the hopes and dreams of pigalle's stéphane ashpool
We speak to the winner of the 2015 edition of the ANDAM Prize and premiere a new film about his basketball team touring the Philippines.
Photography Maxime Ballestros
Who would have thought that an underground brand named after Paris' red-light district could win the prestigious ANDAM fashion prize and its 250,000 euro prize? Ambitious and self-assured, Stéphane Ashpool always knew that his childhood dreams would eventually come true. For the past seven years, the self-taught menswear designer has been translating the energy of the streets of Pigalle into fashion, sports and social projects - and he's not about to stop. In fact, Ashpool set the bar high, and decided, shortly after the opening of his 3rd Pigalle boutique in Tokyo, that he would open a school in his neighborhood and run for mayor. Meet the King of Pigalle.
You recently won the ANDAM award, seven years after founding Pigalle ...
Seven years go by fast. We started with our little shop on Rue Henry Monnier, close to Pigalle. We were only selling shirts and hats in the beginning. Then, we started to work on our first collections and staged fashion shows around Pigalle. From one collection to the next I've learned how to work with fabrics and learned how to create a certain look. I wanted to design something in between sportswear and Parisian chic. It all evolved very naturally. As of today, 70% of our Pigalle collections are produced in France, but we also work with artisans in Italy, Portugal, elsewhere, so I traveled a lot in recent years to put it all together. We've built up a good team by now, and I learned how to produce a collection from A to Z.
You're a self-taught designer, with no previous experience in fashion. Was it a challenge to express your visions and translate them into wearable designs?
I tried to put my ideas down on paper, but most of the time I would discuss everything twith my team. We would constantly speak about our intentions, our references, I would show them pictures and then we would start to distort them, to somehow materialise them into fashion. This is how we worked up until spring/summer 16 collection, now, we're more structured, we actually have a studio that takes care of pattern making, technical drawings and moodboards - a real team with a design director. Regarding the evolution of Pigalle, the new unisex twist of my garments expresses the way I want to move forward with the brand. I want to realise all my ideas, and I finally have the tools and the resources to achieve this.
Pigalle's fashion shows and presentations have always been a 'home game' - except the presentation at the Opera Garnier - what is it that fascinates you about this neighbourhood?
I'm just a guy who loves his neighbourhood. I was born in Pigalle, I've always lived here and I have lots of people around me who feel the same about it, like my crew and friends from Pain O Chokolat. Together, we've developed a creative spirit related to this neighborhood. This creative spirit has transcended into a boutique and into a brand. Pigalle is just a really different and creative place. This neighborhood went through a makeover during the last five years and, unconsciously, I was the leader of this makeover. And it was dearly needed because Pigalle had become a little sleazy. Now, I'm truly thrilled when I walk around. There are plenty of people from various backgrounds with different looks and styles. Come and hang out with us on Rue Duperré, and you will see what I mean. This diversity represents me quite well, this is what Pigalle and the brand is about.
How did you start working with Nike?
It all started in 2007 when we had a unique opportunity. The city of Paris wanted to build a parking lot on a free space on Rue Duperré, and with the help of our neighbours we fought for this place to be turned into a basketball court - we eventually won, and Nike has helped us to develop the project ever since. And now we have one of the most sophisticated urban basketball courts in this world! The floor makes no noise during the game, it doesn't hurt when you fall, we've got an aluminum basketball hoop, Plexiglas, and so on. Even NBA players go nuts when they play with us here. I hope that this is just the beginning, that we will actually be able to do similar projects elsewhere; and I also hope that this basketball court will come in handy during the 2024 Olympics.
So Pigalle is more than just a nice t-shirt with a cool print. You want to develop a state of mind that goes beyond the brand itself...
I do. Pigalle helped me to realise all the dreams that I had as a kid. I always wanted to create something and to work with my friends and my neighbours on something related to sports, music and fashion - and that something had to be socially relevant. I feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to realise all this. This is an extremely rewarding experience, it motivates me and defines what I want to do later in life.
Are you working on other creative and social projects at the moment?
Last February, together with my friend and coach Paul Hamy, I took all the kids from my neighbourhood with me to the Philippines (note: the children that Stéphane gives basketball lessons to), where we have established a cultural exchange based on sports with Titan Basketball, and we even renovated a basketball court there. I wanted to take my kids on a trip for a while already, but I couldn't decide where to go... the idea of visiting an international city like New York just seemed a bit too boring to me, I wanted to offer them something new, a real life experience that they wouldn't be able to get otherwise.
Do you have any similar missions on your agenda at the moment?
I haven't planned any other trip for the moment, but it was definitely not a one-shot - this kind of experience matters to me. I've stopped selling Pigalle to other stores in order to protect my brand, but also to not submit to the wholesale conditions and to be able to continue to produce quality clothing at a fair price. Besides, I only have three stores: two flagships in Paris and one in Tokyo - and I want it to stay this way. Cutting off distribution also allows me to dedicate myself to other projects, such as the ones related to social causes. I want to spend time with young people and improve what can be improved in their lives. My dream is to create a school - a sports school, a fashion school, but above all a school of life, which will offer social and creative activities after regular school classes. A school similar to the Steiner Schools, which are basically schools that focus on developing the children's senses and that allow them to realize their very own ideas and dreams.
Back to school! That's quite unexpected!
My true vocation is not to be a fashion designer, I couldn't care less! I think it is important to do good, to have a positive impact around you, whenever you can. The love I get from my neighbourhood and the people around me has allowed me to move forward so far. And it makes me want to go even further.
Your spring/summer 16 collection is called Ensemble...
The collection is really dedicated to the experience we had in the Philippines. We filmed the kids during the basketball games there...and with time, the images became more and more interesting, and so we decided to continue and to complete the film in Paris. My inspiration has always been the youth. So I decided to design a collection called Ensemble, which is about young people and for young people - a collection that celebrates the youth.
So all your childhood dreams became true then?
Yes, I realised a lot of them, but I want to push my ideas even further by opening a production facility in Paris, thanks to the support of the ANDAM prize. And I still have some other dreams to realise... I want to open up a school in the neighborhood, the one I told you about before, and I would also like to run for mayor one day, and who knows, maybe I'll end up working for another fashion brand. But hey, each one of these three options would make me equally happy, so we will wait to see what happens... time will tell.
Text Elisabeta Tudor
Photography Maxime Ballestros
Film director Ange Raynaud
Co director and editor Quentin Labail
Cameraman James Carter