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Pret-a-rever editor, Lucy Norris, met with Damir Doma at his Paris showroom, to talk us through his A/W 2011 collection, the duality of him as both evolving womenswear and menswear designer, the importance of creative opposition – and why his vision of sexiness will never be about baring all.

LN: What is your creative process for your womenswear and menswear? Is it very much same idea / different execution? Or is menswear still your prominent driving force?

DD: I think personally for me – you are right – for my first womenswear collection it was very menswear driven but I am actually flipping it around now, and starting to work with the woman independently. Meanwhile, I am trying to create a more kind of uniform look for the man. However, this is also the first time that I am transferring my womenswear pieces into menswear.

LN: Your menswear – ironically – was a huge influence on womenswear, with the layered and draped silhouette.

DD: Yes, for me it is very strange, because with my menswear, I never worked with menswear references – I only worked with womenswear references. And now I am doing womenswear, I am switching it again. However, I don ‘t want them to cross-cross too much. There are similar elements but then at the end of the day they are very different. I want the woman to be independent and strong, and for the men to be soft and sensitive.

LN: Yes, I like your menswear work when it is light – like you said – and you reveal that soft sensitive side. So, your womenswear runway models always walk in flats, whilst Rick Owens and Gareth Pugh have men in heels – do you feel that menswear and womenswear is switching, in that men are becoming our muses?

DD: I think generally you always look for new perspectives on things. With regards to the role of menswear – people are naturally looking for a new aspect, as the last decade of menswear has been about classicism, structure and functionality. I think very obviously this is the most interesting aspect, the femininity of man.

LN: How would you define your Damir Doma woman now?

DD: My women’s collection is about natural elegance. I want her to be proud, elegant and strong. I want her to be strong.

LN: How do you feel about your previous collections? What’s your relationship like with your past bank of work?

DD: I am developing things, I am not one of these people that creates a visual idea…one after the other …it has to be very natural. When I first started doing womenswear, it was definitely based on the menswear, because this is where it came from at that point. However, after that season, I realized it was too masculine. So I completely switched it, making it more body conscious – with more drapery.

LN: Because you have worked with Raf Simons, I guess you are asked a lot about your Antwerpian influences, but I see a lot of the east in your work, which I guess is a natural alliance with Antwerp- and the Japanese designers. How important is spirituality to you? Because I feel that your clothes are very spiritual.…

DD: Very much. Very much. People often ask me about why I use black, because people thinking of it as dark and depressing – but for me, it is very calming and relaxing .

LN: Even the yellow, the trousers, the cut – for me, there are a lot of other eastern shapes and colours. Maybe it’s a subliminal thing…

DD: …No, it’s true. The yellow and all these tones of orange have similar values in eastern culture and meanings…like white in ours. There is something spiritual and very calm.

I just, you know, really love Issey Miyake, and maybe this is why. It’s not clearly Asian or eastern – but there are things about his clothes that I like very much.

For example, like this look (within my A/W ’11 womenswear collection) is very much not at all a kimono, but it has the spirit of a kimono.

LN: What is your favourite look from your A/W ‘11 womenswear collection?

DD: It is so hard because at the moment I just love them all. I think it would take me another two months to have more distance. I just realized that after my last menswear, I loved everything and then when I started my new season you think “maybe not this one, maybe not this one” – and then by the end, there isn’t much left (!) But I think that is the process you are going through, you are growing with the collections. I think that is probably why you are not so happy anymore – you see all the things you could have improved.

LN: …I know, you’re tough on yourself…

I guess there are people out there who are may be trying to figure out where the place is for Damir Doma in their wardrobe. To those people that often compare you to other labels such as Helmut Lang or Ann Demeulemeester, what would you say makes a Damir Doma piece different?

DD: I think my collections are much more about purity and much more minimal.

LN: I really love it in your Spring Summer collections when your work lightens up. And in the second half of the A/W ’11 collection, when you released the colours. The silvers and the rusts…and the beautiful copper metallics.

DD: Yes, I love the coppers and the way they combine. Whenever I work with colours, it works really well.  I think at the beginning of the collection, people must have been thinking “Oh he is doing the black and white again.” I like to work in opposition, to bring a new twist – but to not present it straight away.

LN: What’s this fabric?

DD: It’s a ponyskin…done in a leopard print.

LN: I never thought I’d see you do a leopard print (!)

DD: I was working with these Asian references for a while, as we said before – because again I wanted to bring a sense of calm and relaxation, but I also wanted something more primitive and tribal. So we worked with these African influences….

LN: It’s a very abstract version of leopard print….

DD: Yes, when we started looking at it, it was clearly a very obvious leopard print.  And I thought “I can’t do this”, but I was always also thinking about this jacket specifically, and I was thinking about wood work art, no decoration, just very minimal…so we became focused on just the shape and the material. So we started and we changed it and it became more and more abstract. It’s not a real leopard anymore! But we still call it leopard.

LN: This new exploration of colours and prints is certainly a new thing for you…

DD: I like to work in opposition; and it’s the opposite to black and white.

We have also started to introduce hand knitted leather and Mongolian fur to the show, to bring structure to the clothing.  I think my collections are a lot about materials.

LN: And if you knit leather, you are going to get that structure, aren’t you? –  but at the same time it is soft and giving. I very much feel that people have a closer relationship with clothes that offer a tactile experience.

DD: I totally agree. It brings a lot of depth to the collection.

I know we spoke before about the man and the woman before – but I really feel strongly about how a woman can achieve a sexiness via certain volumes and pieces. Clothes are 3D dimensional. I think the idea that everything has to be very short or fitted is a very old school way of thinking.

LN: I think that because the silhouette has been shrunk by influential designers, such as Hedi Slimane and Christophe Decarnin, customers and buyers think everything has to be super tight/revealing.  But there is something incredibly sensual about being covered. Or showing a wink of flesh…

DD: I agree, some of my dresses have a deep opening on the side…you can wear these winter pieces without nothing underneath…and it is a very sexy way of dressing.

LN: I think it is a more intelligent way of being sexy – and you have to very aware of what intelligent sensuality is to appreciate it…

DD: Exactly…

LN: Customers will always need educating about an alternative viewpoint.  It is up to designers to give the customer what they will want next. Buyers will always have you design what is selling now. But a buyer isn’t a designer. You are.

DD: At the end of the day, I want my collections to be timeless and classic.