Fashion designer Andre Walker staged his first fashion show at 15 years old in the New York nightclub Oasis. He moved to Paris years later and won the ANDAM award in 2000. He also became the creative consultant for Marc Jacobs, Kim Jones Menswear and Louis Vuitton. Recently he launched his line at Dover Street Market. With us, he shares some memories of his first fashion shows and the atmosphere of past fashion weeks.
How was your first-ever fashion week?
The first fashion show I went to was in Paris. I was 17 years old. I feel like it would be impossible to sneak into shows these days; to get into shows you have to be working the teams. In the eighties or the nineties, fashion shows were an amazing thing. You really felt like you were privileged with new information. Now it’s totally different because I don’t need to go to a fashion so much anymore when I can stream it online.
Looking at your invitations and drawings, it seems like your early shows were more of a party, an adventure like a celebration, whereas today they feel a bit like rituals. Can you talk about the invitation for your Winter 1991 show?
I made that invitation myself and it was an artwork made from composites of all of the fabrics I was using for the show. In a sense it was this kind of coded document which doubled as an invitation for my fashion shows. I was looking at a lot of imagery coming from London and Paris; I was reading a lot of Japanese fashion magazines at the time and looking at lots of Britpop zines like the New Music Express and Flexipop and all the bands of the time — the Sex Pistols or Killing Joke or any of those alternative bands, their artwork was really on point. I would say it sparked an interest in how to use image + text to represent an upcoming collection.
You had fashion shows at Espace Cardin, Institut du Monde Arabe, and then Gallerie Thaddaeus Ropac.
The Espace Cardin was my first show in Paris, it was a very important show for me. The invitation was going to unlock the event. If you look closely, it says “Da Sweetease.” I remember there was all of this dark deconstruction that was coming into fashion at the time. The collection I was to present was much more tender and something based on sweetness and compassion — it was part of my aesthetic mission statement and useful to communicate - a signal of what to expect.
Back then fashion shows were parties. There were a lot of them. It was more for people to get together, to see who the beautiful people were and what the newest trip or thing could be. The underground circuit. I’m not talking about the fashion shows from Calvin Klein or Seventh Avenue fashion shows. I’m talking about downtown, East Village fashion shows. Sure, they were about making clothes, yet it was more an extension of the nightlife and an extension of the music, art, and club scene. A kind of subcultural “hedonist's” life [laugh] we were all partaking in it at the time. Everything in the late-seventies and early-eighties was about articulating this new sense of freedom and daring. Everything had to announce itself as an event somehow. Even one's look... let's face it, a lot of dressing up was taking place at the time. There was post punk, hardcore, new wave, ska, rockabilly, new romantics/blitz etc. Imagine all the album covers corresponding to those tribes and its no surprise that the invites turned out as they did.
Tell us about this invitation with the fur collage. It’s like a surrealistic painting.
It’s a watercolor on cotton rag paper. And it’s got little pieces of the fabrics we used in the collection; there’s a girl holding bolts of mohair and bouclé fabric. A lot of my watercolor paintings were from the late eighties nineties. They were based on fashion illustration; they were my take on subconscious residue of fashion imagery I’d absorbed over time, and art. The more I look at that invitation the more it looks like Calder, Tanguy or Kandinsky. Watercoloring is therapy. There's such an available delicacy for expression with it. One hitch though; you have to be ready to start or willing to stop, and wait.
Tell about the lady in these two photos.
That’s an old picture of my mom. I think she may have been in Italy at the time. My parents went over to London from Jamaica in the fifties and I was born just after the middle of the sixties. By then, my mom had already hit the road doing cabarets, dancing, and hair styling. She was really adventurous, and whenever she would go to Italy or Spain or Germany, she would bring us back these amazing clothes and shoes. This photo was chosen because there are two designs in my FW ’14 and upcoming SS '15 collections that reference Mom. She is largely responsible for my obsession with fashion. She’s the one that had the subscription to W magazine. She was beautiful and dressed amazingly and was a total fanatic for designer clothing. Two of my favorite songs are from X-Ray Specs! I'm a Poseur and I Am A Cliché [laughing].
What about the picture with two models walking? Where was it taken?
Those are called the paper bag tunics from 1982 or 1983, and that show took place at the Roxy. There was a beautiful girl called Kool Lady Blue who hosted a party on Friday nights at the Roxy. Friday nights at Roxy were a New York staple in the early to mid-eighties. I don’t know how long that went on for, but it was jamming for a while. Afrika Bambaataa was surely one of the resident DJ's...
What is this image of the woman in the gold coat in front of a chalkboard?
That's a picture from Roxanne Lowit and its actually a plum and crimson coat with super endless lapels that wrap behind the neck. It was from a show at High School of Fashion Industries in May 1985. That collection was very 1700s. The hair is crimped and split down the middle and parted into "The Heiress" style buns. There was a major equestrian theme going on. I was really into a ton of old 1940s movies about 1700s or 1800s themes at the time, like "The Heiress", "Pride and Prejudice". I didn’t love it so much for the culture; I loved it much more for visuals. It reminded me of some of the New Romantic themes I was loving from London at the time. Though it must be admitted, I have bawled watching the Heiress so many times. Its a story about a father's perception of the inadequate beauty of his daughter and is a psychologically grotesque one.
One last fun anecdote for us?
Circa '83, I took my girlfriend Robin Newland to Paris. I had miles of luggage including hat boxes with different hairpieces I'd styled from my mom's beauty salon (I used to work there after school from pre-pubescence thru late-ish teens). I used to do a lot of make up and hair experiments at the time. I applied her false eyelashes with electric tape and used one of the center-parted, drop curl and bun hairpieces to style her. We were trying to go to a Thierry Mugler show and thought to sneak in backstage. We show up at the door, Robin pointing to her chest and exclaiming "Me, mannequin," and the security guard starts screaming, "Hurry, you're going to be late. The show is about to start." He looks at me with my signature Groucho Marx eyebrows at the time and asks Robin who I was. Robin shouts "Maquillage" twice and he ushers us in. We see Thierry in the thick of things, freeze, and run for our lives through backstage to our front row-ish dwelling to watch the show! Robin still asks how I knew what the make-up and hair would be for that show. I'd been eyeing Mugler's hair and make-up for a good five years before that show.