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The contagious wit of Jean-Paul Lespagnard

Tuesday, May 17, 2011, 12:54 PM • Brussels, Belgium

Jean-Paul Lespagnard | image by Jacob Suton Jean-Paul Lespagnard | image by Jacob Suton

A true talent and innovative spirit, Jean-Paul Lespagnard is also a bit of an oddity in the fashion world. His clothes are anything but pretentious, celebrating a joyful approach and generous hand. In fact, there isn't a specific type of woman the 32-year-old Belgian designer has in mind.

As he welcomes me into his charming Brussels atelier, he comes across as an open and friendly person, taking the time to show me his pieces and talk me through the whole process. Countless issues of Vogue and art books are laid out across the studio, making it clear one deals with a major fashion buff. After all, there was no doubt in his mind as to where he was supposed to be in life: “I always wanted to be in fashion and it's not something I've ever had to question. I knew it was hard, but it's so instinctive for me. I guess many things come from my guts. As far as I'm concerned, fashion is a visceral thing.” Lespagnard decided to present his Fall/Winter 11-12 collection during Paris Fashion Week last March and his inspiration was – as always – quite unconventional: “I had wanted to do a collection about trucks for a while and started doing my research in that direction. The idea was to operate some kind of fusion between woman and truck. I wanted to apply the features of a truck to a woman's body. I used rigid fabrics to express that, as well as engineered shapes. Some pieces were almost like an armour you could step into.” Lespagnard assembled black safety belts to make a sexy fitted skirt and vampy bustier dress, which would, without a doubt, drive most truck drivers into a real frenzy. Thick PVC and bright stickers were key elements in the show, as well as luxurious fabrics thrown in the mix, such as silk brocade, wool crepe and textured linen. This refined dimension is clear in Lespagnard's clothes, which demand a second take. Even though they have a sense of humour, his pieces are subtle, too. This season, he focused on stylish, transformable items, like a zipped, soft suede bag magically turning into an elegant shift dress.

Lespagnard's name came to prominence in 2007, when he presented his collection during the Festival d'Hyères in France and won the Prix du Public, as well as the 1.2.3 award, which allowed him to design a collection in partnership with the French brand, sold in their stores in 2009. In his latest collection, some of Lespagnard's early signatures were back with a vengeance, such as perfectly tailored high-waisted jeans, playful oversized checks and incredible clogs, which were developed with an experienced artisan: “We found a clog maker in Alsace who produced the shoes for us. I wanted them to be like furniture for the feet. It was amazing, because he managed to make them a first sample the week after we sent him our drawings. I have to say I was pleased with the results.” Even though Lespagnard's clothes are timeless and have a world of their own, he seems keen on referencing cultural traditions and his love of folklore permeates his work: “These are elements you'll always find in what I do. I love popular culture and do not have an elitist point of view as a designer, even though many people found my last collection more grown-up and polished. The fact that I was presenting it in Paris and had a showroom there probably made things more serious, but it's all relative in the end.”

Lespagnard also got help from Anne Chapelle – CEO and partner of bvba 32 – who was credited with the commercial success of Ann Demeulemeester and, more recently, Haider Ackermann. In fact, things happened spontaneously with Chapelle and it doesn't seem like he was expecting it at all: “I called Anne after talking to Haider and we had three meetings. I never thought of asking her for help and it didn't even cross my mind. She's the one who offered me support in the first place and I accepted. She acts like a consultant and does not interfere in my creative process. It's a test period, but she gave me carte blanche with the collection. In fact, she did not ask to see the pieces before and discovered them on the day of the show. I think she wanted see how I would handle things on my own.” At the moment, Lespagnard is looking for new production in Belgium, which he sees as the best option for his brand: “Producing abroad has some disadvantages and the endless travelling to go to the factory takes its toll. I'd much rather have my clothes manufactured here and simplify the whole process. That's my goal for next season.” Lespagnard will be back in Paris next October and he'll be able to build on the buzz he generated last March. Regardless of what his next move will be, it's exciting to see how a new generation of Belgian designers is slowly, but surely, making its mark in Paris. And it's high time it happened, too.

Philippe Pourhashemi | TribaSpace

Product Groups: Creation, Ready-to-Wear
Markets: Women's

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