Designer profile: Our Q&A with the duo behind Peter Pilotto’s dizzying digi prints

Runway photography by Peter Stigter.
Runway photography by Peter Stigter.

While it’s impossible to pick a favourite amongst the fresh crop of talents virtually transforming the fashion scene in London right now, Peter Pilotto is surely one the brightest. The brainchild of Pilotto and co-designer Chris de Vos who met while studying design at the Antwerp Academy, the line has become known for its hyper-coloured digi-print dresses that feel very much like sculptural works of art. The duo broke new ground for spring, experimenting with trompe l’oeil printing on light and airy fabrics. Amidst a seasonal transformation (and over a lobster lunch last month at Holt Renfrew in Toronto), we sat down with the pair to talk all things pattern, collaboration and meeting the Queen.

How did you get started?
Peter: We both started to study at the Academy in Antwerp in 2000, and that’s when we first met. We were really fascinated by each other’s work and really pushed each other, always, since then. I started the brand because people wanted my graduation collection. I did [it alone] for two or three seasons. Then Christopher graduated and moved to London and soon after I followed and we decided we should work together and do a new collection. As I already had a couple of customers, we decided to keep the brand as my name, and still kind of make Peter the two of us. The name is just a brand, not a person.

Your aesthetic seemed to change a bit for Spring 2011, would you say that?
Christopher: People saw Spring as kind of very different which was funny to us, because it’s still very us. Even things that didn’t look printed were actually printed. I think it’s been very gratifying to see our collections evolve and to add new categories such as knitwear and different elements.

What was the inspiration?
Peter: A lot of things from the ‘70s. We really loved the big Yves Saint Laurent retrospective in Paris and all of the crazy colour mixes. At the same time we found these amazing images of ‘70s rock climbers in California, and that idea where they’re all wearing these nice little scarves, and they’re kind of flying in the wind, so we had this idea of this elegant scarf flying in the wind. We always look at nature, but in different ways and this season we had the idea of wind, and air and lightness.

And for Fall it was the Russian Constructivists?
Peter: We loved how [Kazimir] Malevich constructs the silhouettes with gradients of colours, and this way of really interesting draping that has this line that has this gradient. Classical references like checks and tweed effects were printed on very light fabrics so that they are actually not as heavy as the real fabric would be. We played with that kind of twisted meaning.

We heard you met Queen Elizabeth II, tell us about that.
Christopher: We got this invite to celebrate the British clothing industry. So we get this invitation and we’re like, “Buckingham Palace?” We didn’t really believe what was going on and we didn’t really know what to expect. It was amazing because we were in this room in Buckingham Palace with the most incredible paintings. Like four rows of paintings on top of each other.

Peter: And then all of a sudden everybody starts queuing and then it was actually that you had to queue to greet the queen!

Did you bow?
Christopher: Yeah you bow and you shake her hand, and somebody announces your name and who you were. After that people started to mingle and she came around to talk to you. She had an announcer. It was amazing.

Peter: It was really fun because the crowd was all kinds of people from the industry and that kind of event didn’t happen a lot before, so everybody was so excited. It was just really, like [gasps] to see the Queen. It was so nice because everybody was on the same level and so excited about it. It was really fun, it was really nice.

What do you want to do in the future that you haven’t done?
Peter: With the collection, we want to add more categories, because the traditional making of clothes is very important to us. We’re just talking to people who are very good, and we might collaborate with them in the future. Its classical craftsmanship that is the reason that a piece is good or not, so we always do the collection accordingly. If we find an amazing knitwear manufacturer, we will do knitwear.

As long as you can do it well…
Christopher: We’ve done a couple of collaborations, we did one last summer and this winter as well with Kipling bags, and that was really interesting, and we’re in talks with people, but nothing concrete at the moment that we can really talk about. But it’s interesting; the fun thing about doing things that you’re not really doing is expanding yourself, and learning how to work with other people, and how different it is when you’re not controlling all of it, and learning about massive production techniques. Every experience is a great experience.

Peter Pilotto is available at Holt Renfrew.

View looks from Peter Pilotto’s Spring and Fall collections »

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