Self-described as the Queen of Black, designer Esther Perbandt has established herself as an early frontrunner on Making the Cut, Amazon Studios’ new fashion competition show. Only two episodes into the inaugural season, Perbandt has won the inaugural two challenges with designs that highlight her brand’s signature edgy style and all-black aesthetic.Among the initial 12 competitors, the designer has impressed hosts Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum, as well as the all-star panel of judges including Nicole Richie, Joseph Altuzarra, Naomi Campbell, and CR‘s own Carine. Not only does this achievement earn bragging rights, but also the chance for one of the winning designs of each episode to be produced and sold on Amazon.
In the first two challenges–one which required designers to create two looks that defined their brand identity and another that asked them to create a Haute Couture-inspired look and its commercial counterpart–Perbrandt’s distinct design perspective proved its appeal. At the helm of her own brand for over 15 years, the designer has established her avant garde yet approachable point of view, informed by her background and proclivity for the color black. While these have ultimately led to her success in Making the Cut so far, they have also brought added obstacles to the challenges. As the show only reveals mere minutes of the designers’ process each week, CR speaks with Perbandt about her journey on the show, why Paris, Berlin, and Moscow inspire her, and why black is at the heart of her brand.
In the second episode, you share that Paris, Berlin, and Moscow are central to your identity as a designer. How have these cities shaped you?
“Berlin, Paris, and Moscow were the three cities where I lived. Of course Berlin is where my roots are, where I was born and raised, where I studied fashion design. I grew up in West-Berlin, what we called ‘the island’ back then. Although it belonged to the ‘free’ part of Germany, we were surrounded by the wall and could not just leave the city to the countryside or woods outside of the city. As a teenager I loved to have the image of the ‘island’ big city brat. When visiting West-Germany you were considered something special, because everybody knew that West-Berlin was the city of free spirits, of subculture, of punks, music, of political movements, feminism.
I remember my mom buying an eye kajal pencil and a sharpener from Chanel one day. She never wore makeup before and I think she only used the pencil a couple of times afterwards. But I was fascinated by the Chanel [eyeliner]. I remember how I went again and again to the bathroom, just to look at the pencil and the Chanel logo on it. It was the door to another world I hadn’t yet accessed. It was the symbol of femininity, elegance, style. The symbol of Paris. And then one day, finally, Paris was calling. I moved [there] in the year 2000 and stayed one-and-a-half years, before going to the south of France to start my first job as a fashion designer in a French fashion house. Of course two-and-a-half years in France left it’s marks on my style. Being surrounded by women who had a great sense of fashion, femininity, wore good quality shoes and lipstick, and were polished, topped off my radical and stubborn attitude in a sensitive way.
But before being able to discover this feminine elegance that I was attracted to, my mother pushed me into a completely different direction. Over the years, she tried to enthuse me with the Russian culture and language. I didn’t see the point, until one day she came back from one of her trips to Russia with a video tape of a fashion show by a Russian designer. I was so thrilled by the creativity I saw in that video that I started to learn Russian the day after. Two years later, I found myself in Moscow working for three months with the Russian artist Gosha Ostretsov. He was a sculptor, painter, and stylist for a Russian [fashion publication]. He saw himself as a son of the Russian avant garde of the 1920s. That was pure brainwashing for me, and changed everything I had in my mind before. Those three months were the most inspiring and influential time for me and my work. I arrived as a naive young German woman with long blond braids and left completely upside-down with short brown hair. Once back, I intensively continued to pay attention to the Russian artists of that time and their deconstructionism.”
Viewers only get to see a few highlights of the creative and production process for each challenge. Can you tell us more about the atmosphere in the sewing room?
“I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t intimidated when I first saw all the other designers and watched them work in the studio the first days. Who would not be? I’ve been out of fashion school for almost 20 years now. I always try to explain to my interns, school classes, or other groups who do studio visits with me that every designer works so differently. There is not one way. Seeing 11 other designers working in one place was so incredible to watch. We had some really good drawers in our group, some incredible drapers, and other incredible handcraft skilled ones. I was thrilled by the creative energy and vibe in the room. And I was surprised by how little there was competition among us. It was actually the other way around. We helped each other. As I hadn’t sewn or done patterns for a very long time, it took me a bit to get back into the process. I was a bit behind at the beginning and received wonderful help from the other designers.”
Why is black a significant color to you and your brand?
“Doing an all black (or mainly black with some swabs of white) collection was nothing I planned in advance. When I first started in fashion, my collections were actually quite colorful, but with time it didn’t feel right anymore. I experimented with myself, and [thought about] when felt really strong and protected. Because this is what I wanted to offer. A fashion which is more than fashion–a modern suit of armor, an urban shell that makes people glow and sparkle and is empowering. For me black is a perfect frame for a beautiful personality, like the right frame to an amazing piece of art. It has an expressive power. Through the contrast, everything around it seems so much lighter and I really love light and I love it bright. So working with black means working with the light. I love all the different shades of black. Every fabric has its own black caused by illumination. Black is my fundament from where I start and it opens a huge stage for the cut and details.It is the most timeless color. Working irrespective of trends enables my customers to collect my pieces like they would collect art.”
Was there anything that you learned from the judges that stuck with you?
“I knew in advance that the limitation to my all black palette would be a huge subject during all the judge’s meetings. Going through all the pros and cons of such a business decision with the judges was a crucial thing to me. It is easy when you stick to your comfort zone where you only have contact with customers who are looking exactly for that, but being in a situation where I had to fight and argue over and over again for the very specific signature and DNA of my brand and try to convince [the judges] that doing so was the best thing I could do for me and my brand made me so much fucking stronger.”
After winning the first two challenges, what was your mindset going into the next one?
“Let’s say I was prepared that it would not continue like that. The judges probably thought so by matching me up with Will in episode three, whose style and taste comes from a totally different planet [than mine]. But what they didn’t expect was that we are coming from exactly the same planet soulwise. I was so happy to be able to work with him. He is such a talented person and I love his perfectionism and that he has all the skills of working for a haute couture house. I learned a lot from him.”
Making the Cut is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.END
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createdAt:Mon, 30 Mar 2020 13:53:33 +0000