Ephemeral Conversations: Simon Periton's Collaborations with Raf Simons, Philip Treacy and Junya Watanabe


by Sonya Mooney Junya Watanabe Autumn/Winter 2003-2004; Raf Simons Autumn/Winter 2002-2003

Simon Periton is a British artist who attended Central St. Martin's School of Art in London in the late 1980s. He has been exhibiting his work internationally since the early 1990s and is currently represented by Sadie Coles Gallery in London.

It is hard to categorize Periton's work as solely painting, sculpture or graphic design, as it incorporates elements from each of these disciplines. He works primarily in two dimensions, using a scalpel to precisely cut away at large multiple pieces of paper leaving behind delicate filigrees which are then layered one on top of the other and pinned to the wall. His work simultaneously references the fragile paper art of the nineteenth century and the graphic nature of advertising imagery while retaining an almost Netherlandish painterly precision. Themes range from the organic (floral garland motifs) to the anatomical (the human heart) to the subversive (evidenced in his use of the Anarchy A symbol, missiles and barbed wire).

In 1999, Periton collaborated with the British milliner Philip Treacy on several hats for Treacy's Autumn/Winter collection. Periton's fashion collaborations continued in 2002 with his work for the Belgian designer Raf Simons. The British artist applied his precise cut out techniques to actual garments for Simons' Autumn/Winter 2002-2003 collection. Most recently Periton's Anarchy A imagery was used as a print in Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garçons' Autumn/Winter 2003-2004 collection.

Isabella Blow in a hat by Simon Periton and Philip Treacy

Where did your interest in fashion stem from? Did attending Central St. Martin's and being in close proximity to fashion design students influence you?St. Martin's in the eighties was very interesting. The art and fashion students were in the same building and everyone hung out in the coffee bar during the day and often in the same pubs and clubs at night. The art students often went to (or were in) the fashion shows and the fashion students came to the art shows. Many friendships and collaborations were formed that have continued. I have a lot of friends who work in fashion and some of that stems from being at St. Martin's at that time. However, a lot of people ended up working in art when they had started out as fashion students and vice versa, so I think generally, in London, there is a lot of crossover between these two worlds. In many respects, I don't view an interesting fashion designer any differently than an interesting artist. There are, however, plenty of designers and artists whose work doesn't move me.

Do you follow fashion shows or trends with any regularity?

I wouldn't say that I go to as many fashion shows these days, but I do like to keep half an eye on what's going on in the same way as I might in, say, music.

Has fashion ever explicitly influenced your work? Do you think you'd ever be interested in designing a complete garment on your own?

I don't think that fashion has influenced my work directly, although I sometimes use fashion images as source material for a piece of work. I'm not really interested in making full garments but it might be fun to help art direct a show.

How did your fashion collaborations begin? Could you explain the process in which you and the fashion designers worked? Was it collaborative every step of the way?

The first collaboration was with Philip Treacy. I was already a fan of his sculptural eyelash hats etc., but it was as a result of a conversation with Isabella Blow that we worked together. She suggested that Philip and I meet and the possibility of making something for his next show arose. We'd both wanted to work with neoprene foam and so I cut some designs of mine out of sheets of colored foam and Philip crafted them into these fantastic head sculptures. I also cut gothic thorns from some paper-backed linen, which we stiffened and made into a veil. There were only about five pieces, but the most successful was a giant Anarchy Hat we made for Isabella to wear to the show.

The collaboration with Comme des Garçons was with Junya Watanabe. He came to London and we met as a result of him seeing some of my work through the gallery [Sadie Coles]. We talked about the concept of the show and we decided we could work with the print and some flocking. In this case, there wasn't much time for me to work on new pieces-I was working on a big show in Scotland-so I sent him some files on a CD and we had minimal contact after that. I knew roughly how I thought it would look but really didn't know until I arrived in Paris for the show!

You and Raf Simons seem to be particularly well suited as a collaborative pair. You've completed works that are tinged with subversive and violent visual elements which also seem to be themes in Raf's collections. Imagery such as the Anarchy A's, missiles and barbed wire might appeal to the same disaffected and petulant youths of which Raf is so enamored. Raf also seems to have a great interest in art, having published his book of photographs, The Fourth Sex, and having curated several art exhibits in Europe which have included some of your pieces.

The collaboration with Raf Simons was different. As you have mentioned, Raf was already involved in the art world so I think he knew what I was doing already. He contacted me through the gallery Sadie Coles in London. He'd seen an exhibition I'd done and wanted to know if we could collaborate. He often works with different artists on his shows. I went to meet him in Antwerp and we talked a lot about all sorts of stuff…art, films, music youth culture etc. It was strange, as there were already a lot of crossovers between us. The source images on his studio walls were similar to some of the things I'd been looking at in London. There wasn't anything made for his show yet, so we had to talk abstractly about how it might look. One of the things I initially liked about Raf was that he'd just closed down his large studio and was working with only a couple of assistants. He was worried that things had gotten too big and that maybe it was getting away from his original ideals. This impressed me. He seemed to have a lot of integrity. I went back to the studio in London and we remained in touch via e-mail and phone conversations and we developed a kind of trust. In the end we decided he would send me some of the finished garments and I would work directly with them. I set about cutting holes in all these garments made in modern fabrics: rubber and polythene and waxed cotton. I arrived in Paris the night before the show with two large bags with shredded clothes and rather nervously, showed them to Raf. I think they liked them and then we spent a few hours working out which pieces should go with other garments from the show. We ended up with cut-out polythene t-shirts with machine knit jumpers showing through and waxed cotton veils on oversized capes. The show was a parade of boys walking through a lit woodland scene with a snow and rain machine. The audience watched from behind glass and the whole thing looked rather like one of those shaker snow globes.

Do you view the mixing of art and fashion as a natural combination, one that cleverly merges the creativity and craftsmanship of both disciplines? How do you feel about the way your work is circulated within the fashion realm? As an artist is it better for you to work with independent or less "accessible" designers? And now that Raf Simons has been appointed as the head of design at Jil Sander, would you like to do another collaboration with him to reach a larger audience?

The work I usually make is all handmade by me. They are individual pieces. I've often wondered whether my interest in the fragile and the beautiful appeals to a fashion sensibility. In many respects there is a similar interest in the delicate surface (something that also exists within contemporary art at the moment) and also the ephemeral. The pieces I made with Philip and Raf were like artworks in as much as they were one off pieces designed to punctuate a collection as a whole. The work with Junya, whilst mass-produced by my previous standards, is still only produced in a limited edition. Art and fashion aren't necessarily inaccessible; it's more that they're specialized in some ways. It's not that I think mass produced unlimited editions can't be art but that I haven't really explored the possibility of working with fashion in that mainstream way. It might prove interesting….

What is your idea of a good collaboration? Is there anyone you would love to work with?

My idea of a good collaboration is when two or more people come together and a strange new thing or situation is born. Ideally, it should work like a conversation that travels back and forth until you end up with something nobody envisaged. That way, a collaboration can help what I do afterwards.If I think it's not an interesting concept then I'm reluctant to get involved. That way I can protect what I do and how it is seen. I have worked on projects and pulled out after a while if it doesn't seem as if it's going anywhere. Obviously, one needs to have a respect for what the other person does and I've been fortunate that I've had that with Philip, Raf and Junya.