BODY LANGUAGE: Leon Emanuel Blanck
“I wanted to drape a piece of fabric into a pair of trousers, because molding on a human body was something we weren’t taught in fashion school” – says Leon Emanuel Blanck, the young German designer whose concise and conceptual collections, after only 4 seasons, are stocked by meccas of all things black and deconstructed such as Antonioli in Milan, Ink in Hong Kong, and SV Moscow. “I couldn’t find anyone to do it on, so I ended up doing it on myself. I had to move and turn a lot while I was at it, so I got a very distorted pair of trousers”.
This is how Blanck’s design concept, which he calls Anfractuous Distortion, was born. To put it simply, it’s about bypassing the “paper” stage of design and pattern-making and focusing instead on the interaction of fabric and the human figure. All styles in his 14-piece collections are created using the same method: a large piece of fabric is draped around a body that bends, stretches and moves as the draping happens; seam lines are put in wherever the fabric creases during that process. “I never intentionally put a seam anywhere” – explains Blanck. “You could say that I take my design intention out of it and just register what happens when the fabric works with the body and vice versa”.
When finished, the mold is sprayed over with resins normally used in naval architecture so as to preserve its form in 3D. Finally, it is cut open on the seam lines. The resulting pieces become the pattern – to much dismay of the manufacturers that Blanck has attempted to work with in the past. Despite him numbering and labeling each fragment, they could not comprehend how a bunch of asymmetrical fabric shreds were meant to become a pair of trousers. He now produces everything in-house with the help of assistants. “I would say that each piece has about 50-70% of my own hand work in it,” he notes.
Sometimes Blanck chooses not to cut the pattern molds open and keeps them in his studio instead as sculptures. These pieces are amongst the most interesting of Blanck’s works: hardened, unusable would-be clothes, they carry a palpable, slightly spooky presence of the body of the model in them.
Mind you, his actual clothes have that uncanny quality, too. Not only each style, but also each size pattern is modeled and molded on a real person. It is less obvious in softer pieces, such as jersey and knit tops, but with stiffer garments, like leather jackets or overalls made of heavy military grade cotton, the imprint of a real body is noticeable.
I ask Blanck how he thinks people feel about wearing a piece of clothing that carries such an obvious presence of another person’s shape. “Good question!” he retorts. “My pieces certainly have character. When you are friends with somebody, some of their traits fit in with your own personality perfectly, and other ones not at all; it is this dynamic tension that makes things exciting between you. I guess my clothes are like friends in that sense”.
There is an idea in dress scholarship that, if the wearer can feel his clothes most of the time, it makes him more aware of his own body and, by extension, of being in the material world. Umberto Eco describes this phenomenon brilliantly in his essay Lumbar Thought in which he ponders on the experience of wearing jeans a little tighter than he is used to:
“The jeans didn’t pinch, but they made their presence felt. As a result, I lived in the knowledge that I had jeans on, whereas normally we live forgetting that we’re wearing undershorts or trousers… It obliged me to live towards the exterior world.”
Such “epidermic self-awareness”, as Eco calls it, is not something a lot of contemporary clothes promote. On the contrary, loose-fitting trousers, unlined jackets, roomy sweaters and weightless jerseys that the readers of this article are most probably very familiar with make one forget one has a body. Blanck’s clothes are not like that: they are closer to Eco’s jeans. “Easy is not what I’m about,” he admits. Yet, this is not to say they are not comfortable: his narrow, unlined leather jackets, for instance, may be hard to get in, but once you’re in they fit like second skin.
The unconventional methods Blanck uses in his work require tremendous amounts of time. Some patterns take up to 70 hours to make – no wonder, given the meticulous process described above. Blanck further complicates his life by refusing to create one side of the pattern and mirror it onto the other side, like most designers do. “Bodies are not symmetrical, so why should patterns be?” he muses. Furthermore, the fact that no one, except himself, is capable of reading his patterns means that he has to be involved in the production – which, in its turn, takes ages due to the multitude of seams and the complex nature of the design. This means that Blanck’s collections are limited editions: his label is currently sold in 10 select stores across the globe, and, although he welcomes the possibility of getting a few more stockists, he is not in a rush to grow his business exponentially.
“I am absolutely averse to the idea of making an easier, more commercial second line and keeping the conceptual pieces just for display,” he says. “This would make the brand lose its DNA. At the moment I am just trying to use common sense to ease the production process. I believe in optimizing, not globalizing.” A truly refreshing perspective to hear from a fashion designer these days.
Photographer CHRISTOPH WOHLFAHRT
Styling LEONIE VON LIERES X GUIDO WERTH @ KOLLEKTIVNOIR
Hair+Grooming DANIELLE CARSON
Model Nathan Saignes @ Premium
Clothes by Leon Emanuel Blanck | Shoes by Rombaut