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The Greatest #15 Interview: Ludovic de Saint Sernin // Gazzelle

The Euphoria Issue

 Ludovic de Saint Sernin

What does it mean to be one of a kind? It’s probably impossible to give a precise formula. A theorem doesn’t exist for sure. The only possible solution is to be authentic and somehow true to yourself. It’s a matter of soul and taste, braveness and heart. The poetry of aesthetics is fundamental and you have to be able to read reality through your own eyes. A statement is necessary. Ludovic de Saint Sernin is breaking down the boundaries of an already codified reality through his independent point of view. A unique universe has been exposed in his collections and a gentle group of human beings are the interpreters of such a delicate and revolutionary world.

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Starting from your current perception of fashion and style, what is the main reason why you chose fashion design as a study path back in the day?

To be honest, I don’t remember of dreaming anything else aside from being a fashion designer. So, I can’t say there was a proper and concrete reason behind this choice. I remem- ber my mom telling me that I needed to follow a classic study path, something quite open and versatile, in order to have more possibilities in terms of career or having a sec- ond chance if something went wrong. So, I decided to make her happy and, at first, I went for a literature kind of thing. Then, I decided to enroll in an art school in Paris, in order to follow my creative soul and do what I really wanted to do.

I’ve always thought fashion and style choose people and not vice versa. What do you think about it?

I agree with you, but I think a specification is needed. The fashion industry would choose you if you were some kind of an icon, like a model or a muse. If you are a designer, you choose your own destiny. You choose to take a risk by offer- ing your business to the industry, then they’ll let you know if they like it or not.

Euphoria’s a specific feeling that leads to the nature of a human being. Through that, you gave out a demonstra- tion of your passions, what you like most and what moves you. It’s a kind of sincere feeling, somehow. When was the last time you were euphoric about something?

For sure, when I worked on my collaboration with Swarovski for my last Fall-Winter 2019/2020 collection. It was quite a moment for me, because I’ve already worked with crystals and embellishments as a designer for Bal- main, but it was for someone else’s vision. So, for once, I was just answering to my own ideas and points of view. I was pretty euphoric about working with crystals, because it’s magical: if you put a flash on it, it shines like crazy. All the plays of lights, colours and reflections are like a dream to me, it’s amazing.

Euphoria’s a state of excess of the psyche too. Are you more attracted by excess or discretion?

I think I’m attracted to both. It actually represents my brand pretty well, in the sense that there’s a balance be- tween the elegance of discretion and the excess of sex and all the different messages that I put inside my collections. You can have a beautiful, tailored suit and then, next to it, a leather pair of trousers. I love the idea of the two combining and balancing each other, like a yin and yang kind of thing.

You have a sharp point of view about beauty. Through history, which idea of beauty or which muse has influ- enced you the most and why?

I’m very fascinated by the idea of being your own muse or the best representation of yourself. For example, for my first collection I was pretty inspired by the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and his vision on the relationship between artist and muse. He would always choose lovers, models or celebrities that meant something to him. Moreover, he kind of reflected himself inside those people and that’s a vibrant thing to me. He would even take self portraits and I love that message.

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I was really impressed by your casting. It really enforced your point of view. What is the approach behind it?

When I was in school, I did an internship with a casting director who used to work for really iconic designers, like Yohji Yamamoto and Ann Demeulemeester. It’s been an important experience for me, because I really trained my eyes and understood how important it is for a brand to find the right interpreters. When I launched my own brand, I was in contact with this young casting director, who’s really amazing. We share the same vision on beauty, I can’t think about a better person to do my castings. For me, when you’re doing a casting, the most important thing is to rec- ognize a sort of credibility. You can see hundreds of models, you can even look at the most handsome guys ever, but if he doesn’t belong to that garment or doesn’t believe in it, it’s going to be pointless. It’s always kind of a Cinderella mo- ment, when you have to find the right boy for the right look. A lot of people tell me they can recognize me in the casting and I really appreciate that.

I think fashion is based on a mix of references. The best stories are the ones that describe a style and a critical thinking. What or who represents your ideal concept of style?

So far, my collections have been quite autobiographical. I’ve always gone through the analysis of feelings or references linked to me. For instance, the feeling of summertime sad- ness I’ve highlighted for the last Spring-Summer collec- tion, the whole love affair thing of falling in love during the summer months, and the intense dream, and the powerful force of those relationships. This season, for instance, was inspired by the super models: I loved the idea of taking a very iconic moment in womenswear and translating it into menswear. Azzedine Alaïa is such a role model for me, his concept of style was so beautiful, what he represented for women and the love he had for them and their beauty was just amazing. I’d love to do something similar in the menswear field.

For me, when it comes to beauty and aesthetic, music has always had a key role. Is there a singer, group or musician who fascinates you style-wise?

At the moment, I’m quite fascinated by two singers. The first one is Tamino, who recently came out with a spectac- ular new album. He’s an interesting mix: half Belgian, half Egyptian, and all those influences show through his music. He’s really intense and I’d love him to wear some of my looks. The other one is Lauren Auder, he’s really cool and we know each other. He really appreciates my creations and he’s worn my looks in Paris for some gigs. He’s super and he even got casted for the Celine advertising campaign. Moreover, when I attended the first Hedi Slimane show as the new Creative Director of Celine, I met Lauren and he was wearing a Ludovic de Saint Sernin total look. It was super! What I love about him is that his voice is very deep and masculine, but then, physically talking, he’s super androgynous. It’s an interesting balance and he has such an attitude!

What does being independent mean to you?

It means freedom. By now, it’s so important to be free and able to do whatever you want. The fashion industry’s so saturated and full of amazing talents. Some of them are not independent and I think it’s a pity, because it stops you from fully expressing who you are. If you are independent, you have to satisfy yourself only, you don’t have to give anyone results about what you are doing. It’s the best thing, because of the freedom you are going to reach. On the other hand, it even means a lot of effort, because you never stop working. Actually, It’s amazing to me and I’m absolutely happy with that too.

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Gazzelle

In 2019, it’s hard to define what a Punk soul is. It’s something quite different from the historical memorabilia and quite far from a way of dressing. It doesn’t have anything to do with studs or bad behaviours, it’s probably more linked to a revolu- tion done on tiptoe that suddenly makes a huge sound. You have to handle the heritage of such a culture, you have to taste like that in order to step into something so noisy. It’s something that comes from your soul, a gentle soul that’s not afraid to respect his own nature. It has a lot to do with love, being honest with the hardness of our reality and the wisdom of pushing forward the whole track, no matter what. Punk’s an attitude, Punk’s a philosophy, Punk’s a signature. All those elements conquer to describe a unique talent that’s following a urge through his words in music: Gazzelle.

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I’m going to be honest, although I’ve been interviewing people for years now, I always prefer the moment when I sit down at my desk to write down the story that I’ve recorded, rather than facing all those questions. I always feel quite pushy somehow. How do you handle all those questions?

I answer! (Laughter, Ed.) I’m quite a private person myself too, but it’s nice. Before, nobody used to ask me so many things, it means there’s an interest.

When I want to have a point of view about music, I always put my earphones on and go for a walk. I have to bring the sound out there with me. Concerning ‘Punk’, your second album, it’s been fundamental to do that. I’d like to start from the song that gave the name to the album, the less punk of the whole playlist.

Absolutely!

I love the fact that you mention so many clichés, it seems to be a sort of adolescent point of view on Punk. And then the most common music confusion, the Nirvana obsession, that was a real doozy!

That song’s not meant to be a didactic song about Punk. It’s a huge metaphor, a trip of my mind. It’s pretty clear the whole album isn’t Punk as a music genre, that’s the reason why I chose that name! My ambition was to make you laugh at the beginning and then disrupt you. This is my kind of Punk. One of the peculiarities of the cultural and historical movement was to provoke. I wanted to provoke something concrete. Punk’s an attitude, a way of living, but it’s a taste too. When people ask me to describe that taste, I always say: ‘Eat my album’. The legacy of Punk’s something giant and untouchable for me too. I grew up with that myth and that’s why I even wanted to destroy it somehow. When I say ‘You tasted like a bit of Punk’ (‘Tu sapevi un po’ di Punk’, from ‘Punk’), I’m drawing the profile of a girl who had a punk taste and not a knowledge of it. It’s like a colour. The most important thing is being able to feel that word as soon as you hear it.

It’s something ultra difficult to explain, because it’s something you have deep inside.

Exactly, that’s cool! Generally speaking, the title of an album’s easily explainable. In this case, it’s impossible even for me to outline it.

Well, I think the deep, bittersweet irony of the whole album sets out your Punk soul perfectly.

Yes, absolutely, but it must be caught.

I probably got it because I’m 30 years old and I recognize a touch of sarcasm in me, that for sure comes from the previous ten years. Moreover, in order to reach it, you have to live your twenties in every meaning of the word and not just let them pass.

I’m nearly 30 years old and I completely agree with you. The album’s full of sarcasm and self-deprecation. It has a touch of melancholy too, but my intention was actually to make fun of it.

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Your approach towards music and writing has reminded me of an image, actually a cartoon. ‘Yes I’m tired, tired’ (in Italian, ‘Sì sono stanco, stanco’) by Andrea Pazienza in ‘The Last Days of Pompeo’ (‘Gli ultimi giorni di Pompeo’). The work of Paz is full of emotion and crude real- ity. He deliberately decides to draw the story of Pompeo on papers with squares and, aside from his tragic story, he really portrays a tired feeling that anyone can easily relate to.

I can relate to that feeling for sure. Basically, I’m tired. I’m literally tired of writing songs too, because it’s a huge physical effort for me. It’s debilitating. It’s like a conviction to me, because I necessarily have to write songs or better I have to make those words come out in that specific mo- ment. It’s a urge, that’s why it’s a bittersweet conviction. That’s the reason why I’m tired. Actually, I’m tired of our generation too. All the things that we do, all the thoughts that we make or not make, it all collides in what I describe in ‘Sbatti’ (‘Troubles’) when I say ‘Ci arriveremo stanchi ai nostri primi trentanni’ (in English, ‘We’ll arrive tired at our first thirties’). My generation will be old as we reach our thirties, because of the hurry of living and growing, all the things experienced and done. We have already done everything, but probably haven’t constructed anything yet. That’s what tires me the most.

Your aesthetic really made me think. In your previous al- bum ‘Superbattito’ (‘Superbeat’), the music videos used to always have a touch of trash references. Something happened then. The visual story you constructed for ‘Tutta la vita’ (‘Whole life’) with a dramatic drag queen performance, your final cameo in ‘Sopra’ (‘Over’) and the intense surrealism of ‘Scintille’ (‘Sparks’) are to me a great jump into the camp art.

When I started out, my only wish was to demonstrate I was something different from the already existing panora- ma. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the Italian music scene, I’m a huge supporter of our deep-rooted traditions. I had noticed a concise approach in the music videos of that time, so I wanted to break down the boundaries because of the way I am. Then I grew up, everything became more serious around my music and I started to have a feeling of responsibility towards people and messages. With ‘Super- battito’, I was just into myself and my album. I used to think that people should have reached out to me and made a step towards me. Now, I’m the one taking that step towards peo- ple. Before, I used to follow an aesthetic aimed at disrupt- ing what was on trend in that moment, now I’m more into poetry. I want to communicate something through images too.

Nowadays, there’s a huge mess around the word ‘independent’ and what a real, independent artist or project
is about. To me, being independent doesn’t mean being anarchist. It means to be in the system, but to follow your own rules.

I don’t think I’d like to live in a world with no rules, I’d for sure have a tilt crush. It’s necessary to understand and follow your own rules and principles. Fabrizio De André analyzed this kind of idea of anarchy a lot and I really find myself in that philosophy too. This album’s the manifesto of who I am right now.

In the end, I’d say you’re punk because you’re politely true to yourself, you’re both placid and straightforward. You’re punk, because you seemed to believe in love in spite of everything. I think the perfect proof is ‘Coprimi le spalle’ (’Watch my back’). That song is so Punk!

I’m really attached to that song. Together with ‘Scintille’ (‘Sparks’), it’s one of the oldest songs of the album. The others were written, more or less, throughout the last year. So, that song is seven years old and the thing that fascinates me the most is that I was seven years younger, as well as the things surrounding me. I was shocked when I realized it was still on track in 2018. I thought it could be an eternal song. I’m still so close to that song, like I’d be close to a seven-year-old kid. Moreover, it’s my mum’s favourite. Probably, it’s the most bitter song I’ve ever written, despite it spreading out a huge will to live.

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The will to live of that song really moved me and made me think of what Punk is about nowadays. Moreover, through your lyrics, I’ve always highlighted a deep respect towards life and it’s reminded me of a quote by Massimo Osti: ‘You have to follow things in a precise way, so that things can one day follow you back’.

First of all, I’m a collector of Stone Island since it’s my fa- vourite brand, so I’ll always be on board with it! (Laughter, Ed.) However it’s a very interesting thought, it makes me think about the importance of going all the way. It freaks me out a little bit, because it’s polyvalent and I love the tricks in words and sentences. Due to the fact that he used to be a fashion designer and a great researcher of what is called sportswear and activewear, it makes me think about how important it is to observe what is out there, what catches the attention and appreciation in order to offer your own interpretation of it. Somehow we are talking about stream and flow. If I imagine to follow a stream, I imagine to study and get it so deeply that I can cross it and make it follow me back instead. I think it’s a way of living and observing, moreover I can read a lot of humanity and soul.

You use a lot of taste as a descriptive tool in your lyrics. On the other hand, there’s no expiration date on your works. Your sound and words have a long-term storage, so you do have style. Style, to me, isn’t just about what you wear, it’s more about how you go down the stairs. Who or what has style for you?

Style’s something you have to be born with, aside from what you wear. Kurt Cobain used to have style even in pyjamas, or Liam Gallagher has style because of the way he walks. It’s a little bit like having blue eyes, you either were born with them or not. Style, to me, is many things. First of all, it’s an aesthetic matter, because it’s what you visually express and it’s a priority, especially in the art field. It makes you recognizable. For sure, it’s something that you have deep inside, but you have to define it with time, by demonstrating a precise coherence and following your own direction. Talk- ing about music, style is made through language, aesthetic, images, the things that you say, the ones that you don’t say and, today, also through the way you use Instagram. All those elements contribute to the creation of a style, that’s what makes a lasting impression and mark. To me, it’s fun- damental, otherwise you would be replaceable.

Euphoria means bringer of good. It comes from an alteration of reality that could be brainy or due to external factors. Do you ever think about that, for sure, you are the cause of this euphoria for someone out there?

To be honest, I never think about it too much, however I feel it sometimes. For instance, during the in-stores, when people come one by one, some of them might shiver, some others might not speak or just ask me for a hug. That’s the moment when I realize that I’m having a role, an impact on the everyday life of those people. Sometimes, I hear things like ‘You’ve changed my life’ or ‘Thanks to your songs, I’ve overcome this or that problem’. It blows me away a little. I never have the perception that what I do has an echo even out of my persona. It’s like when people scream or cry at my concerts. It’s something that I don’t understand and I truly hope I will never do, otherwise everything would turn into an automatism, something like a job. For an eighteen-year- old guy, I might be a point of reference and I don’t want to imagine what he thinks of me. For sure, he will have a personal, idealized idea of me that I don’t want to destroy. That’s why I tend not to talk too much with these people, because they could notice that I’m a normal person like them.

I think we don’t really have to ever meet our idols.

Probably, yes. You don’t really have to show out too much. That’s why, on the social networks, I don’t share anything about my private life and I tend not to talk about it, I liter- ally don’t use my voice on it. I try to keep a mystery that’s fundamental to me and it’s the same mystery the bigger ones have kept. I think it’s fair both to me and the others. Everybody has their own untouchable points of reference that can’t be disappointed.

If I were a celebrity, I’d love to work a lot on merchan- dising. For instance, I’ve truly loved the Beastie Boys’ fanzine called ‘Grand Royal’ or the belts Malcolm McLaren made for the album ‘Fans’. Aside from the classic tour merchandising, do you have in mind something that you would like to develop?

I love socks and it would be great to make them. Then, I’d say a kerchief and a flag too. I don’t think about it too much, but yes, I’d love to make my own socks!

I’m from Rome just like you, so it’s mandatory for me to ask you whether it’s true or not that the most beautiful thing about Milan is the train to Rome.

Thanks to my music, I had the chance to visit Italy in total. I realized Rome is the most beautiful city of the country, however it’s not enough sometimes. Rome’s like a really beautiful but quite dumb girl, a girl that you can’t stop starring at, but at the same time you can’t talk to. Milan’s a super smart girl, but a little homely. So, what can you do? Are you going to get married to a hot chick who’s quite a fool or to a girl who’s going to take care of you and be there for you? To me, the best solution is to not get married at all, so you don’t have to make a choice. However, I like Milan, it’s a great second choice. It’s the only place where I’d live if not in Rome, although I’d like to live by the sea, but that’s another story. The only reason why I wouldn’t live in Milan is because when I come here I’m always working and I don’t want to live in my job. So, as long as it’s going to be possible, I prefer to live in Rome, which is my home and my escape.

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