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—courtesy Anne-Sophie Cochevelou
It’s not for nothing that Anne-Sophie Cochevelou chose London as her playground during her artistic exile. The English capital is obviously just comfortable with tradition as it is with excentricity, and welcomes Cochevelou and her poetic maximalism without batting an eye. And none of this discourages the Isabelle Gounod Gallery from presenting the artist in Paris putting on here sensational one-woman show.
By Courtesy Magazine: Ok Sophie, how are you?
Anne-Sophie Cochevelou: Very well, and you? I’m just a little tired because I worked last night.
BCM: You work a lot at night on your projects?
ASC: No, I sometimes work at night in clubs selling tickets or working the coat checkroom to make ends meet, aside from what I earn from my creative activities. But truly, being an artist means working day and night to get by!
BCM: Well, well, I see that your life and art are truly intertwined. Your brain must always be boiling!
ASC: Indeed, there’s no boundary between private and professional life, each domain requires work all the time, I even dream about all this every night!
BCM: So do you wake up with fresh ideas?
ASC: Yes, when I have a mental block, it’s better to head off to bed instead, one’s ideas are always clearer upon waking, ideas above all take shape in that state between waking and sleeping, that last moment of sleep before the alarm clock goes off.
BCM: Ok, so how do you go about your creative work? Do your raw materials figure in the genesis of your projects? Or does it happen that you have an idea, then you go off searching for what you will make them from?
ASC: No, most of the time the idea comes from the material, for example someone might give me a bag filled with leather straps, and which inspires me to make a dress from them, the shape and color imposing constraints as concerns the final design. It’s only if I have a specific commission that I’ll work first from sketches, which would then make me seek out the appropriate material.
BCM: Which way of working do you prefer?
ASC: I prefer making the material fit the idea, I like behaving like a hermit crab that takes up quarters in some empty shell. Rather than making the material fit my idea I work with them following the waves and vibrations found within. I like working according to necessity, considering that the final work of art will have this aspect because I came across this material at one moment and not another, that time when concerns of contingency become essential.
BCM: How did this project start? Are you inspired by already existing trends in fashion? I’m thinking of Paco Rabanne for example.
ASC: Yes, Paco Rabanne was an architect at first, thus he used elements of his “background” while coming up with his graphic designs. My background is mostly theater, so my works of art are echoes of theatrical performances. I have been quite inspired by the creations of Jean Charles de Castelbajac, his plush robes for examples.
BCM: And theater? You tell stories while decked out in your outlandish costumes?
ASC: And Jean-Paul Gautier also, he is very inspired by theater and by dresses of so many themes, for example his “filmstrip” dress. I studied theater and literature, so I’d like my work to have a narrative aspect, that a dress should be a short fairytale all in itself.
BCM: Has the fact that you live in London played a role in the extravagance of your creations? You are more delirious than Gautier or Paco Rabanne I’d say.
ASC: Oh thank you, that’s very kind! Yes, I moved to London. The city has shown me that creativity in fashion is limitless, that constraints are made to be transgressed. I try to keep some consistency in my works of art and a good harmony in the colors I use in order to end up with a result I consider pleasing. But then I realize that nothing is crazy enough: More is more!
BCM: More is more! What a great slogan! How was it that you made your first work of art, and what was it?
ASC: The first thing I did was a badge with Barbie’s head on it, basically I found this pin at the Saint-Ouen flea markets, and the big stone in its middle had fallen off so I decided to replace it with a Barbie head and I found it cool, and ever since I’m working on bigger and bigger items.
BCM: So you know take advantage of defects, failure and error, to go beyond them, and see the opportunity to do make even better things?
ASC: Yes, I like recycling things, finding them in the trash, giving them another chance, another life in the “rebus” of society, people don’t see the creative potential of these castoffs. I don’t like things that are all nice and clean, but rather those that are battered, which have a history to tell.
BCM: What social strata did you grow up in? What kind of public readings and situations have influenced you?
ASC: I grew up in a rather typical bourgeois setting, both of my parents were engineers and wanted me to become an engineer also. At that time I always in teenage rebellion (my father was polytechnic and I told myself that I could never be as brilliant as him if I followed his path).
BCM: Was your “other path taken” accepted well?
ASC: At first my parents were scared and it was a scandal for them when I decided to take a literary Baccalaureate. They did not want me to do creative things right away so I took preparatory literary classes for three years in order to get a “real” job. I applied at the École normale supérieure de Lyon but I really wanted to do something more creative, and there they accepted that. Today they see me satisfied and financially independent so they are very proud, and also I have three siblings who have taken scientific studies so that makes up the difference!
BCM: Does literature play a role in your creation?
ASC: Yes, I had the chance to garner a wide knowledge of culture in those three years, above all the study of philosophy, which allows me to think more by concept. Behind colorful and outlandish creations there is always a reflection, as Nietzsche would say, this knowledge allows me to be light while reaming deep!
BCM: Why London? Did you do your studies there?
ASC: No, actually for the longest time I had my eye on the master of my dreams, Performance Design & Practice, which has a unique collaborative program, at the end of my second series of preparatory literary classes I felt a bit lost, I even thought of going to a school trade (that’s how was desperate I was) and my father asked me, “But if anything is possible, where do you want to go?” Without skipping a beat I said “The Saint Martins School!”. And he said, “Then what’s stopping you from applying?” And it was my father the engineer who helped me prepare my application. Also I visited London during a school trip, I really felt at home, and it was only two hours and 17 minutes from Paris!
BCM: What is there in London that we don’t have in Paris?
ASC: People are less afraid, more open, less afraid to speak, dress differently, to start a new business…
BCM: Which is to say?
ASC: There’s more of a “business” spirit, young designers are given their chance, alternative career paths are accepted, as are unusual profiles.
BCM: What are your daily, social and working surroundings like in London? Do you have artist friends that inspire you, do you have exchanges with them?
ASC: That people might do different kinds of work, have kinds of jobs or businesses is perfectly accepted, they are not expected to confine themselves to one realm. Like making costumes, and going on stage, for example! I’ve been living with some roommates in East London for the last four and a half years, and I’ve gathered a fine network of creative people who are both very inspiring and sharing. It’s a microcosm, people help each other, they recommend each other, etc…
BCM: You would not have enjoyed the same life in Paris?
ASC: I don’t think so, I have a friend who makes costumes in Paris and she feels quite lonely.
BCM: What is the difference between how you are perceived in London and in Paris?
ASC: In London I go almost unnoticed in the crowd of eccentrics, people see me in a very kind light (or at worst indifferently). In Paris I tend to dress down so as not to put up with aggressive looks or derogatory remarks like “Say there, I didn’t know it’s Mardi Gras today!” Beyond that, I get a lot more press in France because I’m perceived more as a UFO, while in London I’m not so original, people are more fascinated with me in France.
BCM: So in France the price to pay for standing out is being rejected? Or attacked?
—courtesy Anne-Sophie Cochevelou