From theatre to fashion design, an interview with Pauline Dujancourt
French fashion designer, Pauline Dujancourt grew up determined to become an actress. However, when she reached her senior year of high school, she was inspired by her art teacher to express herself through an alternative means - through fashion. A few years later, Pauline now holds a BA in Fashion Design from Paris's prestigious ESAA Duperré and an MA in Fashion Design Technology from the London College of Fashion (LCF). What makes this promising young designer so unique, is her emotional, hand-made approach to textiles. Through her intricate manipulation of materials, spaces and fabrics, she expresses emotions such as nostalgia and depression. Here to speak about her beautiful, hand-knitted pieces, some of which took over 80 hours to construct, is an interview with Pauline Dujancourt.
Why do you describe yourself as an “emotional artist” as opposed to a designer?
Not as opposed to a designer, but in the first place. The reason why I would rather define myself this way is that I always start working from a story whether it is in the form of a poem, a play, a myth or a memory. Probably because I end up identifying with it, I become emotionally involved and feel the urgent need to express it through textures and volumes. By putting various images onto the keywords of that story or by manipulating materials, I develop my own visual support to the project and progressively evolve towards the idea of a collection. Only then, I start feeling like a designer drawing lines and thinking 'garment’.
How did you get into fashion?
Probably not the most common way. I have always wanted to become an actress and theatre was my first passion. As both of my parents are artists, I used to take drawing and engraving classes since my childhood. Therefore when I got into my final year of high school - fully convinced that I would professionally study acting – I specialised into literature and arts. Because my art teacher was incredibly captivating, I started to love learning about history of art as well as expressing myself with painting, drawing or photography. I guess he is the reason why I applied to a prestigious art and fashion university called ESAA Duperré in Paris. I didn’t believe that I would get in and this was not my initial plan anyway. However I was secretly dreaming about this school - this one only! I thought there was a very special creative energy that I felt strongly attracted to it. I got an offer and this was magic! I decided to do it but keep my theatre classes in the evening and weekends. Although I managed to do both until the end of my fashion degree, theatre took less and less space in my timetable - not in my life though. Sadly I stopped practising completely when I moved to London to pursue my studies at London College of Fashion. I would lie if I said that I don’t miss it but somehow, I truly feel that I made the right decision.
If you could describe your brand as a type of music, what would it be?
Without a doubt, it would be melodic. Something melancholic, repetitive and ethereal. I’m thinking of Moments in Love by Art of Noise or Pulsing by David August. If only you knew how often I have listened to these tracks while I was working on my collections.
What is one of your favorite pieces you’ve designed?
As I love to start everything from scratch, my favourite pieces are the ones where I have made the textile by myself. They require an enormous amount of work and often a laborious hand-made process. By spending hours working on making the textile my own before shaping it into the final design, I create an emotional attachment to those pieces. The one that directly comes to my mind is an ivory jumper from my most recent collection, “the Entire Memory of You” (see below). I wanted the textile process to be part of the draping as if by making my own material I was also creating volumes. This jumper is a compromise between different techniques mixing embroidery, knitting and smocking. Although it represents more than 80 hours of work and a considerable amount of fabric, it still has a light and organic effect as a soft vaporous cloud.
What would you say are the main differences between the Paris and London fashion style?
As someone who lived and worked in both cities, in a short answer, I would say that Paris fashion is more about precision and perfection. There is a real matter of beauty as well as more control over the process in order to obtain a subtle and delicate result. London is more ‘raw’, accidental, very productive and creative, with a sense of danger, in order to offer stunning and innovating outcomes. Obviously, I find both approaches fascinating and that is also why I moved to London. The more contrasts and compromises, the more shades and responses.
You describe your work as being inspired by “memory, love, nostalgia, depression”, which are all relatively positive except for depression. Why would you use a relatively negative concept such as depression, as a source inspiration for your work?
To me, they are so ambiguous and complex that I can not consider them either as positive or negative. These concepts are the main keywords of the stories that inspire my work. More than being a source of inspiration for my work, they help me to materialise my ideas as I try to translate each of them into textiles, colours and volumes. For instance, my favourite textile interpretation of memory but also depression is to suspend stripes of fabric to each other by thread links, as a whole that has been damaged and weakened remaining because it’s ‘hanging by a thread’.
What helps you find inspiration for your designs?
For my research, I usually get inspired by female characters from movies, novels, plays, Greek mythology or by poems and quotes. Therefore, it helps a lot when I simply read, watch a play or a ballet, go to see an exhibition, etc. Then when I’m developing design ideas, I often find directions by manipulating fabrics, yarns and other materials. I work better in 3D than 2D as I need to sample and see what I’m doing as I’m going along. In the same way that I love drawing but when I’m looking for new results I feel more free and excited to do collages.
When you’re in a “creativity rut”, what helps you to get inspiration?
If I’m in a ‘creativity rut’, I’m usually trapped in the tube at peak time with three very heavy bags trying to save all the thoughts going through my head! I always carry a notebook with me as I like to write and make rough sketches when I’m suddenly very inspired. Writing helps me to organise my mind, put precise words on my ideas and summarise my point. From writing, I can start visualising.
Who do you look up to most?
To be very honest, I would say my parents. I don’t necessarily like everything they produce as we have different tastes and points of view. However, I admire their strength. They are both incredibly hardworking and humble. Unlike me, they studied art with barely any financial and emotional support. Although it has been very difficult for them to stand for what they believed in and live by their art, they did not quit and took considerable chances to end up where they are now. I would like to think that modesty, endless efforts and a burning need of expression lead to a beautiful result.