We sat down with the Renaissance Man
With a CV that runs the gamut from publicist to design director, industry darling Victor Glemaud’s latest venture is shaking up the world of knits. These are not your average boyfriend sweaters; with slit nips, cropped cuts and heavy décolleté, he’s giving knitwear a sex appeal it’s never had. From Lucio Fontana to Joan Miro, his eponymous collection is inspired artists, and resonates the creative debauchery of Victor’s manifold experience. As if “skin is in” was invisibly stitched into the sumptuous fabrics, these sweaters make a statement, like the demi-nude guerrilla campaigns plastered around the city. While dressing might be a laughing matter – the man-about-town “wears the shortest of shorts at the most inappropriate of events,” – he is refreshingly methodical in his unhurried business approach.
His inaugural collection entitled “Seven Days of Victor”, attests to the synonymy between the originator and his cheeky designs. Whether strewn about the staircase of the Ritz, or taking selfies with his mother, Victor embodies the perfect blend of grounded, posh and playful. Like his suggestive designs, Victor exudes confidence, letting out a hearty laugh when examining his tutti-frutti outfit du jour, admitting, “I dress like a 6 year old.” Grateful for his Haitian born, Queens-raised background, he finessed his way up the fashion ladder the hard way, before you could slide into your dream boss’s DMs. From lint-rolling models backstage as a teen, to his respectable rise as a fashion doyen, the industry vet wears his haute-hustler badge with pride. He’s a living American dream. Here we talk to the designer on his fortuitous trajectory and “making fashion fun again.”
COOLS: You’ve had your hand in a lot of fashion jars, how did you end up starting your line?
Victor: Well it wasn’t straight, but it’s my trajectory. I was studying at FIT and working at Dean & Deluca as a checkout boy. I checked out [Patrick Robinson], and kicked myself for not saying anything to him. Time goes on, I check him out again. I say “I’ve read about you, I liked your collection, I’m a student” — that whole New York pitch. He said, “If you want to intern or something, call me up.” This is before the Internet, so I found his number through FIT. [I] called him every Friday for 6 months, and he didn’t remember who I was. He said if I was good at the fashion show, then I could have an internship.
I loved working on the show; my job was lint brushing the girls’ shoes. It was Alek, Gisele, Audrey Marnay. That lead to an internship, and then design assistant. That’s how I started in fashion. Then he closed, and I needed something to do. His girlfriend was Calvin Klein’s PR head. She asked me to intern, make some money, figure it out. That led to KCD where I worked for 5 years. Being in the world of Helmut Lang, Tom Ford, Donatella etc, I saw things I would never ever be able to see if I had gone through a linear career path. I became someone people relied on and trusted, so that’s how I have this wide range of confidantes I’ve had since the beginning of my career. I show them things I’m working on, and there’s this mutual exchange and respect. There’s a sense of loyalty that is not exploited, which I quite like.
COOLS: You launched your collection in the summer of 2006? Cutting up your dad’s old sweaters?
VG: Yes. I did the collection after I was the studio director of Paco Rabanne in Paris. I’ve always loved knits. I always wear a sweater, even on the beach when it’s hot. I cobbled this collection together and called it “Seven Days of Victor.” I showed it on the terrace of my old apartment. It did really well and all of a sudden I had a business. I moved back to New York, and it’s been a journey ever since. From going out of business, to relaunching, and really hustling to figure out how to have this business, and a quality of life that doesn’t allow the industry to take everything. I’ve found that now.
COOLS: “Seven Days of Victor”… do you design with yourself in mind?
VG: Absolutely. That one was really like “What do I want to wear?” “What am I missing?” “What kind of fabric do I react to?” It was that straightforward. Now that there’s womenswear, it has to be bigger than me. I don’t think people want to look like a 6 year-old kid when they’re almost 40. When I walk on the street, children stop and look at me. At first I was confused, but then I realized I’m dressed like them. It’s perfect.
COOLS: You relaunched your brand exclusively with The Line, and just started selling with Net-a-Porter. Is starting small a conscious decision?
VG: Oh yes, it was a very thoughtful strategy. I’m lucky enough to have my friends Mark Holgate and Virginia Smith from Vogue, who’ve been involved from the beginning talking out this idea and how I wanted to approach it. In this industry, you get a lot of chances, but I don’t want to waste the chances that I have. I wanted it to be thoughtful, and I didn’t want to have people invest their time and support for this and have it be the same thing. It wasn’t about doing shows, it wasn’t about making a full collection, it wasn’t about showing it to everyone and trying to get the best 10 stores in the world off the bat. So I really took my time in thinking about how I want to approach this so I can have that nervous energy in this and feel excited about this.
When you start small you can focus on the visuals behind it, and connect with people that I know, and don’t know, in a much broader way. That was the biggest take away. The posters that we’ve done and the Instagram video, all of these things — people really liked them. People who have been to my presentations in the past before text me about seeing the posters. They tag them on Instagram. It creates this interactive thing in the city that’s really dynamic. It feels different, and people remember it in different ways. It catches like wildfire, and it reinforces what I’m doing. It’s a nice way to remind people. And I enjoy stumbling upon them, it’s fun.
COOLS: How do the posters speak to the brand’s ethos?
VG: I grew up in Queens. I’m a New Yorker, I walk everywhere. That’s how people get around this town. I wanted it to feel very New York. The imagery is graphic, and gritty. It’s multicultural, it’s pansexual, whatever you want call it. They’re really beautiful images that speak to the fashion sense that I try to have in everything I do. It feels very today. What I’m trying to get across is the product, the price, the design, the philosophy behind it: it’s accessible. I have this small voice at the moment, and I have this opportunity to try something different. So I just said “Let’s just try.” It’s hard to have people disconnect from the bubble they live in and control. I hope that the imagery we’re doing can give people like that one moment where they go “Oh.” and stop. That’s all I can hope for.
COOLS: Your campaigns are pretty suggestive; bare bottoms, snipped nips and all. How would you like your pieces to resonate?
VG: I think of knitwear as something everyone owns, like jeans. However, similarly to denim, it’s kind of boring. We all have a great V-neck. We all have whatever ply cashmere. Blah, blah, blah. People are sort of bored by clothes. If I can suggest to my friends and colleagues, and have them take notice, I feel like consumers, and non-industry people, I could present something that’s a bit more engaging. And also seasonless at an accessible price point. I wanted it to be democratic, not necessarily in terms of style or anything, but in terms of that you can put it in your bag and wear it to the movies. There’s elements of it that are classic, but there’s enough detail where it’s new. New, not as in weird, or avant garde. That’s not what I do. But it’s just like “Oh. Why not?”
“It’s hard to have people disconnect from the bubble they live in and control. I hope that the imagery we’re doing can give people like that one moment where they go ‘Oh,’ and stop.”
COOLS: How does being born in Haiti, working considerably in Paris and New York blend into your creative process?
VG: It’s the world I live in. I have never shied away from letting people know I grew up in Queens since I was 3, I was born in Haiti. It is diverse, in terms of race, sex, culture, background, and education. I like that. I wish I could do more. I’m taking baby steps to incorporate different things into my company as it grows. Do I want to work with kids who went to public school in New York like I did? Absolutely. Do I want to show them that they could grow up to be someone like me, or who you imagine yourself to be? Absolutely. I think with whatever platform you have, the only way you can affect change is by being honest and truthful. Be comfortable in your own skin, and if you don’t have that, then ugh, why bother, no? Why am sitting here making clothes?
COOLS: How does that relate to your line, this idea of being comfortable in your own skin?
VG: You don’t always have to show skin to be sexy. I like being provocative. I wear the shortest of shorts at the most inappropriate of events, and I don’t have a problem [with] that. I like to be bold, confident, and stand out. As long as you look good and feel good, you’ll project that confidence. I do that by wearing color, I do that by throwing people off and showing too much leg. Clothes are meant to be fun.