News & Runway

Designer to Watch: Christopher Lee Sauve

Christopher Lee Sauvé is more than just a fashion designer. He's an ingenious statement maker who is quickly gaining recognition as one to watch. After graduating from Emily Carr University with a BFA in 2003, he started working as a designer at Adbusters magazine. Three years later, Sauvé moved to New York City where he gained experience designing theater posters, before heading to the Village Voice to work as the paper’s art director (he must have been a good employee because Michael Musto modeled in Sauvé’s 2010 runway show). He later worked as a designer at Diane von Furstenberg and as a freelance art director at Alexander Wang. The turning point for the designer, however, came in 2009 when he began making t-shirts. Among the taglines coined are Save Anna, F*** the Recession, and I Die Bananas, for which he was served a cease and desist letter by Rachel Zoe.

Since founding his namesake brand, Sauvé has not ceased creating thought-provoking tees that are gaining recognition from some of the fashion industry’s most iconic names, including Italian fashion writer Anna Piaggi and designer Jean Charles de Castelbajac. Oh, Perez Hilton is also a fan.

We spoke to Sauvé about building his brand, pop culture, whether he think Anna should really be "saved" – and more.

The Fashion Spot: Have you always followed the latest fashion industry and pop culture happenings?

Christopher Lee Sauvé: I have always loved pop culture; we moved several times when I was a kid to different small towns in Canada, so the idea of celebrities, Hollywood, and the fashion world were sort of a magical wonderland to me. I used to steal my mother's tabloid magazines and make collages out of them while the other kids were fishing or hunting. My dad is a photographer and painter so he was a huge influence and taught me about Pop Art. Then we moved to Seattle when I was 15 during the grunge era of the early 90s and I started really getting into pop culture, fashion, and music, with an alternative angle. I went to art school and then worked as a designer for Adbusters Magazine and learned how to create simple graphics that had a pop sensibility, but with a strong message. I think my time at Adbusters really planted the seeds for my passion in t-shirt graphics and pop culture.

tFS: Do you really believe Anna should be “saved”? Isn’t it time for some new blood at Vogue?

CLS: When I created the SAVE ANNA graphic, I was working with Diane von Furstenberg, it was during the start of the recession here in NYC and I kept reading all of this news about Carine Roitfeld taking Anna Wintour's post as chief editor of Vogue. At that time, all the news was focused on saving banks, saving Wall Street, and I thought it was funny that fashion news was concentrating on saving Anna, so I made a quick sketch and decided to launch a SAVE ANNA campaign as a metaphor, really. SAVE FASHION!

My friends and I started silk screening t-shirts with the graphic and making face masks and going out to clubs, there was nothing else to do, we were all unemployed! I think there is always room for new blood, but we can't look to mass consumer media for this, what satisfies a young New Yorker may not satisfy a young girl in middle America so that is why we have so many great young magazines and now with the popularity of blogs, it provides a great platform for experimentation and exposure for so many talented writers, photographers, and designers than in previous decades.

tFS: You’re a poster child for making lemons out of lemonade. What do you make of the whole “Bananas” debacle looking back? A blessing in disguise?

CLS: Yes, those bananas were a little controversial in the house of Zoe! It was very entertaining, the letter from the lawyer, and to me the fact that anyone would think they could trademark a fruit or a saying that was made popular in the 1980s by Valley girls. I have to admit, I was a bit scared when it started hitting Perez Hilton that Rachel Zoe was suing me, so out of defense, I launched the FREE THE FRUIT campaign where people could vote for their favorite fruit and we could protect the name against the trademark of capitalism.

tFS: What's the most memorable design you've ever conceived?

CLS: I would say FUCK THE RECESSION was one that struck a light bulb. I took a poster from the 1960s of a young man burning a draft note and had him burning a "0" dollar bill. The graphic was made into stickers, posters, and t-shirts and I travelled to Tokyo to create a FUCK THE RECESSION SAVE FASHION art show and protest; Addition Adelaide and Beams Tokyo organized the events and it was so much fun.

tFS: How do you decide who to feature on your tees?

CLS: Usually, the visual just comes to me when I am on the subway or in the shower, I read a ton of news and fashion blogs, so usually I do all my readings and then something just pops in my head. I sit down and sketch it and if it feels right, I release it. Some are hits and some are misses, but it's fun to just put stuff out there either way.

tFS: How do you decide which tees will be in color and which will be in black and white?

CLS: I love simple black and white. To me, this is the most raw state of communication and if the design doesn't work in black and white and needs color, then it is a weak design. But people have asked for color, so I started doing some more color designs, one collection was all in color, the REBEL series with Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Princess Diana. These worked in color because I was trying to convey a sense of pop culture tribalism and usually tribal art and design has plenty of color. Also, the reference to Pop Art in an American way.

tFS: Do you ever think of expanding into non-t-shirt offerings? Can you tell us about any tops you have in the works?

CLS: I have thought about it, and of course many fashion designers have started as t-shirt designers  – Henry Holland, etc. – but I am not so sure I want to be a fashion designer. I like art, graphic design, and t-shirts because of their almost archival medium. I have friends who still wear band t-shirts that were passed on from their parents, t-shirts get better with age! In order to create other items, I would really have to feel it, I wouldn't do it just for the sake of money. I do have a series of limited edition art prints coming out this month at Mammoth, some of the prints that are on my t-shirts will be available as prints, for people who don't want to wear a loud tee and would rather have it on the wall.

tFS: What's one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started your brand?

CLS: Not to piss Rachel Zoe off. I am kidding, this is a hard question. I would say not to feel too much pressure and just go with your heart and do what feels right. There is no hurry.

tFS: Was there ever a point in building your brand that you thought of giving up? If so, what made you persevere?

CLS: Yes, there were some times when I would be packing things to ship at 3 A.M. and dealing with all the other glamorous things that come along with the job that I wanted to give up, but then a customer will email a photo of them wearing the shirt or post on Facebook and they are so happy to wear the shirt and excited by it, so that makes me excited about the job and I keep creating!

tFS: How did the idea for the "create your own t-shirt" come about?

CLS: I was in Montreal hosting MAD MAUS with Gibran Ramos and he introduced me to Eric Gaultier and Eric was telling me all about this application that we could create to do this, and so we started building it and launched it in the summer of 2010. Most of my customers are very fashion savvy and have very distinct needs. So I thought it would be nice to allow them to be able to take the art and do what they want with it, place it on all different colors, scale it, rotate it, be the designer themselves really.

tFS: What's your most popular tee?

CLS: Save Anna, usually, but it changes often. Right now it is Andre Leon Talley, maybe because he is on TV so much now.

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