The German designer, one half of luxury womenswear label Talbot Runhof, discusses fashion, politics and more.
Your spring 15 Talbot Runhof collection features images of Russian president Vladimir Putin in fashion capitals Paris, New York, Milanand London with the slogan “Visit [the city] before he does”. What can you tell us about this?
The whole thing started with a T-shirt that was selling at a pop-up store in [Moscow department store] GUM. It depicted Putin in a Hawaiian shirt, sipping on a cocktail while vacationing in recently “annexed” Crimea. We commissioned graphic artist Stephan Heering to create four different collage motifs depicting what might be in store [for the rest of the world] if we don’t speak out, then Swiss textile maven Martin Leuthold made these beautiful prints on basketball tricot jersey with rhinestones for the range. We seriously doubt that you’ll find them at GUM next season.
You’ve made quite a statement with the collection. What is the relationship between fashion and politics in your mind?
Many fashion designers are celebrated as superstars, admired and worshipped by their fans. If all it takes to raise millions for a disease basically unheard of by the general public is a few movie stars dumping buckets of ice water on their heads, then yes, fashion can certainly be used to give something back to society.
Is there a particular woman in your mind when you and your partner, Johnny Talbot, are designing?
Our motto is: “It’s all about knowing where to stop.” We always have a woman in mind who knows how to impress, yet never goes too far. That said, we have so many different types of customer and so many women we admire, it would be unfair to focus on just one.
How does it feel to look back over the past 20 years and see how your designs have changed?
A book was written about us in 2013 entitled Talbot Runhof. It celebrated our past 20 years and it was amazing to see how things progressed. We photographed almost our entire archive over two weeks, so we really got to see the past 20 years flash before our eyes.
Is it difficult to balance commercial appeal with your own artistic vision?
We are very hands-on; we can occasionally be found on the sales floor of our own boutiques in Munich and Paris. We travel a lot doing trunk shows and personal appearances, for instance at Harrods, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman or Neiman Marcus. It makes it easier to maintain a commercial and artistic balance if you have a viable relationship with your customer.
Lots of celebrities have worn your dresses. Have you got a favourite?
Recently, we dressed actresses Kristen Stewart and Helen Mirren. So you can see how diverse our customers are - from a teen vampire idol to a grand dame of the silver screen.
Your parents ran the premium womenswear store Regina Moden in the German city of Wiesbaden when you were growing up. What are your memories of that time?
I remember these beautiful Valentino crêpe de chine blouses; they were absolutely exquisite. My mum had an incredibly refined taste and an amazing sense of colour. I suppose some of it rubbed off on me.
Having accompanied them on buying trips to Paris when you were 14, did that inspire your own fashion career?
My mum was a client at Nina Ricci. I’ll never forget sitting there during my first show with my little drawing pad, feverishly trying to sketch each outfit. What I didn’t know at the time was that only authorised journalists were allowed to sketch. So after the show, the Princess of Württemberg, who worked for Nina Ricci at the time, scolded me and snatched away my pad. But she didn’t crush my enthusiasm.
You started out working as a fashion agent in Munich in 1989, but did you always want to be a designer?
Yes, but it was easier to get into the business as a salesman. I am still very interested in what works and what doesn’t.
You and US-born Johnny Talbot opened your first store in Munich in 1992 after a year working together as a brand. Did that seem quick?
Our company was about a year old and we had basically run out of money. Our only capital was about 100 sample pieces, so we thought the logical thing to do would be to open a boutique. The rest is history.
At the time the brand was called All About Eve, but you changed it to Talbot Runhof in 2000. Why?
We wanted the faces to match the names.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing at the moment?
Making the brand as well-known and as relevant as our peers. We have always had a great product; now we need to show the world that we are also a great brand. As part of this, we opened our first boutique in Paris last year and an online store earlier this year.
Can you tell us something surprising about yourself?
I am a control freak.
What inspires you?
When I think back on some of the inspirations for our past collections - the fairy tale The Red Shoes, Barbra Streisand, the television show I Love Lucy, the artist Kandinsky, ballet, opera, the colour green - it is hard to pinpoint one source. Inspiration is everywhere.
How do you start your day?
A bike ride to my studio, a bowl of fresh muesli and lots of still water.
Where is your favourite place?
Apart from my bed, the Ses Boques beach restaurant in a very remote cove in Ibiza.
What’s next for Talbot Runhof?
We tend to fly by the seat of our pants, and in a world like this one you have to be flexible. A London boutique is certainly something we wouldn’t rule out for the near future [the brand’s current UK stockists include Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Net-A-Porter].