The young Paris-based fashion designer Alphonse Maitrepierre is the rising talent you must keep an eye on. Ex-stylist assistant at Jean-Paul Gaultier’s couture studio, Alphonse Maitrepierre earned his stripes working for Chanel and Acne Studios before launching his own eponymous brand in 2018.
His creations have been worn by pop stars such as Bad Gyal, Uffie, or Zella Day, and he’s also the favourite brand of drag queen superstars Miss Fame, Nicky Doll and even RuPaul’s costar from RuPaul's Drag Race Michelle Visage. In this interview, Alphonse tells us about his love for mixing the old with the new, the concept of his upcoming collection, and his commitment to sustainability and gender-neutral fashion. And now, the brand has just unveiled a collaboration with Spanish brand Desigual.
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When and how did you first get into fashion?
As a kid, I was obsessed with perfume and dreamt of becoming a ‘nose perfumer.’ One summer, I was 10 and we were staying at my grandmother’s house in Granville which is close to Christian Dior’s childhood home. There were tons of beautiful flowers in Dior’s garden, and next to each of them was the name of the perfume their smell inspired. It was fantastic! I spent a lot of time wandering in the garden before my mother told me that inside the house was a museum, as Monsieur Dior not only made perfume but clothes too. Of course, I didn’t know about it and once inside the museum I was struck at how amazing Dior’s creations were. I spent several hours contemplating those pieces. They were like sculptures to me. I remember that on the very last floor of the museum was the incredible dress worn by Eva Green in the Midnight Poison Campaign. An enormous blue gown, with origami shapes, and many embroideries… It was mind-blowing!
From that moment on, I had the idea that having his own fashion house meant being able to do pieces of art, sculpture-like garments, as well as creating perfumes. And that’s what I wanted to do!
I then studied fashion at La Cambre in Belgium, before working for Jean-Paul Gaultier, Chanel and Acne Studios. I also did the costume design for Yann Gonzalez’s movie Knife+Heart and decided to launch my own brand in 2018.
How could you describe your brand’s aesthetic and what makes it utterly unique?
I always say that there are two words that characterise Maitrepierre: old-fashioned and geek. Old fashioned because I always start working on a collection from archives and ancient pictures. The super boring, dramatic, Parisian couture kind of thing. A bit dusty too. And geek is more of the idea of something digital and contemporary. Something much more fun and venomous. Then, what makes my DNA is trying to find a way to blend it together.
For instance, I love flower patterns, because it's very classic in a way. It's something that people are used to seeing, something that they can buy, relate and understand. But I always modify it with new techniques, and new tools, and try to make it weird… like nature in a laboratory, or flowers from another planet maybe!
There is also always a starting point, something that piqued my interest at a given moment. For the Spring/Summer 2022 ready-to-wear collection, I read this article about Ai-Da, the world's first robot artist. It’s an artificial intelligence that makes drawings, paintings, or sculptures, interrogating in my point of view the boundaries of human artistic sensibilities... I talked with Ai-Da’s creators in order to really understand the whole process, and with the help of the programmer Adel Elahel we made our own algorithm, generating incredible prints.
But for the next collection, the starting point is Jacques Demy’s movie Donkey Skin. The story comes from a 17th-century tale and was adapted as a musical with Catherine Deneuve in the 70s. What I love about this movie is that it exquisitely illustrates the concept of anachronism, when something is in the incorrect time period. So for instance, in one of the scenes, the Lilac fairy living in the middle of the forest owns a retro telephone and lands at the prince and princess' wedding in a helicopter. Anachronism in my work is using ancient codes and imagining the codes of the future, mixing all of them together and trying to create new situations.
You’re currently working on creating the first-ever Maitrepierre perfume – a true childhood dream – so how did you come about making it?
The perfume really needed to form part of a continuing process, of mixing together the past and the future and I did a lot of research with perfumers and scientists. From my experience at Chanel and talking with experts, I knew that aldehyde-based perfumes were the most sustainable. Aldehydes are non-vegetal essences, like fake ones made in laboratories and thus don’t exist in nature. One of the very first and the most popular was created by Coco Chanel for the iconic n°5 perfume. It’s called civet, it was originally taken from animals but now it’s made synthetically. It smells very bad honestly but once you put it in a perfume, with a good balance of other smells, it creates this crazy sensitive perfume. So this Chanel aldehyde was my starting point. Then talking with people from the laboratory we saw it was possible to create a one hundred per cent synthetic perfume, one that has a smell that doesn't really exist. I love it!
And on the other side, aldehyde-based perfumes are not as polluting as they don’t require huge fields of flowers and the water that goes along with watering them. It also makes the perfume super personal in a way… it is like a spicy violet!
For the campaign, we’ll keep it super digital, as perfume in its definition already is very outdated. The packaging will be minimalistic, I’m imagining the logo on white paper. And finally, it’s super important for me that the perfume on its whole seems totally genderless.
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Your work has often been described as gender-bending, the pieces you create are unisex and you just said you want to create a genderless perfume. Why is this something important to your brand?
Not having gender stereotypes is something central in my work and in my brand. All the pieces I create are unisex and when making a campaign or a show, we work with casting directors that only show us pictures of faces. We then match the fits with the faces, without thinking about gender. It's all about individuality and that's it.
I think fashion is just the mirror of the world and the society it unfolds in. And today even I, who used to consider myself a cis man, don’t want only to be defined by that anymore. I feel it’s something about refusing binary oppositions. The new generation just doesn’t really pay attention to the code of what is supposed to be a man or a woman. I think it’s beautiful and it's super positive as it helps to see individuals rather than gender.
And when I make clothes, I think of a character, I don't think of gender. It doesn't interest me to think like that!
Accessories seem central to your brand – the comb glasses and the Manette bag being already absolutely iconic pieces – so could you tell me why this is?
It’s what I love to work on the most! Accessories are practical but at the same time, they can be a bit dumb, pop and fun. The two pieces you mentioned are one hundred per cent branded with the Maitrepierre DNA.
For the Manette bag, I had the inspiration from the Hermès Birkin bag, which is an old-school kind of boring Madame bag. In Photoshop I then layered it with a PS3 controller and stretched it until I had the perfect shape, the perfect mix.
For those sunglasses made in collaboration, I took a frame from Emmanuelle Khanh, the futuristic period of the 80s and thought: if they’re bringing the future, let’s bring something ancient like a 1930s comb, which has this boudoir aesthetic to it. It’s now the fourth season we’re making those glasses and I couldn’t be happier about that collaboration. I’m very fond of Emmanuel Kahn's heritage. It’s a French fashion house founded in the 70s, they produced everything locally with this idea of savoir-faire and most of their materials are sustainable, which is not easy when you make sunglasses!
We’re actually working on a new model with a different shape, I can’t tell you too much but it’s going to be super fun!
I’ve read that all of your garments are made with upcycled or eco-conscious materials such as seaweed silicone, so how did you go about making eco-friendly collections?
Fabrics are one of the most important things when it comes to sustainability and that’s why our fabrics are made from recycled and organic fibres. We do all the prints and produce everything in France, that’s also why our prices might be a bit higher than other young brands. We also use a lot of dead-stock material and did two collaborations with Le Relais, a huge warehouse outside Paris that collects and resells clothes and fabrics. I was horrified to see how they receive more than five tons every day. We found a lot of old blankets, bedsheets, and some leather jackets and made a collection out of them.
From now on, as the brand is growing, we have to face the fact that we need more fabric and can’t rely on upcycling anymore. That’s what we did when the brand was smaller or for the capsule collection I just made with Desigual. It requires much more time and production is complicated but when the Spanish brand approached us it was the first thing that I asked. I had proposals from other brands that are less sustainable, but I feel that as a young brand we need to do things right and try our best to set a good example of what the future of fashion must be.
By the way, the capsule will be revealed in September during Paris Fashion Week!
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And what about the seaweed silicone?
It's an Amsterdam-based company that contacted me as they saw I was using a lot of sustainable materials. They told me they had just developed this new silicon made out of seaweed and wanted someone to test it before launching it into production and that’s what I did. It turned out beautiful and this technique has even become a bit of the Maitrepierre signature.
What has been your major career highlight?
I think the most iconic moment was the finale of my last show with the singer Arielle Dombasle. I really wanted to have an artist featured on the show and I thought of Arielle, a relentless muse and a beautiful human with whom I share ethical values. Arielle is super committed and has done a lot for the environment. Having her approval by agreeing to appear at the end of the show really was out of this world. To be honest, until the last moment I couldn’t believe it, my brain couldn't process information… I was just like “Yeah, can someone bring a Coke to Arielle’s dressing room?,” but when I saw her performing for the final I burst into tears. It was so emotional to have her helping and trusting us. I just felt so grateful!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
As a kid I was mesmerised by Dior's house, so my dream has always been to be the Creative Director of an old Parisian brand! Maybe something a bit dusty, as it can be scary to join a well-oiled, well-known machine. But then, of course, I would love Dior, Chanel or anything really. And in 10 years I believe I’d enjoy the challenge. Re-creating new stories starting from the archives of a particular brand – as I did in my collaborations – is actually one of the exercises I love the most.
I would without a doubt, keep Maitrepierre as my own laboratory, exploring less commercial and more artistic garments. And I would keep on living in my beautiful Montmartre. It's my favourite part of Paris, it has this warm village atmosphere that I’m just so in love with!
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