Widely considered as an architectural landmark in São Paulo, the Centro de Lazer Fábrica da Pompéia (Pompéia Factory Leisure Centre), better known as SESC Pompéia, and designed by Lina Bo Bardi, boasts among its most striking features eight aerial walkways that connect the concrete towers.
When the modernist structure was finished some critics talked about the sets for Fritz Lang's Metropolis, with their spectacular bulky towers connected by crossways. Solid yet suspended in space, brutal yet ethereal, the walkways integrated in the SESC Pompéia building seem to break with tradition, reaching out into space while connecting at the same time.
People who know well their architecture syllabus will easily read in the patterns that characterise Xavier Brisoux's A/W 13 men and womenwear collections echoes of modernist architecture and of a will to break with convention and reach out to the future.
Entitled "Kaleidoscope", the collection moves from classic stripes, a motif that ruled supreme throughout the history of fashion, but reinterprets them in an unusual way. Stripes reminiscent of the concrete crossways at the SESC Pompéia are filtered through a kaleidoscope and are therefore fractured and refracted, appearing in asymmetrical formations on menswear cashmere tops, forming geometric shapes on the back of a rich red women's sweater, or being employed as decorative motifs on a hat, around the neckline or the shoulder area.
Though indirectly and maybe accidentally, Brisoux touched upon an extremely modern theme, currently being explored in disciplines as wide as art, architecture and science – transformation and mutability. Just like an image forms a micro universe in constant evolution inside a kaleidoscope, Brisoux's patterns hint at the transformative power of knitwear, endowed in this collection with a new sense of dynamism.
Kaleidoscopes fascinate both children and grown ups: the former love their magic colours and fractured images; the latter see them more in conjunction with geometry. Which aspect of this inspiration fascinates you the most - the playful or the geometrical?
Xavier Brisoux: Am I allowed to say both? I have to admit that a kaleidoscope is fascinating because a world (or shall I say "lots of worlds"?) which keeps changing and moving exists and flows without any possibilities to recreate it once it has evolved. It's unlimited, and I think that's what children - and I - love about them. That's what inspired my process this season. Of course it transformed into geometry, because I chose not to focus on colourful contrasts but rather on almost unperceivable ones. Geometry has a reassuring aspect that helped in this puzzling theme.
In some cases the stripes entirely cover a jumper, in others you get mirror-like elements only around the shoulder area or on the back, which were the trickiest kaleidoscopic effects to replicate on your designs in terms of construction?
Xavier Brisoux: All the knits of the collection have something intricate about them to get the stripes as they are, but I have to admit that menswear is easier in a way, because it is mostly about creating an interesting collar shape with the technique, or working with details. So most (but not all) menswear references remain basic in construction and have a lot of technical research on a particular detail. While womenswear pieces are all about the construction, how the knit moves around the body. It is in a way more difficult but I feel I have total freedom in this case. If we talk about replicating one of these designs as they are made, with their very peculiar constructions, one would have to work with really good factories to be able to understand the garments and copy them. The beauty of having small productions is that you can have pieces of a sweater made by hand and therefore often harder to copy.
Moving from kaleidoscopes you indirectly referenced also the infinity theme - an image refracts and replicates itself on the mirror walls of a kaleidoscope giving the impression of generating infinity. This theme is very apt in knitwear as it can refer to the infinity of stitches that form a knitwear piece, yet it can also be a very tricky theme, since it can lead to a loss of direction: how did you manage to introduce it in your pieces and give your designs a sense of unfinished finishness at the same time?
Xavier Brisoux: Endless possibilities. That's what excites me the most, and that is probably why knitwear is my medium. However, as much as I love to leave doors open, a collection needs to be cohesive. Most of the time I try to achieve the coherence with the technicality chosen for a season. In the case of "Kaleidoscope", the stripe is the statement of the next season and what gives it its direction - mirrored, angled, disturbed stripes. I have to choose one angle each season and stick to it. It leaves a lot of unfinished business for the seasons to come!
Art, architecture, geometry, maths and science: which discipline inspired you the most in this collection?
Xavier Brisoux: I think all these disciplines have equally inspired me. Art surely, with the work of Borre Saethre entitled "Untitled (The Tarkin Doctrine)" that was exhibited during teh Lille 3000 Fantasia event - the shoulder warmer piece looks like his installation under certain angles. Architecture is always close to my research as I try to question how a garment is built. Your interview with Renato Nicolodi was a great insight into his work, after having seen it at the Grès exhibition in Antwerp. Geometry was very necessary to get the kaleidoscope effect. Maths, I feel bound to it, because knitwear is about calculating stitches and rows in an almost compulsive way. Science has entered my life recently (even if one of my previous collections was based on a quantum physics theory), and even if it's a new world, I am falling very much in love with it, but I need to explore it more. I love how it can help you to be creative in cooking for example. How is it going to influence my future work? I don't know yet. Another thing that is influencing me when I create is the music I listen to. I can only design in a musical environment. In the case of this collection, I was listening a lot to Bat for Lashes, Cocorosie and IamamIwhoamI, but the season's song is definitely Hiatus & Shura's "Fortune's fool". I have trouble finding words to explain how it influences me, but it does!
How far have you pushed your partial knitting technique and do you reckon it will be possible to push it further?
Xavier Brisoux: Interesting question. It is one that I have asked myself a lot lately. I think there is no limits to this technique. However, I am very afraid of getting into a habit of creation and becoming lazy. So I know I will push it further, but have to leave it on the side and explore other things for now.
Do you feel we put too much stress on young fashion designers and that many of them do not really have the time to maybe develop something new and truly unique?
Xavier Brisoux: I have said it before and will say it again: I don't think that the rhythm of seasons can be sustained. I am seriously thinking of breaking the cycle, and offer designs only when they are ready. A friend of mine is a light designer, and she takes the time needed to create her objects. It can take several months and sometimes years. But she does not have the same pressure. I wish we could rethink that in the fashion field. Real creation would then re-appear, instead of copies of copies. For me, you cannot reinvent the wheel. Every story has been told. But what makes it new is the way you tell the tale. Finding a way to design that is yours, that is the most important. But that means time, and inspiration. So, yes, the pressure exists and the rhythm does not make sense. I believe and hope that our habits in consumerism will change.
You don't use computer programmes to design your pieces, yet some of your creations look like they could have been programmed using a computer code – do you think that one day computers will help us programming knitwear in a more intricate way?
Xavier Brisoux: At the design stage, it's true that there is no computer programming. I usually knit a first prototype myself and then have it produced in a factory. In the case of my Italian factory, it's all made on dubied machine, so everything is knitted "by hand". But the other pieces made in France are computer-generated. I always have to balance the seasons by developing certain techniques for each know-how. Some things are only possible on a dubied machine, and all intarsias are only possible on industrial machines for example.
In your press release you mention stripes being a tribute to Armor Lux, Sonia Rykiel and Gaultier – do you feel they are also a tribute to designers who played with deconstruction since they appear as broken and refracted in some of your creations?
Xavier Brisoux: I have always admired the work of Anne Valérie Hash. I have been very lucky to work with her. I feel close to the aesthetics of the beginning of her career when she was deconstructing menswear tailoring. When I graduated from Central Saint Martins I was asked what would be my dream job, and I said “knitwear designer for Anne Valerie Hash”. She made it happen, and I will always be grateful.
Which inspiring figure has been on your mind recently and why?
Xavier Brisoux: I have been amazed recently by a dance play I have had the chance to see. The whole context was a great experience. A friend of mine was giving me this strange gift: I was to wait for someone to come and pick me up to take me to an unknown place (I was even blindfolded at some point, and had to wear earplugs). I was to discover the work of Mourad Merzouki through "Yo Gee Ti". The show evolves around yarns, balls of yarn, and the dancers create, construct and deconstruct space with these yarns and their bodies. Very inspiring. So it's not really a knitwear designer, but it's knit-related! I have also just discovered Blue Hawaii's album "Untogether". It's very evanescent, undefinable, precise in the deconstruction of the sounds that become obsessive.
You recently did some work for Première Vision, can you tell us more about it?
Xavier Brisoux: For the last edition of Première Vision, I have been in charge of creating the knit pieces that were shown on the forum of Knitwear Solutions, the area dedicated to flat bed knitting. My mission was to exhibit the craft of the exhibitors to the best so that they would get new contacts and eventually more work. Together with the team, I designed the theme of the Spring/Summer 2014 season, which was based on the idea of architectural lines within the garment (like a spine for example). I had to express the inspiration according to each factory’s specific technique to have a scope of garments that would create a cohesive story with sub-stories within. I had the chance to work with almost twenty five factories, in many different countries from Italy to China via Spain or Turkey. It was a real challenge for me in the sense that I have never designed so many pieces in one go (around seventy sweaters were presented on the forum). I enjoyed the experience very much, as I felt very welcomed within the team at Première Vision, always listening to ideas, very careful to make everything right for both the exhibitors and the visitors. It was such a learning moment for me. I cannot wait to do it again!
Xavier Brisoux's designs are available online from L'Exception.
Xavier Brisoux's "Kaleidoscope" - Menswear Images by Mathieu Drouet
Xavier Brisoux's "Kaleidoscope" - Womenswear Images by Robin Tillie
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