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No creativity without accident: de Castelbajac

French designer shares his sources of inspiration from early career to today

Fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Jean-Charles de Castelbajac finds inspiration from objects nearby ― commercial logos for Lucky Strike, Shell, Disney characters, teddy bears and Lego ― and incorporates them into his world of creation. The accidental and unexpected mixes have created humor and sensation in fashion for 40 years.

“There’s no creativity, if there’s no accident,” said de Castelbajac at the lecture given during the Herald Design Talk held as part of Herald Design Week 2013 in Seoul.

Throughout his long fashion career, de Castelbajac has been highly respected as an avant-garde designer and still creates fresh influences in the fashion world in his 60s.

In his recent collection in Paris, he demonstrated how his creativity can be spontaneous by painting the last piece of his spring/summer collection for 2014 in nine minutes with black, red, blue and green paints.

“I have designed for 40 years. I’ve reached a point where I enjoy my art and fashion,” he said after he played the video of his spring/summer collection at the Herald Design Talk lecture held at Ewha Womans University.

The veteran designer traced his source of inspiration to his childhood, especially 11 years spent in a military boarding school.

“Creativity has been my only defense, my only weapon and my only shield. It was a way to face my loneliness at the boarding school,” he said pointing at the picture taken when he was 6.

Born into a family of generations of military service, de Castelbajac was an exception. He used every object he could find at school, such as bottle caps, to make new creations.

De Castelbajac said that’s when he learned to create a story from random objects.

“I grew up this way. I learned to tell a story, my imagination,” said de Castelbajac, sharing that he got the skills to create a story from his father whose interest was in history and legend rather than the contemporary times.

“The important thing is the story you tell. The idea of my creativity is from my loneliness ― 11 years in boarding school.”

De Castelbajac stressed to some 500 young audience members before him: “You don’t build your creativity looking at fashion magazines. That’s someone else’s creation. You have to build your creativity from inside.”

After he graduated from boarding school when he was 17, he ventured into the world of creation by making his first jacket from the blanket he used for 11 years at boarding school ― a moment of transition for him to move on from his “sad” childhood to a completely new world.

“I decided to make my first coat from the blanket. My sadness was gone and here I was, a fashion designer,” he said. The coat was later worn by John Lennon.

Another transforming moment came when he went hunting with his father in England where he saw a gentleman in a suit wearing plastic gloves.

The moment was so vivid to him that he said to his father he wanted to be English and moved to England to be part of the vibrant fashion industry where he met fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren.

Throughout his fashion career, he has created pieces considered unconventional such as a jacket made of mop cloths used by his mother, a big poncho for two and a jumpsuit that women can use to carry a baby.

He has also dressed many celebrities, artists and religious figures.

Those who have worn his clothes include original Charlie’s Angel Farrah Fawcett, artist Andy Warhol, Pope John Paul II, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry to date.

The celebrities become faces of his fashion: Katy Perry wore a yellow dress with a picture of President Obama and a model wore a dress with a picture of Andy Warhol.

“I always take time to go and meet people that fascinate me,” he said. “We need to go to museums for inspirations, but we also need to meet people.”

By Lee Woo-young (
Korea Herald Youtube