Fashion is not an art; at most it is a form of expression
Playing on word referring to equitation, IUAV graduate Gianmarco Barnes entitled his graduation collection ‘DRESSage.’ This name evokes a world populated with handsome cavaliers whose elegance remains unaltered inside and outside the hippodrome.
A thorough research of Huntsman, the largest tailor shop in Savile Row in the 1930s, was Gianmarco Barnes starting point. His collection explores the rules of English tailoring and revisits them using digital technology.
The collection is a mature and rather serious analysis of the archetypes of the masculine wardrobe: pea coat, trench, jacket, trousers and shirt. ‘DRESSage’ is based on this precise heritage, distorted by the codes of contemporary technologies. Using vectoral graphics, traditional patterns such as twill and pied-de-poule are reproduced on different scales and laser cut to become motifs on the garments.
Moving within standards associated with The Great Masculine Renunciation, the collection’s focus is the digital manipulation of materials. ‘DRESSage’ thrives in a space between past and future, fitting contemporary trends in menswear.
Gianmarco, what was your starting point of ‘DRESSage’?
Every time I start a new project I first look at old family photos of my relatives and places where I lived. This is the origin of many of my obsessions, such as tailoring. For this particular collection I also read a book about traditional English tailor Huntsman. I was intrigued by the list of the famous clients, such as the Duke of Winsor Edward VIII, a regular customer for formal, leisure and sportswear. This book led me into the equestrian world and the clothes and equipment associated with it. In my collection I tried to bring all these things together.
What was your main aim when designing your collection?
It was the first real time I designed a collection with the catwalk in mind. That stayed with me throughout the whole process, from design to styling. The image of the man I wanted to convey had to be clear not only to me, but also to the public. I believe the true strength of my collection is in its immediacy.
The will to be noticed: a sartorial and distinguished charm.
If you had the chance to start again, would you do something differently?
I’ve thought about the changes I could make to the collection. I came to the conclusion that I could not add to it. I feel it is complete as it stands.
I considered mistakes and alternative solutions to the problem I had to address. Of course this lead me to different results from the ones I expected at the beginning. If I were to go backward and do it all again, I would certainly avoid many mistakes. But I know now the obstacles I had to face and the mistakes I made, and they have all been very useful to my personal and professional growth.
How do you feel when people comment on your work, on this collection?
It feels great when people can describe your collection exactly as you would describe it yourself. I am pleased that all the hard work is appreciated, but above all understood. When I receive compliments, I am always a little embarrassed.
I’m happier when I realise someone understood my collection. It means they understand me. The best compliment I had was ‘a really mature collection.’ To me this means that people can see that everything had been thought, pondered, refined and rounded.
What were the main difficulties you faced?
I found it difficult to make definitive choices when designing this collection. I believe I had high ambitions, and it could have resulted in a collection that was dispersed. The real challenge for me was to reach a balance, and manage to communicate my vision in only 8 silhouettes. I had to give up on using laser cutting for the 8 looks when I realised the time and cost involved. “Scale and synthesize” is a good rule to be effective.
How do you feel about it now?
More self-conscious. Completing this collection was for all intents and purposes a ‘professional experience’. I had to deal with a disproportionate amount of unexpected events, keep an eye on very tight deadlines and build relationships with the people involved in the process such as my professors and textile producers.
Everything I did made me aware that you cannot always concretise your creativity. It is rather immature to think about fashion design merely as a creative discipline, since it is both technical and practical.
Do you follow any rules when designing?
Through my training I have developed an approach, a methodology that works well for me.
When I design I do not follow a rigorous path. I draw, create samples, redesign, realise more toiles, get back on my feet and change things again. Each of these steps is quite compulsive; I try to create a disproportionate number of small changes.
After a scrupulous screening I select the most significant ones, and cross the most interesting results achieved with each step. The final solution has to be coherent and cohesive. I am very committed to that.
What about the dichotomy between creativity and the market? Do you have an ideal customer in mind, when you design?
I do not like to consider these two lines as two extreme poles, but more as two faces of the same coin. I always try to think about the hypothetical reproducibility of the pieces, no matter how eccentric. On the other hand, I cannot deny that what I have realized is the expression of a personal vision.
I always try to produce work that makes references to a refined and formal world. This may seem somewhat limiting, but project after project, I feel I can better imagine my ideal costumer: a man who loves to find in his clothing references to traditional tailoring altered and reconsidered for a fresh aesthetic.
What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?
I know that the desire to have my own brand is still far from being fulfilled. I do not feel ready for such a responsibility. I want to keep working and develop an understanding of every facet of the fashion system. I want to be fully aware and learn all what is needed to set up a brand. It would presumptuous to pretend knowing how to do it after with only three years of study.
What experiences of fashion do you have, a part from what you learnt at university?
During my last year of university, I had the opportunity to spend almost 5 months as an intern in the atelier of Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen. It was an opportunity I jumped at, even if the placement did not fully match my skills: womenswear and couture are two worlds I had never really considered. So it was challenging for me to enter these new worlds. This was my first internship, the first time I had to rely on my own strength. Discipline and professionalism have helped me improve both my technical and personal skills.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to start studying fashion?
Fashion is a serious discipline; it requires very specific knowledge and skills. Fashion is not an art; at most it is a form of expression. In order to succeed, it must deal with a world much less pliable and far more concrete.