The Genteel
November 24, 2017
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Collage and Mood Boards made at John Galliano for Christian Dior. Source: emiliegrubert.com.

Danish costume designer Emilie Grubert is a graduate of London's prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. But the Denmark native has only recently returned to her homeland, after a brief sojourn in Singapore, to embark on a career in costume design.

Grubert began to make a name for herself collaborating with artists and theatre companies in Copenhagen's burgeoning arts scene. Lately, she has also begun expressing herself through a number of short films in which she explores the human condition using her striking and unusual collections. Her work is underpinned by an eclectic combination of conceptual theories that she has derived from insightful observation and experience, and Grubert aims to make a statement on many different levels. The Genteel caught up with her to find out what makes her tick.

Emilie Grubert Manipulation
A costume from Emilie Grubert's Manipulation.
Source: emiliegrubert.com.

Andrew Adebowale: Your recent projects have seen you move into costume design for theatre and film and away from commercial fashion. Was this always a part of your plan or did it develop organically?

Emilie Grubert: To be honest, I never really saw myself as a fashion designer. I've always just been making clothes; the fashion bit is something that came with that interest. When I was younger, everyone around me - including myself - made the connection that the design of clothing equals fashion, but I [now] realise that life sometimes has its own plans.

AA: Your short films explore complex themes about the human condition. What is the inspiration behind them and what are the thought and technical processes you go through, when developing your ideas?

EG: My mission is "insight" and my language is clothing. The prominent ideas that inspire me revolve around people and their interpersonal relationships, underpinned by biology, history, politics and society. I imagine the world community as a large, complex board game - where different characters play their games in and out, amongst each other. The characters in my films move from position to position, as if they were in a game of chess. This repetitive movement, and a consistent covering of the eyes, remove the characters' personalities and emphasises their anonymity, while highlighting their actions and costumes.

Recently, my practice has zoomed out and evolved to incorporate the world that man has created for himself. It may sound strange, but for the past several years, talk radio has been my main source of inspiration. To me, the stories I listen to are like complicated fairytales - sourced from reality - that come together to create a parallel universe of pictorial images in my mind. Media, such as mainstream television, assist in conforming opinions into a "sound bite" that takes away from the authenticity of the story and this language of "reality." It is this "transformation" which prompted me into making the short film, Manipulation.

AA: You lived and studied in London for several years. How did this experience shape your ideas? What other places have had a powerful influence on how you view the world?

EG: Living in London had a massive influence on me, but it was only when I moved back to Denmark that I began to realise the true impact it had on me.  It's not enough that you know the world is big, you have to feel it.

Dressing is such a personal thing. I have always found it odd that people allow themselves to be dictated into what to wear by the fashion industry.

I also lived in Singapore for five months last year and that had a huge impact on my way of looking at things. Singapore has been modernised into what it is today in 40 years - a relatively short space of time. And everyone there knows that they are lucky to be where they are, but that doesn't necessarily extend to their artistic experience. The art and design scene in Singapore proved to be extremely boring and way too literal for my taste. Imagine a large painting of Chairman Mao with a vicious grin and [a] red laser coming out of his eyes, entitled, "Communism is Evil." That is the level of art in Singapore.

AA: You have collaborated with a number of artists in Denmark. How would you describe the art scene in Copenhagen?

EG: The scene in Copenhagen is good considering the size of the country. There are a lot of very talented people from all creative fields, but Copenhagen has no edge. It is said to be one of the best cities in the world to live in but the people are too comfortable to really break through the roof.

I once had a conversation about this with a guy who had escaped, with his family, from war-torn Afghanistan. He got very angry and said I was ignorant and spoiled to even think that being too comfortable is a bad thing for a society. And, from where he sits, he is totally right: culture is a luxury and will always come after survival. But, it is also a very important part of surviving.

My favorite quote was apparently said during the Second World War, when Winston Churchill's Finance Minister contended that Britain should cut arts funding to support the war effort. Churchill's response was: "Then what are we fighting for?"

AA: You were an intern with John Galliano in 2007. Can you describe that experience and the most important thing you came away with, in regards to your craft?

EG: My internship with Galliano was a mixed experience. It was great because it was great to go to a large French fashion house every morning to work and see all that was going on there. The problem was that a bit too much was going on, in the sense that Galliano's right hand man, Steven Robinson, died while I was there and that obviously darkened my stay.

All said and done, it was a still a brilliant experience. I assisted a designer called Jung A Park. Park was working with 3D shapes for Christian Dior when I was there and allowed me to do the illustrative presentation collages to present ideas to the designers - which was an amazing task.

AA: How do you view the modern fashion world and business?

EG: It is a difficult question to answer because the industry contains so many layers. I am very fascinated by the endless sources of creativity good fashion contains and the energy and drive that lays behind Next! Next! Next!

Collage and Mood Boards made at
John Galliano for Christian Dior.
Source: emiliegrubert.com.

But, for me, dressing is such a personal thing. I have always found it odd that people allow themselves to be dictated into what to wear by the fashion industry, instead of making up their own mind; the constant feeding of a fake feeling of wealth, that doesn't comply with reality and just emphasises superficiality. It's simply not possible to sell clothes at high street prices unless you use someone else's design, use the cheapest way of producing the material, the cheapest dyes and the cheapest labour.

AA: Finally, what is your next project?

EG: I am currently working on a few different projects, the first of which is a music video project. I'm aiming to create a form of urban city camouflage and create a story about people blending into the walls of the city, while carrying around their own private fears and longings.

Another project is a collaboration with British artist Cally Spooner. She [Spooner] is making a film in which I am creating costumes for characters that have to carry the feeling that they are stuck in a clichéd theatre void. Alongside that, I am working on the third of my short film trilogy, which is an examination of tabloids and the hunger for sensation, endless gossip and disaster.

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