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Christophe Coppens Demystifies Couture

No Reference is an exhibition that reveals the painstaking process behind the creation of couture.  Coppens has thrown all usual references to the wind and designed this collection with a fresh and raw head.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 07-01-2009

This weekend in Amsterdam, accessories couture designer Christophe Coppens makes his final appearance at Platform 21.  For two months the Belgium designer, revered for working on the razor sharp divide between art and fashion, has used the space as a gallery-cum-studio to work live in front of the public’s gaze.

It’s rare that anyone gets so close to the couture process whose doyennes are viewed more as tempestuous perfectionists than craftsmen willing to share their secrets. During his stay, Coppens has not only pushed back the veil on couture creation, but has gone so far as to invite the public to pick up a needle and participate.

“I always like to make things transparent,” says Coppens.  “That process is a part of my result and this collection is an exercise to see how far it can bring me.”

The 33 works-in-progress are all part of Coppens’ new Paris collection,  also called No Reference, and are exhibited alongside finished accessories. The space exudes something of a science laboratory for fabrics – low-hung fluorescent lights buzz over the objects, which are part installation and part high-art accessory.  Isolated body parts are wrapped or wreathed in layers of muted colour.  An arm hangs suspended like the planet Saturn between a series of spinning rings.  A head is encased in a domed hat with a cascading tongue smothered in a montage of bright lumps, like a tongue seen under a microscope after it’s licked an ice cream. One installation is wrapped in bubble wrap with the words CANCELLED scribbled across the front.  An idea gone wrong perhaps?

“This has all been a journey that has brought me further,” Coppens says. “It really made me think things through. It marks the end of a past period and has opened a door for the near future.”

Coppens has said previously that his training in acting and theatre directing as well as his love of nature have inspired much of his work.  There are frequent references to rabbits, deer and skulls and a characteristic expressionism that lends itself to a dark and occasionally threatening tone.  He has even been compared to the Dutch medieval artist Hieronymus Bosch.

Most famous are his spectacular capes and hats for singer Roisin Murphy, his hats for Belgium royalty, and accessories for Martin Margiela.  He is a jury member on a Belgium television show, De Designers, and has boutiques in Brussels and Tokyo.

But since winning the H+F Fashion Award in 2007, Coppens has pursued a different path.  He used the €20,000 prize money to buy himself some freedom and in the process has tried to reject all past influences and expected allusions in his designs.  The result is as the title of this exhibition suggests, work shreddded of any inherent reference.

“Not even nature has influenced me this time,” Coppens says.  “This process has been an exercise in keeping the mind empty, it is very intuitive, and something probably not to be repeated.”

At the No Reference closing event on Sunday January 18th, a book by Han Nefkens and José Teunissen that documents Coppens’ unique design process will be presented. Philosopher Pieter van Bogaert writes in the introduction: “You throw everything overboard.  All references within your own work, all references to books and artists, all references within fashion, to material and its connotations, to techniques, to form. You aim to take a new look at the accessory’s raison d’être, its purpose. You want to use this opportunity to go back to the essence of the design, to think and to explore. It’s not about ‘What can I do differently, better, more beautifully, more extravagantly?’ Or ‘What can I add or take away?’ It’s about ‘What is a colour? What is a shape? What is an accessory? What is a fashion? What is a body?’ … You throw all your references overboard and then see what happens. Allow the things to live. Let your clients finish the work. Everyone, producer and user, is equal. The imagination rules.”

No Reference at Platform 21 closes January 18, 2009
Wednesday–Sunday, 14:00–18:00, or by appointment.
Book presentation: Sunday 18 January 2009, 16:00

Free entry

Images by Javier Barcala

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