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August 28 2014

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Felipe Oliviera Baptista Reflects on a Decade of Design

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Felipe Oliviera Baptista exhibition

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Portuguese-born, Paris-based designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista’s eponymous line. And to celebrate, Lisbon’s Design and Fashion Museum (MuDe) has asked him to put on a retrospective, which opens tonight and runs through February 16. Together with famed set designer Alex de Betak, Baptista—who created quite a buzz three years ago when he replaced Christophe Lemaire as the creative director of Lacoste—has put together a high-concept show that he hopes will tell the story behind his clothes. In addition to a comprehensive selection of the designer’s clean, sometimes severe, sometimes light-as-air looks from the past decade, Baptista and Betak have built an electronic brain of sorts that showcases his inspiration images, photographs, and sketches on a cluster of screens. “I think it’s really interesting to show people what they never see,” offered Baptista, who did stints at Max Mara and Cerruti before launching his own line in 2003. “I thought it was interesting to show them where it comes from, and how it gets there.” Here, Baptista talks to Style.com about the exhibition, his anniversary, and how he’s watched fashion change—for better and for worse.

Ten years is quite a milestone. When you first launched your line, is this where you thought you’d be a decade down the road?
I think when you start, you have to be aware that the chances of surviving the first five years are slim. It’s quite reassuring to arrive here, and it’s been exciting to experience this progression. And when Lacoste arrived three years ago, it was a big revolution in my life. It’s more than anything I expected.

How do you feel that the role of the fashion designer has changed over the past ten years?
It’s changed a lot. The rhythm has changed. When I first started working fifteen years ago, in all the houses I worked in we had two collections, and then three arrived, and then more and more and more collections, more fashion weeks, more of everything. Sometimes, you need some time to get a little perspective. On the other hand, it’s very exciting and fast-paced. But I always manage to escape into museums and see things. Trying to find some moments to breath is quite important.

Do you prefer the fast pace, or do you miss the old days?
Sometimes I wish that we could have more time to go in depth and try to do the best as we can. It’s funny, because when you talk to people from the industry, almost everyone complains a little bit about these things. [The fashion cycle] is a machine that I think no one can fight.

Felipe Oliviera Baptista exhibition

How has designing for Lacoste changed your approach to your own line?
I don’t think it’s a very conscious thing. Working on Lacoste, which is so big and so democratic, has made me more aware of balancing the concept and the ideas and the work. What I find most interesting today in fashion is proposing something new that has a point of view, but at the same time is still accessible. That’s an interesting, fine line.

Conceptually, when you’re designing, how do you separate the two collections?
At Lacoste, I try to push things forward, but I have to stay in the DNA of the brand. So when things are starting to get too clever, too tricky, I always think: No. The magic of working for Lacoste is that you can give people some novelty and something that kind of relates to today, but at the same time is still very Lacoste. It’s all very organic. On a daily basis, I visit the two design studios [in Paris] that are five minutes from each other and from my house. It’s like a little triangle.

Does fashion mean the same thing to you today as it did when you launched your line ten years ago?
When I first started, and when I was in college in London in the late nineties, there was a stronger link to art. Fashion was more conceptual and things seemed more creative. But I’m not about looking back. I think one should try to adapt to how things are and look forward.

Felipe Oliviera Baptista exhibition

Do we need more creativity in fashion these days?
I think so. I think [back then] there was more room for diversity. When young designers start today, we expect them to be new, fresh, ready to show, ready to be successful, and there’s less space for unexpected things. There’s an economic reality that is pushing everyone, but I think that some of the magic of fashion is slowly dying, and we must find a way to bring it back.

Do you have any ideas about how we can do that?
Well for me, this project is something that walks that line. It’s something that took a huge amount of my time, and I could have just said no and concentrated on business and work, but I think it’s interesting to show fashion to a wider public, and to show the stories of the work. I think that even everyone who works within the system loves the creative process.

Can you tell me a bit about the exhibition you put together with Alex de Betak?
Well, we have a big installation of close to eighty screens where I show all of my sketchbooks, all of my collage books, all of the creative process. [Alex de Betak and I] didn’t want to do a chronological, classic exhibition, so there are twelve installations of clothes. We wanted to bring in a little bit of the excitement of the runway to make sure the clothes didn’t look stiff or dead, because sometimes that’s the danger of fashion in a museum. But if the show touches people and makes them feel something or stimulates them or inspires them, that would be the best compliment.

What are some of your goals for the next ten years?
Wow…I’ve never been like ‘In ten years I have to ____’ I think it’s more about continuing to grow creatively and continuing to learn. I think the good side of this fast pace that we talked about is the constant learning and recommencing, and as long as it’s kind of feeding me, and as long as I’m being excited, I’m happy.

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