A Conversation with
Fernandez was born in Argentina and lived there until age eight. His family then moved to the outskirts of L.A. During high school he attended Art Center College of Design, but dropped out. He also attended architecture and art school, but dropped out of both. He also apprenticed for a milliner in London.
Fernandez has worked with many contemporary musical artists, including Lady Gaga, Sam Sparro, Scissor Sisters and Beyoncé Knowles. He also directed the music video for Sam Sparro's "Pink Cloud", using influence from technology and the internet to produce a video best viewed on an iPhone, mimicking the device's scrolling and swiping motions.
Tell me a little about yourself; who is Franc Fernandez?
FF: I grew up in Argentina till I was about 8; it was beautiful before the bad economy. My parents then moved us to the outskirts of LA. When you’re in LA the city is great – you find things to do and places to explore. When you’re just a half hour away though it’ s like Middle America. So as a kid trying to get some culture, every chance I got to drive out, I would take it!
What’s your educational background?
FF: When I was in High school I went to Art Center College of Design doing courses. I went full time, but dropped out, then architecture school and dropped out, then art school and dropped out…I basically get my fix and get out. For the most part I’m self-trained. I’m not very good in institutions. I can sort of weed out what I like/dislike, need/not need. I feel like a spoiled brat the second I’m in school. I did a small apprenticeship for a milliner in London; that’s where I picked up the traditional techniques of making hats.
Do you think by having a unique point of view allowed you more creative freedom?
FF: Yeah. I mean I think with anything that I’ve done I have always felt like an outsider in whatever I’m doing, but I kind of like it that way. It’s like if I take dance – I just step in to see what its like and then get out once I’ve gotten what I needed from it. I think to come degree that makes everything I do a “test” and I’m most comfortable that way.
What inspires you?
FF: It’s a feeling or a request from the person I’m designing for …right now I’m doing work creative direction or a talk show so I’ve been watching YouTube’s of Dick Cavett and researching how the internet works because I want the show to be big on the web…So the internet is sort of my inspiration right now. I’ve also been greatly inspired by the iPhone recently. I just made the switch and I’m in love with it. The size, the format. I made a music video for Sam Sparro (“Pink Cloud”) a few months back that was made to be viewed on the iPhone. Lots of scrolling and swiping.
How would you define the fashion scene in LA?
FF: It’s very hidden; there are so many interesting odd people. You have to look for it really. LA is about hiding and keeping away from crowds. I think people dress the best in LA; it’s more eccentric and we’ve got great weather. You go to art openings and people are dressed amazingly – like old women with gold eye-shadow and limited edition dresses.
So sort of like Warhol in the 80s…
FF: Yeah, actually, all of those people from that era are probably living in LA now.
When did you realize you wanted to become a fashion designer?
FF: I don’t think its something that I want to do…its more something I tapped in to a bit. I mean I started making hats and then got requests from stylists to make custom pieces. Then Nicola contacts me – it just kind of took off and picked up. Suddenly you’re working with great people like Gaga and Beyonce. I take great pride in what I do and I’m constantly trying to do something different from what I’ve seen and that gets noticed.
What was the first article of clothing you ever designed?
FF: I use to combine different pieces of clothing in high school, like half of a sweater and half of a shirt, then I’d sew in both their labels into the neck on the outside.
You have worked with pretty amazing people. You’re young and creative and you have created a pop icon with the Lady Gaga meat dress. That has to be a tremendous amount of pressure.
FF: Yeah I mean it was definitely strange like the day after. I know people say, “Oh he’s an overnight sensation”. I mean I woke up the next day, my twitter followers had tripled and I had hate mail & love mail –I had my email address on my website because I was trying to get work. It was weird and strange to be getting sort of both sides with rude aggressive animal activists and then others sending ‘I love you!’. It was intense; I loved it.
There are a lot of people that ask “what sort of statement is this making”. Was it a conscious effort to make a statement with that piece?
FF: No, it all really started with some direction. Nicola said he wanted a meat purse for Gaga to wear on the runway and then we just decided to go all the way with a dress. I did my research and looked at artists that have done a meat dress before. There’s a Canadian artist named Jenna Sterbak who did it back in the 80s. I think because it was in the connotation of Pop music, I wanted it to be less about a statement and make sure it just looked great on TV. Gaga herself has her reasons for commissioning me to make the piece, which I think are valid as well.
I know the question is a bit redundant, but can you describe the general process you went through to design meat dress?
FF: There is not much plan you can do with such an organic material. I went to my family butcher and explained what I was doing. He told me matamabre was the best so I got about 40 pounds of it. My creative collaborator Lyndsea and I kind of just looked to see which cuts would fit best to each area.
How long did it take and how long did it last?
FF: To make it took about 2 days on and off, in and out of the fridge. It kept up well; Gaga wore it the whole night. I think I kept it out of the fridge for a couple days because I had no idea where to put it. Then it was frozen for a while – the meat wasn’t really bloody but rather a greasier cut. I think PETA had made comments about it having maggot on it or something, but it was fine.
Is the negative press from PETA still significant or has it died down?
FF: No I still get a letter here and there from someone. I mean there’s this whole website called Tell Fernandez Meat is Not Fashion, which I think is great to have a website where people can just write to you and tell you things.
All good art is going to provoke reactions some will love it and others will hate it –
FF: Yeah. Cher was the only person in the public eye who saw the dress up close at the time – she made a really nice statement on twitter that she thought the design was beautiful and that it was a perfect work of art because it was caused controversy and talk.
Explain your philosophy on design- your idea of a “third level”
FF: The way I work is usually in extremes. I either plan things out extensively - measuring, laying out, or I just do it
How much does technology play a part in your design execution?
FF: Not very much with fashion. I used to plan things on illustrator, but lately I’ve been dealing with more organic materials and shapes. Although with this talk show I’m definitely obsessed with technology because I want to reach podcasts and to be on the web & TV. I watch all of my TV on the internet now.
Who are some of your favorite designers?
FF: I love Maison Martin Margiela; it’s my favorite design house. There’s a design team that was in LA, but moved to New York called Grey Ant. It’s hard to find great interesting menswear. I think in that sense I love what Romain Kremer does. And there’s a GREAT menswear designer in Mexico City called EGR.
As an artist you’ve done it your own way, what would you tell a budding artists?
FF: I think that’s it, just make it your own. You don’t have to suffer through art school; even the word art school is so weird. You either want to do it or you don’t and you learn what you want to and apply it. I think I’m just lazy and ADD so I don’t like to sit down and do things if I don’t have to or want to. I push myself to get what I need and get where I need to be. I’m also very lucky to have great people looking my way and supporting me.
You’ve worked with many iconic people – Lady Gaga and Beyonce – who’s next?
FF: I styled the Scissor Sisters UK arena tour and am working with them a bit for the summer. I’m also excited for Sam Sparro to finish his album and see where I can fit in there. I’m also developing a talk show with Casey Spooner (he’ll host). It’s funny how so far all of my work has been parallel to music artists.
Special thanks to the Gansevoort Hotel’s STK restaurant for hosting this interview
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