harvey – all that romance, heart and soul that women bring to whatever they create is inspiring. Artist Tracey Emin also, she is not like any male artists – the way she is so brutally honest through her work.
Clarke: And Louise Bourgeois – what an empowered, inspirational woman and artist, she always stands out for me...
Charles Anastase: Yes Louise Bourgeois! I love her totally! I have never told this to anyone, but actually when people ask me who the woman I design for is, in my mind I always believe it is Louise Bourgeois! I want to dress her! She is scary for me because she inspires me so much – she makes me want to give up fashion and go back to art.
Clarke: With strong roots in art, were you also interested in fashion when you were young?
Charles Anastase: Well, surprisingly I was always very good at mathematics and science. My parents abandoned me when I was little and that really changes you. To overcome some kind of depression I was always creating things – drawing and making clothing since I was three years old, making clothing at my grandma’s house.
Clarke: And you’ve continued making clothing since – that’s 26 years, what dedication!
Charles Anastase: Fashion isn’t actually my passion – my passion is to drink, make jokes, have fun, have fights with people in bars – live life 100 percent! Also, when I draw I love it , I’m in another world – it is a real passion for me.
Clarke: You’re surrounded by beautiful and talented girls like your good friends Valentine Fillol-Cordier, who is also your creative consultant, and Tennessee Thomas, the drummer from The like – how do these women in your life inspire you?
Charles Anastase: Valentine and I met on Friendster a few years ago and I thought she was just so beautiful I wanted to meet her. When we met I realised she was so cool as well and completely insane – so we have been very close friends ever since. Tennesee I gave clothes to and saw her perform on stage in them – it was perfect for me to see my clothes on her that way. My only real passion in fashion is to see my clothing on stage – I feel that’s how the clothes should look, up on stage being worn by girls who are living out their dreams. To be honest, whenever I see anyone wearing my clothing I love them instantly! I feel my clothes are like lucky charms and bring really special people to me like Tennessee and Valentine.
Clarke: It’s scary to think how fast this year has gone – have you been thinking of New Years resolutions?
Charles Anastase: I said after my 30th birthday there would be no more trouble! My birthday is January first – so I don’t have much time to waste!
Clarke: Wow, that’s quite a resolution especially for a troublemaker like you! Are you onto your third Pina Colada now?
Charles Anastase: (laughs) No only my second! I had a champagne before it! So after January first I will have no more trouble with anything – I want everything to be comfortable. I hope the label will keep running smoothly, I have an amazing team of stylists and producers working with me now, so I think I should be able to concentrate on drawing for myself again for the first time in a while.
Clarke: What’s been on your mind for Autumn/Winter2009 – or is it too soon to talk about your upcoming collection? Have you started working on it yet?
Charles Anastase: Not just working on it, I’ve already finished it! I’m so sorry I can’t tell you about it though because I always want the show to be a complete surprise. I don't want anyone to listen to all my dreams and ideas for my shows and then perhaps feel disappointed when they see the show!
Clarke: C’est impossible! And what about future plans?
Charles Anastase: Well, I’ve been considering a sex change so that I can wear my own clothing... I’ve decided it’s probably easier just to release a menswear line, so I’ll be introducing that next season.