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Lutz, 2004
WITH WOLFGANG TILLMANS
Photographer Wolfgang Tillmans and Lutz have been close friends since they were teenagers. The two caught up at Lutz's studio in Paris.

WOLFGANG: Conversations about fashion are really hard.
LUTZ: I know what you mean. They seem so contrived. Designers always use that same old line — "My woman is sophisticated and leads a busy life." Clothes aren't about status to me. They're very personal. We pick out our clothes every single day. They touch our bodies. Clothes are more than just another layer over our skin. They're an extension of our souls.
WOLFGANG: Your collections steer clear of the themes we usually see at the shows. Your clothes don't "sex up" women, or revel in luxury and excess. And they don't seem to reference historical eras or geographical regions either — you don't base one collection on the Baroque and the next on Asia.
LUTZ: I want to make clothes that are aesthetically beautiful. I'm not interested in history or referencing exotic places in any obvious way.
WOLFGANG: Fashion encourages stereotypes that have very little to do with today's reality.
LUTZ: I think that designers often try to over-simplify people. But we're not simple — we're much more complex than the fashion world would have us think. There's more than one type of woman in the world. I've always tried to avoid making clothes that encourage people to judge the person wearing them. I want to design garments that give people the space to breathe, to be themselves. People who wear my clothes can be whomever they want, whenever they want — they can be at once intellectual and vulgar, for example. It's not about haute couture, or being gothic or sporty — it's about mixing up all of those things.
WOLFGANG: Your designs tend to have an almost androgynous quality to them — they're sexy, yet they're neither overtly masculine nor feminine.
LUTZ: I think men and women are more similar than perhaps our culture acknowledges. I believe gender is a cultural construct put in place long ago. My friends and the people in my circle rarely fit into simplistic gender roles. I try to stay away from the predictable. If I use something that's traditionally masculine, I will counterbalance it with something feminine. Last season, I did a jacket with large shoulders, which gave it a muscular, manly look. Then I added a long red fringe, a very feminine touch. In a sense, I transformed a men's jacket into a cocktail dress. [laughs]
WOLFGANG: Music has played a major role in your life for as long as I've known you, since we were teenagers.
LUTZ: Yeah. I've always loved pop culture. Music was my introduction into fashion, really. When I was sixteen, I was into the New Romantics scene. That was in 1982, which was an amazing time — there were no boundaries. Boy George was such an inspiration. In fact, I decided to move to London to study at Saint Martins after reading about Taboo, Blitz, and the other New Romantics clubs. Clothes were so important then — the music scene created its own fashion explosion.
WOLFGANG: So you were not a born designer?
LUTZ: No. I never made clothes for dolls as a kid or anything like that. I didn't know what I wanted to do when I grew up, except leave my hometown. Growing up in a small town in Germany, I was constantly aware of how different I felt. And when you don't dress like everybody else, you quickly discover the power of clothes.
WOLFGANG: Did you wear a lot of extreme fashion back then?
LUTZ: Occasionally. But my friends and I couldn't face being beaten up every day. I'd sneak in a few things on a daily basis, like a little eyeliner, to make me feel different. They were subtle gestures, but they felt really empowering. In 1988, I moved to Hamburg and worked in a boutique. We sold Gaultier and all those really '80s designers. I was going out all the time, and not doing much else. After a year or two, I decided to move to London to study fashion at Saint Martins.
WOLFGANG: In 1995 you were hired as an assistant for Martin Margiela in Paris. You worked there for three years before you left to launch your own independent line — even though you could have become a designer for a big-name company. And you started your label without backers.
LUTZ: When I left Margiela, it was crucial for me to do what I wanted to do. I was really happy working there, but after three years I needed a change. To be honest, I wasn't even sure I wanted to stay in fashion, let alone start my own company. The industry is so intense — I had to ask myself whether I wanted to devote myself to that.
WOLFGANG: That, and all the overwhelming responsibilities of running your own business.
LUTZ: It is a lot of work, but there are so many benefits. Nobody tells me how to build the collection. The freedom is much more important to me than earning lots of money. I see myself as a designer first, and as a businessman second. Obviously, it would be nice to earn money at some point, but that's not why I'm doing it.
WOLFGANG: Your partner, David, has an equal share in your company.
LUTZ: We considered that decision very carefully before we moved ahead because it's quite a risk to do everything together. So far, so good. We have similar tastes, but our strengths complement one another. David is the one who set up the office, and he organizes the shows. He's really great at the stuff I find incredibly difficult to manage. He used to work at Rochas organizing fashion shows and perfume launches, so he has a lot of contacts in Paris. Even though I'd been in Paris for three years with Margiela when we started our label, I didn't know nearly as many people as David because I'd been working constantly.
WOLFGANG: You work with the Gysemans factory in Belgium. It sounds like you have a unique relationship.
LUTZ: Their specialty is in working with young designers — Veronique Branquinho and Raf Simons are also clients — so they really understand our concerns. They don't have preconceived notions about what sells and what the collections should look like. That was a problem at our previous factory in Italy. The new guys aren't afraid to try complicated designs. Even if they don't immediately understand what I want to do, they're always willing to go out on a limb because they love to experiment. But who knows how long it'll be before I drive them crazy. [laughs]
WOLFGANG: You bristle at artifice, yet you love Hollywood. I'm always amazed by how you revel in the trashiness of movie culture. You actually read Variety and Premiere.
LUTZ: In a film you can create a complete, self-sufficient world. You can choose the soundtrack, the clothes, the narrative, the set, everything. And since you create an alternate universe, you can transport the viewer there. Movies help me believe that life can be however I want to imagine it. WOLFGANG: But most films are so crappy. [laughs]
LUTZ: Watching a good film is like walking through the looking glass. Pedro Almodovar's films are the perfect example. The stories are often quite absurd, and his characters are larger than life. He creates a universe where his characters have the freedom to be whoever they want. And for two hours, Almodovar makes you believe the world could be like that. The fact that a huge international audience shares his ethos affirms my faith in humanity.