GAMUT is an anonymous fashion collective made up of five designers and friends, graduates of La Cambre in Belgium. They came out of school to connect their artistic universes inspired by Belgian culture and aesthetics until they themselves became the subject of study. Are we facing the new wave of The Antwerp Six?
Through its freedom project, composed also by photographers, designers, or stylists, the Parisian collectif acts as an experimental lab in which all perspectives are part of the same subversive language. This horizontal model deletes the creative director role, fusing the DNA of all the members in order to create an underground coherence that has some meaning; that transcends in some way, evoking Margiela’s wake, beyond that enigmatic spirit that cloaks the collective in mystery.
This collage of personalities, references, and identities turns GAMUT into an arrhythmic dance of abstract garments dressed by underground muses. In a genderless imaginary in which to experiment with existing garments and radically construct (or deconstruct) new designs, so that they acquire new meanings while drinking in the poetry that can be drawn from upcycling.
This is how the inclusive community, which goes far beyond fashion, is climbing on the Parisian scene and is gradually doing so on a global level. Because there is still a lot of GAMUT to see, and to feel.
VT: The enigma lies at the GAMUT’s heart, an anonymous collective that hides the identity of its members, following in the footsteps of Margiela or Vetements. Do you think you might be surfing a new wave of renegades of fashion?
G: GAMUT is like a band, its members are united behind a common project that goes beyond each of them individually. The traditional fashion system magnifies the ego of the designers, on which the storytelling of the brands is often based. We wanted to position ourselves differently. Our anonymity does not stem from a desire to create mystery, but rather to give priority, in the public eye, to our creative proposal, leaving them the possibility of identifying personally with the project. We are not rebels, nor are we advocating for a paradigm shift (others are already doing it very well).
GAMUT is not a way to criticize what is currently being done in the fashion industry, but rather the result of a positive desire on our part. We wanted to create our own space outside a system that didn’t suit us, but we’re not meant to be examples. This does not prevent us from being aware of and claiming our difference, which consists of regularly questioning our ways of working, creating and producing, by deconstructing our practices. Unlearning certain mechanisms, taking a step back in order to be happier in our creative practice, and why not propose a new style.
VT: Your work becomes a collage of dissident personalities and cross-cutting influences that experiment with fashion and art. What links you all? How do you manage to balance all your codes, references and opinions when creating?
G: We met during our time studying at La Cambre. It’s a small school – the “styling and fashion creation” section has about ten students per promotion – which transmits a very specific vision, based on volume and a certain level of demand in terms of construction. This common vocabulary allows us to communicate very effectively, in a very fluid way, in terms of design. We also share common obsessions: for example, the world of tailoring, which we like to reinterpret in all its forms, but also upcycling, and the history of Belgian fashion…
Our respective aesthetic universes are extremely different, even irreconcilable: this could represent a difficulty, but on the contrary, these differences allow each of us to take our place, to exploit certain expertise: one on technical pieces, the other on artisanal pieces, etc. The fact that each has his own field, his own vision of the silhouette, enriches the common discourse all the more. The collective is made up of five designers and a photographer, who regularly captures our work at different stages of creation, and brings a very precise and external viewpoint, helping us to stand back from the “design” part of the collective. We regularly collaborate with external stylists, such as Samuel Bardaji or Ewa Kluczenko, who propose looks based on our creations and help us to combine our respective approaches. It’s in these different views (and then in our public’s) that the “GAMUT style” is born, which remains quite mysterious for us until the collections are unveiled.
VT: Since your first collection presented in 2018 at Gare des Mines, how has GAMUT evolved? Would you repeat the same patterns?
G: At the beginning, we were just going for it. The aim was to establish ourselves in the fashion landscape, by creating large collections of 40 looks, while putting in place our methods for working and creating together. Very quickly the project attracted interest – we were part of the official Paris Fashion Week calendar and the official Designers Apartment / Sphere showroom from our second collection. This was a success that legitimized the project and established it in the French fashion landscape, while at the same time creating a feeling of being on the run, of being tired, of losing our sense of purpose.
The wholesale system, with its high margins for the retailer and its relentless schedule, is somewhat deadly for emerging brands. The health crisis has forced us to refocus the project on its deepest intentions: to create for (and sell directly to) the community of those who follow GAMUT, with a realistic approach: small collections outside of the calendar, while allowing for one or two big “image” projects per year that allow us to experiment and exert influence. If we had to do it all over again, we wouldn’t change anything; we’ve learned a lot from our mistakes. Launching an entrepreneurial/professional project when you have an exclusively creative background means making several unsuccessful attempts before finding the formula that suits you. We’re getting there.
VT: Within GAMUT’s narrative, which abstracts from clothing, sustainability and craftsmanship become a religion that the collective professes. What do you place at the heart of your creative approach and what inspires you to move towards eco-futurism in fashion?
G: Since our studies in Belgium, we have been used to working with second-hand pieces. It’s a typically Belgian approach to design, which saves a lot of time: we start with an existing garment, which already contains codes and details that we want to keep and build a new design by transforming the shape and volume. At the time, this method was used to make mock-ups: we ended up cutting the final piece from a new fabric bought on a roll. Since the creation of GAMUT in 2017, we have been looking for ways to upcycle existing pieces, either in an artisanal way on unique pieces or in a more systematic way on small series.
Upcycling, beyond the reduced ecological footprint, has a poetic aspect. A GAMUT garment made from a second-hand piece contains several layers, it’s a bit like archaeology. When you take apart a jacket or pair of trousers to put together a new piece, you discover traces left by the tailor who made the piece, sometimes decades ago… Our interest in tailoring, which we have been doing since the first collection, comes partly from this obsession with the artisanal handmade approach. The ecological and sustainable aspect of this creative process is, in a way, a bonus, an additional advantage, but it is not what motivates us in the first place – even if in our methods we try to minimize our environmental impact as much as possible.
VT: GAMUT is more than just a brand. It’s also a family that develops through the “Chosen Family” project a festive and cultural proposal suspended between parties, techno, and gabber culture. In this sense, do you think that only experimenting with the body as a canvas limits your artistic abilities? How does this events section interrelates with the fashion brand?
G: GAMUT and Chosen Family are two names carried by the same team, and address the same community. Through fashion, GAMUT intends to represent a nocturnal fauna: the night is an inclusive, queer space where standards of beauty are shifting and where bodies are put on stage, during Chosen Family parties for example. GAMUT is very much inspired by the muses that inhabit the night. Fashion is only interesting if it is embodied in a given space if it is created for a certain context. GAMUT does not imagine loungewear or sportswear. What drives us is the idea of a wardrobe designed for going out, showing off, dancing, and having fun. And while the creative possibilities offered by the body as a medium of expression are infinite, Chosen Family offers us a new playground in another field.
More generally, GAMUT has never wanted to limit itself to the category of ‘fashion brand’. We love to collaborate on projects that are sometimes far from fashion design (workshops, cultural programming, dance performances, films) and to see fashion as part of a wider creative spectrum.
VT: Following the premise that every artistic product must have a meaning and transcend, what message did you want to convey through your last SS22 collection? Does this fashion party mean a liberation and a turning point after a dystopian period?
G: The lock-downs stripped fashion of one of its very reasons for existing: wearing a look for a specific event, in order to stand out and make a personal statement that we can’t express every day. Likewise, the health crisis has pushed GAMUT to question the way that it presents itself. The collective agreed on one solution: 360° video, a process that reproduces reality and that dusts off the fashion show experience.
The video, called D’une heure bleue à une autre (nous n’avons rien fait de grave) is based on the tale Le Contre-Jour by Arnaud Idelon, itself inspired by the festive approach dreamt up by GAMUT to shoot its SS20 campaign. The text describes an after-party organized in the furnace of the Garage MU Fest. The first phase of the project, the video recording, took place in La Station — Gare des Mines. Submerged in a party pulsing to original music by JAZZBOY and F/cken Chipotle, 14 muses dance in full sunlight in the middle of a huge empty lot. An inclusive and lovingly chosen cast represents an entire panel of the underground night scene. Performers, DJs, artists, dancers, models… D’une heure bleue à une autre (nous n’avons rien fait de grave) invites the viewer to enter an immersive transmedia experience that melds fashion, literature, music, performance and digital arts – and the imagery of festive nights, put on hold since March 2020.
VT: Through your proposals, we can detect that spontaneous, that arrhythmic dance between the garments of the collection. How do you manage to materialize that random effect under a reflexive creative process in which you question each piece you make?
G: For the SS22 video, the muses themselves played a role in the creation of the collection, as well as the redirections of the story and staging: each outfit was tailor-made, following interviews between the muses, the author, and GAMUT during the weeks before the shoot. A dialectic, individualized and horizontal approach to fashion creation, centered on the person wearing the garments. The collection that sprang from these micro-collaborations interprets the GAMUT universe through the external vision of these 14 people. The pieces, often hybrid (leather accessory jacket, corset dress, dungaree suit, etc.), highlight the artisanal work, from hand-knitting and recurrent embroidery to tailored stitches, bordering on fine art. Faithful to its obsessions, GAMUT created the majority of the collection from leftover fabric and second-hand pieces.
It’s a special case. The rest of the time, when we create our collections, we follow a fairly organic process, which aims to put all the designers in the collective at ease. Every idea is welcomed. Everyone works on their personal inputs at first, until a first shoot with the collective’s photographer. This is when the selection work begins, and the collection really starts to take shape. The principles developed by the designers start to be exchanged and to infuse the work of the other designers: in the end, it becomes difficult to know who had this or that idea originally… This is followed by a second and sometimes a third shoot, fitting sessions with a stylist until the elaboration of a coherent collection, which respects the DNA of each member.
VT: Since the beginning, you have deconstructed binary clothing to give way to a fluid imaginary that advocates gender freedom. We are seeing how in this era the fashion system is verbalizing this social and inclusive LGBT struggle much more. Do you believe that fashion is, now more than ever, a political tool? Or is that what they are trying to sell us?
G: The composition and political sensibilities of the group make GAMUT a feminist collective (but shouldn’t we all be feminists???). That’s where we express ourselves from, it’s part of us as individuals. This inevitably influences our creative proposal. But in our communication texts – and even in general in our interviews – we decided not to support our brand discourse on the subject of feminism and lgbt, queer, inclusivity, because for us it’s a matter that goes without saying, and we wanted to avoid the pitfall of “pinkwashing” at all costs.
As we said above, GAMUT represents a certain community, GAMUT likes artistic proposals that are born in the margins, in alternative spaces. Our choice is not to formally verbalize our inclusivity because it seems to us to be an essential part of the collective. We prefer to give a voice -in videos for example- or to serve as a creative springboard to diverse personalities from our surroundings.
VT: If you could visualize the GAMUT’s future, what would you like to see?
G: The only certainty that has animated us for more than a year is that in the future, GAMUT will remain a laboratory, a space for alternative creation in our lives. We all have activities outside the collective – we all have creative or teaching jobs, which feed the project and allow us to maintain GAMUT’s independence by eliminating a form of financial pressure.
We don’t really have a precise vision of the future. Each year, we draw up a calendar for the coming year, without projecting ourselves into a long-term growth strategy. We move forward instinctively, accepting to be surprised by the proposals that may emerge along the way…