“They Will Not Be Satisfied By Just Initials On The Edge Of Underwear”:
Jean-Charles De Castelbajac On Fashion’s Young New Clientele
It’s the rare fashion auteur who can lay claim to both Madonna and the late Pope John Paul II as fans. Jean-Charles de Castelbajac is one. The Moroccan-born, Paris-based designer (who created custom rainbow-print vestments for the late Pope, if you were wondering), got his start in the seventies and helmed Iceberg in the eighties. Now an elder statesman among youthful acolytes, Castelbajac dresses some of the world’s biggest pop stars (Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Rihanna among them), shows his eponymous collection in Paris, and designs a ski range for Rossignol, which he showed in Aspen this past weekend to kick off the ritzy mountain enclave’s 2011 fashion week. That’s where Style.com caught up with JCDC, as he’s often known, to talk hip-hop, the changing customer base of designer fashion, and those famous Iceberg sweaters.
Kanye and Katy Perry were at your show in Paris—what’s the connection there?
I’ve known Kanye for quite a long time because he used to buy my Iceberg sweaters. And I would say I’ve been designing performance dresses for Katy for three years.
Tell me about hip-hop’s embrace of those cartoon sweaters you did for Iceberg in the eighties.
This was huge, actually. The nineties were not so much my period because so much was minimalist, but the hip-hop community was totally fascinated by these really particular sweaters of mine. LL Cool J explained to me that it’s an urban crest, or coat of arms. Jay-Z has collected 150 of them. I was amazed because originally I was not a fan of hip-hop—I was more electro. But when I realized, it was a really huge pleasure.
You’ve also been designing skiwear for Rossignol. Is there any overlap there with hip-hop?
Actually there is, because in the hip-hop community there is this idea of loose and cool, and you have that also in the skiwear collection. It’s really another development that I’m doing in my pret-a-porter line, which is evolving to be a twisted chic, a new—how do you call it—funky bourgeoisie. Rossignol is exciting because you work like a painter on the blank canvas of snow. And in skiwear, what is very interesting is the duality between your imagination and the challenge of technology.
What strikes you about today’s young fashion consumer?
There is a maturity in today’s youth—it’s the same maturity I can feel in my grandson playing on his iPad at three years old. Kids educate themselves very early. They will not be satisfied by just initials on the edge of underwear—that’s not enough anymore. You have to give creativity for low prices.
What do you see in this latest generation of young designers?
What I like is they are entrepreneurs. An artist in the past would never see his intuition into a concept, like Kant used to say. We were just kings of intuition, you know. But now you have to be creative in marketing. It’s not just about grandes idées. So now I have a link to performers like Gaga, and to kids; I did a site that’s like a store that’s open day and night, and I have reality TV—my assistants are filming me. What fascinates me about this century is the proximity.
But with that proximity comes risk, and as an entrepreneur you need to exercise so much image control. Do you see flamboyant personalities like John Galliano becoming a thing of the past?
You just put your finger on something really dramatic. We have lost recently two huge designers of extravaganzas who have made immense contributions to fashion. Alexander McQueen last year, and now John, for another reason. But in an artist’s life sometimes you build a lot on your failures, on your wound, and sometimes when you have pressure you can fail. But what scares me with what’s happening is that I would not like that the collection be designed by fonctionnaires—robots.