Meet The Only Designer Who Has Dressed Both Pope John Paul II And Lady Gaga
20 years ago, a designer persuaded Pope Saint John Paul II to don a rainbow-striped cassock for World Youth Day, a previously unaccomplished feat. Over a decade later, the same designer’s collection at Paris Fashion Week would feature a coat of over two dozen Kermit the Frog muppets sewn onto it with eclectic songstress Lady Gaga even wearing it to a German television show. Jean-Charles marquis de Castelbajac is a mouthful on the tongue but the designer’s creations are a visual feast for the eyes. Think Katy Perry’s t-shirt emblazoned with Barack Obama’s face at the MTV European Music Awards in 2008 and Beyonce’s military jacket complete with bejewelled epaulettes in the music video for Lady Gaga’s Telephone (2009) and you’ll have a fair idea of just how whacky Castelbajac can get with his designs. He’s even gone as far as putting on a show with models wearing sunglasses and caps made out of actual Lego pieces.
Extending his cheerfully eccentric aesthetic to products whose philosophies align with those of his own, Castelbajac has collaborated with Chinese smartphone manufacturer OnePlus. Consisting of holsters, bags, caps, t-shirt, and a limited-edition OnePlus 5 design, the collection, cleverly titled ‘Callection’, was unveiled at various pop-up events in Paris last month. “I would describe this collection by one word – ‘Beau-tech’ – which combines beauty and technology. I wanted to create desirable designs for daily use. As a creative geek, my mobile transforms into a nomadic design studio when I’m on the move”, says Castelbajac.
We probe further into the designer’s colour-filled universe and like what we see. Excerpts from our conversation…
Earliest memories of design
“I was a precocious kid and discovered, early on, that I had a different sense of style and the intelligence to reach out to people through art. When I turned 17, my ability to connect with people and evoke beautiful emotions through fashion only intensified. Starting out as a designer in 1970, my energy and motivation to create were based on rock ‘n’ roll with the attitude of a rebel. I haven’t forgotten my punk spirit, but today, I feel more like a virus of poetry. In our digital world with unlimited social networking sites, it is easier to propagate my ideologies of love and hope. My ensembles reflect my passion for human beings and the beauty and charisma of individuals.”
From being functional to art-inspired
“Art and fashion have never been two separate entities for me. I believe fashion is a fantastic medium to touch people. My first motto was to communicate, create images and reach out to people. I realised I had this advantage when I was a teenager because of how I dressed differently from what was considered normal. You can provoke emotions to manifest themselves through art. I have collaborated with artists and performers throughout my career and created things of true beauty. Sports, style, ecology and the future of the younger generations have always been my overall muses. I love mixing opposite universes because it creates a new reality with blurs and questions.”
“I have always been determined to reinvent established ideas. I remain curious to this day and constantly look for ways to break the mould by way of collaborations that would birth new possibilities and open frontiers to my style. If you told me to name my most favourite designs, I would have to cite two extremes here. My ensembles for Lady Gaga have been beautiful. She is highly experimental herself and I have enjoyed dressing her for several of her music videos and stage shows. But the climax of my career was when I dressed the Saint. In 1997, I was chosen by the Church as the only designer to dress Pope John Paul II. It gave me the opportunity to connect with millions of people, both creatively and spiritually.”
Ploughing through challenges
“I love that my clothes carry inherent values about humanity, decency, ecology and, most of all, democracy. That being said, it gets challenging to meet the burgeoning demands of an industry that thrives on speedy consumption. Today, when I see how clothes are sold the day they debut, I fear we are going to kill the invisible side of fashion along with the mystery. It’s an interesting period though. It is chaotic, and chaos is favourable to creativity.”
Inspirations and muses
“France, especially Paris, is one of the best places for motivation. Where money is power in other cities, Paris only survives on romanticism. The shock between history and modernity is a luminous source of ideas. It has also made me the man I am today and that’s why I am not only enthusiastic about dressing celebrities and stars but the general human race in its entirety. Anybody can be my muse. My duty, as an artist, is to equip the world with charisma – one that I take very seriously.”