Tilman Grawe: at the forefront… in a timeless fashion

Offbeat Portrait of a Creative Designer and Travelling Creator

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Tilmann Grawe or the quiet insolence of Beauty. Between Light and Shadows: a Portrait.

 "The most Parisian of European Designers” as he puts it himself, Tilmann Grawe has chosen Luxury Prêt-à-porter Fashion as his way of expressing and defining his very personal vision of Fashion and Woman. Known and recognised for his exceptional ability in using and transcending unusual materials, he has been pursuing a remarkable, noticed and unconventional career for the past several years. His unique style mixes classicism and avant-garde with outstanding skills as well as sharp inner aesthetic sense.

Designer, adventurer, artist and craftsman, master goldsmith and watchmaker carefully assembling the subtle and intricate mechanism of crafts and skills, futuristic alchemist mixing materials and know-how… Tilmann Grawe is an unclassifiable designer-cum-creator already recognised and celebrated among his peers. A sure sign of talent, the distinguishing mark of all foremost creators. HIS brand. His style. His identity. His hallmark. At the heart of his work as a designer as well as in all his artistic and creative collaborations with the aristocracy of luxury fashion craftsmen and women: the embroiderers, furriers, lacemakers, glovers still working by traditional standards, exceptional tanners able to turn skins into soft and living silks. Intimately interlaced with the essence of his multi-faceted and multi-talented personality. I believe he would have loved living in the Renaissance era: in the guise of an extravagant aristocrat and condottiere. A warlord as well as a patron for painters and sculptors. An adventurer and a merchant-prince on the Silk and Spices Roads. A flamboyant nobleman masterfully juggling with the cold and shiny damascened steel of some rare yet deadly dagger as well as with rare subdued-hued poisons softly glimmering in glass jars. A collector of gorgeously opulent gems and spiderweb-thin precious lace, expertly mixing luxury leathers and precious furs, the rarest of silks and gold or silver rebrodé brocades, with glittering beads of perfect Bohemian crystal.

Born in Germany, where he began his post-grade studies, Tilmann moved at an early age to Paris to complete his studies in design and fashion at the famous Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, before honing his skills with Louis Féraud Haute Couture. He began presenting his first fashion and accessory collections in 1989 before joining Paco Rabanne Haute Couture in 1992. He was Paco Rabanne’s assistant for 7 years before launching his own brand in 1999, after the last Paco Rabanne Haute Couture collection.

His first Luxury Prêt-à-porter Fashion show was run in the very exclusive salons of the Hotel Bristol in Paris in March 2000. An exceptional and immediately appreciated mix of Haute Couture and Prêt-à-Porter branded with his very personal style and touch. Recognizable, personal and yet timeless. This was to mark the beginning of an international success, still flourishing and growing, openly sponsored by some of his most famous and photographed star-clients: Paz Vega, Aishwarya Rai or Lady Gaga.

Meeting with a committed designer who is also a passionate and motivating human being.



Q : Women as well as Femininity are at the heart of your creative approach: does that mean that men are so uninteresting that you do not feel inspired enough to create for them?

T.G :   Not at all ! Men aren’t uninteresting, on the contrary! They are just… well, different. But, as a matter of fact, at least in today’s world, sophistication incarnated by women is what motivates me into creating and innovating.

Q : How would you explain it ?

T.G :   For me, it began in a rather “classical” manner. I simply had the opportunity to compare the work of the best men’s tailor in Frankfort-on-the-Main, where I grew up, with the work of a famous fashion designer exclusively creating for women. It was obviously clear that creating for women meant the possibility to go so much further into sophistication! And still remain within the bounds of all the codes of conduct imposed by Society. Which would be impossible for men’s clothes and accessories.

Q :  Who are the women inspiring you? Do you have a model in mind when you create? An archetypal woman or an inspirational muse?

T.G:   It is a wonderful mishmash of different influences. Celebrities as well as famous fashion icons like Josephine Baker, Marlene Dietrich or Marylin Monroe… I am absolutely fascinated by the blend of sophistication, sense of style and real, deeply committed humanism. One of these exceptional women was Eunice Johnson. I have an absolute admiration for her. She was managing a real and immensely powerful fashion and beauty empire, with the famous Ebony magazine as flagship and resounding voice. She not only truly loved fashion, she sported it with style and talent. More than that, she used it over 50 years to help her community access to empowerment, exemplifying it to liberalize customs and rights and get the Black American community access to Haute Couture. Above all, she made the epitome of Black Beauty visible, everywhere, through her media empire and thanks to her influence. She was a voice, a style, a personality with real power and influence. And she used it to help others while achieving essential social and civil progresses.

       Today, I admire women like Lady Gaga. For her audacity and daring choices. Her unique style. Mylène Farmer. For her authenticity. Her fragility as well. Halle Berry, Charlize Theron do also possess a style of beauty I feel extremely attracted to. And inspired by. Actually, various women inspire me. Various different styles of beauty. Famous or not. When I showcase my own creations, I have a tendency to stick to a kind of archetypal standard: a rather streamlined, slender type of silhouette, gracious but very dynamic. Full of energy. Maybe because I subconsciously identify myself with that kind of standard… But basically, for me, Beauty is multicoloured. When I first arrived in Paris, in my earlier days in the world of fashion, what impressed me most were the catwalk shows by Yves Saint Laurent. A truly revolutionary staging of Beauty in all its guises and aspects. All its colours and hues. Focusing on connecting people from all cultures.

       When creating, I am essentially inspired by that vision of Universal Beauty. Because it is mine as well. I can get inspired by my own personal standards or by the wish to see a specific model worn and enhanced by a specific person. But in fact… it is extremely difficult for me to put words to what I feel when creating. To explain my creations and creative work in words. It is too personal. Too close and private.

When I visualize a person, a model… I visualize scenarios in the same time. It’s more than story telling or simply highlighting a particular creation, it’s, literally, staging what I create. I am not exclusively inspired by women, tough… sometimes, although it’s rarer, a man will have the profile, the personality to wear and even sublimate one of my creations. And not look ridiculous or out of place. But, agreed, this is rather a rarity and it seldom happens.

Q :   Three adjectives summarizing your creative approach and style?

T.G :    Imaginative – Constructive - Authentic

Q :   How do you see the evolution of fashion  and creation in an era of Web-globalization?

T.G: The new Image and Information technologies are marvellous tools. They make a tremendous larger-scale development possible. Fashion has adopted and integrated their codes and their potential, adjusting itself to their evolution and taking full advantage of it. Nowadays for example, let’s consider a magazine in Australia. Which wants to publish an article on my work. Well, no need to send slides anymore! The pictures of my creations will be on the editor-in-chief’s screen in two seconds and one click.  New technologies open incredibly wide horizons to creators and designers, as they make accessible things and services that were very difficult to get by before… when not downright inaccessible.

Q :   Do you think there is still place available for luxury craftsmanship nowadays? Savoir-faire such as the skills mastered by the exceptional craftsmen and women you work with? Or are they doomed in a world of standardized globalization?

T.G :   I believe that there will always be space and need for beautiful craftsmanship. I am firmly convinced of that. Even if it is undeniably more difficult to carve such a space for oneself nowadays and make a living with such requiring skills and know-how in a world of mass consumption, blurring of references, and low quality for even lower prices manufactured in low-wages countries… and also when confronted by that enhanced and consuming need created by the Web: generating buzz! Instantly. Without ever waiting to stand the test of time.

Q :   Who are your clients? For whom do you create?

T.G :   My clients are essentially women who like my creative approach and style. They contact me to create a very special outfit for them. Usually for special occasions. But not necessarily and not always for spectacular or dramatic creations. My creative palette is rather large and versatile: I have no bar moving from “very classical” cuts and skills to pure experimental materials, for example… It depends on the occasion, the inspiration. And of course, there is the wide range of accessories, which I absolutely love imagining and creating: a necklace. Gloves. Eyewear. Alternatives, opportunities and possibilities are almost limitless. And my creativity takes its energy from various sources and fancies.

Q :   What are your materials of choice, as a designer ?

T.G:    There are so many… If I think about textiles, I absolutely love “classic” and ageless silks such as Georgette or Moroccan crêpe, silk muslin, satin leather silk…. But also that exquisite and rarest example of French savoir-faire: Calais lace. This is my “Haute Couture” side!

       As for my plastic artist’s side, it resolutely sticks to its first crush: metal. But I also appreciate translucent materials like plexiglass and glass. Above all, I absolutely love crystal.

       I believe that is the challenge: to bring out the beauty of each material. To enhance it. Provide it with an ideal showcase, so to speak. For almost all materials harbour real nobility as well as genuine beauty. It requires talent to see it. And highlight it. Enhanced it. Be it buffalo horn, python or lizard skin… or Plexiglas shoe heels!

Q :   Any materials you do not like ?

T.G :   I do not like some synthetic blends…. Especially when synthetic replacements try to look  like the natural materials they want to replicate. If it’s synthetic, then let’s assume it! Openly. And not have some plastic looking like “real” wood or fake fur looking like the real thing.

Q :   The times in which you would have liked to live?

T.G:  I feel perfectly well in our present day and age…

Q :    Such other times in which you would rather NOT live or go back to ?

T.G :  Any other age except this one . . .

Q :     A city that inspires you ?

T.G :   I fell in love with Paris from the very first day. A love that lasts…. Despite everything. With a tender irony and a deep and unlimited affection, even for its flaws! Paris inspires me. Because of that unique blend which lies at its very heart and soul. Its cultural and historical heritage. What I love in that city, what attracts me to it… it’s difficult to phrase it, really. It’s so dense. So energetic. But I also love New York. This city has always fascinated me… It strives on such a dynamism, such an incredible vitality, such a wealth of strength and creativity. The incredibly modern, graphic beauty of its building is absolutely stunning.

Q :   The city or cities you would rather avoid ?

T.G :  I like cities that managed to keep a real structure. No matter how big they are. New York or Paris, for example. I think I would have difficulty to live in a sprawling metropolis like Sao Paulo or Mexico…

Q :   The place or places where you really feel at home?

T.G :    It is very much linked to feelings or personal and private memories. To varying extents. Some places to which I feel particularly attached belong to my childhood. Or my family’s past. Some other places I have, literally, adopted. Or maybe they adopted me. They “spoke” to my inner self, met an echo in me or maybe created shared vibrations between us… Frankfort, Berlin, Hamburg, the North Sea, the Baltic Sea… and Paris. New York. Saas Fee…

Q :   The cultures or styles on which you like to draw for inspiration?

T.G :    Futuristic Constructivism! This is how a journalist once depicted my work. I like it… I believe it fits me. And the way I work on textiles as well as my more visual artistic approach of materials and experimental processes.

      It’s a wealth of creative vibrations, always in alert, underlined by the principles as much as the extremely structured universe of the Bauhaus. I keep an open mind, I feed on all the moments, the places, all the influences that “speak” to me: it can be African art as well as simply looking at nature, observing plants or animals around me…

Q:    Your (real or fancied) idol?

T.G :    I like strong characters, women with a real personality. I have already portrayed or revisited the image of some of my favourite inspirational characters through my work: Marianne. The Queen of Sheba. Aelita, Queen of Mars: the heroine of the first science fiction movie ever produced. In 1924, in Soviet Union… This particular creation was beautifully sported by lady Gaga in a recent shooting session in Paris.

Q :   Your mentor(s) or inspirational guides?

T.G :    I have always been inspired by very different creators and designers. My main influences and sources of inspiration have of course been the very big names of Fashion, in the first place: they quintessentially belong to my world and work. Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler or Madame Grey. All three of them for very different reasons but because they shared the same imperative: Perfection. Later on, I had the chance to work with and for Paco Rabanne. He really became my mentor and remains, even today, one of my role models. I was his assistant for 7 years, working at his side, during his last years of activity in the realm of Haute Couture. It was an intense and unforgettable experience, an incredibly rewarding period of my life, filed with an immense wealth of learning and progressing. A wonderful opportunity for expressing my own personal creativity. I owe him greatly. 

Then, of course, I find my inspiration by continuously meeting and exchanging with artists and expert craftsmen and women. They help me forge and develop my own creative approach.

Q :  Your future trips, if already planned?

T.G :   3 destinations are already written in my agenda : Azerbaijan, Dubai and Morocco…

Q :   Are you committed to any humanitarian cause? And if so, which one(s)?

T.G :    I always wanted to get involved, really involved, through concrete actions and humanitarian causes I could help with my creative work. To help raising funds and thus act in an efficient and concrete manner: some of my specially organised shows have contributed to help funding UNICEF immunization campaigns for children in Darfur. Others helped a program aimed at helping community reintegration for former child soldiers and sponsored by the wife of the German President. Causes and needs are many.

Q :   Luxury and Ethics : are they compatible? Long overdue? A wishful thinking? An evidence?

T.G :    OF COURSE they are compatible! And OF COURSE it is advisable AND an evidence! Surely enough, at the individual level, they relate to the principles and values each one if us grew up with. And was shaped by. But for me, it is an essential and inescapable fact: Luxury and Ethics form an integrated and evident whole.

       Let me mention another one of my role models and personal inspirational guides: somebody who embodied that simple but essential fact to perfection. Oscar de la Renta. A wonderful, a marvellous designer. And an exceptional human being. I had the rare privilege to meet him twice: the first one was in Washington when Paco Rabanne was awarded for his work. The second occasion was in Paris, where he presented one of his collections. Oscar de la Renta superbly symbolized Haute Couture and the pinnacle of New York’s high luxury style. In all its flamboyant and exclusive splendour… And yet, at the same time, Monsieur de la Renta wholly and single-handedly subsidized a local orphanage. To ensure the future of underprivileged children by providing them with quality education. This duality, or, rather, this complementarity deeply inspires and motivates me. I have the greatest admiration for him.

Q :  What would be your colours, if you had to choose a heraldic shield in your incarnation as baroque and timeless Designer-Traveller?

T.G :    All my creative work already reflects and sports them: grey-blue, gold and platinum.

Q :  What would be your motto?

T.G :  « Every Day is a New Day”. And, for the German-speaking readers, a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: «Willst Du Dich am Ganzen erquicken, so musst Du das Ganze im Kleinsten erblicken»*

       [«He who would refresh himself in full, must in the smallest things perceive the whole », Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,                                  « The Wandering Jew » (1774)]

Q :  A word to summarize the colour and tonality of your future projects?

T.G :   Knowledge : Know-how. Know-how-to-be. Know-how-to-become. Summed up in a single word: Eclecticism.

Q :  Your dearest and most personal wish?

T.G :    Certainly « Peace & Love » ! And in an even closer and more personal perspective ? It will remain my private « secret garden » … at least for the time being.

to find out more: http://www.tilmanngrawe.com