September 1 2014

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Josephus Thimister Has Nothing To Lose


Nine years after shuttering his eponymous label, Josephus Thimister is returning as the founder, owner, and art director of his house. His much anticipated comeback—featuring couture and luxury ready-to-wear pieces for both women and men (a first)—is slated to take place during the Couture shows in January, when he will also be presenting a line of “young” furs for T.Paris.
The 47-year-old Dutch designer spoke with about the benefits of experience and why now, of all times, is the moment to “grow into a comeback.”
Where have you been all this time?

Well, I never wanted to come back because when you are your own backer, it’s a nightmare! In a way, I had to stop because my collection was produced by Genny and they wanted me to work just for them. It was a time when I had just lost my mother and my best friend. My label had enjoyed great press, but inside the structure it was a mess. So I took a sabbatical year and traveled to Brazil and Argentina, then suddenly three years had gone by. Then I started working for commercial brands, starting with Genny, and I found I loved it because I could make them better than they were. I designed the Andy Warhol collection (for markets outside the U.S.; it never hit the stores). Then I went to Charles Jourdan—the quality and craftsmanship were there, it could have worked so well had it not been for mismanagement—and I also consulted for Swarovski.

So what made you decide to start over?

Actually, it happened quite naturally. My intuition told me so. When I observed the fashion world over the last eight years, I saw a declining story. But recently I started to make clothes for my own pleasure, to show that I still have things to say and share. With experience, you know what to do and what not to do, and at the same time you’re much more free creatively. I am stronger now than I was ten years ago. And I was bored with seeing collections that have no soul, no feeling, no seduction—just a product on a hanger. I am not a bling-bling person. I miss Helmut Lang and the real Martin Margiela. Creation should balance out the financial side. It’s never been proven that a house can exist without a designer.
Which houses do you admire now?

Haider Ackermann is a great designer as well as a cool person. Bottega Veneta is a beautiful brand. Phoebe Philo is off to a great start at Celine. Proenza Schouler. So many other houses are about a carnival of accessories, and some people are copying too much—even my own dresses.
So how is this collection coming together?

Actually, this collection has been ready for two months! I poured all my savings into it. Now, we are working on the structure, financing, commercializing, and production. I called in people I worked with at Andy Warhol, Balenciaga, Genny—everyone sacrificed their summer vacation to come work with me. Now we are two in a studio on the Quai des Grands Augustins.
How is this collection different from past ones?

Thimister was very analytical, a very “shrink” thing about your life, your past, your family, your feelings, your universe. Now, I am much older and freer. There is no burden of youth. You adapt in life, but your soul remains the same. So in the beginning, this collection was much more art-connected. I considered showing it at the FIAC contemporary art fair in Paris, until the Chambre Syndicale invited me. It’s half ready-to-wear, half couture, half women’s and half men’s, and some unisex. My friends tell me it’s very Thimister.
What are its main themes?

There’s the military and Russian influence—1915 was a time of bloodshed and opulence, and I’m convinced that all of today’s problems are the conclusion of that period. My grandmother was a White Russian princess, a tremendously chic lady of great character. Also, recycling.
What kind of recycling?

I am recycling some of my favorite fabrics, like imperial satin and wool blends—I sourced a drap de laine [wool cloth] that was once used for officers’ uniforms. What I call the military part is not so much recycling as an evolution of Thimister as a ready-to-wear line, and the couture/creative lab part would be made in France.
Do you have a muse?

I hate that question! How about Cate Blanchett? I love the Nordic, transparent, fragile beauty—I’m inspired by the light of the north. Tilda Swinton, too.
Early on you worked with Karl Lagerfeld. What lessons did you take from that experience?

That a season is just a season. That everything is relative. And keep your sense of humor.

You have a thing about shoes…

Not a foot fetishist, but I am mad for shoes! It’s very French, but the first thing I do is look at shoes. It’s like my grandmother said: We spend one-third of our life on a mattress, and you’re on your feet for the other two-thirds—and what’s nicer than walking in new shoes?
How do you think the fashion world has changed in the interim?

People are looking for something with a difference, and they are buying in a different way, which is also a reason I think now is a good time to start something new. When I started, I just jumped in and swam. Now I am thinking first about everything—virtual shops, pop-up shops—the whole experience.
Are you nervous?

No. It’s not scary because I have nothing to lose. I have already proven myself. One of the benefits of age is that you don’t have the ego issues you had at 35. Now I want to share my vision. Fashion is my contribution.

Photo: Thierry Chomel