Party Hard With Henrik Vibskov, Paris’ Wildest Fashion Designer
He puts vegetables into his designs, delights in the craziest concepts, and for his latest Paris show Henrik Vibskov recreated a surreal Thai massage parlor.
It is just after three on a frosty afternoon and hands, dozens of moulded brown hands, hang suspended from strings dangling over makeshift massage tables that are part of a vast mechanical massage machine.
People, 12 in total, will lay on the tables motionless as they are manipulated, or sort of, by the contraption, whilst they sing or rather sigh to enhance a sound track that will mix the voices of this amateur choir laid out flat, with a composition called 'Gimme Some' by some Dutch musicians.
We are inside a vast arts warehouse in the heart of Paris' Marais district. The massage machine is being readied not for a theater production but to form the center piece of a runway show taking place during Men's Fashion Week for the Danish designer and musician Henrik Vibskov.
The production has an intriguing name, the Messy Massage Class, and the collection and show are the brain child of Vibskov who is perhaps the creator of Paris's most theatrical fashion shows that double as installations and are practically theater material.
This begins with the names.
"We spend a lot of time trying to get titles that describe the universe we are working in and sometimes use titles that make people wonder a bit like in films," said Vibskov, a tall, lithe individual who wandered the set with a calmness and quiet contemplation like a ghost in a Shakespeare play, returned to earth to ponder the meaning of life and, in between, make mischief.
"We are trying to analyze why we as humans are getting more into health and yoga and massage and how we figure out how often we have a massage and so on," he said.
Vibskov is an inventor as well as a social commentator. "The massage machine is a human controlled vocal machine that creates sound when we touch the body with the hands," he said.
And he is in demand.
The Central St. Martin's graduate will be up bright and early the morning following his show to take the train to Brussels where he is creating 100 costumes and the sets for another free thinking creative spirit, Bjork, for her upcoming opera, "Medulla."
He chats away about his projects, sitting cross-legged on the floor in his "work clothes." Think a long dark overcoat that covers his scrappy trousers and layered tops and long legs. "A taxi driver here recently asked me if I paint houses," Vibskov said.
Instead, Vibskov makes beautiful clothes that sell in 30-odd countries. The latest collection of warm, woolly winter coats for his autumn/winter 2015 collection presented here, include amusing oversized duvet jackets that hang in a makeshift dressing room where a seamstress is remaking some hats that the team left behind in Copenhagen.
Vibskov might well be described as Paris Fashion Week's most eccentric producer. Previous highlights include include a runway show surrounded by metallic breasts, entitled The Big Wet Shiny Boobies Collection. Another runway production featured what looked like an inflatable tongue that covered the runway.
Messy Massage was on in line to becoming one of Vibskov's biggest productions, he said putting the finishing touches in place. Although there were only hours to go and some elements were still being tested, he wandered about calmly among his team. This included his book keeper who decided to come down and do the catering. "It is like a family," he said. Others were making the soundtrack work.
Vibskov likes experimenting. For example, there was the time when he wanted to attach propellers to the backs of donkeys for a show in the forest called The Solar Donkey Experiment for Spring/Summer 2010 which was staged near the Copenhagen Zoo. Models walked through the grass with white blond locks tied around their faces. "The donkeys weren't quite up for creating green energy," he said.
And there was the time that Vibskov packaged his art portfolio to get into the Danish Design Institute in floating cucumbers. The folder exploded over all of the other applicant's entries. But he was ultimately rejected after he created a massive tree made of potatoes and tooth picks to get into the fashion program, he said.
Still, Vibskov now teaches there as a professor, having graduated from Central St. Martin's in London. There his particularly experimental style was better appreciated, he felt. "I remember the teachers applauding when I created a blown-up egg uniform and I started to gain confidence," he said. "People were like, 'You are the blown-up egg guy.'"
And rather than experiment with textiles, Vibskov worked on putting cucumbers and other pickles into bags to create his designs. He also made a jacket from old water beds. "It was not really practical clothing," he said.
He started doing experimental productions because, "I got a bit bored with runway shows," Vibskov said. "I like to test all kinds if things. It gives me the energy to still stand."
Some of his productions are truly artistic, with a highlight being his spring/summer 2015 show presented in Paris last summer. He brought down the Norwegian National Ballet and constructed a makeshift fountain pool in front of a town hall in which they performed a contemporary routine, splashing about in the water before the models paraded around the sides.
Vibskov's sets for Bjork sound just as original, and he was given freedom to do as he wanted. "'Is there a script I can see?' I asked. 'What script?' they replied."
"I started out with music but realized I needed another outlet for expression," he said of his clothing designs. He started playing music when he was a boy when his brother and sister bought him a drum kit. "I think the idea was that we would form a band together," he said.
A few hours later, Vibskov roamed backstage amongst the models now dressed in his designs. The warehouse space had been transformed with pink and purple curtains surrounding the beds and hands, like the partitions in a Thai massage parlor. These were opened during the show to reveal bodies on the beds and hands that moved up and down.
Models walked around the display of jangling hands: men in skirts decorated with hand motifs and tights with the bones painted on the outside, some wearing over sized sculptural sweatshirts with rounded shoulders that Vibskov said were like a body being moulded by hands.
There were sighs from the bodies and beats from the soundtrack and models walking in black caps tied tight around their faces. Although it was a menswear show, a smattering of women walked also for this eclectic crowd of groupies in weird outfits. "Most people in Paris think we only do menswear," the designer said.
There were baggy trousers that cut at the calves and some that wrapped around the waist, as if the arms of a sweater had been built into the design to function as a belt. Oversized sweaters reached the knees and low hung trousers worn with angular padded duvet jackets and tight fitting head gear, created a juxtaposition of unusual dimensions.
"Our clothing is becoming more experimental," Vibskov said. "I don't know if the shows distract from the designs but we do need to make money and pay for the rent and for everyone to come. Perhaps we are not so good at that part."
Still, the brand sells from Russia to New York and he has won several awards. "Sometimes, we make pieces that really go big," Vibskov said. "If you have been doing things for many years it is good to experiment and get excited. Some might think it is ridiculous."