VICTOR DE SOUZA
Imagista recently sat down with the Argentinean-born designer Victor De Souza to talk about his sources of inspiration, his constant striving for perfection, as well as his spiritual quest. Both a fascinating and open person, De Souza quickly revealed how designing to him is more about evolution than inspiration, how his pieces are made to last forever, and how spirituality is about searching for the constant perfection of oneself.
Having had a chance to admire the beautifully constructed pieces during his exclusive runaway show and again up close during this shoot, Imagista leaped at the opportunity to interview this fascinating man who now calls New York City home.
How did you discover your love for clothes and fashion?
It’s a thing that chose me, I didn’t choose it. When I was a kid I liked to play with two things: my collection of cards and making clothes for dolls. My parents were not very happy about this so i had to be very secretive. They didn’t let me use the sewing machine, so I would have to figure out how to do stitches by hand. It’s funny, because now I hate stitches and I can’t stand to see them on my clothes; they need to be covered up.
When did you create your first collection?
I won a Walt Disney contest for South America and they commissioned me to do a collection for the Pocahontas movie. So I created a full collection inspired by Pocahontas. After that, I came to NYC, without money or work, but a ticket back to Argentina. So I said, “If I find work, I’ll stay and if not, I’ll go back.” I walked into a store that was in my hotel, showed them my book, and they ordered my whole collection for $25,000. That money allowed me to stay in the U.S. I said to myself, “Ok, I’m going to stay; it’s meant to be.” My real struggle of how to continue creating started then: where to find the material, where to find people who could help me create these dresses I want to make, etc.
I read that you started your career in Paris.
Well, in Paris I worked for the fashion label DOW where I created two collections, but I wasn’t who I am now. I wasn’t courageous, I wasn’t grounded enough to run my own company. I didn’t have that certainty. My first couture collection was for a project called “Americans in Paris.” I was the only American among ten designers and we presented the collection at the U.S Consulate in Paris. It was beautiful, a unique experience, and it made me understand that I wasn’t ready to do my own thing.
When did you get that certainty that you are talking about?
I started my own company by myself four years ago, and ever since I do a show, no matter what, every six months. The most challenging part was finding people that could help me create these patterns and techniques that I’d had in mind for so long. If you think that the tailor who worked on my previous collections was good, you should see this new one, he is superior. Where you saw good, I saw bad. I had perfected the gown and corsets—this is mostly my business—but the jackets and pants are superior now. I created pants that have no creases. I don’t know how many pants we made before we got to the right one. These are all techniques that I have been developing from one collection to another. I wake up at 6:00 A.M every day and there I am till 11:00 P.M or midnight continuing to think and think about how I can improve. It took me a while to understand that this is my path, and my security is in knowing that I’m doing what I love.
Can you tell us about your spiritual practice?
I started studying Kabala before I started my own company, so it’s been five years now. Kabala is one of the things that made me understand that I’m ready to start on my own; it pushed me into that direction. It helped me a lot, because what they teach you works for your day-to-day life. It is a religion that is very realistic and intellectual, which I am, and that is why it works for me. It is an interesting way to approach spirituality. I finally discovered this wisdom that is very clear and that encourages you to ask questions. I’m very inquisitive, always asking questions as to where I’m supposed to go, what I’m supposed to do next… It made me understand that what I seek is very clear.
What inspires you the most? Where do you find creativity?
For me it is the evolving energy that I connect with, that drives me to go to the next thing. A perfect example is what transpired this morning: I figured something out about this jacket that I want to do, but I wasn’t able to wait so I woke up very early this morning and had already done the pattern for it by myself. I wanted to see it and I wasn’t able to wait for my assistants to come in, so I did it by myself. Honestly, I have no idea where this energy and inspiration is coming from.
So you could say that you find inspiration in constant improvement…
It is a constant search for perfection, for the craftsmanship that not many designers want to be involved in, or strive for. Sometimes I go to the stores and I feel embarrassed to be a designer when I see the quality, the poor fitting, on these thousand dollars shirts. And if you are going to pay a lot for a piece, especially in today’s economy, you are going to see it as an investment. My clothes have layers inside and when I’m creating, I always think about how the person who buys my dress should have this dress forever. The material should not break, and my material is delicate, and I need to put layers inside to hold it so that my dresses can last. Like the dresses that you see in the Metropolitan Museum – even though they are very old, they still look good.
What are your next projects?
Currently I’m working on my new collection and I can’t say much about it right now. You will see it in my next show. I think for me a new collection is always an evolution from the previous one. What I’m doing now has a different inspiration in general; different colors and feelings, but I don’t see it as destruction. It is an evolution from the pattern, perfecting it, doing it better, and seeing if I can make it more perfect. I Love jackets, power suits, and gowns, and when I’m thinking about a new collection, I’m thinking about how to develop distinctive and unique pieces that are still my particular style. I have my style and that is what I’m working from. When you see it, you know it’s me. I like haute couture, I always have, and that’s my bread and butter at the moment.
How would you describe yourself from your first collection when you were 18 years old to now?
At 18, I was, well, indescribable. I worked as a model, which helped me understand fashion and that world, and I worked steady and a lot from age 17 until i was 25 years old.
Have you worked with many celebrities?
I just did a cover with Christina Ricci and I did all the custom-made pieces for Katie Perry’s new perfume launch. It is usually the stylist who runs the show on those occasions and they are the ones that commission me. It is always very stressful and hectic, as celebrities are busy people so there is never time to do the fitting, but I’m honored to be commissioned for these occasions.
Who would you love to dress?
Audrey Hepburn. In old Hollywood, the studios would hire a designer and he/she would work on an image for the actress. It was much more artistic. It was more like matching clothes to personality.
What period would you go back to?
The 50s, post-war period. However, at that time women were more slaves of fashion, they had to have certain dimensions to fit into the clothes. Today, there is much more freedom. The beauty of today is that women are free to wear what they want. You can revive that time and for one night feel like Audrey Hepburn, wearing a gown for an occasion, but you are not a slave to that, because the next day you can wear sneakers and be comfortable. That is the beauty of our era. Glamorous parties at night, sneakers the next morning.
What’s your design philosophy?
Some say that fashion is replication that nothing new happens, and that designers only recreate. I create stuff, because I have to create a pattern and a way to finish. I build my clothes as sculptures. Yes, the inspiration can come from the past, but it is how you put it together to make it fresh that matters. I’m not into trends. I’m not a trendy designer. I make pieces that people can wear forever and that are always going to be exciting. When you do that, you always work with classic elements, but it is how you put it together to make classic look fresh and new today that matters.
I believe in good clothes, the clothes of old Dior, Balenciaga and Givenchy. If you are going to make a good building, you are going to go into the past to see how the good buildings are done. Obviously, I’m influenced by beautiful clothes, but I’m not going to go and do the same dress. Fresh and exciting is what’s my inspiration is. I work very hard to find the right materials that match each other, to find quality, and that takes you in certain directions. The reality of the material guides you into the direction in which you are creating.
When you are old and grey where would you like to see yourself?
Still in NYC, but having a house outside the city.
Do you miss Argentina?
Not much. I had a hard childhood. There I was the person out of the box, not understood, and abused at school. My school was very white and I was the darkest person, so I felt that racial prejudice. That racist side of society hurt me. It was a very difficult childhood and teenage years, so I never felt at home there. I have things that give me nostalgia, like food and certain things that I enjoy in my life there, but even when I travel around the world, the place that I always miss the most is New York. Even when I visit Buenos Aires, I miss New York much more.