no comment: the 5 most press-shy designers
Sometimes the fashion press game can feel like high school dating - the more elusive a designer, the more alluring they are. From Phoebe Philo to Supreme’s James Jebbia, these five designers are masters of mystery.
Photography Francois Guillot for Getty Images
Since the days of Yves Saint Laurent, fashion's most beloved designers have often become as famous as the celebrities they dress. Think: Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld. Creative directors must represent their brands at endless public appearances, in the press, and increasingly, on social media. Being in the spotlight while you're working around the clock to create, though, has taken its toll on some designers, as Dana Thomas documents in her recent book, Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. There is an alternative to the trunk shows and video interviews and published vacation photos: opting out of the press cycle altogether and concentrating on the work (arguably, this works better when the designer is insanely talented). We look at five designers who notoriously avoid the public eye, and the lengths to which they go to hide.
Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons has been one of the most admired designers in the industry for over 40 years, and yet she remains completely shrouded in elusiveness. A 2005 New Yorker piece documents the designer's relative silence firsthand: writer Judith Thurman met with Kawakubo and her husband, Adrian Joffe, who sees his wife just once a month, respecting her need for solitude. Thurman remarks that "small talk—indeed any talk—is not Kawakubo's forte." While friends like Azzedine Alaïa reveal how charming Kawakubo can be, she has never taken to socialising at big events, and has earned a reputation for being severe. "She simply has always preferred that her work does the talking," Joffe has told the South China Morning Press. Kawakubo has always maintained that the best way to get to know her is through her clothes, and fellow designers, editors, buyers and writers have respected her quiet as the serious nature of a genius.
James Jebbia of Supreme
Supreme might be one of the world's most recognisable streetwear brands, an instantly cool go-to for everyone from a teenaged skater to Kate Moss. The logo is ubiquitous, and yet founder James Jebbia prefers to avoid the press. Why? Because they usually get him and his brand wrong, he told 032C in 2012. "All the magazines, if they're being nice, just think we're some cool little skate shop doing kick flips downtown. They always write the same thing over and over." Jebbia has never felt the pressure to be a poster child, and simply passes on media opportunities that probably won't lead to further clarity on Supreme's identity. When snippets of his life seep into the press, like the glimpses of his unreal NYC loft published in Italian magazine Case Da Abitare, they are obsessively blogged and reblogged by streetwear obsessives. Jebbia's low profile only helps to bolster the feeling of exclusivity that is an integral part of Supreme.
Like Kawakubo, Phoebe Philo believes her collections do the talking for her. The Céline designer has never given in to the rat race of fashion, putting her family life first (she wouldn't move her family from London to Paris for the Céline gig, and her resignation from Chloé to spend time with her daughter is well documented) and maintaining a veil of privacy around her personal life. Philo's tendencies toward a quiet life are luxuriously translated in her minimalist designs. If we're to glean anything from the few interviews she has granted, we can see Philo is just a normal, modest person who is insanely talented at what she does, which happens to be in the visible field of fashion. According to The Cut, Philo told Alexandra Shulman in a discussion at the British Vogue Festival "I've just done what I was comfortable doing. I have an innate fear of fame. I've never thought being famous looked like such a good place to be."
What would a rundown of elusive designers be without the man who invented fashion anonymity? Although he is currently retired, Martin Margiela's near invisibility has become a hot topic of late thanks to the documentary short The Artist is Absent that debuted at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. A true avant-garde artist, Margiela rounds out the connection between purist, futuristic designers and anonymity. He communicates with the media only through fax and refusing to ever be photographed or to make any appearances. So hidden has his identity been that by 2008, people began to wonder if he was still even at his own label anymore (it had been acquired by the OTB Group in 2002 prompting insiders to believe he'd leave at any moment), and in 2009, it was announced that he had indeed stepped down. The brand carried on the anonymous tradition until Suzy Menkes "unmasked" designer Matthieu Blazy at the spring/summer 15 Couture show - Blazy has since headed to Céline and the very un-anonymous John Galliano has taken over.
The youngest designer on this list at twenty-nine, Baumeister shows that even millennial designers can be press-averse. Following in Kawakubo's footsteps, Baumeister has earned herself a spot in fashion's tight circle of avant garde visionaries. The German-born, New York-based designer graduated from Parsons and quickly moved on to be featured at Dover Street Market, and to find her designs on the backs of superstars like Rihanna. Taking a sculptural approach to clothing with moulded silicone and other unexpected tactile elements, Baumeister's looks are clinical and high-impact. Her minimalism is matched by her tendency to keep quiet when it comes to the press. She often refuses interviews, barely has an Instagram presence, and is already feeling the effects of a misunderstanding press. Baumeister chooses to isolate herself in creation rather than give in to the pressure to be visible and accessible to the fashion media at all times.
Text Courtney Iseman