Designer On the Rise Alert: Ludovic de Saint Sernin
Ludovic de Saint Sernin couldn’t have chosen a better time to enter the fashion stage: his coquettish, androgynous designs could very well be the uniform of a generation refusing to be defined by gender. Born in Brussels, raised in Africa, and now based between Paris and London; Ludovic’s aesthetic has been shaped by a wide world of influences and therefore feels quite unlike the gender-bending fashion we’ve seen before. So, where did this Balmain-trained superstar come from – and where is he going next?
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 14th issue of ODDA Magazine.
Ludovic, you name legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe as one of your key influences as an artist and designer. How can we see his impact in your current collection?
I read Just Kids by Patti Smith a couple of years ago and I thought the book was beautifully written and truly inspiring.
I feel a certain connection to Robert Mapplethorpe on a very personal level. His work has influenced my debut collection in many ways in terms of textures and feeling, for instance, a soft tan leather jacket, pervy grey vinyl trench coat, a kinky red patent leather bag. The details as well are reminiscent of the BDSM series like the black leather underwear lace up from front to back with silver eyelets.
Officially I showed 10 looks, but only a happy few know that there was actually a look 11: a homage to one of my favorite photographs from Mapplethorpe.
A very soft silk and linen knitted jockstrap, the waistband has to be laced around the waist twice and knotted at the back in a way that evokes the traditional Japanese Mawashi.
It’s really intriguing that, as a unisex collection, gender isn’t something that seems to lead you when designing. Do you feel like this is the way of the future? Or do you think highly-gendered fashion still holds relevance in coming years?
I am not really into that word, unisex. It doesn’t resonate with me for some reason. Let’s just say that, in my mind, I see each piece individually as a garment. If a boy wears it it’s menswear, and if a girl is wearing it becomes womenswear.
Personally, my closet has both, I never really check if it’s menswear or womenswear. As long as it fits my body and it looks good, that’s all that matters. But, that’s just me, and probably the people who will wear my pieces feel the same way I do. And we might be going towards this kind of thinking more, but I believe that highly-gendered fashion is also relevant. Everyone should be able to dress the way they want regardless of gender and labels.
What is your favorite item of clothing in your personal wardrobe?
I will have to say this oversize Paul Smith jumper I stole from my boyfriend. It’s from the artists and bankers’ collection in the early 2000s.
It’s a beautiful natural color linen knit with hand-painted stains on it. It actually inspired the knitted bandeau from my second look. I love it when pieces carry a sort of nostalgia.
With woolen jockstraps and PVC trench coats, there’s a visceral demand of your designs. They need to be touched, and felt, in an almost erotic sensation. Do you like people to feel aware of the clothes on their body? Does this influence what materials you use?
Yes, absolutely! I like the balance between sexual and elegant.
Creating a beautiful piece that you will want to touch and feel is so important to me. And more than the textures, it’s also about the way you put the clothes on the boys, the pants have to be laced up, the top delicately knotted on the side, the ceramics are closed on the body, and the jockstrap cannot be put on without someone tying it around your waist.
You are 27 years old. Unlike many older designers, you have your finger on the pulse with what’s happening among your generation. What’s important to you and your friends at the moment? How does this reflect in your designs?
Quality and longevity are very important. I want to establish a wardrobe that will provide amazing fabrics, leathers and materials that can last. Because I know how frustrating it is to have an amazing piece but then, with time, the quality fades.
My boyfriend has these amazing Miu Miu pants from when they were still doing menswear and they’re intact. That’s real luxury, being able to keep your clothes in pristine quality for decades.
What do you carry with you everywhere?
My lip-balm. It’s absolutely vital that I have it at all times!
Your first job was at Balmain working in the womenswear studio under the direction of Olivier Rousteing. What was the greatest lesson you learnt during this time?
Hard work and determination will get you far.
What is your creative process like? Is there a lot of structure around your ‘design time’, or does it just happen when inspiration strikes?
It’s usually all up in the air until I have the exact look I want in my head, then I draw it and that’s it. Later, I look for the perfect fabric for it, which isn’t really easy in Paris to be honest. London or Tokyo offer a much better fabric shopping experience. The best part is probably still the fittings where everything comes to life and working with Raphael, my fitting model since the beginning, is always a pleasure.
You name your three inspirations for your fashion as pop culture, art and sex. Sex is an interesting one, since your designs are quite androgynous. How do you challenge traditional masculinity to carve out a ‘new’ type of male sexiness?
It intrigues me to see how people perceive that aspect of the collection. Sex is really personal and one’s definition of sexiness and male sexiness in particular is really evolving at the moment. I seek to seduce, not convince. I think the fact that the designs are androgynous is what is appealing. There’s a part of feminine and masculine in every single one of us and there’s nothing sexier than a man who’s willing to reveal a bit of femininity.
Your Instagram account is beautifully curated – but, of course, it’s part of your brand and your image. Do you have another platform you use for personal, candid shots? Or do you try and avoid social media if you can?
Instagram is the only platform I use. I love it. My account is very curated, yes, and doesn’t really allow for candid shots to take place. I do have friends who have cheeky private Instagram accounts where candid shots and memes are the main content, which is a really fun outlet, but I like the idea of keeping some parts of my life private. I believe that not everything needs to be shared on social media.
If you did not choose to go into fashion, where would you be today?
I’d love to open a plant shop in De Beauvoir where I live when I’m in London. It’s been a passion of mine for years, lately I’ve started to grow my own plants and offer them to my loved ones.
Raised in Africa, you now share your time between London and Paris. Does place have a strong influence on how you feel and how you behave?
Absolutely, I grew up in Ivory Coast where I had a magical childhood under the sun. I moved to Paris when I was seven years old, but my dad was living in Brussels where he was working, so I was jumping on the Thalys every two weekends up until high school.
Today I spend my time between Paris and London and I love being between the two.
I get the best of both worlds: Paris is work, work, work and London is a bit of work but mostly pleasure!
Being in between gives me a sense of freedom and I always have something to look forward to!
You often opt for street casting, choosing models who sit outside the gender norms we usually see in casting. Why did you choose to go down this path?
I met my dear friend and Casting Director Piotr Chamier a few years ago and loved his eye for casting, instantly we shared a very similar vision of beauty. So, when it was time to think about boys for my first presentation, I couldn’t think of anyone else but him.
We wanted to have a very fresh casting of new faces that no one else had seen before. Street casting offers something unique and real and also gives a chance to the boys who are not in an agency to launch their careers.
What is your greatest fear?
To be bored.
Being young and successful is not easy. Do you ever feel like you need to work twice as hard to prove your worth, given your age?
For the first presentation I was extremely excited but also very calm. There was no expectation or pressure since it was the first one.
I was just expressing myself freely and openly and was happy for anyone to come to the show.
The feedback that I received was overwhelmingly good and now the pressure is on to deliver for the second season! But it’s good! I am looking forward to it. It’s going to be my first time doing a winter collection so let’s see!
What is your advice to younger guys looking to assert their creativity through fashion, but perhaps are too shy to do so?
I would say that they shouldn’t be scared to take a risk! I left a very comfortable position at Balmain to do my own thing, and I’ve never been happier. In your twenties, comfort isn’t really something you should be looking for, it’s where you build the foundations for your future.
I would also say though that it’s never too late as well to do what you want.
Looking ahead, what are you most excited to achieve with your label?
I want to take my time with it, appreciate every single step.
The rhythm in the fashion industry is crazy at the moment, and I want to see if I can stand up against that relentless pace to create some time to grow and breathe!
Maggie Kelly is an Australian writer with a background in editorial, fashion, and lifestyle. See more of her work on her website www.maggiekellywriter.com
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