Fresh style insights, tips and commentary by Michelle Tea, Michael Braithwaite, Leo Plass, Page McBee and Carrie Leilam Love.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Creature of the NUIT: An interview with Frederic Baldo

Frederic Baldo is one-half of the jewelry design team Nuit No. 12. Based in Paris, the designs run the goth gamut from elegantly creepy to straight-up Satanic. Working with iconography that has gotten a lot of play - swallows, skulls - they revive the motifs by creating pieces that looks antique and expensive, collectible and classic. They also make purses - little, darling art deco-ish clutches, gorgeous, hardy leather duffels, totes and shoulder bags. I met Frederic in Paris a couple years ago when he was generously helping not just Beth Ditto but her hanger-ons (moi) in and out of the shows during fashion week, and loved the elegantly sinister sheen of his accessories. He caught his breath after the recent Paris shows and let me interview him! In English! Here it is.

IRONING BOARD COLLECTIVE: You are one of the nicest, gentle-seeming people I've ever met, and yet your designs are so Satanic! Do you have some crazy dark side or what?

FREDERIC BALDO: That's very kind of you! I will not say that I have a dark side, but I was always attracted to the aestheticism and force of fantastic universes. A quest of beyond, a research on the body and its brittleness, with all the violence that results from this. The darker and obscure references that arise from my work are modeling a kind of carapace, a shield against the hard moments of life.

IBC: Swallows and skulls are both classic motifs that have gotten a lot of play recently, yet you make them look mysterious, antique and new in your designs. What draws you to these images, and did you put deliberate thought into making them feel fresh?

FB: Yes! Our collection is inspired by works from the XVII century and contemporary art, as well as artists such as Caravage, Gustav Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley, Hans Bellmar, Dino Valls, Amie Dicke, Sally Mann . . . The references are classic, antic, but also universal. It is what keeps our jewels timeless and modern, the whole of it enriched by the mix of materials and colors. It makes it completely new.

IBC: How did Nuit No. 12 come about, and what does the name mean?

FB: I created Nuit No. 12 with my friend Ludavine Machinet in December 2007. We had different styles, very complimentary, and the desire to combine our talents came very naturally. The name 'Nuit No. 12' references all the freedoms and prohibitions which generate the world of the night, a mirror sublimated by the day, an open door to other worlds, parallels unreal and oneiric, where everything becomes possible, a dream of total freedom.

IBC: When we met in Paris during the shows you were such a help to Beth Ditto, styling her, escorting her to the shows. Whats been your work inside the larger fashion industry?

FB: I have worked in fashion for about fifteen years. I began as a consultant, simultaneously developing a collection of woman's clothing under my name which I ran for six years, primarily hand made, limited edition knitwear. I styled many celebrities with my own designs. After the 2001 attacks I stopped, and began to work as a stylist for different celebrities and magazines. I've done many things in fashion from various angles - designer, consultant, stylist, journalist. It led me to meet many people and to get a very good, global vision of the fashion industry.

IBC: What was the first fashion week you ever attended and what was that like for you? What was the highlight?

FB: I was 2o years old, I lived it from the designer side, presenting in October 1995 my first collection of clothing in a passage of les Jardin de Tuileries. I was not in the official calendar and sought a place close to the Caroussel du Louvre, where all the shows used to take place. It was very crazy, the tendency of the moment was toward total glamour and I presented a post-apocalyptic collection which presented various states of skin - burned, skinned, ravaged aged. The models wore a kind of wig of modeling clay which gave the impression their heads were on fire or mutilated. This happened in a famous gay cruising spot filled with fashion editors. It was very intense and against fashion week.

IBC: What materials do you most like to work with?

FB: We have always at Nuit No. 12 displayed craftmenship, using beautiful materials to create timeless pieces that last and can be transmitted. Our designs tell a story and do not have to speak to current fashion hypes. This is why our choices naturally went towards luxury and precious materials such as lambskin, deerskin, ebony, pink ivory.

IBC: What antique, no longer worn accessory would you like to see people wearing again?

FB: I have a real passion for "Momento Mori" jewels, where you enclosed a wick of hair, a loved one's portrait, a baby tooth . . . a link between the past and the present, which today for most people is associated with something morbid.

IBC: What is the most challenging part of designing jewelry?

FB: I'm always looking to give a story to our pieces, and love the idea of a fetish jewel full of sense and emotion.

IBC: Where can we find your jewelry in the U.S.?

FB: The collection is carried by great stores in Europe (Liberty, Browns, No. 30), Asia (Joyce) and the Middle East (Harvey Nichols Dubai) but we haven't any retailers in the U.S. for the moment. (Get on it, Barney's! - ed.)

IBC: You have the aura of a quiet shaman. What is your astrological sign? Do you have a philosophy that moves you through life?

FB: Oh, really! I love that idea, and it describes me perfectly, the quiet force - la force tranquille, as we say in French, an enlightened being that opens doors. I have as a philosophy: Our force stops when our fear starts. Even if I am a Sagittarius, a sign of fire, not very quiet! But it is very funny that you speak to me about that, because I saw Fever Ray on stage last month. I love her, her aesthetic and musical references are a true shamanic experience.

IBC: What's the first step I should take if I want to begin making jewelry?

FB: Everyone must go by their own way and instinct, it is very difficult to advise somebody. But there is a saying of Jacque de Bourbon-Busset which is so true: Passion creates the direction, constancy creates the way. Le passion cree le sens, la constance cree le chemin.

IBC: Finally, who are your favorite designers?

FB: I love the magic and dream of Alexander McQueen, the modernity of Balenciaga, and Madelaine Vionnet's freedom.

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