Renown for his 7 years as protégé to Paco Rabanne, Paris based Couturier Tilmann Grawe talks to ViralFashion.com about how he blends traditional design craftsmanship with new technologies as a tribute to femininity…
Leesa Fogarty: Tell us the story of when your passion for design was born…
Tilmann Grawe: It was when I was around 16 or 17 years old. Up to this age I was crazy about animals and nature and was keen to study zoology and animal-behavior. However. I was also curious. My grandfather was a tailor in Dortmund where I was born so I decided to do a workshop during the holidays at a tailor in Frankfurt-am-Main. Working and watching for 2 weeks the everyday-life of a tailor was very interesting but the important point for me was that I had wandered into a world where design and textile were wonderful, but not for men . . . Social limits and habits mean that there is only so far I could take my creativity. So from this moment on I knew I wanted to go into Women’s fashion when I graduated… and that’s just what I did. I was lucky at the time to join one of the best names in Frankfurt who worked exclusively for haute couture clientele.
LF: You are renown for your integration of textiles such as plexi and crystal into your haute couture; tell us about your foray into accessories and how you aim to translate your passion into cutting edge eyewear design.
TG: My knowledge started with textile, but very quickly I yearned to mix industrial materials like plastic and glass with noble materials like silk. Looking back, I guess it was more of an instinctive process that drove me to what became over time my personal aesthetic. For example at the House of Paco Rabanne I would integrate Plexiglas structures into cocktail dresses, or Bohemian glass. In fact I approached it very much like the process for conceiving a concept for a new sculpture. These projects had the wonderful particularity that in fact this is not only a sculpture but also a dress. I had always in my mind only one rule to stretching my creativity – that I must always flatter the femininity.
LF: Why did you choose to enter the Japanese market first with your new eyewear collections?
TG: As a German I think to have some similar understanding concerning the Japanese mentality. There is a very big rigor and discipline. They appreciate pure volumes and a very graphic vision like we appreciated during the BAUHAUS movement and which is still a classic today in architecture.
I have the feeling that my creativity will be well understood and appreciated in Japan. The quality of my products craftsmanship is critical. Japanese manufactories are known for the extraordinary production and I wanted to entrust this project with a team who would share my passion for the importance of the aesthetic without ever compromising the craftsmanship. For example, when you look through my tortoiseshell diamond framed glasses into my eyes, you will note that the frames are very aesthetically simple, perfectly crafted and strong in the same time . . .
LF: How do you perceive the Japanese fashion market and its receptiveness to your work?
This will be my first time working inside Japan. There are several reasons to be motivated to start in Japan.
TG: I have closely collaborated over the last 20 years with the Japanese fashion press in Europe. When I exposed my design at the SILMO in Paris and the MIDO in Milano, they were very interested in my work and particularly in my eyewear. Most importantly, the Japanese people in my experience are connoisseurs for high design and a unique aesthetic.
LF: Describe your creative process.
TG: My creative process always comes from my surroundings. This puts me in a general harmony and gives the chance to the user or observer to participate in the evolution because it is simply a natural expression – another step in my step… its very natural.
LF: What preparatory work did you undertake before you moved into eyewear?
TG: The very first eyewear I had designed was for myself. A boutique optician who handcrafted it for me in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1984 realized my eyewear vision. It was a diamond shape frame in acetate black and white. To me the diamond shape is something very organic with the line of one’s eyes. A foreign manufacturer who was visiting Paris asked me about my glasses. When I showed him my design he loved it but thought it much too strong a design concept to be a success in his market. I refused to change my design and left. Again I was approached but this time by an optician from the south of France who was fascinated by my personal frame and invited me to come to the SILMO expo show. It was at this expo that I knew my eyewear vision could be taken to the next level in a country like Japan.
LF: Tell us about a particular textile that surprised you in the midst of your creative process. Why?
TG: One textile that has surprised me is synthetic muslin made in Japan with impeccable quality and an extraordinary weight. It is so incredibly light you barely feel it when worn on your skin. Another Japanese fabric I would appreciate the opportunity to work with is a mixed Ottoman and velvet. Both structures have very specific ways of being woven. This skill of mixing tradition with technology is an art in itself and the Japanese are the best at this craft in my opinion. I also love working with woven metal.
LF: Do you often envision a relationship with your wearer?
TG: Being trained in the craft of haute couture it means I am naturally intimately close to my wearer or clients. It’s a very personalized business.
LF: What do the respective states of disembodiment and metamorphis mean to you personally?
TG: It is a fusion of the human body and my design. To disembody and achieve metamorphoses in my work I feel compelled to work with industrial elements that have the function to replace the textile.
Being different than textile and having as well other behaviors you can get this fusion I like so much, and as a result new creations can be borne.
LF: How does the medium of film and its narrative help us to shed light on your work?
TG: Film is a very important element in both my work and my creative process. It is in the vector of a dream and the actress’s wardrobe, that some of the finest creations come alive. This could be directly a film, dressing the actresses in their roles but also Film festivals and red carpet events. I have been involved in the fashion events in the Cannes Film Festival half of my life. This is there where the public can see their stars and seeing them in one of my creations is an important moment – both for them and the artist. This is a strong communication platform where Tilmann Grawe the label can be seen by the wider public and desired. For example Aishwarya Rai ( Indian superstar, Former Miss World, beauty Ambassador of L’Oréal and member of the Cannes Film Festival ) was once one of my gowns at the final ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival. This had a huge media impact. Magazines are interested in showing specifically my dress , but even to talk about my design. It inspired many of my clients to reinvision this dress into something unique and uses this inspiration for new creative energy . When German Actress, Alexandra Kamp was on the cover of GALA Magazine with the Prince Albert of Monaco that also provided much inspiration to my exclusive clientele.
LF: You spent many years as the protégé of the great Paco Rabanne. What influence has he had on your career?
TG: I spent 7 years creating by his side. In the House of Paco Rabanne I was in charge of conceptual and experimental dresses for the Haute Couture Collection, twice a year .
For a designer I think it is a very important rite of passage. Being so close to a fashion icon you have the opportunity to receive by osmosis, an amazing creative education . This is something that money will never buy. When you work with Paco Rabanne, the whole process of designing a collection of haute couture, understanding the brand identity and the culture of the Maison, understanding how to present your collections in a sophisticated show, all becomes natural for you.
– Leesa Fogarty