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Fashion and Food: A Studio Visit with Jean Paul Lespagnard

In honor of the Easter holidays, we’d like to introduce you to a Belgian fashion designer in high demand, dabbling in chocolate and Easter eggs: John Paul Lespagnard.   

Constantly working toward creating something new, this Belgian creative recently began collaborating with the Belgian chocolate brand Galler. Their first project together is a collection of magnetic Easter eggs and lucky for us the projects will continue throughout the year, including a specially designed Christmas chocolate box and even a new flavor of chocolate!  

In addition to his collaboration with Galler, Lespagnard has been kept busy with lots of costume design projects for performances such as Belgian singer Nicola Testa’s concert at Ancienne Belgique and Damien Jalet’s Yama.  

However, above all, Lespagnard is a fashion designer and his collections are sold all over the world from Belgium to Russia to Korea to Los Angeles.   

I Love Belgium had the immense pleasure of meeting Lespagnard at his studio in Brussels to talk about his latest projects, how he gets his inspiration and advice he has for young designers.   

ILB: You have an incredible range of work: costume designing, fashion, and now even chocolate! Do you prefer doing one project over another?    

JPL: No, it's really all about  creation and inventing stuff which is totally fun.   

How did you first get into design?

I've always wanted to be a fashion designer. I did my whole study to reach this goal. In 2008 I was selected at the Hyères festival which is an international fashion festival in the south of France and out of 500 portfolios they selected 10 and of the three prizes I won two. That is how it all started actually. I got a big interest from the press and the buyers and I started developing my own collection.   

From school did you  start developing your own collection right away?   

Not really. I finished my studies in 2002 and I won this competition in 2008 so there was six years in between where I was working as a stylist for magazines. I was already doing costumes and working a bit of my own collection to develop my style. 

How would you describe your style?   

Well, the thing is I don't want to make pretentious fashion. I don't want to be too elitist in my fashion. In my collection I'm going from size 34 to size 46. I'm really dressing girls in their 20s to women who are 70 and they all wear the same pieces but with totally different style and that's something I really like. When I'm talking about fashion we have this word, Mod. I'm always saying I'm talking about Mod but "mod de vie" a way of life. This is why in a way, in my creation, I go from clothes to taste/flavor. When I'm thinking about fashion it's a general way of life. It's not only about clothes.

You said you were always interested in fashion. Was there a defining moment when you were a kind where you realized: this is what I want to do?   

Yea, when I was really a kid, when I was three-years-old,  I was saying I want to sell ice cream. And then when I was four for Christmas I asked for a sewing machine and I was like, okay, I want to be a fashion designer.     

On your website, when you click future, it goes to a Horoscope website. Do you believe in the power of the cosmos and does that play into the way you design?   

I mean, when you say something, and you really want it, and you throw it in the sky, it comes back. But in a way the future section in my website, is a bit of a joke.  As a fashion designer you always have people asking you, "Hey, you're a fashion designer, so what's next? What the next hot thing?" and I'm just like, "no, I'm not a total visionary guy who knows what we are going to wear in two years.” 

What inspires your collections?   

Everything. Since all the projects are very different I can find ideas even just in a box. When I am looking at my magnets on the fridge I can have idea. For example, when I developed the egg for Galler they wanted me to make something special. Because these eggs are sold in supermarkets but they wanted me to make a special project for their own shop and I was looking at my fridge and I was like, "oh yea! Let's create magnets to put on the eggs to create characters." And it's just because I was sitting here and I looked at the fridge and then the Mister Potato Head and was like, let's do it. So you see it can really just appear.   

Is that why you surround yourself with all these cool eclectic things?   

Yea. I collect objects that inspire me.

Where do you get the objects from?   

It depends. From my travels a lot. For example, this is a bird nest from India. Made from a bird. I took it just off a tree. That's a piece of wood I found in Norway and I liked it so I was like, okay let's take it. It's really permanent research and I can find influences in anything. Even if I'm going onto Facebook to check my friends mail I can find a picture and I keep it and it goes like this.   

What inspired you to work with Galler?   

They contacted me to work on this project. I was really enthusiastic to work with them because actually the chocolate brand is from the city I grew up in. So when I was a kid and I had 2 euro I would go to the shop to buy Galler chocolate. So when they contacted me it was really like, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory story. The cool thing with Galler is they really let me carte blanche so I can do whatever I want. You see  I'm a fashion designer. The main thing is my fashion but if a brand comes wanting to do something with me it needs to be interesting to me as a creative process. I would never put my name on a box just to get the money. It doesn't interest me. These kind of objects should represent something. I was totally excited that these objects would be in the supermarkets. It’s really a mass production. 150,000 egg produced.

What's next for you?  

Well, I'm working on this new collection and I'm working on a new dance project. I'm going to work on an exhibition as well- actually two exhibitions. Also, the Galler project is continuing. I’m busy. 

Quite a few of your collections seem inspired by food. Is there something about food that especially inspires you?   

I don't know how to explain it. Food inspires me as much as music. You see the Cheese on Fleek collection? While I was in mexico researching for a collection I was doing on Mass Tourism, I saw these people in the city and the women were dressed like the little house on the prairie and the boys were wearing these overalls and cowboy hats . They were Mennonites. There's a big Mennonite community in mexico and I started searching about their way of life and I read that they produce the best cheese you can find in Mexico. I'm really interested in sub-culture and in a way, you don't really have to go that far to find exoticism.  So I decided to make a crossing between the Mennonites and the Cholombianos which is a young gang of people who listen to Cholombian music and glue their hair to their face and wear large clothes. So this girl can go down into the city to sell cheese and then later she will go meet this gang and together they will create a gang of cheese sellers.

What is your process?   

I create a story. I do the fabric research that it goes with. I develop the cuts that go with the story. Then I make something out of it. I don't want to go to much into the cliché. But you see, for me, it's a starting point. This way I can create my story and create the clothes that go with. I think that when you see the collection you feel  there is a force and there's something real about it. But the process? It is fine if people don't see it.   

Has your work evolved over the time?   

Yea, I hope so. And I always had a feeling that it's not completely finished which is great. Until the moment of my presentation, I can have new ideas-even the day before a show but then it's too late. So I'm like, okay I'm going to keep it for the next one. I'm always super happy to present my collection. I always love my collection. I would never put something I'm not sure about on stage, it would terrify me. But I know that the next one will be even better and different. It's really like a feeling that it's in a constant evolution. It’s finding the balance between not going too far and keeping the integrity of the piece. Otherwise if you go too far, there's no soul anymore.

What is some advice you would give aspiring fashion designers?   

To have trust in themselves and to look around as much as they can. To look at everything- EVERYTHING-to get as much information as they can so that in the end you forget it. I'm always saying that when I go to a fashion show I see a lot of things, and see a lot of ideas but then when I'm coming out of the show I don’t remember anything but it's in my head. And I know my brain will select all the things I saw and it will come back later transformed. It's not about copying. It's looking at everything, digesting it and putting it back in the world in a different way.  

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