A self-confessed suburban girl, Clémentine Henrion moved to the city of Paris to study at Duperré School of Applied Arts when she was just 18. Torn between fashion, art installations and graphic arts, Henrion has worked in a variety of creative spheres over the course of her career, including freelance costume design for theatre and music videos, illustrations for fashion and advertisement, and not to mention designing her very own jewellery collection "Ein Stein On The Beach".
We've been lucky enough to catch up with the artist for an exclusive interview, reminiscing on the essence of 90's culture, sneaker nostalgia and the creative inspiration behind the impressive current collaboration with Le Coq Sportif.
For those who don't know much about you, can you please tell us a bit about your work and life in Paris?
Creatively, my process is guided by a continuous meditation of the human senses. The contemplation and preservation of joy and excitement at their sources, from infancy to adulthood. I aim to encapsulate the innocent feelings of the past with beautiful childhood memories.
After moving to Paris, it took me more than 10 years to really appreciate it, because to me, this city was too cruel and oppressive. I started falling in love once I stopped taking the metro and decided to wander around which only then, the city suddenly appeared as extremely enthusiastic and open minded with a lot of treasures to discover in unexpected areas, all kinds of things you could never see if you spent your life in the underground.
After studying Fashion, how has your journey evolved into the designer you are today?
I wanted to experiment in all fields of creation and design all pieces of my ideal universe. From the music to the images, from the carpet to the make up… my leitmotiv was to propose stories, manifesto garments and to prototype sensations and convictions, instead of designing classical soulless collections. I wanted to prove that I was able to work in different artistic fields as it was pretty bad in France to be considered an "all-rounder”. Step by step, my multifaceted feature has become my signature, and I'm very happy about it.
Who or what influences you and how has that influenced your work?
I am constantly influenced by nature, light phenomenon’s and scientific explorations. I like to spend most of my free time contemplating what surrounds me. I can sit for hours watching mini worlds in the grass, scintillating flows of water, movement of leaves in the wind or dust dancing in a ray of light. I need to feel these phases of peaceful meditation to clear my mind and renew my creativity.
More concretely, I am deeply influenced by rave culture, albums covers, hip-hop iconography, pop culture, food, plastic toys from the 80s and 90s, Japanese arts and crafts… I love movement, music, and neon colours.
Artists like David Hockney, Philippe Parreno, Pierre Huygue, Delphine Coindet, Ann Veronica Janssens, Bob Wilson and James Turrell; and I'm very inspired by the work of new young artists like Elodie Henrion, Anne Bourse, Laurent Proux, Simon Bergala and Gregory Cuquel.
My childhood and teenage years are also a big influence to me as these times were very free and creative, because a young person is naturally instinctive and passionate. Feeling and behaving the same as when you were a teenager gives you a lot of motivation and energy. It's not about nostalgia, but more about experiencing passion and infinite enthusiasm.
What are some of your most memorable projects so far?
Helium Eternal Balloons: This was my first real personal collection, inspired by a reminiscence of the marvellous visions of childhood. Everything started for me thanks to this concept. I created them with almost nothing except some fabric and all of my heart, and they brought me unexpected visibility on the Internet and in the fashion press. They are my lucky charms.
Smells Like… In Bloom For Ever: I started this project for my Master’s Diploma and I am still working on it today. With the help and confessions of teenagers from the past as well as the present, I displayed authentic pictures, confidential texts and diary excerpts written by teenagers themselves during the 1990's and the 2000's.
I was invited to present this project in four different exhibitions, from 2009 until 2015, and I hope to make a huge fifth and final exhibition with a beautiful art book edition.
Ein Stein On The Beach: This was my first printed silk scarves collection. I designed them in homage to my extraordinary sister who now is flying to other galaxies. I put all of my love into these prints, they are telling something very sad, but they look incredibly colourful and optimistic. They are my favourite illustrations, and they opened a new life for me, creatively and spiritually.
And my collaboration with Le Coq Sportif is a favourite for sure! I have always had this dream of designing crazy pop patterns for a qualitative but cool streetwear brand like Le Coq Sportif.
Speaking of Le Coq Sportif, how did the collaboration come about?
I have been freelancing for Le Coq Sportif for several years creating illustrations for their lookbooks and displays. After telling them my motivation for creating their textile patterns, they offered me the wonderful opportunity to design prints for their women's sneaker collection.
Tell us about the design process?
For this first collaboration, Le Coq Sportif offered me a lot of creative freedom. They wanted me to think about colourful prints inspired by the notion of multicultural patchwork.
We chose two main directions: traditional Japanese patterns and Russian folk embroideries. I composed the structure like an imaginary Japanese Washi paper pattern, where the waves create the main movement, which is very dynamic. I then merged this choppy sea with a light, cloudy background in order to represent a dreamlike sea of clouds. The pink silk cords and pompoms, flowers and cranes are famous elements of traditional Japanese prints and also brings a narrative dimension to this ocean of patterns.
The whole illustration is then painted with watercolour, which is one of my favourite techniques to obtain vibrance and intensity. I wanted the final finish to look authentic and hand made, just like real Washi paper. The name of my illustration is “Sea of Kumo”, which translates to “Sea of Clouds”.
Once the illustration is approved by the creative team at Le Coq Sportif, they take on all the final decisions like which models of LCS sneakers are the most pertinent for highlighting the print, how to compose each part of the shoe, how to position the pattern on it, and of course all the important details like the choice of the fabric, shoelaces, eyelets, sole, logo, etc.
Which out of the range is your favourite?
My favorite model is the LCS R9XX.
… And your favourite sneaker of all time?
The Clyde by Puma. While it is not my favourite sneaker in terms of design, I love it as a symbol of a great musical age. Beastie Boys - Adam Yauch wore them on the Ill Communication album leaflet, and I bought the same pair when I was 16. This music and this epoch was really cool, and these times are also linked with the end of my teenage years as I finally managed to find my own style and personality. This feeling of immortality and confidence is represented to me with the Puma Clyde sneaker.
Today, I am in love with my purple Van’s Authentic Lo Pro Cosmic Galaxy, which make me feel like a super cool skater, which I will unfortunately never be.
Your designs have traversed into jewellery, balloons and now sneakers, if there were no limitations or restrictions, what would be your dream project?
I would do an incredible, gigantic art installation. Experimenting with different techniques like digital printing on technical textiles, 3D sculptures, glass blowing, and invite my artist friends for this collaborative super party.
We are also planning a crazy project exhibition with my friends Marc Armand/TuSaisQui (artist-AD) and Joan Braun (fashion photographer) which is about rave music and free parties… we hope we will manage to produce it one day, it's totally exciting!
What do you listen to when you're getting creative?
When I have to get creative during a very short period, I need a real boost of optimism and energy, so I listen to Techno, New Beat, Trance, and sometimes a bit of Hardcore too. The rhythm helps me stay awake during long nights, and when I'm tired of becoming almost deaf from Techno, I appreciate a nice phase of concentration thanks to Ethio Jazz, Indian Disco and Afro Beat.
Hip-hop is also great when you need to take a break and get a shot of motivation but during very long periods of work, I also need to listen to some classical music to stay calm and concentrated which helps to keep the stress away.
Do you have any advice for inspiring designers starting out?
1. Never give up on your dreams, even if all the people you love are worried for your future. Being an artist/designer is a crazy, utopia like dream but you can do it if you have a lot of motivation. You will sometimes regret to have chosen this complicated, unstable life, but putting things into perspective, you will understand how lucky you are to work in an aesthetic environment, surrounded by serious preoccupations about colours, artistic techniques, beauty and culture.
2. This job is a real pleasure, a quotidian mental stimulation and a permanent excitation, but it forces you to make a lot of sacrifices. You have to be very epicurean to appreciate this kind of lifestyle.
3. You cannot be materialistic as you will never know how tomorrow will be, which is pretty complicated if you have in mind precise plans for your personal life. Living with a Carpe Diem mentality is salutary if you don’t want to be too disappointed or too worried about your future, as this choice of career involves patience and tenacity.
4. Sometimes you will feel alone because you will go through phases of doubt, which is very upsetting when you are supposed to be creative on demand. I recommend accepting this situation, and turn this phase that could be considered as procrastination, into a chance of breathing new air and embracing new ideas.
5. Do not punish yourself for sitting for hours in front of Google images, looking for ideas that do not come. Learn to be free, assume your status of a FREElance designer and go out, take pauses and regenerate your creativity. Don't feel guilty for seeking freedom and time, despite the fact that we live in a society founded on competition and efficiency. You will work very hard to make your projects concrete, so be proud of your choices and trust your instincts.
If you had taken a different path in life, what do you think you would be doing if not designing?
I sometimes wish I were an accomplished explorer, studying rare botanic or animal species in extraordinary, unknown places; protecting the planet, or fighting for a noble cause. I wish I could help make things better, but fighting for the right to create art and beauty is a kind of a cultural commitment to making this rude world a bit more harmonious and optimistic.
View Clémentine Henrion's full Porcelaine Range from Le Coq Sportif here.
UPDATE: This style is now sold out however you can find our latest range of women's sneakers here!