Artist and co-founder of G.Kero
THE INSPIRATION TALK
HI MARGUERITE! WHERE DID YOU GROW UP AND WHAT WERE YOU DREAMING OF BECOMING?
I grew up in Cap Ferret in the South West of France with a lot of brothers and sisters and surrounded by nature and animals. I wanted to become a writer and then I started drawing to illustrate my stories. When I was 7, I was drawing my imaginary boyfriends, a new one every week! And G.kero was born!
(LAUGHS) THAT WAS QUICK!
My first aspiration was to draw, but I didn’t dream of drawing because for a child it’s very natural. My parents were pushing me to keep on drawing, they were telling me I was good at it and would pin my drawings on the walls. I was always in an illustrative mood, telling stories. It has a lot to do with imagination.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO BECOME A WRITER? BECAUSE YOUR DAD WAS ONE?
I think because I read a lot. When you read, you want to write, to invent your own stories. Everything you do, everything you receive, you want to give back. I don’t know. Maybe because I’m a scorpio and it’s a typical writer’s sign. I think it’s not my fault.
WHAT DID YOU STUDY?
I studied in my room for many years before entering a shitty school of art but where I met interesting people in the classroom. I studied at Ateliers de Sèvres when I was 18 and then at La Cambre in Brussels, but I was already very active with my drawings before entering those schools.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO STUDY ART? DID YOU HAVE IN MIND TO BECOME AN ARTIST? IF YOU ALREADY HAD YOUR OWN STYLE, WHY DID YOU FEEL THAT NEED?
I already knew I was an artist. I wrote it on my bed when I was ten. It was made with wood and I said to my mom that I wrote it down so I could remember. I went to school to meet some other young people like me. In my high school nobody was interested by art.
SO YOU WENT THERE TO MEET PEOPLE RATHER THAN TO BECOME SOMETHING YOU ALREADY KNEW YOU WERE…
Yes, I don’t believe in art schools.
BUT YOU WANTED TO MAKE FRIENDS THAT WOULD UNDERSTAND YOU.
It’s not a question of understanding. I wanted to meet people that would inspire me. My friends in Cap Ferret are lovely people but their interests are elsewhere. They are fishermen, oyster farmers, etc. I wanted to exchange ideas with people interested with art, I wanted to flirt with guys who were into the same things as me, it’s sexual as well.
FAIR ENOUGH! AND AFTER THE ART SCHOOL, WHAT HAPPENED?
I quit school very young, at 22 years old. I started G.Kero at that age.
DID YOU STOP SCHOOL BEFORE GRADUATION?
Yes, three years before graduation! I hated my school. The teachers and the principal didn’t judge my work properly, they didn’t give a shit. I was very disappointed because I worked a lot every night to finish my school project, a cartoon. I was very afraid of the teachers’ judgments. You know, you work your ass off all year long, and then you present your work to a jury you don’t know and don’t see and you have a grade that falls down the sky. I thought it was malicious. Maybe I was not in a good year but I think art schools are almost dangerous for students. The teachers want to put you in a box and the more you try to escape from it, the more you upset them, and get yourself bad grades. And then you’re the first one to earn your living with your art when you run away from them.
SO TELL ME HOW GKERO REALLY STARTED FROM THEN.
It’s a bit complex because there are different phases. First, I left my school and I wanted to use the kind of drawings I was doing for my cartoon but I didn’t want to show them in movement. I animated a sketch drawing of a young woman hazing Karl Lagerfeld. This character was my fantasied alter-ego. She was naked and wild. She expressed freedom. It was very thoughtless for me, I would never reflect on what I was doing back then. I was just having fun.
SO YOU WERE INTERESTED BY CARTOON…
Yes. I was very interested by the movement, the sound… but after two years, I realized it was not my destiny. I was not made for the animation studios. I didn’t like spending my days in front of a computer. For me it was like a travel, something that gets you inspired. After that phase, all I wanted to do was to work with my hands. I figured that drawing my characters on a t-shirt, people would live with them more than seeing them trough a screen. I wanted to go back to real life, do something palpable and fun. It’s a kind of street art.
Around that time, my brother Philippe was traveling to Brazil for a year. He was staying mainly in Rio de Janeiro and said he could not find any cool t-shirt to buy there. He knew my drawings, he was a fan and he asked me to send him some, to make his own t-shirts! That idea came at a perfect timing. I had just left school, I had nothing to do and I wanted to do exactly something like that. So for six months, I was sending him drawings non stop. But when I saw the result I was very disappointed with the quality of the printing, so I started hand painting the shirts. My friend Sebastian de Rodriguez, an old school tailor, taught me to draw fast: « do a drawing every ten minutes, you’ll have at least ten t-shirts a day! ». I loved that way of thinking. I guess it’s my Andy Warhol side, the « factory » work.
IT’S YOUR RESTLESS SIDE AS WELL, NO?
I wouldn’t say that. I like the idea that every t-shirt is worn by a different person and that I only spent fifteen minutes on it. This energy is very true in me even if I was not aware of it back then. I was just happy to make some money and the entire process was pleasing me.
DIDN’T YOU LIKE ALSO THIS ASPECT OF SEEING THE IMMEDIATE REACTION OF PEOPLE?
I like when people react to something. I think I am a little bit provocative. I like being playful and light. The art world is too serious for me and cartoon is too far from reality.
WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT GKERO, YOU ALWAYS SAY IT’S AN ART BRAND…
As I told you, before my art school I was already painting for years. I would sell my work for 150€, 200€. I was a painter without a gallery, known through word of mouth. So for five years, I built my art career as an illustrator, as a painter, as a cartoonist. With all this, I could start my brand saying I am an artist. Which is interesting, marketing wise, to have a different storytelling than the others.
SO HOW DID IT BECOME MORE PROFESSIONAL? DID YOUR BROTHER HELP YOU?
I did it alone for three or four years. But after that, I was so tired of hand painting everything, I wanted to start printing again. We tried it in a new factory and the result was better so we developed it. My brother joined me after that, he was excited at that point and he brought along a third partner, Arnaud Champeil.
WHEN DID YOU UNDERSTAND THAT IT WAS TURNING INTO A REAL BUSINESS?
When a restaurant ordered me eight t-shirts for their team. It was at Cap-Ferret, I went to the restaurant by boat with my folded t-shirts in a bag and I came back with a 500€ bill. When my brother saw that, he wanted to work with me but I think that at that point it was already a real business.
SO DO YOU FEEL THIS WOULDN’T BE POSSIBLE WITHOUT YOUR BROTHER AND THE THIRD PARTNER?
I was already earning a living, but I was earning a living primitively.
EXACTLY, IN ORDER TO BE REALLY SUCCESSFUL, A BUSINESS HAS TO HAVE A CREATIVE PERSON THAT CAN REALLY FOCUS ON THE CREATIVE PART AND A PERSON THAT TAKES CARE OF THE SALES. IT’S COMPLICATED TO BE BOTH, DON’T YOU THINK?
My business was so small, painting everything by hand wouldn’t have taken me very far. It was just the start. Thanks to my brother and our partner, I was able to evolve. They developed an appropriate environment for me to be able to create more complex creations. It’s my brother that had the idea to start doing shirts, I wanted to keep on doing t-shirts. My brother is responsible for a large part of the creative process at Gkero. We play a creative Ping-Pong together. The only thing he lacks is the hand skill to paint. This aside, he is full of ideas.
ONE OF THE KEY MOMENT FOR THE BRAND WAS ALSO WHEN KATE MOSS GOT PHOTOGRAPHED WEARING ONE OF YOUR CREATIONS. DID YOU REALLY FEEL A BEFORE/AFTER KATE MOSS’ PICTURE?
Maybe. Kate Moss has a rock’n’roll image and even if she is getting older she is still a cool lady, a free spirit. She doesn’t care much about brand partnerships and wears whatever she wants. During fashion week in Paris, when the picture was taken, she wore the David Bowie shirt called Spaceman. For us, it was a way to be more credible on a media point of view : it is such a small and closed world we weren’t really part of.
YOU KIND OF ALREADY HAD AN EXPOSURE THROUGH ALL THE CELEBRITIES SPENDING THEIR HOLIDAYS IN CAP-FERRET BUYING GKERO DIRECTLY FROM YOUR ATELIER…
Yes, but this makes me look like a privileged daddy’s girl. I don’t like it so much. The press picks the angle it wants and the truth is that I’m someone that worked a lot from a very young age. I managed to paint so many things, investing my own money in order to keep going without ever asking my parents for money. Inevitably when you start saying that I evolved in a privileged environment, surrounded by celebrities, it looks like I didn’t work for it when I did it all by myself.
YOU TOLD ME YOU GREW UP WITH A LOT OF BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN A SMALL TOWN IN THE COUNTRYSIDE. HOW DID YOU DEVELOP YOUR OWN PERSONALITY ?
I figure having my own bedroom is already something. I had my own special place in the house.
KNOWING SOME OF YOUR SIBLINGS, QUITE A LOT OF YOU HAVE THIS ARTISTIC FIBER…
As a kid I was imitating everything my siblings were doing. They were 6, 8, 10 years older than me and I was very impressed with their drawings. My older sister Marie was very talented and funny. I remember being 4 years old and looking at a drawing on the wall and realizing that it was her who made it. It was magic. I think it is my first conscious childhood memory. I was so excited, I thought “I’m going to do one as good tomorrow”. I was reproducing everything my siblings would do for years. At some point they stopped drawing and I kept on going.
BUT SO HOW DID YOU DEVELOP YOUR OWN STYLE? YOU PROBABLY HAD THE SAME EDUCATION AS THEM, THE SAME REFERENCES…
I think that style is something you develop while exercising. There is a difference between copying a drawing and having fun reproducing it with your own interpretation. Between those two things lays creativity. It’s something that you have or not, inhibited inside of you. In my case it was very uninhibited. I think I created a style with time and work. You need to practice it everyday. Anyone that works everyday with passion, will end up creating something that represents him fully. You know, I never wanted to be anyone else. I understood very soon that to be the best in what you do, you must be yourself. No one can be better at being you than you. I never wanted to be the best, I’m not very ambitious, I’m passionate.
THIS IS VERY MATURE, IT LOOKS LIKE YOU UNDERSTOOD THE CONCEPT OF AUTHENTICITY AT A VERY YOUNG AGE…
Nowadays, everyone copies each other. People tend to diminish their own personality. In all the arts, there is a lack of originality. When I was drawing at school, boys and girls would look at me with sparks in their eyes. I had no other choice than believing in me. I was hiding myself to draw but people would come to have a look. It’s universal, people are curious. Basically I just had to see the smile on people’s faces to have the will to express my personality more and more.
WHAT IS THE CREATING PROCESS FOR A GKERO COLLECTION?
My first collections were a little chaotic. I would release anything that was going through my mind. Now I build up themes. I have my favorite subjects like characters, portraits, silhouettes, on which I worked a lot. I also did animals a lot. Now I can do anything. I like everything. I can choose the theme of Japan and do a full collection about it.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU HAVE ENOUGH PIECES FOR A COLLECTION?
I never know until the end. It is so stressful. Until the very last day I question myself. For example, for 2019 I picked an African theme and I worked on many pieces but I felt I missed some ‘sex’. I always have sex related pieces in each collection, beautiful ladies, kisses, couples making love, etc. I work a lot on erotism. I’m passionate about love as a subject and I want it to be present in each of my collections. I’m not doing it on purpose, but I noticed that even when I develop a theme, there is always a classic side with the usual drawings about love, surf, girls, colors, the sea, the sun. I can’t lose the audience that loves the brand for this identity.
WHO DOES THE SELECTION BETWEEN ALL THE WORK YOU PRODUCE?
Every time I’m starting a collection I try to think about what I really want to wear and what I want to see on people. I observe my surroundings and I analyze it. I usually notice that it could be sunnier. It makes me want to add more light, happiness and colors in people’s life. It’s like I had my own secret paradise where I would invite people in.
DON’T YOU FEEL THIS ON GOING SUMMERY THEME IN YOUR COLLECTION IS SOMETHING INFLUENCED BY THE PLACE YOU GREW UP AT?
Yes a lot. There is a lot of my childhood in my work. My travels as well inspire me. It’s a pleasure for me to travel, to open my universe. It is very fascinating to understand yourself, to find your own self. Sometimes it takes years. So I always go back to my little characters, they define me. I’m drawing them since I was a little child.
TELL ME ABOUT THIS OBSESSION YOU HAVE WITH NUDITY. WHAT DO YOU FIND SO INSPIRING ABOUT IT?
I think it’s my rising scorpio.
(LAUGHS) IT MAKES ME THINK OF WHEN I MET YOU, HERE IN RIO WHERE IT IS NOT « ALLOWED » TO GO TOPLESS ON THE BEACH. OF COURSE THE FIRST THING YOU DID WAS TAKING OFF YOUR BIKINI TOP AS YOU WOULD DO IN CAP FERRET. I HAVE THIS IMAGE OF YOU, VERY FREE, VERY COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR BODY, OPEN ABOUT NUDITY AND SEX. HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THIS STATE OF MIND?
I am the only one like this in my family. My mom is a very natural woman but would not undress publicly because she has bigger breasts. It’s easy for me because I don’t have big boobs. If they were bigger I suppose I would hide them more. For me it’s not about freedom, I just feel it’s more comfortable without a top. When I was a teenager, I wanted to fit in so I would keep my top on. Pretty soon I figured it would be more organic without. People would call me « Mowgli » or other wild nicknames but always in a kind way. In Brazil it was different, people looked at me in a bad way even tough I wasn’t trying to be provocative. I have a need for nudity and I like to show nudity when I draw, that’s for sure. I’m in love with the human body. As a child, I was already interested in bodies. My dad had the first black and white photography book about Africa, it was mesmerizing. All those bodies, men, children, women ; everybody was so beautiful and… naked. I thought we should all be like that, everything would look better without those horrible clothes.
UNLESS THEY WOULD WEAR GKERO…
One of my first thought about society was: « How is it possible that we are surrounded by so many ugly cars and clothes? ». At the age of fourteen, I realized that people in the street were horrible because everyone was wearing random clothes. In Africa, people from the desert look like paintings. They all wear the same type of clothes and it creates harmony. In Europe, people strongly want to have their own style and end up having none. Anyway, I’m rambling. My point is that I always liked bodies. At eight years old, I was already drawing naked bodies. I was curious and it made me feel as if I was peaking through clothes. I always liked hidden things. I would draw big bumps on boys pants, because I had noticed they had something going on in that area.
I READ THAT YOU THINK FASHION IS TOO SERIOUS, THAT YOU LIKE TO CRACK IT UP WITH HUMOR. YOU WANT TO MAKE PEOPLE LOOSEN UP, MAKE THEM SMILE, MAYBE BE SLIGHTLY PROVOCATIVE… ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA, YOU ALWAYS CREATE THOSE VERY FUNNY VIDEOS PORTRAYING YOURSELF IN A VERY DISINHIBITED WAY. YOU SAY YOU DON’T WANT TO BE PROVOCATIVE BUT YOU ARE!
I like to be provocative but when it comes to sexuality, I’m not like that. I’m not the kind of woman that likes to talk loudly about sex in front of everybody. I hate vulgarity but I have a very personal vision of it. I feel that stripping naked in the street to surprise people with something they haven’t experienced is not vulgar. Vulgarity is situated elsewhere, in the ordinary. Madonna was provocative but not vulgar. She was way too unique to be vulgar. I have a light personality, I like to laugh and I don’t care much about things with a touch of insolence. Being too serious is ridiculous, we know we are all going to die anyway. Being light doesn’t mean sometimes you don’t get very angry or sad or serious. I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to express and those videos are something I want to explore further on. They represent very well my current state of mind, how I see the society we live in or the world in general that would be much better if everyone was using Gkero. I’d rather express myself this way, than just do content about the clothes. I despise ordinary advertisement.
GKERO IS SHORT FOR GISELE KEROSENE, THE TITLE OF JAN KOUNEN’S ABSURD SHORT MOVIE. IT’S SORT OF YOUR ALTER EGO. LOGICALLY EVERYONE ASSOCIATES THE BRAND WITH YOURSELF AND YOUR PERSONALITY. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS NAME ?
It was a long time ago! I was known as « Gkero » way before the brand existed. When I took that name, I hadn’t watched the movie, I just knew the title of it. My brother would call me Gisèle Kerosène to make fun of me and I wanted a stage name to play in a band, so I just thought it sounded good. Now, with time, it’s just embarrassing to tell the story. It’s a gloomy movie, not very positive but it’s provocative and free so I guess it still works.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU SO MUCH IN MUSIC? YOU HAVE SANG IN A BAND. DOES IT GIVE YOU A DIFFERENT KIND OF VOICE THAN PAINTING?
Yes! I love music. I know I’m not a proper musician and I regret that. I love music more than anything else. I realized very late that I could do music as well. If you work very hard, you can have two projects at the same time. I managed to release an EP and then an album. I still have a lot of songs but I don’t have time to release them. But I really want to work more on them before I release some more. I might release them in a very confidential and special way. I could also collaborate with other artists like I did with Polo&Pan. I can also use my music in my fashion shows. Gkero could evolve into a label. I’m free, I can do what ever I want.
YOU LOVE MUSIC MORE THAN PAINTING?
Yes! Everybody loves music more than painting, no?
SO IF YOU ARE REALLY FREE, WHAT DON’T YOU CHOOSE MUSIC OVER THE BRAND?
This year I am really free. I could do a collection and when my work is over I could do music. I could change my apartment into a music studio but I prefer to travel. I want to make music in a very free way. I think that if what you really love in life becomes your job, it becomes boring at some point. I will always love music more because music is something I can’t really reach. I fantasize music without having the bad part of it, the struggle, the life on tour, etc. I had a small touring experience and it’s not for me. You’re so easily chained up to your project.
DO YOU FEEL THAT PHILIPPE, YOUR BROTHER, HELPS YOU NOT TO WORRY ABOUT YOUR CREATIVE FREEDOM?
He used to worry about my freedom. Now he knows how I work. He knows that if I say I need to travel for one month, I’ll comeback fulfilled and inspired. He knows my liberty is very important. He trusts me.
I SEE THAT YOU DO A LOT OF COLLABORATIONS WITH OTHER BRANDS, ARE YOU IMPLICATED IN THE PROCESS OF CHOOSING THESE PARTNERSHIPS?
Yes, for example, the last collaboration with Soeurs, I met the founder physically. A friend in common introduced us. We both gave a look at each other’s collections and appreciated each other’s work. I work with my brother, she works with her sister. We are from Cap-Ferret, they are from Ile de Ré, another famous beach town in France. They work with great fabrics and it made me want to collaborate with them. I was very bold with her, 10 minutes after being introduced to her, I suggested the collab and she accepted. Having the nerve to ask things is usually very rewarding.
DO YOU THINK DEFINING GKERO AS AN ART BRAND IS YOUR WAY TO FORESEE ART IN A LIGHTER APPROACH, TO DEMOCRATIZE IT? IS IT A WAY TO SHOW THAT ANYONE CAN BE AN ARTIST OR THAT ANYONE CAN BUY (WEAR) ART?
I don’t think that anyone can be an artist, quite the contrary. I think few people are artists. But I love the idea to put art on people, to wear art is really exciting. I think I found myself with this brand in that way, crossing this border between art and fashion. My provocative mind likes that. Art is not supposed to be wearable but I do it because I think it’s fun. If all my drawings were shown in an exhibition, I would not get excited. If I did regular paintings, exhibitions, and sold my art in a traditional way, I would be way richer than what I am today.
YOU THINK YOU WOULD REACH LESS PEOPLE WITH REGULAR ART?
You spend less money when you are a painter. We spend so much money producing the collections, the photoshoots, the marketing, etc. It’s very expensive to have a brand. An artist, once he’s launched, he only earns money.
YET, YOU TOOK THAT DECISION NOT TO BE A REGULAR ARTIST…
Yes, I’m not very excited by painting for walls. I want to see my drawings alive. This is my thing.
WHAT IS THE SONG THAT WILL ALWAYS MAKE YOU WANT TO DANCE?
A lot, I’m not the type that stays focus on one song. I love some rock songs deeply like Rock’n’Roll Nigger from Patti Smith. It’s an incredible track, she screams, her voice is amazing. It is the most impassioned rock song sang by a woman. Thanks to Patti Smith, I know women have as much balls as men.