He was the man behind the iconic Galaxy dress. Now Roland Mouret is turning his attention to the world of art, collaborating with Dragana Jurisic for an exhibition at the RHA. Ahead of his visit to Dublin to talks to Ruth O'Connor.
“I have been creative all my life through fashion and I have never had to consider if I was to use my creativity in another way through art what I would do,” says designer Roland Mouret. “To meet Dragana and to have that experience was really something that has opened my mind for the future, in terms of expressing these creative juices.”
Mouret is the French designer best known for the Galaxy dress — an iconic silhouette in fashion — albeit just one aspect of the extraordinary fashion oeuvre he has built up over two decades. He has dressed everyone from Hollywood A-listers to Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, and he was charming, and generous with his time, when he spoke to me by phone from his London studio.
Mouret will visit Dublin next week for a series of events at the Royal Hibernian Academy, as part of ‘RHA X: Roland Mouret x Dragana Jurišić,’ a collaboration between Mouret and visual artist Dragana Jurišić. Jurišić’s evocative work in photography and text explores identity and memory. Her book YU: The Lost Country considers the psychological impact on a person when their country no longer exists.
She also recently collaborated with poet Paula Meehan to produce Museum, a book inspired by the history and residents of 14 Henrietta Street, Dublin’s museum of social history. “I love working on my own. That’s why I do photography, because I don’t have to depend on other people. I admire Paula so much, so, in the case of Museum, I didn’t want to waste the opportunity to work with her,” says Jurišić.
Jurišić was surprised, too, to have some of her “stereotypes about fashion people” broken down: “I thought that, for people in fashion, it was all about surface and appearance, but Roland thinks really deeply about everything he does. He’s intense and warm, at the same time, so it was a really beautiful discovery.”
For Mouret, there was “magic power” in meeting Jurišić and they shared a feeling of being outsiders, as both emigrants and creatives, and a fear of failing, but of doing it anyway.
As Mouret says: “I shit myself, but I go for it. It’s all outside of the box... my life and career… it’s all based on lack of blueprints. That is what defines my identity straight away. I am open to everything, because safety makes me feel untalented.”
“We talked about this a lot,” says Jurišić. “About how lots of people are paralysed with fear to follow their desires and that even if we both are [fearful], we still pushed through.”
While Jurišić comes from war-torn former Yugoslavia, Mouret has also had his own battles, growing up gay in France, forging his way through the Aids crisis of the 1980s (“I was very lucky to not be infected, because I was doing no more, no less, than every other young person in Paris at the time”), losing the rights to his own name — when there was a split with his business backers in 2006 — and buying back the rights four years later.
“I am someone who never took my freedom for granted,” Mouret says. “I had to learn, through different periods of my life, to define myself and to fight for it… The beauty of my discussion with Dragana was realising that [neither of us] are feeding an ego of fame and success to be creative. We are creative because it is the life we have decided we will have.”
A creative life was not a given for either Mouret or Jurišić. Jurišić studied psychology in college and says that, for her working class parents, having a child pursue art did not make economic sense.
For Roland Mouret, too, as the son of a butcher from Lourdes, becoming a fashion designer was not a natural career progression for the ‘King of Curve’.
“I never went to [fashion] school. I didn’t go to Central Saint Martins to be a young, trendy kid. I was 36 when I started, so I was too old to pretend to be a young designer and too old to be given cash money to help me,” says Mouret.
It’s surprising, but Mouret says he has experienced “imposter syndrome. From the first day I decided to become a designer, it took me many years to rid myself of the feeling that I was a fraud, that people would realise that I didn’t know anything about this business. But people saw something that was part of me and that made it bigger than life, because that is what magazines and fashion is about.
“And, after, it took years to learn to become that person, but that feeling of being a fraud stayed with me for years.”
Mouret is a self-taught designer: “I was a master of my technique, because I was a slave to my technique. I didn’t know what I was doing and I had to learn through the technique and learn what was right and wrong through my own values.
“Nobody told me that’s right or that’s wrong. I just decided that’s right because it’s me, that’s wrong because it’s not me, and from there you move on in life. Myself and Dragana spoke so much about that and that was one of the starting points of the project.”
Both Mouret and Jurišić mention books during the course of my interviews: he A Void, by George Perec, a book about humanity, loss, absence, and survival, which has become his “bible”; she The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, by Shoshana Zuboff, a book about the commodification of our information and data in the digital age.
ONE can draw parallels between the work of Mouret and Jurišić in terms of physicality. Jurišić’s art piece, ‘100 Muses,’ saw 100 women direct themselves for nude portraits taken by Jurišić, but selected by the women themselves. Similarly, Mouret, as the son of a butcher, says that he was given an amazing gift:
While neither of them gives too much away about what the public can expect next weekend, it seems that all these topics have wound themselves into their collaborative art work at the RHA — an immersive experience that calls on the visitor not just to observe, but to experience and to think. Responsibility for one’s opinions and actions is vital.
In his role as designer, such responsibility is evident in Mouret’s examination of his own business and its impact on the environment and he has recently partnered with Dutch company Arch & Hook to produce hangers made from marine waste.
“It is not the case that we are running naked in the streets. We all have a desire for new clothes. We love what new clothes bring to our lives — a sense of a new skin, of curiosity of identity,” Mouret says.
“On the other hand, we can see the extreme situation in the world, in relation to nature and humans and consumerism. I started to examine the presence of plastic, and plastic hangers in particular, in luxury fashion. I wanted to find something symbolic, that is the equivalent of the plastic straw and the plastic hanger is our little dirty secret.
“The single-use hanger that carries the garment from the factory to the basement of the store is something the customer never sees, but it is a cancer of my industry. We are not going to move into the future through products. I think that was the last 20 years and it’s falling apart. I think the beauty of our troubled future will be the values we stand for. Collaboration is communication — exchanging experience. It is an amazing possibility of humanity to collaborate and to be there for one another — it is one of the only solutions.”
RHA X: Roland Mouret x Dragana Jurišić takes place next weekend at the RHA. A ticketed gala fundraiser takes place on the evening of Friday, November 15th. Oriole Cullen, senior curator of contemporary fashion at the V&A, will host a Q&A with the two artists on Saturday, November 16. The immersive installation is open to the public and free to visit. See: www.rhagallery.ie