The Croatian-born designer discusses his upbringing and infatuation with fabric, his time spent in Antwerp working with Raf Simons and calling Paris home.
Your designs are rooted in culture with recent inspirations ranging from Slavic and Asian dress to historical and period pieces, would you say that your own roots have influenced you?
First of all, I have a very mixed background. I am Croatian born, my father was Hungarian, my mother Croatian, and my grandfather. Already the family was very mixed, I was born in Croatia, moved to Germany, Belgium, and France, [which meant that] in my childhood I never felt really patriotic about one country or the other. And so today I am trying not to give very clear references - to not say “This is Asian”, or “This is African,” “This is European”. I am trying to mix all these things up and present them again in my own way- that’s something I feel very comfortable doing.
You’ve had the chance to work alongside industry heavyweights like Raf Simons and Dirk Schönberger – tell us about what you took from the experience?
When people talk about fashion and those designers, they mostly see the surface, but the surface is not really interesting for me. For me, the most interesting part about my period in Antwerp was seeing how difficult it is to manage your own business, Dirk and also Raf were both struggling, in a way.
That’s the strange thing about fashion - that there are these two sides: the whole press side, that love to talk about the excitement of the fashion world but then the reality of our business is sometimes a bit more brutal and real, and that was a very important lesson for me. Especially working with Dirk Schönberger at that time, because just when I started he went bankrupt, then got new investors, then bankrupted again. To see this, was really, in a way…I was really impressed. Or something deeper than impressed, it was shaking my little world. Shaking it up! To understand how tough it is. People think “I want to become a fashion designer”, but they don’t understand how difficult it is to maintain a certain level. The first collection is easy, but then to grow, and to continue, and to get a certain importance…that’s pretty difficult.
So now, five years after your first Paris show back in 2007, do you think that early experience in Antwerp helped you to deal with what you have achieved?
My time in Antwerp helped me actually find out what I wanted, to think about “who am I” and “where do I want to go?” There was a period where I felt very isolated - Antwerp is a very strange place - people who visit it for a weekend or a week mostly love it but if you live there for two and a half, almost three years, it’s a very strange place; I felt very isolated, almost lonely there. You spend, somehow, a lot of time with yourself. It was an important lesson, because usually you are distracted with so many things.
Your clothes are celebrated for their fluidity and movement, as well as their functionality. You’ve said that you favour design work that “makes sense” – what would you describe as a design that doesn’t make sense?
First of all my clothing has to be comfortable, because I want people to feel good; that’s really crucial. If the clothes are not practical, people don’t wear them. I am never interested in a short-term thing, where the the person feels stupid after half a day. It’s always about feeling good and comfortable in your clothes. I love products also. Besides designing a silhouette and creating a universe, I am very much into product, and I love designing details. As we mentioned before, I love improving things, I think my clothes are getting better and better every season - at least I hope they do.
Read the entire interview here.