Diane Pernet’s achievements in the digital era are remarkable. With the birth of blogging – she started A Shaded View on Fashion in 2005 – the Paris-based critic initiated the fashion world to a new paradigm. Later, she created the acclaimed fashion film festival ASVOFF, through which she’s curated and discovered numerous talents and creatives desiring to portray fashion in motion, and which will celebrate its 10th-anniversary edition in July. 
A true passionate who believes in creativity and has its best interest at heart, I had the chance to sit down with her and discuss her outstanding career and personal journey from fashion designer to blogger, throughout years of experiencing and working in an industry that has taken shape in a world that’s become more globalized than it’s ever been.
I would like to start our conversation with your beginnings. What triggered you creatively as a little girl and that has taken you towards this journey in fashion?
Cinema probably came before fashion, although I do remember how important my clothes were at an early age. As a kid, I went to the movies a lot and my parents tended to take my sister and me to watch foreign films. One that really stood out was Diabolique, a 1955 French classic with Simone Signoret and directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. I will always remember the scene when the man who’s supposedly dead in the bathtub rises out and takes his eyes out, causing his wife (Vera Clouzot) to have a heart attack and die. I madly bought movie magazines and was totally caught up in the glamour and lure of the film world.
As a former designer, I believe you have known and experienced challenges at an earlier time in your career. How can you reflect these years in New York establishing yourself and creating this identity that is yours now?
I was an independent designer and always worked for myself. My degree from University was in Cinema and Communications and I only studied fashion for nine months – at both Parsons and FIT at the same time. At that point, I thought if I stayed in school any longer I would give up all desire to design, so I decided to just put a collection together and show it when I felt ready. I had no experience and no idea of what the normal schedule was nor how to price things, so I was practically giving things away.
I was never into sportswear, which was the mainstay of American fashion. It was not until 1985, when Seibu Department store came to me and said that they wanted to buy the collection, that things started to change. It was great. Within a few years, I was approached by another Japanese company that wanted to license my collection, but Seibu decided to hold the license and I worked with the other company to produce my collection. That lasted five glorious years. That was probably the beginning of my love affair with Japan. Nevertheless, the combination of working in New York and Tokyo was not the best; both are highly stressful. I never fell out of love with designing, I just did not want to live in New York City any longer and decided that I had a few choices if I wanted to stay in fashion. It was either London, Milan or Paris. I chose the latter.
As for my identity, I think I’ve always been myself and never really followed trends or even cared about them at all. I just wanted my collection to speak for itself. I was not into going to Studio 54 and networking; I was more into the downtown scene, and even so, my main interest was in creating what I felt were sensual and strong clothes to make women feel beautiful, comfortable and powerful. If New York had not been like Blade Runner – with the epidemic of Aids, the epic homeless and drug problems –, I would probably have stayed designing. It was my life and my blood for thirteen years.
“I think I’ve always been myself and never really followed trends or even cared about them at all.”
From New York to Paris, how did you accommodate with such a cultural change, leaving a city that was yours to one where foreigners are not as openly accepted?
Definitely not an easy move, as in New York City we love foreigners – well, before Trump took office – and in Paris, the feeling is quite the opposite. They try and make you feel as uncomfortable as possible so you will leave but I was determined to stay and, eventually, three years later, they more or less accept you. Of course, you could live here for fifty years and you would never be considered French. In New York City, if you live there seven years, you are considered a New Yorker. At any rate, I clearly love living in Paris and have lived here longer than anywhere else in my life – it is going twenty-eight years this October. I wasn’t used to all the staring and judging and the negativity, as I’m a positive person, and I also believe in accepting people for who they are.
Coco Chanel said, “Fashion fades, only style remains the same”. I found this quote a perfect definition of your personal style, which has remained similar throughout your career. How did you come to this aesthetic that is very Diane Pernet?
I started wearing black when I was a designer in New York in the ‘80s. I wanted to separate myself from what I was creating, so instead of putting on a white lab coat like Maison Martin Margiela, I went for a black shirt and trousers – and that became my signature. Years later I got into wearing long skirts, then the veil, and who knows what comes next. Although some colour has seeped into my wardrobe in the form of Dries Van Noten – a deep burgundy velvet bathrobe coat/dress, a dark green jacket, and a leopard coat with a bottle green fake fur collar –, so you never know. There was no epiphany with the look; like everything else, it was totally organic. I believe I own my look as it is… my own.
I have always been very much fascinated by your pioneering work in the digital era we are in. Could you describe how blogging was when you first started, as well as how you pursued this path unknown to fashion at the time?
I started my blog in February 2005. Eley Kishimoto commissioned me to make a road movie of the launch of his first (and only) menswear collection. Anina from Fashioned Out asked me if I wanted to try a new software called Life Blogging. This was long before Twitter, Instagram, and actually, about the same time as YouTube, which launched in February 2005. I said, “Sure, why not”.
At that point, there were political, economic and food blogs, but not fashion ones. Thanks to Anina and to the commission from Eley Kishimoto, my A Shaded View on Fashion was born. However, I was already making short fashion films with Alex Czetwertynski for his site Disciple Films (from 2000 to 2005).
A Shaded View on Fashion has evolved over the years and has allowed creatives to take the artistic expression of the industry into motion. What is the personal story behind the creation of this first annual fashion film festival ASVOFF?
In 1990, when I moved to Paris, I was hired as a costume designer on an Amos Gitai film – L’Esprit d’Exile. It was not the best experience of my life but it was when the seed was planted in my mind to create a fashion film festival to show the interchange between fashion and film and how one supports the other. Things move slowly in Paris, so it was not until 2006 that, along with one of my blog contributor’s, Dino Dinco, we created the first fashion film festival: You Wear it Well. It was more of a curated program than a real festival, but it was launched at Cinespace in Los Angeles and travelled around to about twelve cities a year. In 2008, I separated from my partner and launched ASVOFF at Jeu de Paume on my own. The rest is history.
In addition to the blog and the festival, you also have a perfume line: Diane Pernet Paris. Could you describe this creative journey towards finding the perfect notes to create your gender-neutral scent?
Creating a perfume is also something that had a long gestation period, just like my fashion film festival. I first wanted to do perfume when I had my own brand in the ‘80s but I did not have the funds to create it. Through my friend Cristiano Seganfreddo I met Celso Fadelli, the CEO of Intertrade, and the journey began there. He asked me to come up with four perfumes and then I tried out three different noses. I gave them the brief of what I wanted and then the search began.
The way it works is: I create a story, give the notes that I want, then the nose proposes perfumes, and we work until I’m in love. For the first perfume, called To Be Honest, it took more than a year to finally be happy with the ‘juice’. I like woody scents, and vetiver is an ingredient that is in almost all of my perfumes. It was a long journey because it is not that evident to find a nose that understands you. The good part was that Celso said, “It takes as long as it takes, you have to love it.”
Fashion has evolved drastically over the past decades. In a time of mass consumption, with fast-fashion, its environmental impact has reached a very alarming level today. What is your opinion on these changes that have shifted the art form to a lucrative business worldwide?
I understand that fashion is a business but the lack of focus on creativity nowadays is rather astonishing. There was a conversation on BOF Voices where Dries Van Noten was talking to Imran and said that it would be great if there was a platform for expressing creativity that was as strong as BOF is on the business of fashion. I saw one eco-conscious menswear collection this past season that really impressed me, Phipps by Spencer Phipps. The designer called it Activism via Aesthetics, and it was sustainable fashion made of organic fabrics. The shapes were simple but it was all about attitude; they were elegant in their own way.
Designers are now focusing more on the environment. Also, since the Bangladesh factory tragedy, people are paying more attention to how things are made. If a coat is sixty euros, what are the workers earning and how are they treated and under what conditions? They also face questions like that. I also think that advances like making leather out of mushrooms and designers working with recycled plastic bottles are a good move in the right direction. But there remains a lot to do. Also, it is like with bio fruits and vegetables: are the consumers ready to pay more for cotton?
“I understand that fashion is a business but the lack of focus on creativity nowadays is rather astonishing.”
You have mentioned Rick Owens as being a source of inspiration, someone you cherish for his approach and eye. Could you develop on this admiration and friendship that you have built with the designer?
I have followed his career over the years and what I admire is how he has always carved his own path without regard to what anyone else is doing. For ASVOFF 2, he was my President. I like the way he creates and his personality. There is nothing false about him. In fact, he is humble in a way. I just came back from visiting his exhibition at the Triennale in Milan and it is extremely powerful. It is amazing to see the scope of his work. His step dancers for the Spring/Summer 2014 womenswear collection remains one of the most monumental shows he’s ever done. It was all about female power and diverse body types. I adore both Rick and Michèle, as they are true to themselves and unique.
I admire this beautiful and long-lasting career of yours, where you have privileged your freedom and have followed various projects with an undeniable independence and determination. Is there something else in your mind that you will be thrilled to explore and discover in these coming years?
Right now I feel there is still a lot to do with my fashion film festival and developing my perfume and other potential categories. There is a book on the back burner, but who knows if that will ever become a reality. Over the past five years, with the help of Robb Young, we have achieved three chapters but I’m not sure if we will ever get beyond that.
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