In Conversation with — Brigitte Stepputtis

Brigitte Stepputtis is perhaps best known for her role as Head of Couture at Vivienne Westwood. But, in addition to her work at Britain ’s most influential designer for the last twenty years, Brigitte Stepputtis has pursued her parallel personal interests in art. Working across the disciplines of design, photography and creative direction, her practice has often had a documentary aspect to it in addition to more traditional approaches to creative direction. Recently, her documentary – anthropological even- projects have seen her working in a method more akin to a film director in documenting phenomena that have grabbed her interest.

OE’s Ken Pratt tracked her down with a few questions….

Brigitte Stepputtis

Brigitte Stepputtis

KP: We’ve just shown your wonderful project on the German cult band Deichkind and their fans at Trajector in Brussels . So where exactly did the idea come from to make this project? What was that magic spark that attracted your attention?

BS: After a friend of mine told me about the band, I was fascinated how their artistic approach managed to create a visual language that is quite bizarre, especially in the context of the German music scene. The way Deichkind mix the visual elements of clothing, gender, art and culture and combine them in an absurd way; their visual language was new and exciting, at least for me, as I have lived in London for the last 20 years. So I went to see them, followed a part of their tour and documented them. There is something particular German about them, there is a naivety, a romanticism, a working class culture, combined with a provocative intellectual approach. It made me think again about what it means to be German from a different perspective.

KP: Of course, you’re no stranger to working more on the art side of things. As one of the founding members of Showroom Dummies, together with Abigail Laine and Bob Pain, your collective had quite an impact with its projects. How did that all start? And what might we expect to see happening with the Showroom Dummies in the future.

BS: I got introduced to Abigail through Tracey Emin who I met during the time she was nominated for the Turner Prize. We became close friends and it seemed a natural development to do something together. I loved working on the Showrooom Dummies projects with Abigail and Bob. We really created something new and exciting together. Abigiail has moved to Suffolk after the birth of her son Eric, so we had a bit of a creative pause. There are new plans in the pipeline and we will be back, but not as you know it. It is work in progress at the moment.

KP: I also remember that you showed in Gavin Turk and Deborah Curtis’ ‘The House of Fairy Tales’ project. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

BS: I love ‘The House of Fairy Tales’ project and have great respect of Gavin and Deborah to organize these events for their charity. I got approached by Alice who is curating their projects. She asked me for their Exquisite Trove show: an object with which I like to surround myself and which provides comfort and inspiration. I gave her a skull of a goat which I had on my desk, and it had a reddish fur Mohican hairstyle, in combination with a golden horn which comes from one of the Vivienne Westwood devil horns. All together is looked like a fairytale dragon, which I liked to look at.

KP: So, when you’re not busy working on couture, and you have the time to wonder around and take in some art, who is a particular inspiration or makes a lasting impression for you.

BS: Difficult to answer. I don’t see half as much as I would like too, – I just missed the Van Gogh exhibition at The Royal Academy. Of contemporary art, a lot of it is really lazy and it used to make me angry, especially if you know what goes into making fashion; the work the knowledge, the attention to detail, the concept…… I like Matt Collishaw’s work a lot, also, I love the British artists, mainly for their poetic, pop and tongue-in-cheek, light approach they have to their art. I also like art that is based on the tradition and conflicts of the country the artists are from, like the Germans…and their approach to it. There is so much more…

Recently I went to the Jack Bell Gallery, who specialize in political art. They have this voodoo exhibition of artists from Haiti that is fascinating. I do like political art and art that is rooted in a social context. In Brusssels I loved the show Chim Chim Cheree about art and language, The Hub at the Art Fair in Brussels and the work of Andy Hope.

KP: Recently I’ve been thinking about the parallels between Vivienne Westwood and the British monarchy. Not in the obvious way, but in the way that, through circumstances, there seems to be a strong German(ic) cultural influence going on inside something apparently ‘super English’. There’s Andreas, and of course you yourself are originally from Germany and some of the most successful young talents who have worked for Westwood in recent years have also come from German-language regions. Am I completely mad? Or has there been some kind of influence on the sensibility over the years?

BS: Of course there has been and always will be. Where the influences come from changes all the time, but for Vivienne it is intellectual stimulation that makes her tick.
The reason there are all different nations working at Vivienne Westwood is simply practical and has grown organically over the years according to the needs of the company. VW is a cosmopolitan company and its staff represents, therefore, all nationalities, Germans are only one part of it. It does not depend where you are from but what you can bring into an enterprise. If you want to compare it to the British Monarchy, Albert has not exactly been bad for Victoria and the British…

KP: The time we met in that weird hotel café in Baker Street , I remember talking a bit about whose work in fashion –aside from Vivienne Westwood, of course- you personally respected and liked. So who, as the long-term fashion professional, do you think is currently making top-notch fashion?

BS: It is the designers and companies whose work is challenging and pushing boundaries, both from their approach to design as much as their company philosophy. Alexander McQueen was one of them.

In London now I love the work of Boudicca, which is very varied and both artistic conceptual and couture, but I am also following young designers like Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos, and Luise Gray , and the company From Somewhere, who have a completely different agenda. We live in very interesting and challenging times, where it is essential for all designers to keep up with new developments and give their input.

Brigitte Stepputtis’ project on Deichkind will be shown as part of the ‘Outland’ exhibition at Vegas Gallery, London coinciding with the London Festival of Architecture 2010 in June.

A photo work from the Deichkind project

A photo work from the Deichkind project