Designers can have multiple sources of inspiration. In each collection, the starting point is different; one season can be about a historical figure, and the next can be about a specific feeling. As an avid reader, Louis Gabriel Nouchi has chosen books as his constant when looking for references; it is a way of focusing his gaze on a more specific and concrete field without limiting himself in any way, thanks to the diversity of universes that the literary world offers.
The most recent chapter of his own story is about American Psycho, a reincarnation and reinterpretation in various forms not only of Patrick Bateman as a figure but also of the social issues that surround him: the concept of masculinity, hatred of what is different, violence. Nouchi translates fury into beauty in his own language. We talked to him about this process, about the (non) diversity in the industry, how to go from letters to garments, and how he builds his brand by and for real human beings, the ones you can find not only on his shop but also on his shows.
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Hi Louis! It’s a pleasure to talk to you. First of all, how are you? What have you been up to since your runway at Paris Fashion Week last season?
I’m great! It's still very intense. In France, we love to complain all the time, it's a national sport (laughs), but I'm actually very proud, and I'm very happy with this kind of result. To have this impact on the show is still a bit surreal but in a very good way. So now we're really trying to manage in the best way possible, and I like to have these kinds of problems.
When I came across the collection, the first thing I saw was a picture of Lucas Bravo in that perfectly tailored coat with blood splattered on his face. I instantly thought of American Psycho and Patrick Bateman; it was like he was born to portray this persona...
I've known him since high school; he's been a friend for years, and it's been a long time since we were talking about doing something together, but I wanted to wait until I had a good collection for him, and when we fixed the theme of American Psycho, I thought about him right away. He has this perfect face. The perfect man, one that you would like to bring to have dinner with your parents, so to put him in this kind of Patrick Bateman category was very cool and intriguing from the beginning. When I think about this look, I actually picture him inside it.
Aside from the familiar faces of not only Lucas but other famous people such as Stefano Gianino from The White Lotus and Zane Phillips from Fire Island, the casting stands out for the diversity and variety in all aspects. On past shows, we’ve been able to witness this kind of casting as well, making it almost a staple of your brand. What do the people you send down the runway mean to you?
Casting is key for me; all the cast members are actually customers of the brand, and it's been like this for three seasons now. We have this situation with our customers where they like taking pictures of our pieces and sending them to us, which makes me feel very proud. We really have a strong community, and the real people who like and wear the brand are not only in the ‘fashion world,’ they are outside in the streets, and I really like that.
Having this kind of diversity portrays the reality of the brand. We have a lot of different body types, and I get inspired by this. On our Spring/Summer 2023 show, where I put like half the cast naked on the runway, I was really stressed because I was aware of how radical it was in terms of the proposal and the diversity of the body types I presented. It’s something different from what everyone is doing, but the reaction was great. People were really thankful; they said it was very nice to see a normal, real body on the runway and make it desirable, which made me really proud.
We have a store in Paris, so I see the reaction of the customers to the brand. They come to me and tell me they feel safe to try things they would never expect to, and that's why I really want to push the brand in this direction. People are forgetting that making clothes is about society, and a basic white t-shirt transforms depending on who’s wearing it: a celebrity, a fashion model, an anonymous person, old, young, blonde, black – everything has a meaning, so casting is really key, and we spent a lot of time thinking about this. We started to do the casting for our Fall/Winter 2023 in October for a show in January.
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You mentioned that you were somehow scared or afraid of the reactions you might get with this diverse cast you were presenting when in reality, you are doing the right thing. I always find it weird and interesting how brands are so reluctant to truly go from words to deeds when it comes to this. Do you think this is a reality where fashion brands are afraid of portraying diversity when the world is so diverse itself?
The question of why creating a fashion brand is important. There are plenty of proposals that have great markets, but for me, acknowledging the social aspect of the brand and asking not only why but also for whom is key. For example, I think it’s important to fight for the LGBTQI+ community, even if you think the fashion world is different, it's not guaranteed. It’s been a few seasons since we’ve been working on this toxic masculinity narrative, and I think it's really important to talk about it. From my designer's point of view, it is now more normal to have plus-sized models in the show. You can complain that there are not enough of them, but at least they are here. It's a good starting point, and we are the only brand doing that for men here in Paris, so I am very proud of saying that. It's not for marketing; it's really like this because this is the reality.
And it speaks really well about the brand…
Exactly, and this is how it should be. You can put your work on everyone because it is the people in the store who look like this, and the buyer in retail is usually not a fashion model. I always got pissed when I used to work at Raf Simons, because, you know (laughs), it's really not what I'm doing. For me, it's really complicated to have a fashion brand when thinking like that. You're from a magazine, but I'm not thinking about the collection for editorial, I'm thinking about the collection for people in the real world.
It's a matter of perspective, if I do my job well, it should suit everyone. For example, the fact that you have plus-sized people on the runway is because we have a lot of them in the store and customers are requesting the garments, so for Spring/Summer 2023 we are doing sizes from XS to XXL. This is what's really important, and it's still not done. I really want all the guys in the next show to be fully dressed and comfortable in their clothes, and when you have this type of body, it is practically impossible to find something as fashionable as they want without minding the size.
And you manage this wide size range not only for the more fashionable or trendy pieces but also for the more ‘basic’ ones, such as underwear, which is sometimes overlooked in all this body type discourse, right?
This whole vision regarding the body is because we have underwear, which has been very strong in the brand since years ago, and it has forced me to set the tone of the brand. It has also made me realise that I am completely obsessed with the body. It's a product that is so intimate and is the first layer you put on when you're dressing every day, so you really need to be conscious regarding comfort. It's technically very complicated as well, you have to be careful of the specific size chart or how you wash it, and other details that you don't have to mind that much in a tailoring jacket, for example.
People are often really shocked by my tailoring, they say it's amazing, but they don't know I've been working at Raf Simons. I know how to do it and I'm used to it, but it's more difficult for me to do a t-shirt that's very cool at eighty-five euros than a jacket that's seven hundred euros, so now that this underwear situation is kind of in play, I can extend my vision and say, “Ok, we know how to do clothes.
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I wanted to talk about your latest collection. I know you are a big fan of books; they are a big part of your brand. A book like American Psycho is an all-time classic, so I’m guessing it’s not a recent read of yours. How has your perception of the book changed in your head since the first time you read it until now? Have you found a new meaning in it?
I was really shocked because it's been a few years since Patrick Bateman has been a really trendy Halloween costume, it was not the case like 5 years ago, and now it's coming very strongly, and it makes me wonder: if this guy is actually a serial killer, how is it cool to be dressed up as that? And when I read it again recently, I realised that it's a satire from the 1980s that's still relevant today, so I found it interesting to work with.
Patrick Bateman is the incarnation of everything we hate, he's a guy who hates everyone: women, homosexuals, homeless people, and fat people, which is exactly the opposite of who we are. I wondered what we could do with all this violence, so I wanted to create beauty and have this diversity on the show. Society is very violent to us – men, women, gays, plus-sized people – and we have to fight against a lot of stereotypes, not because we are one thing that defines us completely, but because I can be many things, and they are all part of me. That's why I'm very fascinated by the versatility shown in books. It's important to represent the in-between. I don't find the garments that I produce on the market, and now that I'm dressing a lot of people, they say I'm doing too much for everyone. I think that's a good thing!
You create collections based on books. You are an avid reader, your bookshelf must be full of hundreds of books that may work as a fashion collection, but only a few actually make the cut. What does it take for a book to catch your attention enough to translate the words into garments?
I always had this creative process of creating fashion from books – even at school, I was like that. I know there is a pattern to the kind of writers I like, and I was also sure I wanted to continue this kind of cycle regarding masculinity. I like working on books that truly shocked me and provoked a reaction when I was reading them. I was in college or high school when I read American Psycho and I still remember it. I also want to choose books that, just by their titles, everyone can have a particular vision of. I knew from the start that it was very intellectual to start fashion with books, it's very cerebral and very elitist, but I wanted it to have this popular, mainstream vibe to it as well. That's why we also wanted to have Lucas in our show – it makes sense. We are getting lots of reactions from people who want to read the book now. American Psycho has a really famous film, and just with the title you have an evocation of something. You don't need to read the book but now we can have our own personal point of view of the book.
How long ago did you decide you wanted to work on this book? Do you have a to-do list with your favourite reads, or do you focus solely on each collection and then see what happens?
In general, I make decisions a long time in advance. For example, we have already decided on the theme for the next collection – I'm a bit of a geek, you know (laughs). We are not a lot, so it takes a bit of time to develop things. We develop everything: the colour, the prints, the fabrics, everything. And for the size of the brand that we have, it's really a long process, so that's why we start developing things at any moment; whenever we see something that can work for a future collection, we save it.
Generally, I start working on the next season 2 months before the show to have this crossover. As I previously stated, the most difficult aspect of this book was extracting the anger. For example, the colour card contains black, white, blue, and red, which obviously refer to violence and blood but also seduction and danger. We have the jacquard with the blood splash because I didn't want it to be too costumey, I wanted to make it chic and elegant. Also, with all the drapery that we did, it was my first time draping in my life, and I wanted to force myself a bit to go in another direction. I wanted to portray the way Patrick was wrapping the bodies with cellophane, so we wanted to have that feeling of movement in the garment without it being restrictive.
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Right, which makes me think– the stylistic choices are very clear and evident in this particular story. You have all this well-described finance bro attire, with the very precise pieces and garments attached to it; also, the more psychotic part of Patrick's persona is very particular about his clothing for killing, like the raincoats, for example. Do you find this wide amount of references helpful when it comes to creating your own vision of the story since they give you a very clear path to follow in terms of aesthetics, or, on the contrary, do they make you feel somehow limited to certain codes you should follow to maintain the vibe?
It's easier to create when I have a frame, which is why I created a brand with the statement “I want to work with literature.” I feel like in womenswear you have fewer boundaries when it comes to creating, but I don't think that's the case with menswear. I feel freer when I have limits, it allows me to find solutions and be more creative in my way of processing information. It makes me wonder how I can do something really cool that is understood by everyone. This is something that Raf Simons taught me: people need to be able to understand the entire collection in a t-shirt; you have to get it right away, and this is something I will do all my life, hopefully, so I always have it in mind. With this collection, we started to touch something, and that's why it's very motivating for us to have this kind of reaction, which is not granted. It brings pressure, but it's normal. The most important thing is that we stay true to ourselves.
You’ve been talking about toxic masculinity, and you have these pieces that define the boundaries of what is commonly understood as clothing for men: open-back tops, skirts, bodies, etc. But you also have this other part of typical menswear classics: very structured and well-made suits and coats. What do you want to convey about men's clothes through this balance of approaches?
People are afraid of differences, which is why you have all these social issues like homophobia or racism. We have a proposal that is not frightening and that people are more open to accepting and trying – we are working on sensuality, not sexuality. I was working more on sexuality before but now it's more sensual, which I think is completely different because we are not talking about gender anymore. It's more interesting because it introduces people who are not used to this in a more gentle way. That's why I'm working on books. You can read the same book at different ages and interpret it differently, or different people can read the same book and have different opinions about it. It's also a very French way of seeing life – to have balance, not too much, but also be a bit subversive. I can be more in your face, but what's the point? Having more likes on Instagram? I don't care about that. It's like a soft revolution, and it's more interesting to work like that.
This subtlety and gentleness you’re striving for even show in the small changes you made to the garments – the slight alteration of silhouettes on the suits, for example.
The darts, how you can control big fabrics, etc. I was a bit fed up with oversize. I'm not saying it is not cool, but I was trying to explore how you can work differently on the body. The perception of the body has changed so much since Covid, some people became obsessed with the gym, and some people put on weight. Working in this kind of situation with archetypal attire like the black suit and white shirt is really interesting, and they are still relevant today.
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Talking a bit more about your background, you had a very dramatic change of life paths in the early stages of your adult life; you went from studying medicine and law to become the designer and creator you are today. What prompted you to make this one-hundred and eighty-degree turn in your life?
I always wanted to do what I do now, I've been making garments since I was like 5 years old. I really don't know why because I don’t come from an artistic family or background, so it's really weird how I always wanted to do it. At first, I was always really scared of the fashion world because I didn't know anyone or have any connection to it. So, my experience with fashion was really watching people on the streets of Paris and being completely traumatised by seeing the people coming out of the Yohji Yamamoto store when I was a kid. I was like, “Oh my God, who are these people? It's out of control!” That sparked my interest in Japan, and I began reading Japanese books and manga and learning the language, which I'm obsessed with to this day.
So yeah, it was complicated for me to start in fashion because, for me, fashion was not a real job, so that's why I went with medicine. Everyone is a doctor in my family, so they said, “Yeah, you study medicine, and after that, you can do fashion,” but then I failed because there’s a contest in France to get into medicine, and you can pass it only twice, so I spent 2 years doing that. Then I did law because I thought maybe I could work on something related to intellectual property, working with artists and designers, so I could go in with a ‘real job’ but be more in contact with this artistic side. I was really lucky to have an internship at Vogue at the time, and they advised me to attend La Cambre. It was very expensive for me to go to London to study something fashion-related because of the high tuition, and La Cambre was really on at that time. You had people like Matthieu Blazy, Anthony Vaccarello, and Léa Peckreit, so it was really famous and prestigious, and I was able to get in. It's a public school, so you have to learn to do everything. I had an amazing pattern teacher at the time, and there are a lot of cool people from La Cambre from my generation like Marine Serre, Ester Manas, and Alphonse Maitrepierre, we are from the same promotion, so I was really lucky.
You just mentioned something that made me curious: your interest in learning about Japan, its literature, its culture, mangas, etc. Mangas are books, have you ever considered them for your creations?
Yes, I'm totally into it! Don't even mention them, I'm so obsessed! I already did something related to Akira for a collaboration, and I've been inspired by the outfits of Hunter x Hunter and Naruto as well. It's so cool, but it's really complicated to do something with. I don't want it to be decorative, you need to put in more work, and I don't have enough time. It's already difficult to work on books because I always ask the authors if it's okay to name the collection after the book; for example, it was easy to do it for Dangerous Liaisons because it's in the public domain since it's a really old book, but working on contemporary authors requires extreme caution; I imagine doing this with manga creators would be quite a task.
What about the works of Japanese authors like Haruki Murakami, Kenzaburo Oe and Banana Yoshimoto, to just mention a few? Do you think they can be future inspirations for you?
The first collection of the brand was inspired by Yukio Mishima's 1956 novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion! I would love to do more, but it's so niche here, you have no idea. I'm really trying to take more famous books, and it's been like only two seasons since people are really getting it. I did two collections on Curzio Malaparte, this Italian writer that I am completely obsessed with because his work is so violent, and I am also obsessed with this kind of subversive and scandalous storytelling. He was really on the edge of fascism, we don't know if he was really writing the truth or if it was fake, he was a war reporter during World War II, but at the same time he was writing novels, so the fact that he was really in between is very interesting. Yukio Mishima was so fucked up, and I'm obsessed with it. I did stuff about Franz Kafka too, so I think it's nice to work with something that's a bit on the edge, like watching a Lars von Trier film. You can hate it or adore it, but you're feeling something, and I want people to feel that way when they come to a show.
It's very mainstream: everyone is wearing clothes. It's not like everyone has paintings or art at home, so I don't think it's necessary to put fashion in a category where you have to define if it's art or commercial, it's in between.
Understanding your approach to fashion through literature somehow gives the brand an artistic background. There has always been this debate about whether fashion should be considered art. A strong argument against this statement is the aspect of functionality, necessity, and other technical factors garments must have that are not required to exist when it comes to an art piece. You are very particular about clothing comfort, utility, etc.; I am curious about your point of view on this discussion.
I don't consider myself an artist, I'm more like an artisan. Clothing has to be a product, and I don't think that's a bad word at all – I'm obsessed with this industrial process. It would be easier to have like twenty interns do embroidery and crazy things for the show, but if you're not going to produce them, what's the point? It's not art like painting or sculpting, it's something that's still in the body, and it has to be functional. Even couture is not art because it is made to be worn by the richest people on the planet, you have to use the market for that.
In the end, when you are in the store, you don't need a 10-minute speech to say something, it doesn't have to be complicated or emotional, and if I'm doing my job well, you can feel something without knowing exactly what it is. It's maybe the choice of the colour, of the fabric... What we're doing is really tactile. That's why I think it's difficult to talk about art because there are a lot of senses involved and people appropriate it in different ways.
My boyfriend is a curator of a fashion museum in Paris, so he's doing fashion exhibitions, and you see how the relationship between people and garments has changed. People now really like to do fashion exhibitions because it touches everyone, it's very mainstream: everyone is wearing clothes. It's not like everyone has paintings or art at home, so I don't think it's necessary to put fashion in a category where you have to define if it's art or commercial, it's in between, and you can push it into whatever category you want. It's not art, it's something different that is not less valuable, but different.
I’m always interested in knowing the designers' and creators' opinions about the use of artificial intelligence in disciplines like fashion. Some see it as a tool for exploring new paths and ways to create, while others see it as a threat to real-life creatives. Where do you stand?
I'm totally obsessed with it, which is not the vibe of the brand at all because the brand is different from me. Even if it has my name, it's something different that's evolving with its codes, and we are pushing a direction, but I'm obsessed with AI. I think I would love to do a project with it. I don't see it as a concern for me as a designer, it's a new way of doing things. AI generation for shoes and bags is so cool, right?
Of course, it gives more freedom and possibilities you don't find in the real world, but I would like to compare it with physical books versus e-books. Which one do you prefer?
Real books are the best. As you can see, there are books everywhere in the studio. I like to keep them there to feel them.
Exactly! For me, a physical garment has a similar feeling to a physical book, the fact that you can touch it and hold it gives you a connection you can't get through a picture or a graphic.
But I think there's a difference because literature is very attached to the concept of print. We see texts and images all day, but to have a printed piece is different. I think that in the future, AI will be a tool we can use to create random things and concepts, but it will never replace what we have in real life. It is like the situation with e-commerce and physical sales – they both coexist.
This has been an amazing conversation. Tell me, after all this success and attention from the last few months, what can we expect? What’s next for Louis Gabriel Nouchi as a brand and as a person?
To keep existing (laughs). To stay true to ourselves and independent while also being able to control everything as well. I am a total control freak. Now we have fame and attention, but I know that in fashion, it doesn't last forever, and I don't think it's a bad thing. I started this project and am lucky enough to be able to live off of it, and this is something I learned on the job: when it's done, it's done, and I can't do something else. It will be sad because it's the end of something, but it's not the end of my life. We are not saving the world, we are making clothes. I'm very happy about this situation, but I'm still very down to earth about it. There will be cooler people and better people, but I try to be as hard-working as possible. I think we have touched something in the communities we are representing and that we are standing for, which is really great. Now it's about how you evolve while remaining independent.
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