Posted by | November 19th, 2018

Andreas Kronthaler On luxury, androgyny, and the immortality of punk

In the late 70’s Vivienne Westwood closed her memorable shop Seditioners, previously named Sex, to start her own line and became a front-runner on diversity on the catwalk. Back then, the mainstream image of the Punk movement was spiked hair, pierced skin, and wearing a leather jacket with a few political badges. Yet, as the queen of punk herself said, “Punk’s message is to inspire people to rip rules”.

Presently her partner in work and life, artistic director, Andreas Kronthaler continues that message of living by no rules, addressing the cultural shift of expressing gender fluidity and sexual identity. With the label’s heritage, the Austrian has set to embrace the exiled, presenting his ideas as a mirror of social reality.

The Vivienne Westwood label has achieved a very strong identity through the doyenne herself. But what sets Vivienne Westwood apart from any of her contemporary counterparts is that the label doesn’t strive to be a luxury brand, but to show a strong sense of character as their core identity. In the end, my interview with Andreas resulted in talking about women and their allure, his vision of luxury, his take on beauty, and his plans to keep the house ideals alive.

A interview by contributing beauty editor Pep Gay
Editors / Stephan Moskovic & Irene Ojo-Felix

Camera / James Graley
Video edit / Charlie Graley

Special thanks / Michael Bailey-Gates & GQ Style Magazine, Laura McCuaig and Christopher di Pietro at Vivienne Westwood, Thu Nguyen at CLM, Anna Gibson of Juergen Teller Studio

Pep Gay: What is your first childhood memory relating to fashion?

Andreas Kronthaler: There were so many, it’s a difficult question. When I was little I always noticed the way people move. I think that has something to do with fashion. When you move, the things you wear move with you. I found that fascinating. I think that’s what my earliest memories are about: how what people wear changes how they move. Does that make sense?

PG: It makes total sense, that connection between movement and fashion.

AK: Today I think it’s more important the way you hold yourself, or the way you move through the day or through life. If there’s a certain grace, or a certain confidence, then that makes it all work, so even people who aren’t conventionally beautiful are noticed.

PG: At age fourteen you entered art school in Graz, Austria. What drew you to the arts and the creative field at such an early age?

AK: I was always doing things, drawing, and making things, and being very crafty, probably like all fashion designers and artistically-inclined people. It’s like being addicted, you know, it’s something that I was always drawn to, from very early on. I went to a normal secondary school, and when you’re thirteen or fourteen you are asked what you want to become. I replied that I wanted to become and artist. My advisor mentioned this school in Graz, a city quite far away from where I grew up – eight hours by train. The school had just created a special course in Art, this was the late seventies, early eighties, and I thought it was fantastic, so I travelled there for a few days and was given a task to test my talent. They chose me, so that was my fate. It was a good school, a very liberal school, I loved it there, and it was the beginning of my awakening.

PG: What influences did you have at that time, as a young Andreas?

AK: My influences came from all over, really. When I was little I watched a lot of television, and I was fascinated by the classic glamour of Hollywood and those old films, I was really taken by it all.

PG: Mostly American?

AK: Probably yes. One memory that comes to mind is of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in one of those films. I’m not sure what they were singing but they were dancing and she had on this dress, a trendy marabu with plats, and I thought it was so amazing to watch.

PG: That’s your fascination with movement, again?

AK: Maybe, yeah. I was always very taken by my grandmother, who was very tall and, very elegant, she was always holding herself so well, I thought she was rather mesmerising, she did everything with such “Würde” (dignity). I don’t know the English, I must find the English word for that. The German one is “Würde”, and you’re “würdevoll” (have dignity), everything she did, if she cut an onion, it was like, so…(makes sound of cutting onion), so, everything, you know, it was rather fascinating.

PG: Was she charismatic?

AK: She was yes, she was from a simple background. We always spent the summer in a chalet with no light, no electricity, so you had to make a fire and cook. She could anticipate the changes in weather by reading the fire. And it sounds a bit silly, but if the pressure is low or the pressure is high, or depending on how the fire starts in the morning, she could tell the way the weather was going to be.

PG: Can you give us a general idea of where you draw your inspirations from, today?

AK: They come always very naturally to me, they are just part of my experience, or the way I live my life. It’s like a path you go along, it has to be part of that, a rather personal really. That creative spark, it has to make sense to me, and it needs to challenge me as well. I try to do something I haven’t really done before, or if I have done it before, I try to do it in another way.
People always say that I’m making it difficult for myself, but I like it that way. And then, when I’m working it’s really complicated. It’s a construction, a grid, a concept of five fields, call them categories or windows or whatever you want to call them. Things can cross over, and maybe in the end I mix it all up. But it’s just a working thing. And I like it.

PG: What are you occupying your mind with, when you are not thinking about fashion?

AK: I’m not sure. Sex, I guess (laughs). No, I’m not sure. I mean, even fashion is sex. It’s hard for me to take a break, to go outside and walk for half an hour, get some fresh air. It’s very hard for me to do.
I like to look after myself, to keep well and healthy and I go to the gym, do yoga. Or read! I read a lot. I read about religious or esoteric things. That’s not all I read, but I keep coming back to this stuff.

PG: When did you first come to London?

AK: In 1989 I hadn’t been to London before…I’d been to other cities, but never to London, because it never interested before. I’d been to Paris and South America, and different places, and I had travelled quite a bit before, in my early twenties. Then, I met Vivienne and she invited me to come here, and to work on a collection. I thought London then was a strange place, all these tiny little houses everywhere, and everyone the same, it seemed odd to me then. And the first time you go to a pub you ask for a beer and they give you this beer and it runs over the glass, you know, it all spills over. I thought it was so crazy. Such a mess. But it changed! Very, very quickly it changed. Or rather I did, it must have taken me some time, because I do think it’s a city which you have to warm to. The city is very hidden, you have to discover it, and it is huge. But, maybe it grew on me because of what I do, and through Vivienne. It became my home, really, over some years. And it is incredibly special.
I live in south London and I remember the first time I went to Brixton – it was so colourful, it was a really hot summer, and it was amazing, the craziest place, I thought then. Everybody nearly naked and music everywhere – it was very…outgoing and…inspiring really.

PG: Do you think you saw the city through different eyes, because you came to work with Vivienne or, do you think, the experience you had ?

AK: I think it was very helpful- I got to know the city through the best point of view you could imagine (Vivienne’s).

PG: Humor, sex, and spirituality, and politics. Vivienne Westwood the brand seems to have expressed some personal journeys on the catwalk; can you talk more about that evolution, that process?

AK: Well, they all go very well together, don’t they? And if you can combine them in one look, I think you’re a winner! These qualities, I think of them as qualities, aren’t that easy to find out there. They never were. I think it comes in waves, it’s like everything in life, sometimes you’re more interested in one thing, and sometimes you’re more interested in another, but now, at the moment I like all these things. I’m not as political as Vivienne. But, if I can be it’s a more general idea. I should mention Brexit as we are talking in England – they’ve been talking about it for more than a year- it’s so badly handled and all unnecessary.

PG: Apart from politics, is there some other issue that affects you personally, that can be shown in your collections? Does it affect the way you look at the world in your collection?

AK: You see and absorb things, and they get internalized – worked up somehow and expressed. I like looking at or listening to things- Everything can spark something. I try to be open. Everything helps!

PG: So, when we think about female designers, a woman, who designs for women, like Coco Chanel in her time or someone more contemporary like Phoebe Philo for Celine. There are certain things that spring to my mind like rejecting the overtly sexy and decorative, but embracing ease comfort. Yet Vivienne’s approach is not typical of a woman’s designer perspective. Do you agree with that?

AK: Yeah, I very much agree. Coco Chanel and Phoebe are very different to Vivienne. You know, you say that, and then, I think maybe there is something similar between all of them. They live their work, they believe in it. They wear it, or ‘embody’ it, you see what I mean? The form might be different, but the intention is quite similar in that they design for themselves.
I mean, Chanel was very famous, and she made herself very thin in the late twenties, early thirties, so she could wear these clothes. Christian Dior was a very young man, and he once spent an evening at the Ritz hotel, at the Place Vendôme and he was standing there when Chanel got out of a car, and she was in white, crepe, just a button-through, long dress, with a little belt. He said he’d never seen anything like it, you know, he thought she looked incredible. And everybody wanted to look like her.
But every designer is different. Vivienne taught me, she very much taught me how to feel like a woman, or how to think like a woman anyway. And I try to understand and put myself into their place.

PG: Do you think, Vivienne’s mind, when it comes to designing, works like a woman’s?

AK: She’s a woman in the sense that she designs for herself, and thinks if she would wear it. I think, even, very unconsciously. It’s not conscious “Would I wear it”, it’s automatic.
What I think the big difference between a man and a woman is – and how Vivienne thinks as a woman is that she’s really practical about things, and what she designs. You know: ‘Can you wash it?’, ‘Can you take it apart’, ‘Can you iron it?’ – questions I never thought about. This is one thing I’ve learned when I started with Vivienne.

PG: Do you think Vivienne Westwood is still punk? Rebellious, out of the box?

AK: Yes, of course she is! It’s an attitude, once you’ve got it never leaves you. There are many punks out there. I think, there are two kinds of people, there are punks and not punks.

PG: How would you define luxury?

AK: I think time is luxury. To have time, to have peace, to be in nature – all these things, they are all starting to become more and more luxury.

PG: Do you think, that Vivienne Westwood is a luxury brand?

AK: I think so, I hope so yes. We make things that are here to enhance life, and they should give you pleasure. They should make you feel good and maybe even attract people. It really is a success to me in that sense. But you know luxury is different for everybody – where it is and where it starts and ends.

PG: What relationship do you have with social media?

AK: I’m not on social media. [editor’s note: Andreas is now on Instagram at @ndreaskronthaler] I think it’s got two sides- It can be very positive, but it can be negative too. It can be really false too – and moves so fast, a constant stream that means people don’t stop or digest things.
I like the real thing still.
I think many people are very much in between, they live between these 2 worlds ‘virtual reality’ and ‘reality’ –escaping one world for another.

PG: How do you see the new concepts of beauty that are emerging through social media?

AK: That’s one thing that I’m not always impressed by. Often young girls are putting on so much makeup, I love makeup don’t get me wrong, but, not when you are so young. When you are sixteen, seventeen years old, I don’t think you need to cover your face in make-up all the time…
It can look great on a screen, but somehow it can make everyone have this same look!

PG: Why do you think people in general feel so attracted to those ideals? It’s a mirage?

AK: Because it’s, it’s not a reality.

PG: In the contemporary art world, it feels like beauty is verboten these days. Almost all of the contemporary art is concept driven. Making art appearing almost as an anti-beauty. Sometimes it too can be said about fashion, if we look at the state of things today. How would you define beauty?

AK: (thinks for a second) It’s a question I don’t understand, because I don’t experience that.

PG: It seems like all the art is more concept-driven, than making things appear beautiful, like portraits, or, beautiful lighting…

AK: I’ve recently experienced something, which is absolutely the opposite, and I’ve never seen anything so beautiful and so humble and so passionate and lovely towards another person, or towards another life really. So, I think, I don’t experience that really. In the fashion world, I don’t know what you mean, it’s always about… I mean, it’s a matter of taste, but everybody tries to look great, in one way or another.

PG: Can you define beauty?

AK: There is an external beauty, which you can maybe realize or experience in an image. People also talk about internal beauty, but there are so many levels, it’s so complicated, very difficult to define. I think there is something very beautiful when people are by themselves. When they are grounded. Youth always has beauty, in one way or another. There is nobody young who is not beautiful, because they’re still in the making and that is something great. But there are, of course, people that have extraordinary eyes, and extraordinary lips and, the way they are cut and shaped. But it isn’t always the case, that this makes the most beautiful model. We work with all kinds of models – beautiful women – some are not perfect though they are models extraordinaire.

PG: Do you think we are living in an era, where beauty should be considered?

AK: It’s always important and I wouldn’t know an era when it wasn’t. It’s a human condition. It’s like eating, or sleeping. Beauty is something we want to experience, and we want to have it or live it.

PG: Can something be beautiful without being pretty?

AK: It’s just a word, isn’t it, ‘pretty’ and ‘beautiful’? Pretty is more cute, more little. Beautiful is larger or grander. I think they are the same thing essentially.

PG: Do you think, something ugly can be beautiful?

AK: Yes

PG: Where do you think we are right now in terms of diversity in the fashion industry, generally speaking?

AK: It’s a thing I never think about, because that has no presence in my life, I don’t differentiate it.

PG: Some people seem to be late in the game in the fashion industry, when it comes to diversity. What do you think about that?

AK: I like a mixture of people, because they represent the world we live in and we live in this very open time. We (Vivienne Westwood) find beauty in all races and colour, we always did.

PG: How do you perceive diversity in the beauty industry? Imagine yourself walking in through a department store in the beauty section, do you think there’s enough diversity?

AK: I couldn’t say- but if there isn’t, there shouldn’t be.
We’ve always worked with models with different skin and hair and you have to work differently with everyone. Different things look good on different people.

PG: When it comes to casting Vivienne Westwood, as a label, you always had in mind the goal to be diverse. So, how do you think that is going to influence the new (younger) generations?

AK: We always liked the mix, because there’s richness in that. I love doing casting – meeting these models, you get to know them over time, who they are, their characters, each different- it’s as important as how they look.

PG: I know in your shows, the type of imagery and looks in your catwalks, it’s completely the opposite of what you could find in a cosmetic counter. Which is, everything is about being perfect, flawless, and being overly done. You guys are the opposite of that.

AK: Yes, yeah.

PG: But you do it in a very beautiful way.

AK: Yes. Everything you do should be done in a very beautiful way. I’m not so interested in flawless perfection. It’s good when it’s there and I appreciate it, but I think there’s something about it, ah, maybe like I said, the ultimate beauty is maybe no makeup, you know, or, just very little. Because, you see who you’re dealing with. But then there’s makeup that can be very outlandish. Warpaint. They call it warpaint!

PG: We talk about diversity and that you guys are so diverse in your cast, and there are people that you guys are representing within your catwalk, which to me will embody the perfect ambassador for a beauty brand, if I think about Vivienne Westwood. So, do you think it’s possible, that beauty companies embrace the empowerment, as a main concept instead of being a message of concealment or masking?

AK: I mean I can only say that I would like to do beauty products, I would love to, because I love colours and, it is about colour, and it’s all I really can say. I think the world is changing as we speak and we don’t really know where it’s taking us. I’m interested in where we’ll go, everything is possible.
I remember when we started to do the campaigns and started using Vivienne in them – she was already older – and then it was completely unusual, something you never saw. Now it’s not only okay it’s celebrated and promoted – which is great. There’s beauty in age and youth.

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