Born and raised in rural Germany, 27-year-old Katharina Gruber studied Womenswear design at the international fashion school Esmod, between Munich and Tokyo, before joining the Parisian couture house of Anne Valérie Hash. After that, Gruber designed for Balenciaga, under the direction of Nicolas Ghesquière, as well as collaborating on various film and dance projects, such as ‘Iron’ by Woodkid or ‘Valentino’ by Johan Renck. After having launched her second collection, Katharina is now represented by Agence74, the Paris based sales agency with a strong focus on speciality designers all over the world.
Could you tell us a bit about your childhood in Germany?
I grew up in a very rural part of Germany, into a working-class family. Seeing them building things and workingwith their hands is something that’s influenced me a lot. Every member in my family has a very strong and individual way of thinking. That’s probably the origin of my tough inner drive, working either as a sculptural maker or a carpenter.
Now that Paris is your home, how do you find the city influences you?
French fashion to me is quite boring. One can barely spot new things happening on the streets here, whereas in other cities you constantly see people exploring their own taste and style. Paris is much more about class and chic, a bit conservative in a way. It’s a love-hate relationship with us. I love it for the fact that you can get completely lost and walk around for hours. The air smells of couture! We just discovered a French restaurant, run by this old and adroit man who cooks what’s probably the best French food I ever tasted. I love the Clignancourt market where you come across so many different characters and personalities, listening to weird concerts or seeing the pecunious old woman in her Dior couture gown walking in front of you.
You've also devoted part of your life to Japan.
I was mainly interested in the Japanese way of working. I was fascinated by the careful and precise way they approach fabrics and design.A very thoughtful process,almost maniac,from which I learned a lot.They are very talented in draping a piece of fabric directly on the body and their patternmaking skills left me impressed. Of course, I'm also a huge admirer of Yohji and Issey Miyake’s work from the 80’s and 90’s. I went there because I wanted to smell the vibe! Besides,my husband is Japanese, that’s another reason why I always felt very dedicated to Japanese culture. I can imagine myself living in Japan for a year or two, even though he doesn't want to go back anymore.... But I believe, that's what happens to any vagabond trying to see the world with different eyes.
How and when did you get into fashion design?
When I was a child, there was always room to explore my artistic drive. Later on, I started working with an old, interesting man, who taught me about earth, angels and materials. I would spend most of my free time after University in his atelier. Somehow I ended up making fashion with the belief I would make better money...
Who do you think of as the Katharina Gruber woman?
Georgia O'Keeffe or Pina Bausch.
What was the main inspiration for your second collection?
This time, I was learning about Indian rituals in a book and I was amazed by the number of rituals they practice, even in their dreams! This collection offers a wider range than the first one.My focus was on fabrics coming from a working background. I used Japanese tri- acetate fabrics, often seen in public services and for medical use, which drape and breathe amazingly well, together with bonded, hand-dyed twill, cotton or satin. I like it because it has a very delicate feeling to it but the final result is a very strong, ruggedly fabric with it’s own character.
Which is the experimental part of the process?
Studies of shapes, I'm interested in working in 3D and create new volumes and shapes with my hands. I approach my constructions as if they were sculptures or pieces of wood, layer by layer. They are often very complex, but I always try and keep them beautiful,both inside and outside,and as easy to understand as possible. There are times I have come up with weird constructions such as the Möbius strip, which literally has no beginning or end, it’s non-orientable. On this occasion I tried to be more mature and classic, less drapy and confusing. As you can see in my designs,there's also a huge inspiration coming from Cristobal Balenciaga's gowns from the 60’s.
You used to work for Nicolas Ghesquière and Anne-Valerie Hash. What did you take from their work?
At Anne Valerie Hash, I was interested because she was the only Parisian house following a certain aesthetic and had strong craftmanship, as well as her menswear deconstructed influences. I also learned a lot in terms of patternmaking and design, I am very grateful. At Balenciaga, I learned the technical side: how to understand fashion and the way of working in a typical French house. It was very interesting for me to see Nicolas' approach to fashion and the beauty of his perfection, being ahead of things, adding the right amount, and finding the perfect match of Thermocollant’. I loved it!
What's your opinion regarding the fashion industry?
I’m not interested in fashion... Fashion had become such a powergame but it’s not the same anymore. There was a time when designers cared for the industry and protected their own country, a time when rare, skilled jobs were the most wanted.The approach is different nowadays. I’m having a hard time because I’m interested in creating garments and their process, it’s a very soulful activity. What fascinates me about clothing is how it reflects the vision, taste and experiences of someone. I believe that if you can accept you’re addressing a small audience, you are fine. My aim is not to dress everyone in the world.
How do art, photography and music converge with your work?
Doubtless, it all goes together. Whatever is going on in art, music and photography reflects perfectly into our fashion world. My inspiration comes mostly from different cultures and modern dances, whenever I see something inspiring I try to capture the moment. Dance has something very peaceful and freeing to me.
How would you describe your personal style in three words?
Intimate, elegant and instinctive.
Your husband is also in the world of fashion...
I always considered myself rather as a lonely wolf, living on my own. Until the moment I met my husband with whom I could share the world. I learn a lot from him and he’s one of my biggest inspirations. We walk on the same path, learn from each other, evoke, explore and process. It is a very honest and volcanic exchange which moves us both to grow further.
Where do you see your work going in the next few years?
I’d like to create my own clothing line, but slowly and steady, step by step. I just got selected for an art residency with a Parisian corporation to develop my own line, I’m very grateful to have the luxury of having such a huge working space and support in the middle of Paris. And again,it’s the old carpentry district. Otherwise, I’m very interested in creating costumes for stages, films and dance theaters. I love the fact of being able to sneak into different roles and characters while dressing a figure and creating costumes for a certain moment on stage. I hope opportunities keep arising sooner or later!
So you have a big attraction towards carpentry skills. Do you have any plans in this area?
One of my goals is to combine my love for wood with clothes. I adore Rick Owens for his talent in creating furniture and new things. He seems to be a very grounded and hard-working person and the carpenter’s workshop is definetly something I’d like to follow up with ! Of course, it would be a great honor for me to develop my own fashion brand and be able to combine different materials such as wood.