He may be known for taking haute couture over to the dark side, but Ludovic Winterstan is a bright light in the world of fashion. From sexy warrior women to a profusion of lace, leather and feathers, Winterstan knows how to dress to impress. We talked to him about his inspiration on and off the runway, and designing clothes for strong women.
Your latest couture collection was a huge success. After only three seasons, what’s your secret?
Actually, there’s no secret—just a lot of hard work. We’re a small team and everyone plays their part. We’re simply committed to doing our jobs well, respecting the couture codes, and never compromising on details, finishing touches or respect for our partners. Above all, we put people first. I think it's mostly this devotion to ethics and morals that transcends each of our collections—a search for beauty, but with respect for what couture in France should be.
Who are your mentors, and which designers do you admire?
I discovered couture early on. I always knew this was my passion and my calling. Art inspired me, thanks to my studies, and then these great Nineties designers like Mugler, Lacroix and Galliano trained me in terms of my general aesthetic. I admire Mugler for this dark idea of beauty—and entertainment! Lacroix for his quality embroidery and very French utopian vision of associations. Galliano for his excess and his visceral need to always do better and be bigger and stronger. Today, I’ve changed my tune a bit. The past should remain the past. McQueen remains for me the last modern sewing god, but there are other houses that make me burst into tears when I see their work—like Ann Demeulemeester or Haider Ackermann. I find their creations precise and modern. Finally, I think everyone has his or her place in fashion—each designer brings something unique and different to this giant handbag that is the fashion industry.
Describe your design process when you’re working with Swarovski crystals?
Pardon my language, but I would say: "Damn, it has to shine!" I grew up with Barbie, and as a child, my girlfriends would wear sequins. The idea of rhinestones, precious stones and brilliance worthy of a fairy tale has stayed with me all my life. So the desire to work with Swarovski was obvious to me for a long time. When I design a collection, I think first of the theme that I’ll choose, then how to translate it into the volume, and then into the detail of the pieces. This is where Swarovski crystals play a huge role. I ask: "Where will I place the light?” Swarovski gives me the crystal light that accentuates the curves and enhances the details. And, of course, diamonds are a girl’s best friend! I love the idea that there is no luxury if it doesn’t shine.
What was the inspiration for your collection? Will you remain this dark, or was this just a passing mood?
When I started out just three seasons ago, I had a desire to make a statement, like a child that needs to prove he exists. I think we’re all born in the dark; I don’t mean this in a Socratic way—it’s a physical reality. It took me eleven years to launch. I lived through this like a birth. And it’s quite personal, but I think the world works in threes—3 isn’t far away from the number Pi and the Golden Number.
After our first collection BLACK, it was obvious that I had to work on this color pattern for three seasons. And artists like Mugler or Soulages inspired me to do BLACK. It was simple, and it was an impressive black filled with embroidery. For BREAK, I found it interesting to start mixing black with a more virginal white, like a confrontation, but also an opening for the black. With SANCTUARY, we ended the black theme. It’s a kind of conclusion of the first two collections—obviously with its own identity. Next, we’ll work on a new triptych, but my lips are sealed. I want to keep you in suspense!
You’re drowning in crystals! Do you have a secret technique? And what materials do you mix Swarovski crystals with?
I won’t reveal the top-secret techniques we develop in-house! The only thing I can say is that we work in a traditional way, but with modern methods. We’re not afraid of silicone or of getting Caudry lace dirty, either—we like the idea of respecting fashion’s codes, but letting ourselves get messy when it comes to the details.
What makes you happiest in life and in work?
This is a very personal question. I love spending time with people—both strangers and great friends—sharing ideas and sharing our lives. As for work, the fabrics, the challenges, new projects, the goals that seem so far away and so insurmountable, which we eventually reach. I love the challenge and, like the women I dress, I love the fight!
Facial jewelry made with Swarovski crystals was another highlight. Where did this idea come from, and can you tell us more about this beautiful creation?
I work with the exceptional Audrey Loy on the makeup for my shows. We have a special bond. She understands me without me having to open my mouth. After my first show with embroidered masks, she came into my life. A former visual artist, she has the gift of knowing just where to put the light. Crystals speak to her as much as they do to me. I think it's mostly Audrey who finds the perfect makeup to go along with the collections—with a bit of influence from me, of course!
What type of women are you designing for?
I design clothing for all women who want to be women. At first, for this first trio of BLACK collection, I was thinking about warriors—antiquity has haunted me—the Greek, Roman and tribal goddesses. I like strong and powerful women—women who aren’t scared of anything, women who may be primped to death, then end up barefoot at the end of the night in a couture dress. I hate poses. I like women who are women. I think most people can tell from my collections that the women I revere are, above all, feminine. When I was four years old, I saw Michèle Mercier in the 1964 film, Angelique, Marquise des Anges; ever since then, the women I love have to be on the same scale.
What was the biggest challenge working on this collection with Swarovski crystals?
The biggest challenge was to respect the partnership—to crystallize the entire collection from head to toe. When we have the opportunity to partner with a prestigious house like Swarovski after so little time, I think we must pay homage to the brand.Of course, there’s the work in the studio and the way it corresponds with the theme of the collection, but I’d have to say that the biggest challenge was to find the perfect way to say “thank you” to Swarovski for its support, and as always, to make everything beautiful without limit and without compromise.
What does haute couture mean to you, and what is the future of fashion?
It’s not a coincidence that haute couture exists only in France. So I would say, first and foremost, that it represents French craftsmanship—this includes our workshops, our petites mains (seamstresses), and our pool of talented people. We need to continue to value our expertise, and we need to express this desire to create beauty in its highest form. As for the future of haute couture, for twenty years they’ve been saying that haute couture is dead, without it ever going away. I think that today a new fashion scene is on the horizon. Can I get back to you on this in about twenty years from now? I hope I'll still be here!
Do you have any advice for young designers who want to start their own fashion brand?
I don’t feel qualified to give strategic advice. However, I can say from my personal experience that it takes courage, commitment, passion, a focus on handmade pieces, a thirst to work without stopping and without counting the hours, without pride, and a simple desire to make beautiful things. And, of course, to believe, believe, believe. Always. High fashion will only die when people have stopped dreaming.
Ludovic Winterstan was interviewed by Katharina Kowalewski.
Photography by Pascal Latil.