Interview with designer Alphonse Maitrepierre

By Lucas Dias

With a focus on upcycling and an eco-responsible approach to design, Alphonse Maitrepierre has been shaping a narrative that mixes the traditions of haute couture with the innovations of technology. The founder of Maitrepierre shares his creative process, the issues facing a young designer in today’s industry, and his biggest source for inspirations.

Did you always want to become a designer?

At first I actually wanted to be a ‘nose’ and make perfumes. But I got interested in fashion thanks to my grandmother who was a librarian. She used to bring home from work some old books on fashion and magazines like L’Officiel that spanned the middle decades of the twentieth century. That was my starting point. Then, when I arrived in Paris, I had the opportunity to see a Jean Paul Gaultier show. It was a collection all about Hollywood and I was intrigued by the fact that he had created so many different characters and stories within the show. I then studied fashion at La Cambre in Brussels for three years.

How would you describe the Maitrepierre universe?

Maitrepierre is a sort of creative laboratory. I want to develop stories within my collections. I like to draw inspiration from two different worlds that complement each other. The first one derives from the universe my grandmother introduced me to, the old school Parisian style that I love, this sort of vintage couture. The second one is more digital mixed with contemporary art.

Where do you usually look for inspiration?

I love the American Library here in Paris. They have a huge collection of fashion magazines; it’s insane. Flicking through them I always find inspiration in traditional haute couture. I’m a huge art fan, so the colours and palettes I choose are usually inspired by artworks. When my graphic designer gets my mood boards, they are usually just a collage of art pieces, “But there are around 30 different colors in this painting, which ones do you want?” And I reply, “I just need the mood of the colors!” And we have a laugh about it.

You’re inspired by the savoir-faire of haute couture. How do you apply this technique to your design?

To me, couture elements are about volume, something that is very generous, with lots of drapes. Couture is always the big character in the movie of my collection, the person that I have in mind as an actual character in a real movie. These are pieces that I’ll make and develop in my atelier as they need a lot of hand stitching, details and construction that would be impossible to make in a production standard atelier. So, in a way, it becomes couture through the process of being made by hand in Paris. I think it’s something I learned to love when I worked at Jean Paul Gaultier. The fact that there were these ateliers just on the floor below us, it was so beautiful to see the craftsmanship and people working directly with the clothes.

Tell us about your passion for cinema.

After I worked at Jean Paul Gaultier, I worked as a costume designer for the director Yann Gonzalez. The experience gave me an insight into the development of great movie characters. This approach stays constantly in my mind. I always seek to tell stories through my clothes. This is something I discovered with Jean Paul Gaultier but as a costume designer I really had the chance to practice. I learned a lot about myself and my process.

Sustainability is key to your brand. You use upcycled, deadstock and innovative materials. Can the materials you find reshape your creative process?

Absolutely, it even happened with our first upcycled collection. We started to collaborate with Le Relais, a local company specializing in collecting and reselling unused clothes and fabrics. They had, I don’t even remember how many kilos of bed sheets and we just thought, “Okay, everything will be in white!” So, when we decided to use the sheets and make everything in white, we added more elements to the collection with drapes and volumes to turn it into something special.

Is your creative process sometimes limited by these repurposed materials?

Yes. In a way I like it because right now, for example, I’m developing an alternative to sequins but with upcycled plastic or another material. Of course, this method closes some doors but it also opens my mind to new possibilities. Working with Le Relais, we ended up with a lot of upcycled blankets which were stunning, all from the 1960s and 1970s, triple-wool, amazing quality, much better than anything similar on the market.

Can it be challenging to find fabrics or other materials that have a certain style or quality?

It’s a big challenge to source good fabrics. Sustainable fabrics are still very underdeveloped. When they are available, they are expensive. This is an even bigger issue for younger brands because of the problem of quantities versus price. In my opinion, there should be some kind of tax reduction or government incentive when brands develop their collections in a sustainable manner. Similar to when you buy an electric car and there is an incentive from the French state that makes it a better deal for the consumer.

I imagine that even if you find solutions, there is still a significant increase in the price of the final item?

Yes. I really do my research to find out how everything is produced and sourced before I choose fabrics or other materials. But most of the time it’s more expensive to get smaller quantities of the materials we choose. This can make the final product expensive. With all the taxes, plus the margins stores will apply to the wholesale price, you see an item become crazy expensive to the point where you as the designer, can’t even afford it at the retail price. That’s why I think it’s always important to develop some accessories that are more affordable. I was extremely happy when the first customer who bought one of our bags was a student. But despite all that, we always try to maintain the spirit that we are here to find solutions.

What changes would you like to see in the fashion industry?

Transparency is a big challenge for the fashion industry today. I would love to see even more inclusivity in fashion shows and across other areas of the industry. Same with sustainability. Some brands and huge corporations are advertising everywhere that their packaging, or some of their products are eco-responsible, but most of the time, you can’t really tell if it’s true or just a bit of greenwashing and marketing to attract customers. Maybe there should be a label that could indicate which products are made in a conscious way.

You’ve recently debuted an eyewear collaboration with Emmanuelle Khanh. How did this project come about?

It all started about two years ago, when I developed a prototype of sunglasses that had a comb attached. I had this idea in mind of the very French bourgeoisie, with this boudoir aspect of getting ready in a very intimate way. So, I invited the Emmanuelle Khanh team to my show and it was love at first sight. They thought they could develop my prototype in a commercial way, so we went for it.

What’s next for you?

We are currently working on the new collection. We are also developing a collaboration with a big brand that also works with upcycling. If it all works out as we hope, it will be announced very soon. I’ll also be starting as a teacher at École Duperré which is a fashion design school here in Paris. I think teaching will be fun because I love to work in a team and be around creative people. I can’t wait to start.

Alphonse Maitrepierre graduated from La Cambre, Brussels, in 2016 and founded his namesake label in 2018. His collections are made in Paris. He has worked as an assistant stylist to Jean Paul Gaultier in his haute couture studio. Maitrepierre has also worked for Chanel, Acne Studios and as a costume designer in film.

Brazilian-born Lucas Dias is a fashion writer currently based in Paris who defines himself as a mainstream observer and com- mentator of culture, arts and sociopolitics.