This is the story of a kid who came from weird happy parents and grew up in the ‘90s, when underground hip hop, skateboarding and skate-punk were a big thing. With an endless passion for textures, colours and silhouettes, Boris Bidjan Saberi found his place in Barcelona, where he could express himself without being judged. Because for him, being different isn’t a choice. After eleven years designing for his own brand, he returned to Barcelona with Retrospective of 11 years of work of Boris Bidjan Saberi, his retrospective runway that was part of 080 Barcelona Fashion.
The queue for the show was huge and everyone was excited to see some of the garments that the designer had shown at Paris Fashion Week for years. This is his own way of saying, ‘Thank you for all this time, I was not here but I existed’ to the city and its people. We were lucky to have some minutes with him one day before the show and to discuss with him his origins, his vision of fashion and what’s the path his brand is following at the moment. “You should propose something instead of just being against it. I try to propose something in what I really believe”, he says.
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Fashion is anchored to your soul because it runs in your family. But what drove you to design your first collection?
If it’s in my soul or not, I don’t know. When I ask myself why am I so obsessed with certain things in my work – I call them obsessions because I can’t stop them –, I can imagine that it’s really deep inside my soul. I don’t know if I can speak about DNA, but maybe you’re right. I decided to do that basically because I felt it.
You grew up in Baviera, but your brand is based in Barcelona. How was your journey from Germany to the Mediterranean city?
When I was living in Baviera, until I was 24 years old, I couldn’t express myself because I lived as a stranger there. My father is Iranian/Russian and my mother was Irish/German, so we were accidentally strangers there – this feeling of being a stranger is really anchored in my life. We felt like that because people made us feel this way. It was the post-Nazi era, so people were really conservative and also very narrow-minded in terms of foreigners living in their small place.
I always felt that I wanted to make garments but I was afraid of it because I felt that I couldn’t express myself as I was. There was a moment when I said to myself, I have to go away from here because I won’t find myself and my own expression. Maybe today is different, but at that moment, it was like this. Then I went to Spain.
Why Spain and not another country?
When I was climbing as a teenager in Spain, I felt that people didn’t judge me. And I still feel this way, so I feel super normal here because people don’t check you out so much as in Germany. There, people really try to define you, they put you in a box. I do think that in Spain, you can express yourself pretty freely. This helped me a lot in expressing myself without any restrictions.
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So you decided to stay in Barcelona because you felt free here?
Yes. Again, it was because of a feeling and not because of a professional matter. Actually, looking back, in a professional sense, it was probably a bad decision to stay in Barcelona. At the end of the day, Spain was a strong textile force, but today, it has been eaten up by fast fashion. When I started in 2005, there wasn’t much industry left here. It is totally anchored to my professional evolution though. It’s very important to be able to express yourself because then you feel good with what you are doing.
You say that BBS makes sense because it stands for its authenticity. In times of fast fashion, what does it take to make a name for yourself while remaining truthful to your artistic intuition?
Being honest to yourself is getting hard. I mean, it’s not hard in a private space, but it is in a professional space. For me, it’s really hard to use certain words today. People just catch up with words and use them in their project or in their career even though these may be not true. And society believes them because they listen to these words all the time – such as authenticity, sustainability, km 0 and so on. And this fucks up a real project that has always worked on these terms. That’s why I can’t use these words anymore because I would be in this bubble of trends, which I never want to be.
So you don’t want to be part of the mainstream?
It’s not that I want to be different, it’s just that I always had certain frames in my life. First of all, because my parents taught me that, and secondly, because I couldn’t choose if I wanted it or not. It’s like a person who lives in the ghettos: you can’t choose what you want sometimes. In my case, it wasn’t living in a ghetto, but in a certain way, I lived in my little ghetto where I couldn’t express myself. Neither my parents. And this made us different.
What I learnt from my parents was to look for different/alternative paths. For example, when we went to the mountain or whatever and there were two paths, my father always told me to follow a different path to try something new. So it’s not that I want to be different, actually, I always wanted to be normal because I was raised as a weirdo. My parents were also weirdos, but happy weirdos, because they were happy doing what they were doing. And I try to maintain that because I like it. Today, this is called the stupid word [authenticity], which I will not say. But this is what would bring colour to society, everyone being who they are.
Why do you feel this term is stupid now? Is it because it’s over-used (and badly used)?
The problem is that society uses this word in a banal way. It happens the same with words in my profession like artisan or tailoring. Every fucking brand on this planet talks today about tailoring, artisan and handcrafted. And this is stupid because it’s a lie. It leaves people that really work like this in a difficult situation. I mean, we work by hand and this is our reality, it’s not a joke or marketing. What I would love is for people in this profession to say just what they are really doing and not use words that aren’t realistic.
Of course, marketing is part of this industry, which is for sure important. But it’s a sector that is really dangerous because people are just using words that are not right, and this is getting really complex. Today, it’s almost more important who does something than what he/she is doing. Today, what’s real and what is not? That’s why even just explaining what you are doing is getting complex.
“It’s very important to be able to express yourself because then you feel good with what you are doing.”
In another interview, you said: “I never thought BBS is part of any trend.” Do you still feel the same way?
I don’t know. I mean, we recognized in a certain moment that the industry caught up the style in a way. But I couldn’t see if there was a trend going on. Of course, if we created a trend, I would feel really honoured. The only thing that I did when I started was to express this little kid who came from this weird parents and that grew up in the ‘90s, when underground hip hop, skateboarding and also let’s say sate-punk were important.
And how was the world of this little kid?
I always wanted to skate. When I was young, it was a weird vehicle, it wasn’t a normal sport, but it caught my attention because my parents, as I told you, taught me that. We were the first generation (or maybe the second generation) – skateboarding started in the ‘70s in California. But for sure, we were the first generation that was part of the industrialization of skateboarding. Before us, there were some Airwalk shoes, Vans and Santa Cruz. And that’s it, there was nothing else; not DC shoes or Etnies. This happened with us.
I remember that I worked in a skate shop to earn money to buy skateboards because we had no money. We were part of the industry without liking it since the shops were asking us what to buy or what was cool. When I think about this today, I think it’s crazy. We were the motors of this industry, which then became a huge trend. And we were the people that set the trend – we wore these oversized pants and oversized shirts. My profession started with the style I lived in. There was a necessity to have long t-shirts because my mom always told me, ‘I can see your ass’ while skating. That’s why I bought super huge t-shirts and made them tighter so they could be longer. And that’s how the long t-shirt was born.
When I started the brand, stylists would call Rick Owens and me ‘the long t-shirt club’. At that time, I didn’t know who Rick Owens was. He started in the late 90s in LA and I started at the beginning of the 2000s in Barcelona. I thought, ‘Who’s the guy? Maybe he’s also a skater’. To this day, I still don’t know why he did long t-shirts too, but I would love to discover one day.
So everything started to fulfil a necessity?
Yes. Back then, I remember that I had difficulties to dress myself. I loved hip hop but I loved punk, the political meaning of hip hop. Not this plastic, oversized, baggy jeans. So, there was a moment when I created my own look because I was in a cling. I didn’t like how hip hop artists were dressing, and at the same time, I didn’t like how punks were dressing. At 14 years old, I created my own look because I didn’t feel comfortable with any of these styles. That’s when my style feeling started.
Then, I started to transform it however I could professionally. I mean, I could use the sewing machine since I was 7 because my parents had one at home, but my pattern knowledge was really low. My father wasn’t a pattern-maker and my mom was more of a stylist, so they couldn't teach me. But step by step, I learned to do it on my own. I created my own pattern-making technique on my body. I still cut today on my own body because that’s how I learnt it by myself.
You are deeply influenced by these personal interests you’re telling me – punk, hip hop, skateboarding and climbing. How have these inspirations evolved to where you are now?
After that, I became obsessed with being a good professional. I got to this little world of creating and experimenting. While I was studying, I realized that this world I had in my mind didn’t really exist – I mean in my consciousness. When I started to sell in shops, I saw other designers who were in a similar direction of thinking.
In hop hop, you have a lot of respect for others in terms of copying. You don’t do that, it’s a no-go. You would lose respect. This is super anchored in my way of being. If I see something that has been done before, I won’t do it because I respect the person. Of course, there are similarities. There’s a vibe around the world where people have a similar way of thinking or a similar style – I mean, I wasn’t the first skateboarder. But then, you create on that, you need to create your own thing, and if you don’t, to me, you don’t respect existence.
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So you are continuing to do that, creating things that don’t exist yet?
I think that today, there is a bigger meaning to that. It’s not about me or my ego creating and reinventing myself anymore. It goes beyond that. I asked myself, why do I keep doing this? It’s true that there’s my ego of continuing creating because there’s this little kid inside of me that touches something and gets obsessed with a texture. And this kid won’t die. But apart from this, I found out that I want to keep doing this because there’s a part of humanity that will never die. I’m talking about having this fire inside and this passion.
These values can’t die because then, humanity would also die. I want to defend these values and transmit them to the younger generations with my work. I want to say that everything is possible. I started all this without anything, just my belief and my energy. And on the other hand, there’s culture. Culture can’t die because humanity would also die. I try to do real culture. It’s really linked to respect and to a very open-minded view on things. I try to make it as real as I can and to create from scratch. That’s why I decided I will design until I die.
That’s a strong statement.
I feel responsible about it and responsible to my generation to keep explaining that little world we lived in. Hip hop history can’t die, neither can punks or hippies. This is a part of our history and it goes beyond what we want. Today, I think more about society than about myself. Society has to make an evolution because, from my point of view, things are getting really wrong. Values have been thrown in a trash can, youngsters don’t even study anymore because Wikipedia exists. And everything is getting quicker and quicker. Good things take time. If you want to cook a good meal, it just takes time. Also, if you cook with good primer material, it takes time to get that. This is something that people have forgotten, that good things need time. Good design needs time.
This is related to the fashion system nowadays. A tight schedule, the pressure of success, of making more and more money. You decided to stop showing your collections in Paris. Tell us more about this.
Again, I asked myself, what should I do now? What I decided is that, hey, we cook slow, so we won’t enter this game. That’s why I decided to not have a fashion show in Paris anymore. There was a moment when I realized I got stressed thinking, ‘what do I present’ instead of ‘I have to present this’. If there’s a moment in the future when I want to talk, present or show again because I think it’s important culturally, then I will definitely do it. Otherwise, I won’t. Because it would be cheating on myself and on society. Nowadays, everything is confused, in the end, you have to copy because you have no time to create. Most of the designers I see today, they just repeat or copy.
On the other side, I created and put so many things on the table that I feel like I want to step back a little bit and create what I feel and what is opportune at this stage of my life. Today, I want to do the perfect garment. At first sight, maybe you can’t see the difference, but if you try to figure out how the pattern or the production are done, then you’ll understand what’s behind this garment. It’s like a good plate. Of course, visually maybe they have the same appearance, but I think that we have to come to the point again where you feel which is the good plate. Everything is getting so fast that we have lost our feeling on things.
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The show at 080 Barcelona Fashion is your latest (at least, until you want to show again, as you just said). How will you showcase your products from now on?
We’ll showcase our products in a different way. First of all, people would just laugh if I showed this in a catwalk because they wouldn’t understand everything. I think it’s more important to bring the products to a showroom and have conversations with them, not just a superficial quick view in six minutes. And I think we are on the good path of doing things right for us. I don’t judge what other people decide. Catwalks are a cultural event that shouldn’t die, but it’s not the showcase that we have to do today. I want the journalists to touch, smell and try on our garments.
Your words reminded me of a quote from Dana Thomas’ new book, Fashionopolis: “The original function of fashion was to put everything in line, a parameter that we use to communicate with each other in a process of social coexistence. The current function is the production, marketing and consumption of clothing: an industrial system to earn money.” What do you think about this?
I can’t discuss this quickly. Regarding the quote, maybe this is how reality is working right now. But I have my own reality in this cosmos. I know it’s not what you study in school, which is also a pity because it’s a reality. I think I don’t feel comfortable with eighty per cent of the people in the fashion system maybe because I’ve always been a punk. There’s not a lot of respect, they don’t think on a bigger scale because the important thing for them is earning money. If you focus on just earning money, then you’re not focusing on creating culture.
I’m not against earning money because you need it to live. But at the same time, my focus has never been that. I’ve always wanted to create something from scratch and tell something with it. This goes beyond design because it just needs to function. For me, it’s about a meaning, it’s almost political. But I can’t say, ‘this is wrong’ or ‘this is right’; the only thing I know today as a punk-thinking person is that punk should never die. You should propose something instead of just being against it. I try to propose something in what I really believe.
You are participating in 080 Barcelona Fashion with a retrospective runway. How did this happen?
The government asks us every year if we want to do something. I never did it before because it was kind of stupid to showcase in Paris and then again in Barcelona. Also, because you put a lot of energy and money in a show, so I couldn’t do it twice. When I decided to stop showcasing in Paris and they asked me this, I told them that I had an idea. I wanted to give something back to my city, tell them, ‘thank you for all this time, I was not here but we existed’. I felt a little bit guilty about not showing to my people what I was doing because I was showcasing it in Paris. That’s why I said to the cultural government that I would love to showcase the eleven years of work we did. It’s a mix of gratitude and apology. I couldn’t do it twice and Paris was a better platform to show my work. But we are here, we work here and we have our atelier here.
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