INTERVIEW: ALEXANDRE PLOKHOV
Alexandre Plokhov, former creative director and founder of the now-defunct menswear label Cloak, launched his eponymous label two years ago. Riot of Perfume spoke with Plokhov about the art of tailoring, the state of the fashion industry in New York, and the wealth of musical influences that pervade his work (his Fall 2012 collection was inspired by the English rock band Sisters of Mercy).
Photos by Gregory Aune
Eugenie Dalland: So what other bands were part of the Fall collection?
Alexandre Plohkov: Well the soundtrack for the show was all Soft Kill, a fantastic band, and Soft Moon. I’ve been feeling very soft lately so everything that starts with soft is fine [laughs]. Zola Jesus is fantastic too, and metal bands, like Wolves in the Thrown Room, the American black metal thing. For the longest time I wanted to make a Danzig collection but Dior did that a long time ago with the devilock hair.
Dalland: What other artistic materials inspire you?
Plohkov: Mostly painting, lately. When I was in Milan there was a huge Francis Bacon retrospective which was amazing, with a reproduction of his actual studio. I think I went three times. That was pretty much the best exhibition I’d ever seen. The fact that he could paint motion, with heads split in three, is unbelievable.
Dalland: He’s an incredible painter. I think there was a similar show at the Metropolitan Museum in 2009.
Plohkov: I think it was the same show. He never had any formal training, which is the most amazing part.
Dalland: Should we expect to see any Francis Bacon references in the next collection?
Plohkov: I don’t know. I think the next one has to be something white [laughs]. To balance it out.
Dalland: For your last collection you did both menswear and women’s wear—what was it like to design for women?
Plohkov: It was great. We’re still doing a tiny women’s collection for Barneys out of men’s fabrics. The problem with designing women’s was not so much design but finding the right factory. For menswear, we have a proper factory in Italy for overcoats, a factory for sweaters, a factory for shirts—really, really specialized people who know what they’re doing. You don’t have to explain things.
Dalland: When you design, do you have a specific person in mind?
Plohkov: It sounds completely presumptuous but I don’t really design for any particular person. I design for myself, not for myself to wear, but to keep me aesthetically entertained. If it makes sense to me, if I haven’t done it, or if it’s a continuation of something I’ve done before, it’s kind of like that. But it can be painfully cyclical—that part is a little grating.
Dalland: Where does your experience in tailoring come from?
Plohkov: My mother was a fashion designer, she’s retired now, but she was a fashion designer in Russia. She worked at a parachute silk factory. Whatever was left over from military orders they had to make for the people, you know, because it was the Soviet Union and we had to use everything. My sister is a fabric designer—fabric, yarn, tapestries, and things like that, she can even weave a carpet. So tailoring started there, but then when I came to the states I did an apprenticeship with a tailor in Chicago and he taught me how to cut a suit. Trousers are not so hard, but blazers are really difficult, three-dimensional things, and there are certain things that you have to know how to do before you do it, and in school they definitely don’t teach you that.
Dalland: Did Versace alter the way you viewed menswear?
Plohkov: Well, I actually learned that I could do more than I thought I could. Whether it has any lasting value or not, being a contract designer, I don’t know. But I definitely learned a lot about fabric, and that was probably something that I miss the most. You had access to anything. If you wanted Camdeboo mohair from South Africa you could have it. If you wanted bleached crocodile and it cost a fortune, you could have it. It’s not that I want to use those materials, but the palette was like that.
Dalland: In past interviews and reviews you’ve talked about your aesthetic in terms of the idea of “heroism,” and rejected the description of “goth” to characterize your vision and designs.
Plohkov: I don’t want to offend professional journalists, but I don’t think they have a clue what “goth” is, honestly. I think they still think of South Florida teenagers with coffin boxes and weird shoes. To me, it’s more like [bands] Bauhaus and Bat Cave Club, Fields of Nephilim, Gene Loves Jezebel…I could keep going. But I don’t think they understand the terminology, or haven’t actually seen how these bands look, nor heard the music. What I’m attracted to is the “heroic” element, trying to be bigger than the circumstances. “Goth” isn’t an offensive term, I just don’t think people understand what they’re saying when they use it.
Dalland: So it brings up different associations for them than it does to you.
Plohkov: Yes. It’s definitely not about coffin lunchboxes or Hot Topic. I like people who actually read things, or listen to music or go to museums, and not so much people who follow Style.com everyday. It’s an incredibly useful tool, but in the age of the internet people think they know everything instantly and I think it takes a little bit more research and experience, just delving a bit deeper into a thing.
Dalland: So is that the modus operandi for your label?
Plohkov: If there were an MO, that would be it: Not everything is on the surface.
Dalland: There seems to be a general consensus that menswear, more so than women’s wear, is at the forefront of fashion design, and I wondered if you agreed with this.
Plohkov: Selfishly, yes, I do agree with it. Since menswear is not so prone to psychotic changes from season to season, the leaders of menswear have time to develop and hone their ideas. You don’t go from mini to maxi in one season, you just keep developing your vision. There are limitations in menswear—I mean, yes we do have a skirt, and Rick Owens pretty much made a dress, but that’s kind of as far as we can go. The changes in menswear are in millimeters. The length of the lapel, the width of the trouser—it’s not so drastic. It’s a limitation but it’s also the quality I like. It’s like tinkering.
Dalland: With that in mind, do you have any thoughts where menswear is headed?
Plohkov: I don’t even know where I’m heading. The only thing I know is that I want to look at linen.
Dalland: So fabric is often a source of inspiration?
Plohkov: Every collection is different. I did this “foreign legion” collection for Versace and it really all started with this one fabric that we found, a silk with a hazy, mirage-like print on it, and from there it was very clear what we needed to do. This collection that I just showed actually started as women’s wear sketches…and it ended up as menswear! It all starts as one thing and ends up as another, I think it’s more the process. I don’t have preconceived ideas of where it needs to end up.
Dalland: That’s realistic. Do you prefer to show in Paris or New York?
Plohkov: No matter where the garments are made, I still consider myself a New York designer. I did spend three years in Milan, and one day I would love to show in Paris. But I think the competition is so much more interesting, and the work is so much more inspiring than what people are doing in Paris. I think it’s partly the limitation of production for New York designers—not so much the limitation of imagination, it’s that the factories are just not there. After September 11, I think they just disappeared. The garment district used to be from 34th Street to 40th, and now it’s maybe from 38th Street to 39th, and the rest are residential lofts or whatever the hell they are. It’s kind of scary, actually. Small designers cannot manufacture in China. You need tremendous volume to make these kinds of orders. I just hope that there is enough industry left here, enough people who know how to stitch left, et cetera, and it’s really…
Plohkov: Yes, dwindling. Artisans are really hard to find. It’s very difficult to set a sleeve in a men’s jacket, not many people know how to do it. I still sometimes do the patternmaking for my designs, but I think that in order to realize the ideas I have, Italy is where those [artisans] are. For my first season, for example, we made this coat that had one shoulder, only one sleeve, and the rest was scissored away. The tailor we worked with was so concerned that we wouldn’t sell anything, he made another one with two sleeves, without me asking him to, and that was actually the best-seller of the collection. He was concerned [laughs], and I thought, God bless you!