Clothes are more than simple items we wear. They are the vessels of deeper feelings and meanings. They are telling a lot about someone’s inner self.  Directly in contact with our body, they are “the skin we show to society” as Diane Gaignoux puts it. Formerly trained at Duperré and later at the Central Saint Martins, Diane sees herself as a multidisciplinary artist going beyond the simple act of creating clothes for the sake of the fashion industry. She is “interested in creating narratives.”
In April 2021, she released a project named Enveloppes Imaginaires. More than clothes, this collection is an experiment aimed to dive into the performative aspect of dressing. Between the use of felt and knit, Diane explores the idea of seamless clothes, made in one piece constructed through patching, modelling, shaping and DIY techniques. “The garment as a container and a transformative envelope, comes from the idea of dressing up as a performance” Diane states. She is adding that Enveloppes Imaginaires is emphasising “the metamorphosis ritual we practice everyday without examining it, noticing it.” The envelope is a being in itself, “it is a potential other self that we may like to embody.” Diane aims to elevate the functions and visions of garments. Instead of being objects that can be reproduced for commercial purposes, she wants to make them unique - which involves the act of embracing the imperfections that come along with the development of her pieces. Going beyond the quest of perfectly structured clothes, Diane is approaching fashion design as an artistic practice.
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Could you introduce yourself and your work or vision?
My name is Diane Gaignoux. I studied fashion for seven years. This is how garments became the core of my work. I built my interests around it, considering them as endless mediums to express myself on topics around  the body, the skin or the ways we inhabit the world - as it is so close to us in our everyday life. Garments contain our bodies as much as we are inhabiting them. We have had a very intimate relationship with them since we were born. Some clothes we used to wear are still kept in our  wardrobes as vestiges of our past lives. Garments can also be markers of rites of passage. It is true in our current context as through history in different traditions and societies. I now consider myself as  a plasticienne (visual artist). I am trying to keep exploring the idea of garments through different mediums such as sculpture, performance, videos and images. The goal is to keep my experiments with the body evolving. I am feeling excited about the idea of exploring these different mediums as to me each discipline can nourish and influence the other one.
You first studied at Duperré in Paris and then at the Central Saint Martins in London. What did you learn from this period? And what impacts your studies have on your approach and practice today?
Mainly, I learnt I was really into experimentation and spontaneous techniques and approaches. I am really not into precise and constructed ways of working. Letting go in the process is very important to me. I also discovered knitting which I really loved. It enabled me to create my fabric from scratch. Also knit is much more malleable than woven fabric which also had an impact on my spontaneous approach. During my studies at CSM and also thanks to my internship at Eckhaus Latta I discovered my love for colours - which is now key in my practice. In the end, I think studies and work experiences can help you find step by step what matters to you and what makes you vibrate. It laid the groundwork of what I do now and the seeds of what I am trying to develop.
In hindsight, what would you say are the main differences between fashion studies in France and the United Kingdom?
I kind of miss the research, conceptual and philosophical aspect we had in the UK. I felt research was more about collecting imagery than developing an idea which enabled me to reach the final form of my project. Although I think using  mood boards can be quite controversial - as it can homogenise your influences and  can easily lead to copying - I also think that mood boards enable you to explore various concepts and  make the creation process free of boundaries. At some point I needed to re-learn that creating can also be free and spontaneous. It does not need to always be based on theories. Today, I am as interested in making and creating as in researching.
Also, as the school I did in France was public, there were not the same resources in terms of materials, machines and people compared to CSM. Technically it was really interesting to study at CSM. However, I also learnt a lot from my experience in France, as I needed to create with less resources. I felt that sometimes it can be very stimulating to create with less and knowing that you have to overcome obstacles to make it happen.
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Photography by Motoki Nakatani, collaborative installation with Marine Zonca.
Your work is mostly centred on the exploration of notions such as the body, identity or skin. Why are you fascinated by these aspects specifically?
To me,  the body is like a receptacle that we inhabit most of the time. Sometimes we are elsewhere, sometimes we don’t feel present in it or we don’t want to be in it anymore. We can feel squeezed into it like we would be in a jacket. Hence, I think the body and the garment are truly bound - as both can be the thin layer between our inside and the outside. The thin layer that contains us and which becomes our vessel in life. Also, I am really interested in how people are using clothing as a way to perform different identities, facets of themselves, or even construct their own personality. It is used in everyday life as a second social skin.
Every piece that you create is unique and has its own story. Could you drive us through your creative process while designing?
The main pieces of the collection are made out of felt. The felting process is in itself a practice of sculpting and moulding. The clothes are seamless, made in one piece. My work is about preconceiving the shapes in a bigger scale than the final pieces -  assembling the fibres, the knitted motifs and hand-painting the dyes. All these happen before putting the outcome in the washing machine where I cannot control, or manipulate anything. At this stage, the living material reveals its own shape like a body sculpting itself. It is a metamorphosis to end up at the final scale. I am preparing the uncontrolled felting part, but after it is felted I cannot change anything and I must do it based on what has been sculpted by polishing it. So none of the felted garments can be twice the same. This process engages the body. First, by the size of the preconceived object and then by the shaping work requested by the material. The time required to work on each piece seems to be a way of charging the garment with sacredness and rarity. Hence, I have a huge interest in artisanal practises that can be defined as the act of transforming through precious gestures. To me, this is how they gain a certain kind of presence.
In April 2021, you released a new collection named Enveloppes Imaginaires. You stated, “The imaginary shell is a body like another self. (…) These little alter egos, imaginary beings who run on the fluff of the outfits.” Could we say that every garment from this collection has its own personality and soul?
I consider each envelope as a being in itself. It is a potential other self that we may like to embody. It can become a character. The garment as a container and a transformative envelope, comes from the idea of dressing up as a performance, as a metamorphosis ritual we practice everyday without examining it, noticing it. The goal of considering my garments that way is to expose, reveal this human practice, which could also be the one of disguising ourselves. To me, we give as much to the garment as it gives to us. It is a reciprocal relationship we entertain with it. In these terms, the garment has something more than an inanimate object. It embodies something. I am really interested in the idea of the garment as a second skin. It is the only skin we show to society. A skin that we change from day to day, like a chameleon. Garments follow us, contain us during all our life, with different shapes and colours. It is the marker of our evolution, transformation through life as an individual, but also historically it is a marker of our societies.
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Photography by Motoki Nakatani, collaborative installation with Marine Zonca.
This last collection is very colourful and it gathers diverse intriguing shapes. What was the message you wanted to share with this new project?
The way I treat the blending of colours is important to me as it represents the body / garment in fluctuation, in transformation. They are passing from one to another.  It expresses the idea of metamorphosis. Referring to the symbolism of colours, each colour can be associated with an emotional or psychological state. The waves of colours passing from one to another evoke fluids of emotions moving us from the inside. I was also inspired by chemistry and alchemy. I was intrigued by how one material is transforming itself, passing from one colour to another, from one state to another. It creates non-fixated types of bodies, always in motion, in constant transformation.
Also, I was interested in seeing what in- between colours could emerge from a pigment to another. I tend to use opposed colours and make them encounter. It is surprising to see how they end up fitting together perfectly. Therefore it supports my idea of letting things happen and discovering unexpected combinations in my practice overall. I also think that it alters the perception of the garment, it changes the volume.
While describing your collection Enveloppes Imaginaires you said that “the material itself is deciding its own form, by accident and by the living.” Which are the materials used in this collection? And how did you approach them?
Felted wool is the main material of the collection. I tried to use it in a sculptural way -  as if it could become clay. The technique I created is giving as much space for constructing and preparing as for spontaneity and the unexpected. The material is giving and impacting the shape in itself. I am interested in developing my own materials, conceiving the garments from its fibre to its shape. I am fascinated by materials that respond to a hand’s touch. To me, it was important to work with a specific material for its capabilities that I couldn’t find anywhere else. I am trying to highlight the spontaneous aspect of the do-it-yourself process - in which mistakes are part of the development. Each of my materials reveal the irregularities of the hand process.
The editorial introducing your collection displays extravagant and colourful make-up. It could easily reminded us of clown’s attire. What was your intention when using this kind of aesthetic for presenting Enveloppes Imaginaires?
I wanted to illustrate the idea of performing a self, using an imaginary, fantastic aesthetic. This is why I decided to call the collection Enveloppes Imaginaires. It is a metaphor of the different selves that we can be, or become. However with only the colours and the shapes from the collection, did it seem enough to fully illustrate my vision, which I wanted to avoid. Therefore, I added influences coming from theatre such as the work of Bob Wilson and Cindy Sherman’s photography in which we can find clown characters. I wanted to blend all these elements to give the idea of a tale. Perhaps they have the capacity to become some fantasy alter ego coming from our reveries. I also wanted to represent scenes that could have occurred as a child while making costumes with whatever we could find based on the power of imagination.
The current state of the fashion industry has been largely discussed these past few years. What was your opinion on the current situation?
I don’t really consider my work as being part of the fashion industry. I am actually working on developing a practice that is rather based on a multidisciplinary approach. I am less and less interested in creating garments for the sake of fashion; but more and more passionate about imagining characters, pictures, sculptures, living garments such as in performances or movies. I want to keep collaborating with other artists in order to allow them to come to life. I also realised I never inhabited my garments! I just really want to perform them, to feel them. This whole idea is also going into a much slower mindset, where I can also learn how to take care of my creations, instead of seeing them as reproducible objects. I want every act of making and creating to be pleasurable. I am still very interested in making garments, this is why I have always been in admiration of couture and costumes made for theatre. To me, garment making can be considered as an art form, even if it nearly never presented this way. Recently, I even created a costume for a play and would love to keep doing that from time to time. I would love to create a piece for specific beings. I want to inject life into my clothing, and the fashion industry is not the way to me. I am interested in creating narratives.
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