ALEXIA HENTSCH

Designer.

THE INSPIRATION TALK


HEY BABE, COULD YOU TELL US WHERE YOU ARE FROM AND WHAT YOU WERE DREAMING OF DOING WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
I was born in Brazil and raised in Switzerland, but I honestly can’t tell you what I dreamt of when I was a kid. Maybe becoming a professional gymnast. I was a gymnast, I mean I did gymnastics (laughs).
 

WHAT DID YOU STUDY?
I went to art school so I guess I was always artistic. And then I went to University where I studied graphic design, which is a bit of a waste actually... I should have done costume design or at least fashion because when I graduated, I made my final project about costumes. It was a year-long project and I remember thinking that if I had to spend so much time on one single project, it should be something I’m really interested in. So during the first part of the year which was dedicated to researching my subject, I learned about opera and theatre and costumes, and then I ended up staging an inanimate play. I made 3 very elaborated costumes on mannequins which were a commentary on what people were supposed to wear, as in psychological costumes. It was just a very visual project. I was 20 years-old, you know…
 

Alexia
Alexia
Alexia

STOP DEPRECIATING YOURSELF!
Haha.


WHAT DID YOU DO NEXT?
Because I was studying graphic design at University, I did a summer internship at Wallpaper magazine in London, which at the time was such a great thing for graphic design. By the time I graduated they had sold Wallpaper and started their own creative agency, so I went to work with them. As the youngest person in the company I did a bit of everything and a lot of assistant styling; not necessarily for fashion but for food, interior design or any kind of styling. As an assistant I watched a lot. I watched life on photo shoots. I did that for 3 years and then I left to go working for a woman who was doing these very high-end events and who needed an art director. I stayed with her for 2 years and that was actually much more creative. It was great because for years she would just give me pitches like: ”we have to throw a party for this person’s 50th birthday and he likes football”, and I would come up with all the ideas. To be honest, I didn’t like working for events because you had to deal with clients, but I had such an enormous creative liberty for my age, I was 25, that it was an amazing experience. Plus it was interesting because I had to set up her company: get an accountant, register it, have VAT returns, etc... I learned all this stuff but not on my own back. I was paid a salary whatever the outcome was, it wasn’t my ultimate responsibility. Looking back at it, I think this experience was probably the most worthwhile in learning how to then do things for myself.
And then in the last year that I was working with her, I started working on my own business which at the time was called “Jack’s shirt”. The idea was to make the perfect white shirt for guys. I was making some clothes for an ex-boyfriend once and it turned into this idea… I juggled with both jobs for about a year until I finally decided to focus on the shirt company.

Alexia Hentsch

HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO BUILD A WHOLE COMPANY AROUND A SINGLE ITEM?
Back then, I had a very good friend in London called Max von Hurter who also had a day job, working in finance. But both of us were actually unsatisfied working for other people and we would talk about it when meeting up once a week, having brainstorming sessions about what we could start together, just for fun. We had great ideas! (Laughs). Some time around that period, I was travelling to India by myself and I had brought with me one of my boyfriend’s shirts to make it copied as a tailored one in Delhi. I remember having some much fun choosing the fabrics and working through all the details with the tailor. I had never studied fashion but I had always appreciated men’s dressing. And so when I came back, during one of my sessions with Max, I told him that maybe there was something to be done around that. I envisioned something very “simple” like a Muji vibe. And while discussing that idea with him I realized that himself as a guy who was working in finance and at the same time doing other cool stuff like surfing, he never found the perfect white shirt to suit him. He always complained that he either looked like a banker or like a surfer. He could never find anything in between. So we designed a shirt actually and mostly for him, that he could wear at the office during the day but then at night he could go straight to a party just un-tucking it and still looking young and cool.
This was the start. And I don’t think we envisioned having a full time job around that at the time but you know, things grew quite naturally.
First we called it “Jack's shirt” because I always had a thing about the name “Jack”, and also because I think I am a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none which was just perfect (laughs). But then we got ordered to cease and desist by Jack Daniel's because of copyright infringement and had to change the name.


REALLY?
Yes, but in a way it was a benediction. In 5 minutes the company became about something else, not only about the shirt anymore although we kept the shirt until the very end. So we had to come up with another name and although I didn’t really want to give it my name I thought at least it would be complicated to copyright. We called it Hentsch Man, which was also obviously a pun on the expression, and it started growing into a whole fashion line which I developed during 8 years.

Alexia Hentsch
Alexia Hentsch
Alexia Hentsch

WHAT DO YOU THINK MADE YOU MORE INSPIRED BY MEN THAN BY WOMEN?
I don’t know… It’s funny because I was always inspired by women dressing-up for parties with phantasmagorical and crazy looks but not for men. Men should stay very simple. I think I just have both aesthetics in me.


TELL US ABOUT WHAT MUST HAVE BEEN A HARD DECISION TO CLOSE YOUR OWN BRAND AFTER 8 YEARS.
Well, it didn’t work financially. I think I am more of a creative than a business person. Max is more of a business person but never managed to join full time. So I think it was never run as a business; it was always run as “my” project. I am not saying I wasn’t serious about it, it was incredibly serious but I am not a CEO. And even when the company is very small it needs to be run as a business. I was an artistic director trying to run something, which didn’t work.
By the time we needed to raise money, I was overwhelmed having to produce 4 seasons/year, travelling like a maniac, writing a business plan and trying to hire people. It became too much.

Alexia Hentsch

DID YOU FEEL RELIEVED WHEN IT ENDED IN 2015?
Yeah. 500,000,000%! But I feel very proud of the work accomplished.


IT MUST BE TIRING TO HAVE TO COME UP WITH NEW INSPIRATION ALL THE TIME, ISN’T IT?
I feel that was actually the fun part.


BUT DON’T YOU THINK THE HARD PART LAYS IN THE MOMENT WHEN YOU REALISE YOU ARE MORE DRIVEN BY THE RESPONSIBILITY TO DELIVER A COLLECTION RATHER THAN THE FUN YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT?
I think that is quite inevitable. It’s quite daunting to have to present something that is going to be open for criticism. I think you get better at it the more you do it… What I found more taxing was running a company. It was quite a torture actually. You obviously have financial responsibilities, you have a board you are responsible to, you have employees you are responsible for, everybody has its own problems and you are responsible for them. In the end I was so frustrated that 95% of my time was about that and that 5% had been relegated to creation. I remember at one point thinking I‘m not even good at doing the part I spend my whole week doing, coming in on Sundays or Saturday nights just to be alone and able to work on some designs. And on top of that we weren’t making any money. I think I kind of burned out. Totally burned out.
 

Alexia Hentsch

THAT IS WHEN YOU DECIDED TO TAKE A BREAK FROM IT ALL AND RECONNECT WITH YOUR BRAZILIAN ROOTS, SPENDING SOME TIME IN RIO WHERE YOUR MOM IS LIVING…
DID YOU THINK YOU WOULD MAYBE FIND SOME INSPIRATION HERE ON WHAT TO DO NEXT?
No… I think I was so burnt out that I was not capable of focusing on the next chapter. To be honest I didn’t care. I had absolutely no interest in doing anything. And that had never happened to me, ever! People would ask me “what do you do?” and I would say “nothing”.


AND YET WITHOUT ANY PLANS YOU MANAGED TO LAND A POSITION AS A COSTUME PRODUCER IN THE OPENING CEREMONY FOR THE OLYMPICS (editor’s note : RIO 2016).
Yes but that was a total accident. I came to Brazil to attend a family wedding which was planned for the end of October and I remember thinking that I might stay until Christmas. I needed the time off and absolutely didn’t want to start looking for a new job immediately after that. I was exhausted. So I came to Brazil and I was surprised by how good I felt there. I’ve always been quite driven and yet it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t working, at all! I was delighted to be meeting with new people, I was delighted to be going out and really I was just having a lot of fun and acting like a teenager. Very light. Incredibly light. But also very excited about anything that would come in my way. I remember before the Olympic thing, I met a few people at a party who told me that if I was interested in Carnival then maybe I should come and work on some Comissão de Frente* of a Samba school (*editor's note : opening act of a samba school cortege). So I did some assisting work for free for just a few weeks and just watching this come together I remember thinking “that is so inspiring”. And in a similar fashion I went to a dinner one day where I met the producers of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. I thought it would be a great way to have my next six months sort of taken care of without having to think about what to do next…
 

AND THIS GAVE YOU AN EXCUSE TO STAY LONGER IN BRAZIL.
Yes exactly, which I decided I wanted actually.

Alexia Hentsch

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THIS EXPERIENCE TO WORK FOR SUCH A LEGENDARY ORGANIZATION AS THE OLYMPIC GAMES?
For the first time in almost a decade I was working for someone which felt different but also very relaxing for my mind. I remember thinking “wow, no matter what happens, at the end of the month I get a salary”, you know? And I didn’t have any responsibility regarding how the show looked like. So even if we worked very long hours and very long days, I remember thinking “this is such a breeze”. So my daily job was helping with the production of the costumes at the atelier, which meant liaising either with the factories for the longer runs or with the seamstresses for the smaller runs and our studio.
What was fun is that I got to see Rio in a really intimate way: very quickly I was working with people that delivered the samba schools, people that delivered Globo (editor’s note : biggest Media and TV group in Brazil) for telenovelas, etc… So you get into these underworlds which, if I’m honest, was my favorite part. Once the production was done we moved from our studio to the Maracana stadium and it became about fitting. The job itself became less interesting as it was all about fitting hundreds of people coming in everyday but what was quite extraordinary to learn from this company was the magnitude and scale of the project. To work in the Maracana everyday, as a Brazilian (or even as a “half-Brazilian”) is such a great honour: it was quite extraordinary to walk around in this enormous and probably most beautiful stadium in the world. And the energy! Obviously the closer you get to the Olympics the more you work, but also the more excited you get. And then the opening ceremony which was “to pee in your pants”.


A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY ESPECIALLY WHEN HAPPENING IN ONE OF YOUR HOMETOWNS.
Definitively. The “Brazilian-ness” of it was so cool. And being in Brazil for so long was the best thing.

Alexia Hentsch
Alexia Hentsch
Alexia Hentsch

AND THEN YOU WENT BACK TO LONDON ONLY TO DECIDE TO COME BACK TO RIO A FEW MONTHS LATER WITH A NEW PROJECT, THIS TIME DESIGNING CARNIVAL COSTUMES FOR WOMEN. HOW COOL.
Yes, it happened a bit by accident as well… When I got back to London I had to rethink what I was going to do as I had already postponed that once before. But that didn’t go very well (haha). I still felt I was in between worlds and nothing was clear in my mind. So I decided to spend Christmas holidays in Brazil and went travelling around with some girlfriends who were talking about a project they were going to do for Carnival. To them it was just a way to make enough money to go on a ski trip. We were in December and I remember listening to them talking about it and how they would deliver it in February. Knowing that they had not even started yet made me think how Brazil was much more spontaneous than my experience in London where you plan seasons a year in advance. I thought it was so cool that they would come back to Rio on January 5th and start thinking about their project then. I guess this planted a seed in my mind.
So I got back to Rio and did what I usually do before Carnival which is walk around the Saara market in the city center where you find all kinds of low-end commerce and happens to also be my favorite place in the city. So I’m there, without any intention to buy anything, just looking around and end up being so inspired! It is like a giant Ali Baba's cave of anything colourful, flowery, glittery which I love. A few fabrics caught my attention and I remember thinking that maybe I could try to make something out of them. The next day it was raining so I stayed home and started drawing a few costumes ideas and ended up calling one of the Municipal Theatre of Rio seamstresses I had worked with for the Olympics, asking her if she would have time to do one or two costumes for me. That is how we started the project, without any knowledge of what it would lead us to. Next thing I know I was making a lot of Carnival costumes.

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FROM A SPONTANEOUS FUN PROJECT, IT SOON BECAME BIGGER THAN YOU EXPECTED, CALLING ATTENTION OF MOST IMPORTANT PUBLICATIONS, BIG RETAIL STORES AROUND THE WORLD AND EVEN SOCIALITES SENDING ORDERS IN FOR BURNING MAN! HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS SURPRISING TURN OF EVENTS?
It is so much fun! But because it was such an artisanal handmade product I was very limited in terms of volume I could sell. The truth is I didn’t make it necessarily to sell. As long as I recuperated my costs it was enough.
Actually what I really wanted to do is creating a strong imagery so that I would have something to put in my portfolio from a costume prospective. I had done fashion design, I had done costume production but not costume design. So with the help of my friend Lisa (laughs) we put together a little photo shoot at home with a few costumes.

  © Gabriel Mendes

© Gabriel Mendes

  © Gabriel Mendes

© Gabriel Mendes

ME? HAHA, YES THAT WAS A FUN DAY.
Indeed! We asked for 6 or 8 friends to join and wear the costumes I had made and I think the imagery came out really strong. On a social media perspective it really caught the attention of certain magazines, people… And to me that was quite surprising. I mean, I was confident we could get nice images but I didn’t think these images could be of any interest to anyone but me building my portfolio. This is what really launched the project in its actual form. I thought "okay maybe I should make a collection and photograph it again to sell it this time". But this was done in such a short amount of time, about a month, it is also limiting what you can do.

 ©  Gabriel Mendes

© Gabriel Mendes

  © Gabriel Mendes

© Gabriel Mendes

I THINK THE FACT THAT YOU ONLY HAD SUCH A SMALL AMOUNT OF TIME AND YET STILL MANAGED TO GET THE IDEA, PRODUCE IT, SELL IT, SEE IT WORN BY EVERYBODY AROUND TOWN IS QUITE IMPRESSIVE. WHAT DOES SUCCESS MEAN TO YOU IF NOT THAT?
I think Instagram takes on such a huge dimension in this country (Brazil is the second social media user in the world) and the power of imagery is underestimated by people. My background in graphic design then in a branding agency and finally having created my own brand makes me quite experienced in creating visual imagery for a brand. I could have done the exact same costumes and not shooting them the way we did with that funny backdrop and a real photographer and I’m sure it would not have had the same success.

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SO WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE NEXT THING THEN? DO YOU FEEL YOU WANT TO EXPLORE HOW YOU CAN EXPAND THAT PROJECT?
I had such a great time doing that project even if it was a lot of work. I really had the best time coming up with “new campaigns”, new costume ideas, I just want to keep doing it. Obviously I have to think how to make it grow out of just a “costume for party” making. It can have a different turn. But I would like to still make costumes though.

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BOB MACKIE, THE CREATIVE COSTUME MASTER BEHIND THE MOST MEMORABLE LOOKS OF CHER, LIZA MINELLI, MICHAEL JACKSON, TINA TURNER, MADONNA, WHITNEY HOUSTON, BARBA STREISAND AND MORE, NEVER HAD A MASS-MARKETED BRAND OF HIS OWN AND YET MANAGED TO BECOME A HOLLYWOOD DESIGNER REFERENCE, WON NINE EMMYS, WAS NOMINATED FOR THREE OSCARS AND EVEN DESIGNED FANCY COSTUMES FOR BARBIE DOLLS ! IS HIS PATH SOMETHING THAT YOU COULD ASPIRE TO FOR YOUR OWN CAREER?
Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun! Making costumes for rock stars! I admire also costume designers for films, anything that is visual. I get also very excited by haute-couture for example, as I think this is where costume meets fashion. I’m not going to start doing haute-couture but I just like these fanciful, artistic projects that don’t have a huge utility in life and that is why I love Carnival! 

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I FEEL WE LIVE IN SUCH A SERIOUS WORLD, SO MANY NEGATIVE THINGS HAPPENING, THAT DOING SOMETHING THAT IS ENTERTAINING PEOPLE AND SHOWING A LIGHTER SIDE OF LIFE SHOULD BE CELEBRATED; I THINK YOU WOULD BE GREAT PARTICIPATING AT IT.
Thank you! Bob Hentsch then!


HAHA. DEAL.
THANK YOU ALEXIA! x
 

MORE ON ALEXIA HERE AND HERE.

*UPDATE : THE DAY FOLLOWING THE INTERVIEW, ALEXIA WAS INVITED TO CREATE COSTUMES FOR ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR TV SHOW IN BRAZIL, AMOR E SEXO, GETTING HER CLOSER TO THAT BOB MACKIE ASPIRING CAREER. BACK IN LONDON, SHE THEN STARTED A WINTER, CITY-WEARABLE BODY COSTUMES COLLECTION THAT ALREADY CAUGHT THE ATTENTION OF MOST STYLISH LONDONER.
STAY TUNED ON ALEXIA'S INSTAGRAM FOR THE NEW COLLECTION.

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