Bernhard Willhelm: Up Close & Personal

Bernhard Willhelm on the runway, Fall 2006
Bernhard Willhelm on the runway, Fall 2006

PARIS, Jun 17, 2005 / FW/ — Fashion Windows caught up with German designer Bernhard Willhelm at his Paris atelier/office in early May. Upon our arrival, Willhelm was literally completing some finishing touches to his next men’s collection. That collection will be presented in less than two weeks in Paris for Spring-Summer 2006.

Because so many were left in a daze after the presentation of Willhelm’s Fall 2005/Winter 2006 women’s collection, this interview provided the perfect opportunity to get into the young designer’s head and better understand the way he creates.

FW: How was it growing up wanting to work in fashion?

BW: I didn’t grow up wanting to work in fashion. As a kid, I never played with dolls. When I was still 18, I wanted to work in the botanical fields.

FW: Really?

BW: That’s right.

FW: Ok then so how did you finally start in fashion?

BW: I became interested in it step-by-step. I started fashion in Germany. That’s when I met Jutta, my associate. I then moved to Antwerp for 4 years, and Jutta Kraus went to London for her studies. We met again while she was working at Dirk Bikkembergs.

FW: Why Antwerp?

BW: Antwerp is cheap. It has small structures and small infrastructures with ateliers willing to do small collections…I had been working in Antwerp and showing in Paris. And then, I decided to move to Paris seven years ago. At that time, there was a movement in fashion where Antwerp was influential.

FW: So do you now believe that you were born for this job?

BW: No! I don’t believe that designers are born. They are developed through steps. This is my 7th year. It’s tough because I’m not old, and I’m not young anymore. I’m sort of caught somewhere in the middle…

One group may love our work and us; and other may hate it. Our licences in Japan are developing. In Japan, Onward-Kashiyama is a big client, and they made our name there.

FW: What makes your working interested?

BW: Anything can be interesting. As long as you have a creative mind, you can do creative things. This is why for my last collection I did chaotic things.

FW: Now that last collection threw many for a loop. Can you explain your idea behind it?

BW: It’s chaotic and controversial. There was a new race of women, like leopard women! It was based on pure fantasy.

I like different interpretations of it by different people. I don’t want to do pure glamour because I feel that there are people that do it better than me. With each collection, you look for new things; things you didn’t explore before.

FW: If you didn’t do fashion, what would you like to do?

BW: I would like to do nothing.

FW: Nothing!?!

BW: That’s right nothing. Why should I have to work? Why can’t I just do nothing? I hate that people define themselves by work. I do what I do because it is satisfying.

I still have a lot of respect for fashion. I’m doing what I can to counter that fashion conformity. Fashion is a part of culture and part of society and reflects them. So, it is not always glamorous and that’s the aspect that interests me.

FW: What advice would you offer someone wishing to get into fashion?

BW: I would say that no school can make you a good fashion designer. Go to a good school. When you find a field that interests you, stick with it. There are many fields where you can be creative and designing is just one of them. After school, you have to show in a fashion capital and show it to people. Try to get a reaction.

Do your best. Make sure people see it. With a bit of luck, you can go on. Realize that your fame last only six months and until the next collection.

FW: What do you want our readers to know about you?

BW: In the end I do it, and people discover it. And when they like it, it makes me happy. It comes from within, and I really like it when others like my work

… Also, wear more hats. And Tommy Hilfiger was right. The American flag is great!