Thibaut’s creative journey began with narrative films made in the wilderness and a series of ephemeral installation-performances using torrents and trees alongside man-made materials. Now, it has evolved into a multimedia practice that captures the intense, emotional relationship binding the individual to the natural world.
Start us off with the basics: who is Thibaut? Why fashion?
Fashion is to me the vastest and most playful landscape of exploration. Fashion has been the most instinctual way to express myself ever. I am a French German interdisciplinary ”generator.” I always found it hard to find the right words to define myself. I am not comfortable with calling myself a designer or an artist. I believe there are no boundaries between disciplines when you develop a skill. I am a designer making wearable garments, a videographer making films, an artist making installations, drawings and poetry… All these fields are constantly cross-pollinating via creative energy and collaborations, therefore “generator” seems appropriate.
To be a designer is only to create a product in the end and that is not something that I am automatically drawn towards. I am more interested in creating concepts, atmospheres...alongside fashion. Each area feeds into the other and the final outcome changes. What would Patti Smith call herself for example? She has an honesty about her work that isn’t dissociated from her personal journey. Her personality shines through her work without her having to categorize herself.
My process is very personal and quite metaphysical. I never use secondary research to generate shapes or concepts. In a world of intense digital connectivity, I prefer investing the tangible surrounding to excavating ideas. “Wanderlust” is the base notion of German Romanticism; this idea of walking relentlessly through the world, observing, analyzing, making the individual an emotional sponge, a portal to the subconscious. For me it transcribes into a lifestyle and an ideology from which I was inspired to build my core aesthetic. My family comes from the Black Forest in Germany. My practice generates itself from that place and the idea of a figure exploring the immense natural landscape in search of answers or perhaps more questioning. There is definitely a notion of survivalism as I partly grew up there. I had to think differently, having no electricity and washing myself in the freezing torrent.
Studying Fashion at the Royal College of Art taught me to really stand for my own faith and convictions. Tutors would try to put me in a box because I wasn’t making typical fashion (and no fashion at all when I started the program). Looking back at this time I am grateful for these constant frictions, it thickened my skin for sure and by the end I received respect and understanding from my tutors. Now it is clear to me that you shouldn’t let people lead you away from what is important to you because no one can fully see through you.
My work isn’t divided into seasons. I think working in seasons is obsolete today. It is rather a constant expanding and development of my core different geological landscapes. For example, at the moment I’m turning towards very mineral and prehistoric textures, the immensity of the Pyrenees mountains and stalactite formations in caves. Evolving from the very vegetal forest environment I explored in my graduate collection. The clothes themselves have a strong connection to outerwear and possess a high technical level of practicality (hoods, waterproof and reflective, zips, pockets, and convertible garments).
Real plants have been fused into the fabric to look like fossils, leather was buried in the ground to look like wood, dried plants are petrified in gels to look like an immortal river flow running through the body, camouflage prints were made out of root stencils. By using these techniques on manufactured textiles, each piece will be unique as well as extremely wearable; capturing the memory of a decaying nature like a wearable relic. The outcome produces elaborate sculptural garments, blending functionality of outerwear language with a visceral rawness.
So much of the conversation about fashion today seems to focus on the industry’s harsh environmental impact. How do you fight that in your work? Was the eco-conscious dimension always at the forefront for you?
My first collection was called “Wanderlust." The concept of someone walking around the world and reflecting on it is to me a behaviour tending towards eco-consciousness. I strongly believe that we should detach ourselves from the illusion of a digital universe and re-engage with our physical surroundings. Drop your phone and go for a long walk... I grew up between Paris, the French countryside, and the Black Forest, and therefore my ideologies have been shaped by natural and urban habitat always trying to keep the balance. I still utilise this aspect of engagement with one’s environment when I make garments.
Being sustainable has become an obligation today and it feels like everyone wants to be part and shout their uninformed opinion of it, not because they are outraged or shocked but because it’s trendy on Instagram or even can be a marketing strategy. Sadly this behaviour is rarely relevant...it’s easy to call yourself sustainable and use it as an argument. Just cutting a few vintage jeans and putting them back together isn’t enough unless you are a validation junky, thinking you will change the world… Let’s not be megalomaniacal.
In practice, it’s impossible to be fully sustainable today, especially as a young designer, and I wouldn’t label myself as a sustainable designer. As I refer to “tech-wear” in my designs, the fabrics mostly used are synthetic, parachutes and other waterproof polyester or nylon. The research to develop better ecological tech fabrics is still very “niche” or kept behind the walls of big laboratories. It demands huge infrastructure to optimize its creation like NikeLab or Patagonia are able to do. It would be important to democratize these fields.
In order to reduce my environmental impact, I make garments using waste or by sourcing all my fabrics from end series (dead stocks) from various high fashion brands. At RCA, I would use old bits and pieces of fabric to drape new shapes, which would occasionally inform some pattern cutting (I still do). Twisting and giving another purpose by combining handmade techniques on a mass produced material is part of my storytelling. If you can make a thoughtful and long lasting garments, it is the efficient way to be a strong eco-conscious designer.
How does the notion of “luxury” play into your designs?
I think the fashion industry needs to redefine what “luxury” should be in the future. For example, by educating customers to appreciate other consumption values, being clever in the production management through reassessing how much comes out of factories compared to what will be used, and making people believe they don’t need to buy more to be valid as a fashion follower or influencer—erasing the idea of materialistic identity. It’s one thing to be sustainable in design but it has to be acknowledged as a global ideology to gain its full potential.
In my practice, collecting plants, roots and other organic materials is contributing to define this new sustainable luxury. The presence of embedded natural elements elevates the status of the piece. This eco-conscious system makes the final garment relevant, and encourages the customer to value uniqueness rather than mass-manufacturing. If I tell the customer that the plants were collected and processed in the middle of the forest, while the reflective piping came from an old ski jacket, it has a strong authentic narrative. To me, that is the new luxury. I can strongly feel that the system in place right now will collapse. It is fundamental for the industry to find new creative narratives.
You’ve also mentioned gender-neutrality as a central theme in your designs. Could you expand on this a little?
I think one reason why I do fashion is for its anthropological aspect. In every community, from the more extreme (gothic, punk and other subcategories) to the most “norm-core” uniform, fashion is a statement that symbolizes a lifestyle or an aesthetic current. Even the most anti-fashion individual will make an informed decision to choose one item over another. I find that absolutely fascinating.
I believe garment has no gender until you put a body inside. Any human can embody it. It is as simple as that. In a society where gender differentiation is causing so much division and hate, I think it’s vital to teach empathy and be open to the other. In my opinion, clothing has the power to do such a thing. It is crucial to continue spreading awareness of the non-binary approach to the individual. Garments are weapons for self-expression.
When did you start incorporating performance into your work?
I come from a Fine Art background, so it was sort of my genesis. Now my work expands beyond fashion as I produce my own films and work with musicians and performance artists who share my same values and emotional understanding.
How do fashion and performance complement each other in your practice?
Performance is always the first stage of creating a garment. It generally appears while collecting natural artifacts and combining them with manmade materials that will transform later.
I see it like a contemporary ritual. When it comes to installations and performance, the setting is vital. They are narrative sequences that will inform the final garment. For my graduate collection, I divided each look into small video ceremonies. I wanted the materials to form the silhouettes and volumes themselves during the ritual. It was interesting to see how the various material properties would inform the kind of outlines of the garment—whether it would be sharp and heavy, fitted, or blown up—how I will then extract them to transfer them onto a body and make alterations, then go back to the film sequences and take another detail to alter the piece again. It is an ongoing dialogue between 2D and 3D. For instance, in one piece, a tent transformed into a sculpture which then turned into a harness bag. It was quite mystical, changing the utility over and over, adding layers of experiences to a very recognisable and purposeful object.
Taking things apart and manipulating them back together: every product is the outcome of an ordinary organic item removed from its original context, and spontaneously adapted into the new form of a garment, taking it out of the cyclic system of biological decomposition and back into a human functionality.
Performance has a lot of body and textures, it can look very precise and planned, but using the four elements (water, fire, earth, wind) brings it to the highest level. The elements are definitely my best tools when I start new work. The way I make clothes has the same instinctive energy as my installations. I see it like Arte Povera, because of the repurposing of found artefacts. It’s a very systematic process which offers me space to dive into the unplanned, the uncontrolled.
1- Observation. 2- Stumbling across interesting scenery. 3- Excavating the atmospheric potential of this scenery. It’s super structured, but after that the intuition comes in the process. 4- A story appears. 5- Man-made influence is added to the scenery and builds the installation; the dialogue between body and space becomes a performative conversation. This personal method protects me from losing inspiration. I like to think I have my very own standardized creative logic. It’s so reassuring to access this mental state of looking at a piece of trash on the side road and being able to maximize it to a whole new magical world. As a result, the individual pieces gain a second life, as a surprising form of hybrid remembrance.
Even in light of your rigorous artistic process, it seems like so many of your looks—fashioned from these tough, technical materials—would be out of place in the sterilized space of white cube. What is the ideal subject getting up to when they put on a piece of your clothing?
A sense of community is important to me. During my Masters, I met fascinating people who inspired and nourished what I was making. My work is a long-lasting interest in valuing the human experience to reach an exciting final outcome. I am always inspired by my friends. They are nomadic souls, interchangeable, fluid, strong enough to glow through different spaces almost like a mutant, but completely genuine.
My ideal wearer would evoke the energy of a solid inner world surrounded by a hostile corporate capitalistic space, as well as blending themselves in a raw natural surrounding: they would be able to radiate and survive the dark ages of our present state. I am building my own interpretation of “the Preper”—a Neo-Romantic explorer of the 21st century, in a way. I believe that the poetical energy of my clothes can resonate with today's generation by raising awareness of the fragility of our world. On a more personal level, they might help us explore the complexity of emotions as a search for freedom. I like to call my garments “sentimental utilitarianism.” I want to turn emotions into something useful. If I had to follow subjects wearing my pieces, I expect they would be completely spontaneous. They would be able to fit in a white cube, but also run in a swamp, find the perfect spot to look at the full moon with a friend, find a date in the club or end up having an orgasm on top of a mountain.
That’s beautiful! Offer us some final insight into how you bring these ideas into being: what has fed into your endless well of inspiration lately?
My soulmate Jack is my greatest inspiration. We met as he traveled to London from Sweden only by bike. Being with him makes me feel like we have this secret Island we share inside each other. We learn together constantly even when we aren’t in the same place. It’s a great feeling to see someone can have a genuine impact on my work and personal life like he does, it’s like a super-power.
courtesy THIBAUT KNAPP
words ADINA GLICKSTEIN
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