Conversation with: Daniel Wingate on the ESCADA meets Thilo Westermann collaboration
February 5, 2015
Art is part of the Neiman Marcus DNA; the point where it intersects with fashion is our happiest place. So we couldn’t be more delighted about the Spring 2015 Escada collection featuring German artist Thilo Westermann.
The partnership was born when Escada Fashion Director Daniel Wingate encountered Westermann’s intricately detailed work at an exhibition in Nürnberg, Germany. He was astounded at the artist’s ability to portray three-dimensional imagery using only gradients of darkness and light. “There was a very subtle, beautiful image of flowers in a vase that moved me,” says Wingate. “I walked away immediately wanting to do something with him.”
For the Escada collaboration, Westermann worked closely with Wingate to modify the hyper-realistic images from his Vanitas series, scanning and enlarging them up to ten times their original size before printing them on fabric. What began as three pieces grew to a full capsule collection of streamlined, impeccably tailored silhouettes. “We loved the idea of wrapping a woman in the flowers,” says Wingate. “I decided to make the cleanest, simplest canvases possible. If it’s a beautiful print and a beautiful fabric, it doesn’t need to be complicated. The piece lives on its own.”
In the studio, Westermann had one special request. “He told me he didn’t want just to take his paintings and put them on a jacket,” says Wingate. “He wanted them to evolve.” Wingate asked a favor in return. Though Westermann typically works only in black and white, Wingate wanted color. “Escada stands for color. Our woman is joyful and loves pink. We wanted to bring that in.” Happily, Westermann obliged.
For an in-depth discussion about the collection, NM Fashion Director Ken Downing sat down with Wingate.
Ken Downing: Tell me about that first piece you saw and how it became a collaboration.
Daniel Wingate: The image hit me strongly, but its impact went deeper when the gallerist explained how Westermann paints. Using a technique that blends reverse-glass painting and modern printing, he paints four to six weeks on the back side of glass with a teeny little pin to create the idea of photorealism. His works, the Vanitas series in particular, reference digital imagery and a period in Dutch art when they were painting all these still lifes. Then there’s the deeper meaning of flowers, which can represent beauty, but also love and death. I walked away thinking, “God, I wish I could do something with them.”
KD: I love how something that has a very digital quality to it is actually handcrafted and artisanal. I also like that it’s hand painted on glass. Artists at the turn of the century were doing that, but this has a modernness to it. The silhouettes in this collection are simple; you allow the print to celebrate a woman’s body. You took the idea of petals and incorporated them into the hem of the jacket and the dress, so they fall in a subtle, unexpected way and become petals around her waist.
DW: Right, with a ruffle or a bolo, it actually looks like a flower! Working on the dress together, I said to him, “Let’s take the stamen and put it in the middle so it looks like placket.” That’s how these pieces became an extension of his work. He’s doing these very small paintings, then scans them, and blows them up to prove to the viewer his work is so fine, even at 400, 600, 800 times their original size. It’s exactly the same thing with this collection.
KD: You worked side-by-side with him with placing the actual floral patterns onto the fabric?
DW: It was so important. Fashion and art have been intertwined for a long time, but this was something new and modern for Escada. We went back and forth with ideas, deciding how it could be done best. I brought the knowledge of our customer, the vision of the brand, and also pattern technique. He brought his imagination and his artistic eye. It was a constant rapport and wonderful having the direct contact with him.
KD: I love that in this day and age, we’re all connected, either through the web or with airplanes, so we can work alongside another creator in true collaboration.
DW: I’m so proud to be working with a young artist, because it brings a new story to Escada. It’s exciting for the customer and supports young talent. After all, they are the posterity of the world. I love looking at all the famous arts that existed before us, but Westermann is here in the present. He lives in Munich, so I could call him anytime and say, “Let’s talk about how we should place the hip of the dress.” It was a quick process that started out with three pieces. Then the fabric starting coming in and it turned into an evening gown, then t-shirt, then a beautiful scarf…
KD: Are you interested in more collaborations?
DW: Definitely. I want to push myself, because that’s what being a designer is all about. Art is always looking forward and telling a story. That’s why so many great designers in the past and present work with artists. I want that to be part of the Escada brand’s evolution.
KD: Your collaboration with Thilo is nothing short of perfection. I know women are going to be proud to sport such gorgeous pieces of art.
DW: It’s been a fantastic ride. We launched in New York at the Adelson Gallery, a preeminent American gallery with a focus on Impressionism: Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent. It was a wonderful contrast for them to showcase a younger, modern German artist painting something kind of classic. It was Westermann’s first time presenting and an amazing event.
KD: I’m a huge collector of emerging artists, too. Is a Westermann piece on your wall in your house?
DW: Actually, two pieces will be hung in the entry foyer here at Escada. That’s how I see the brand in the next five, ten, twenty years—a whole lobby full of art and music next to wonderful pieces telling the story about the connection between art and fashion.
KD: Art is an important part of the heritage of Neiman Marcus, too. When Stanley Marcus would go to markets around the world, he always made time for galleries. While curating his own collection, he would buy art for the Neiman Marcus stores. He wanted to bring back things that would stimulate, excite, and ignite the customers’ imaginations.
DW: He was a genius. He was an artist himself because he saw it coming.
KD: Congratulations and all the very best with your upcoming collaboration. And thank you for convincing Thilo that color is joyous and necessary in a woman’s wardrobe!
DW: The mantra of Escada.
Thilo Westermann “Vanitas” images via thilowestermann.com