When you think of sustainable fashion, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not Swarovski-beaded gowns, sculptured silhouettes, and metallic tie-dye garments; yet that is exactly what Germanier gives you – in droves. The artist behind the brand, Kevin Germanier, has grown from Central Saint Martins student to Louis Vuitton junior designer, to CEO of his very own label. Only two years after launching his label in association with MatchesFashion, Germanier cultivates a futuristic utopia through his collections that have been sported by the likes of Björk and Lady Gaga. With upcycling and ethicality at the forefront of his brand, Germanier offers an insight into what the future of fashion should be.
I read that when you were a student at Central Saint Martins, you started designing clothes out of bed sheets, mostly for financial reasons. Is that when when you realised that this way of designing could be a business?
I never wanted to have my own brand to start with. I always wanted to have a stable situation and work in one of the big houses in Paris. I never thought sustainability was genius because it was just my creative process. I’m way more creative when I’m limited. And then one day, Orsola De Castro said to me, oh, you’re an upcycler! And I was like, what is upcycling? For me, it was so genuine, and I never used it to be different.
At the time, people were rolling their eyes at what I was doing. If you look at the story of upcycling, it goes way before our generation, like Vivienne Westwood, Orsola De Castro, Stella McCartney, etc. People think it’s a trend, but since when is saving the world a trend?
I imagine it can be frustrating when people always focus on the ‘sustainability’ aspect of your label. Are you looking forward to a time when being ethical is just the norm?
I don’t market Germanier as a sustainable collection because to me, that’s not the point; the point is the beautiful products. Yes, it’s sustainable, but that’s just the way I want to produce. Sustainability is everywhere now: architecture, food… everything is sustainable. I want to normalise it. It’s not genius, it’s just the way you should produce. So, yeah, I get irritated. I usually try to stay Swiss and neutral, but now I think I should speak my mind. Saving the world is not a trend.
You used to work for Louis Vuitton. This is a major fashion house which still follows the strict traditions of seasonal collections, resort collections, fashion shows, and so on. Do you think we’re reaching a point in fashion where these traditions are losing the industry’s interest?
I think you can always adapt to a better way of production and sourcing. To be fair, they are adapting. You have to keep in mind we’re talking about monsters, they’re huge. Every little decision can take a year to a year and a half to be approved. I had the best time at Louis Vuitton. I learned everything: detailing, what makes a product luxury, what makes a product cheaper.
From a sustainability point of view, they are doing things, but it’s just so small that people don’t see it. They can’t change their full production in one year, it’s not possible. Of course, smaller businesses can be more flexible. If you take a risk, it’s not the same as if a big brand takes a risk. With craftsmanship, you can always adapt. I think that’s why people are scared of sustainability because they think they have to change everything. But you can keep your lifestyle, you don’t have to become another person.
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I imagine it would have been daunting leaving an established brand and starting up your own. What gave you the confidence to make that leap?
Louis Vuitton basically said to me, if you don’t do it you’re a fool. They were so supportive of me. I was lucky enough to have the colleagues who said, if you don’t do it you’re dumb, so what could I do? When MatchesFashion comes along, of course, you take that opportunity, it might not come back. The Sustainability Director of LVMH pushed me to do my presentation. I see my partnership with MatchesFashion as the key to my brand because they understand what I’m doing.
So how did Germanier start? Were you making your own clothes on the side and saw the opportunity with MatchesFashion and decided to take the risk?
At the time, I was like, fuck, now I have to produce. I knew how to produce one-offs, but they wanted to buy twenty-five pieces of the same garment. They were extremely patient with me and mentored me. It was difficult because during the day I was at LVMH, and at night I was doing production. Of course, it was difficult, but at the same time so exciting; I’m a workaholic.
So when you first started out, were you making the full collection on your own at night?
I worked with my friend Melvin Zoller, who is now my right-hand man at Germanier, but at the time he was also working during the day. I had so many other friends who were helping me too, it was beautiful. I’ve always said I’ll never allow time or money to let me give up on my dream. You suck it up and you just do it.
With Germanier, you’re no longer only a designer but also the CEO of a fast-growing company. Do you find it hard to maintain your creativity when so much of your job requires you to be business-focused?
I haven't been trained to do my job fully. I’m a producer, a resourcer, a ‘photoshopper,’ a web designer, a manager, an accountant. There are so many jobs and, to be fair, I have no clue how to do it. However, I’m lucky enough that my parents joined the company and they have a business background, which is great. Most of the time I’m just learning along the way. I’m not doing everything perfectly, but I bizarrely enjoy my new job.
I always thought I was just an artist, but I love talking with buyers and being a commercial person, which is funny. Maybe because it’s my brand and not someone else’s – this is my whole life. I spend about ten per cent of my time designing, but when I’m designing, I feel ten times more creative because when I get to do it I’m like, okay, now it’s playtime.
I loved your most recent collection and the video you released to showcase it. Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration behind these pieces?
Germanier started with beads, but I didn’t want to be that person who’s only known for beading because then you’re restricted. Every season you have to come with new ideas, so this season we have Swarovski, sequins, knitwear, and so many different fabrics. This time, I wanted to push sustainability to our pattern-cutting, so we used a zero-waste technique.
I’m obsessed with perfection. I love to have the perfect, symmetrical shape. I’m a CSM student, and they train you to get out of your comfort zone and that symmetry is boring. I kind of put that in a box, and this season I realised I should really embrace my style, and that maybe my style is symmetrical. I wanted to explore that to the extreme, and I think we achieved a pretty good result. I knew we wouldn’t do a show and people would be bombarded with videos. If we didn’t make something crazy, no one would care. That’s why we went all the freaking way.
I imagine that if it were not for the pandemic, then this video would not have come to be, and yet it complements your clothes so well. Do you think the fashion industry has become a more creative place this year as a result of the circumstances?
Well, not everyone. Generally speaking, I think it was a good thing in the sense that you had to rethink everything. I get annoyed with crazy settings for shows that go to waste, the food for the models. The fact that it was digital was great, but I have to be honest, it’s not as good as a real show. Real shows have emotion, adrenaline; you can’t get that from a video in the same way.
Fashion week is like a big family. It has something fascinating, perhaps not healthy, but it’s called a show for a reason. I’m a video game player, I love gadgets, so I loved making that movie. But imagine that movie on a huge screen at a show; that would’ve also had such an impact. I’m torn. I miss talking about my collection with press and buyers, it’s the only human part of fashion. I don’t care if they don’t like it, I just like engaging with people. It’s important to maintain these healthy relationships with people – it’s not just the product that needs to be sustainable.
The pandemic has forced the fashion industry to slow down. Do you think this is going to give smaller brands the opportunity to flourish?
I think it’s even harder for smaller brands now. There’s an advantage in that if you’re smaller, you can be more flexible. However, investors aren’t going to invest in small brands right now. They’re not going to take the risk to buy indie brands; it’s too risky, they’ll stay with the bigger ones. I see so many of my friends having to close their brands because they don’t have orders. Germanier is safe: we are selling, we have orders. We’re surviving. But also, there’s too many of us.
We don’t need another brand that’s making black t-shirts. If you don’t have a strong DNA, and if you’re not making something that is unique, it’s horrible, but I think we have enough. And also, so many people aren’t even passionate. Hopefully, Covid-19 will make people slow down and rethink their business and ask themselves, do I really want to do this?
You’ve said before that you don’t follow trends or seasons. Where do your ideas come from for your next collection?
I’m already using last season’s leftovers. I’m already not on trend. My inspiration always comes from the fabrics I source. It always comes from the ugliest colour combo I can do. This season we mixed mint and peach, Jesus, but then it came out beautiful. If you redo pink on pink, no one cares — it’s been done. You have to challenge yourself as a creative person.
“I don’t market Germanier as a sustainable collection because to me, that’s not the point. Saving the world is not a trend.”
You’ve said before that one of the designers you’re most inspired by is John Galliano for Christian Dior. Galliano’s collections embraced camp and the idea of fashion as a costume. There has been a resurgence in appreciation of camp in recent years, is this something you’re inspired by in your collections?
My inspiration is Sailor Moon. I love manga. I love photoshopping. I photoshopped every look myself for our new lookbook. I’m very inspired by futurism. I like volume and colour. When the Germanier girl is in the street, I want everyone to see her. That’s not my personality at all, but the Germanier woman is in the front row. I’m obsessed with the digital muse. Every season I’m trying to find her. Maybe one season I will find her, but I don’t think that will happen.
I do love John Galliano because he’s so over-the-top and so campy. Even if you don’t like him, you have to agree he’s talented. That’s what I’m aiming for. And what is a costume in 2020? Boys are wearing makeup, girls aren’t — everything is getting mixed up, and it’s so healthy. I hope that in a few years, if a boy wants to wear a beaded dress, no one will care. 
 Do you have any plans to move into menswear?
Stay tuned for next season. Go into my shop and buy an XL shirt, and then it’s menswear. Everyone can wear Germanier. I think it was important for me to develop a strong womenswear DNA before I move on to something else.
What are your plans for the future, Germanier and beyond?
To be the Creative Director of Dior. My role model is Robert Piguet. He’s Swiss-born — not far from where I live. He moved to Paris very young to start his own business. He gave me the hope that even though I’m from a small village, I can make it. If he did it, I can do it too. I’ve always looked up to him. His intern was Christian Dior. Piguet closed his house, but the closest house to Robert is Dior, that’s why I want to go there. I think the more I talk about it and the more people write about it, the more people will be like, oh yeah, we have to hire him, everyone’s expecting him. That’s my strategy.
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