After just two years of launching his eponymous brand, French-Cambodian designer Boramy Viguier launches his SS21 collection today with a 3D Digital Lookbook Video during the Paris Fashion Week® Online on the Federation platform.
The Paris-based creative has rapidly established himself in the industry with his modern take on utilitarian designs merged with mysticism and archaic symbology. We talked to him about the pagan references behind his concepts, spirituality and religion in the modern age and the challenges of creating a collection amid a pandemic.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in fashion, and why menswear?
I have always been interested in garments when I watched movies, the outfits still stood out to me, and when I went to museums, I was always interested in the costumes, armour and stuff like that. After high school, I started working for a French gallerist called Pierre Rotin, quite randomly actually, and there I met people at the time who were working for Balenciaga- this was ten years ago. And I told myself, I want to do this job, it was kind of a laboratory way of making fashion, searching for new and exciting techniques. Then I went to London and applied to Central Saint Martins, but I didn't finish because Lucas Ossendrijver from Lanvin hired me, and I wanted to start working. I said yes, so I dropped out before the end of my studies and I spent the next five years at Lanvin with Lucas, who became my school. He taught me craftsmanship, and to me was an exceptional designer, it was really about the garment itself. He's not an artistic director. He's more of a designer, so for a young guy starting to working in fashion, it was a real pleasure, he was a real teacher to me. After five years, as you may know, the company wasn't doing too well, so I told Lucas I wanted to move on, I guess I wanted to be more than a designer, I wanted to have complete freedom, especially on the artistic direction, so that's why I left. It wasn't an option, and I felt like I had to do it. And now it's been two years, and it has been a lot of fun.
Did you always know what brand you wanted to create? What was the concept?
I didn't really think about it that much, I never sat down with other people and brainstormed what I wanted to do, it was always evident to me, and I thought about what I naturally like in life, what I'm naturally drawn to. Now I realize more and more when people tell me the brand is about the religious references and mysticism, in fact, other people teach me more about the concept than I do, and it's all true as well. When I look at the artistic references, there is always something very much about cult and religion or mysticism. I look at these topics a lot. It's also a very vast subject because you can think about Christianity, or Islam or local pagan rituals, and everything is different, it's a subject that surrounds us all the time. I'm not saying I'm for religious people, but I always find it stylistically interesting. Like when you go to a church in Spain, and it's super Baroque, for instance, you might see Jesus crying blood, and other powerful images and the reason for those images are not always good. The Baroque in Spain intended to scare people to go to church, and although the goal was not a good one, stylistically speaking, the result is breathtaking. My mother is Buddhist, for instance, and I feel the same thing when she does her Buddhist rituals, there is a strength in terms of style. My work is not political. I do not take part in anything, but I see things as they are and I use them.
Are you religious or spiritual?
I see a big difference between religious, faith and sacred. I don't think they're the same thing. Religion is a culture, and I guess we don't choose if we have religious baggage depending on where we grow up. Even though I'm half Cambodian, and my mother is Buddhist, I grew up in France, so when I go to the countryside and see 12th-century abbeys, I know I carry this cultural baggage. It's like a stamp on the passport; it doesn't mean you have to start a crusade. I consider myself as Christian as French, but I didn't choose to be French, it's just on my passport. I don't think I'm religious, but I have a fascination with the spiritual facts. When I see the Pope I know I'm listening to something, I know I'm listening to a head of state, it's history. I look at it objectively.
You've mentioned you think there is a lack of spirituality in today's society, why so?
Yes, I think so. I believe we are in a society where we like to quantify everything. We want to quantify business success by income and fame by followers on Instagram, and everything has to have a number. It's straightforward to know now on social media who is more famous than someone else. You just have to look at a number. There is no space for mysticism and irrationality, and especially in creation, you can't create anything irrational. You can't say who is the best painter all the time. You do not count like that in creation. And today I think we tend to make things pragmatic. In art, for instance, the art collector will go to the gallery and ask "Who is this painter? How much is it? Can I sell it again?". Everything is pragmatic, and that's why people like a painting. I prefer to live life considering that there are many steps higher than me, that I can't understand. I prefer it like this.
Do you think fashion is a way to tap into spirituality as a form of art? How do you connect with this sphere that you believe is missing, and how do you find it in your day to day life?
I believe that in any form of creation, from fashion to painting but even in business, in any type of creational activity, even in politics, you can be spiritual. I don't know many politicians that carry a mysticism within them. I don't know any, but I think it's possible. And history has shown us that it can be possible. If you think about a guy like Malcolm X, he's a political leader carrying an enormous sense of sacred and mysticism within him.
I try to connect when I make my lookbook spiritually. When I create looks I would love it if I could have lots of different feedback. When you get loads of feedback and its the same it means your work doesn't allow other people's imagination to work, I like to leave people to think for themselves, and that's the kind of spirituality I'm looking for. If I have a purpose I would like to encourage people to think for themselves; it's not about putting a cool print on a t-shirt with a slogan or whatever, I'm trying to build away from this.
You collect a lot of symbolism from pagan art and religion, which is different from what other designers are doing. It's also fascinating that you mix this symbology and archaic elements with a utilitarian design. How do these sit together?
When you think of spirituality I will make the mistake of linking it to a specific religious institution, Christianity or Islam or Buddhism etc. I'm trying to extend this subject to any other field, for instance in a lot of video games I used to play you can find a high sense of spirituality, which is not apparent but say in Final Fantasy, for instance, it is very much linked to a sense of mysticism and sacred. So I try to use references like that, same for the military and utilitarian. When I'm out, I always see police or army men patrolling the streets doing their duty, and when I look at a troop of military men in super modern uniforms, I still feel like there is something very mystic about the way they dress, because they almost dress like that to scare you or to tell you they can protect you in a pretty much religious outcome. I think you can find a sacred value in everything.
Yes, you could also look at these institutions from a power perspective. Obviously, the Church and the State have always had influential roles in our society.
Exactly, my work is not ideological, but when I look at religious paintings of Popes or Archbishops… one of my favourite movies is the Name of the Rose when you see the jewellery the Bishops and Inquisitor wear, it's about velvet, embroidery and power- the power of religion. It's charged with religious identity, either about imperialism, dominance and censorship contrasted to something better. I am interested in the aesthetic, the stylistic point of view. Linked to the lack of mysticism, I think there's a lot of ideology. Everyone has to express their ideological ideas about everything. I like the Nietzsche phrase, "I don't have convictions because it's like a prison and I don't want to live in prison", I think that way as well. It's terrific to have convictions, but I think it's better to see the world in a mystic manner with no judgement.
How was it designing a collection during a pandemic?
In a way, it was not uninteresting. Obviously, the situation was horrible, but in terms of working, I was lucky because my studio is on the ground floor so I could go every day, plus one of my assistants is my neighbour, so he was there too. When the lockdown hit, I made the decision right at the beginning that I was going to work every day. I didn't picture myself watching Netflix for two months, so I went to work on my craft, to make clothes, it's what I'm supposed to do. But I couldn't buy any buttons or fabric and had a reduced team. So I thought to myself, what can I do with what I have? It's a different way of creating, almost not by choice but by necessity, and I think it's a lot better. Need is the mother of all creations when you want to be creative and make things; it's always better to do it out of necessity. So I found finding new techniques really inspiring, not thinking so much about if I could sell it afterwards, it was more about creating stuff. The easy thing to do would have been not to work without fabrics. But it would have been so sad to stop working just because you can't source yourself as usual, and my job is to find sourcing if I can't do it in the usual way. I am always really envious of a painter or a writer because they can always work in a situation like this. In fashion, we should start to find this purity in creation, and the fashion discipline cannot always be about conception.
As a consequence, would you say this collection is more sustainable?
I'm quite lucky because all of my collections are made in France, it's all local, I work with factories that I see almost every day, and geographically they are close to me, so it's convenient to go there even if they're in the countryside. I like to check on the quality of the clothes as often as I can. Working locally is an efficient answer to all the problems of globalization, and the religion of gigantism we live in. Local sourcing and a local way of working is way safer as well and also more fun. I love to drive my car to see factories in France. I have to go through wineries and sleep in farms and cross the French sleeping volcanoes, and it's all entertaining. I want to talk to technicians, to the guys who sew, and see how the garments are made. I prefer to work like that, and it's a lot more personal.
Do you think your brand will change going forward from this situation? And the fashion industry?
I have no idea what will happen, I've heard a lot of other designers say it won't be the same as before and yes, I'm sure there will be change. But the truth is this isn't a revolution. This pandemic situation will accelerate something that already existed before, which is an online fashion, online life- I mean look here we are on Zoom- and I am about to launch my new collection with an online show. All of this will reinforce a system that already existed, and I think it's unfortunate because the world will be more digital. I think that's the challenge for young designers and big houses as well, to make fashion less universal, less pop - I feel like fashion always has to be pop, and speak to everyone, and I don't think it's okay. It's better to stay local and with artisanal values, you can broadcast your vision to the whole world, but the roots of your vision have to be local. I think it's the answer to globalization and a more aggressive way of doing fashion. I think I almost prefer a more tragic vision of style, tragic not meaning sad but about confronting myself to reality and the reality for me is that I don't control much. Forces I don't even know and can't touch, control me. I know capitalism controls my life, but I can't touch it, same as ecology, which is a higher force. And the paradox is I think we love fashion so much because it is optimistic in a way, a brand is always about promising perspectives.