Fashion forward is a phrase often bandied about by ready-to-wear fashion professionals who are always looking for the next great designer, the next cutting-edge collection or the next innovation fabrication or textile combination. And rarely do the ready-to-wear designers disappoint. (Irreverent enfant terrible Christian Siriano made a splash a couple of seasons ago with looks that conjured up images of rebellious abandon and rock glam bravado.) Still, no one does innovation and charts new territory like the French, especially French couturiers. And Eric Tibusch is no exception.
With looks that reference everything from pop glam androgyny to silver screen iconography, Eric Tibusch is proving that he is a force to be reckoned with and not only in Europe. Since 2006, this self-taught haute couturier has shown consistently in Paris and is developing a following in the States. And with looks that incorporate twisted collars, sexy deconstructs, and new embroidery techniques, Tibusch’s infiltration into American markets will continue to expand.
After meeting Eric at this year’s Chocolate Show, he spoke with me about his fashion point of view, what inspires him and how he has taken a different approach to haute couture.
Q: After working for some time with Jean Paul Gaultier you started your own clothing line. Why?
A: After I left Gaultier in 2005 I started working for Copenhagen Fur. There I got to work with Karl Legerfeld, John Galliano, and many other designers helping to incorporate fur into their collections. A good friend of mine suggested that instead of helping these great designers with their collections, I should start my own line. I took his advice and within six months I created my own fur collection. Suzy Menkes reviewed my collection and said “Eric Tibusch starts with a deft hand.” Because of her positive review, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman asked me to design a ready-to-wear (RTW) collection for their stores. Now, my couture is doing very well and my RTW is growing.
Q: Why is your couture line doing so well?
A: I think it is because my couture is very youthful and does not appear dated. Also, my haute couture is less expensive than some other designers. When you buy haute couture from a top designer, you are buying grand styling and the brand image. You are also buying luxury fabrics and lots of hand-sewn construction. Remember, haute couture is very French and goes back centuries. The haute couture customer is very selective, and is used to a process that requires several fittings before the final product.
At my atelier I have reduced the fitting process down to about two fittings, which makes the final product less expensive but with the same quality. The modern woman does not have time to have six or seven fittings or come to Paris and stay for a month just to get that special garment. So, in short my couture line is made for the modern woman on the go. We are attracting a different type of couture customer who wants modern design and construction but has a very busy, full life.
Q: You spent some of your formative years in Tahiti. Has Tahitian culture influenced your design aesthetic?
A: I was born in Corsica. I lived in Tahiti because my father was in the military. My first collection, Fall/Winter 2006, paid homage to Tahitian culture. The theme of Fall/Winter 2006 collection was a French woman who goes to Tahiti and brings wonderful things back to Paris, and combines them with haute couture styling. That collection contained lots of vibrant, tropical colors and black pearl and mother-of-pearl allusions. I also used lots of models of color that reflected the beautiful range of complexions found in Tahiti.
Q: Your clothes are very sexy, sometimes kittenish. Why does this look keep popping up in your work?
A: That sexiness comes from French culture so it is ingrained in me. Also, my mother was a typical French woman from the south of France, and very stylish and sexy.
In France we have a different perspective on fashion than some other cultures. We start with silhouettes, and later we build volumes on that silhouette. We never forget that what we are designing is to be worn by the client. We don’t design clothes to go into a museum or stay on the rack. We are always designing for an effect that exudes sensuality.
Q: How much theatricality do you bring to your collections?
A: My design aesthetic is based on a concept or a theme, not the spectacular.
Q: In your current collection, your separates might consists of very fashion-forward tops matched with a more conventional skirt or pair of trousers. Why did you combine these polar opposites?
A: I can design eccentric silhouettes, which gets good press, but what I have tried to do in this collection is the correct balance, combining one piece that is very eccentric with one piece that is very commercial. And an adventurous woman can wear these two opposites together because they balance each other out.
Q: Why do you call your current couture collection evolution?
A: I call my Spring 2010 couture collection evolution because about six months before I started the collection I was thinking about Michael Jackson. I knew that he was coming to London in July 2009 to give a concert, and I wanted my collection to pay homage to this great artist. When I started the collection, I decided to combine the Michael Jackson fashion aesthetic with Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie.
This collection is about the rebellious rock attitude. Michael Jackson sometimes wore his underwear outside of his clothes and you will find that same type of irreverence in my collection. Marlene Dietrich was sort of a rock star of the 1930’s and 1940’s movies. She was a forceful presence and looked different from every other movie actress.
This collection is also a mix of the masculine and feminine. Michael Jackson’s fashion aesthetic is very easy to combine with Marlene Dietrich and Bowie because they all have androgynous qualities. My non-gender specific, padded shouldered-jackets reference Dietrich in movies like Shanghai Express. I also reference Dietrich with fur embellishments. Fur is also a luxury fabric that corresponds to modernity if styled correctly. This collection is an evolution of sorts, the merging of the masculine and feminine, thereby producing an evolving feminine aesthetic.
Q: In this collection you cohesively marry a rock-and-roll, pop music aesthetic with a sophisticated 1940’s aesthetic. How did you get these two disparate viewpoints to mesh into a singular fashion statement?
A: In the beginning I had one image in my head, and later on, other images. I had to work really hard to make these images come together. I think because I love provocation and sexiness, I was able to thread sensuality throughout this collection, which helped bring the different images together. Anyway, in the end it worked.
Q: For your Spring/Summer 2010 runway show you have stiletto shoes on the models as hairpieces. Where did this idea come from?
A: For me, a woman’s first feminine accessory is the shoe. Elsa Schiaparelli, who was influenced by the surrealist Salvador Dali, introduced the shoe hat in the 1930’s. So, I wanted to mix the stiletto shoe headpiece with a rock-and-roll aesthetic and a rockabilly coif. The woman for this collection is a little naughty and rebellious, but never vulgar.
Q: Do you modify the designs seen on the runway for retail buyers?
A: My RTW is completely interpreted from my couture collection. In my couture I experiment a lot with difficult cuts and construction. I use new technology when I mix with linens and different luxury fabrics. Most of my experimentation is done with my couture line, so when I design the RTW there is no need for alteration for the buyers.
Q: You use a lot of models of color in your runway shows and campaigns. Why?
A: Black models have an attitude and movement on the runway that is very sensuous and comes close to reflecting the way modern women move. Also, the rich colors of the skin bring vibrancy to the color palettes in my collection.
Because I am of North African descent and lived in Tahiti, my models reflect the range of complexion seen in those cultures. I want to see more women of color in magazines and runway, and I think it unfortunate that fashion is not quite reflecting the way the rest of the world looks. Maybe with the election of Barack Obama things will change.
Q: How do you find your models?
A: I use traditional casting agencies, and sometimes I use beautiful girls with no experience. I may see a beautiful girl on the street and even if she has no experience, that girl could inspire me, and I may put her in my show.
For my shows I have a big casting and sometimes see over 100 girls. Out of that casting, I may choose 10 girls. My models have to have a certain attitude and project a feminine strength. For me there is no such thing as perfect beauty, I am more attracted by a woman’s charm. I sometimes use the same girls in my collections because these models serve as muses.
Q: Would you ever design clothes for men?
A: Yes. I am in the process of developing a men’s collection.
Q: Where can shoppers find your clothes?
A: My clothes are in Vivaldi in New York City, and my next RTW collection will soon be in Saks.
Q: Can you give the Fashion Spot a little hint about your next couture collection?
A: It is a surprise, but I can say that my next couture collection references the body. Some pieces will be shocking. That is all I am saying. It is best to keep you guessing.
For more information about Eric Tibusch, go to erictibuschparis.com.
All photos are courtesy of Eric Tibusch.