BORIS BIDJAN SABERI When The Goings Get Rough
Boris Bidjan Saberi has been busy, exploring a varied and complex world comprised of textures, contrasts and unexpected territories.
Through his collections, the German designer outlines the refined figure of an urban explorer, whose personality rings close to home, to say the least. Nurtured on both esotericism and streetwear, Boris Bidjan Saberi takes possession of our bodies with his skin-like textiles, building for us armors of sorts.
The Saberi esthetics merge with their very own environment, acting like a mirror, reproducing architectures and spaces with a minimalist approach, as well as asymmetrical cuts and colors inspired by nature. With his work, the designer draws the contours of both today’s world, and tomorrow’s.
Few designers are as human as this one human being, few are as deeply connected to their feelings, their team, their freedom, and the very air that they breathe.
Leclaireur: You grew up in a fashion-involved family, with both your parents working in fashion…
Boris Bidjan Saberi: My father is Iranian, and my mother is German. They met in a textile company where she worked as a secretary and he, as a production assistant. Your typical love story, in a way. Eventually, my father decided to open his own factory and production company, while my mother launched an evening gown label. He produced clothing for her and for other brands, at the same time. When I was born, they decided to sell everything. They thought it would be enough to live off and they wanted to move in other directions. I grew up in the Southern part of Germany in Bavaria, between Salzbourg and Munich, near the German/Austrian border, where people wear Lederhosen. It was a very cosy atmosphere, amazingly green and ‘Heidi’-esque, calling for a lot of sport activities.
On the one hand, I felt like I didn’t belong, and yet at the same time, I felt at home. The Bavarians are not known for being open-minded, and they had a hard time understanding how an Iranian/Persian man could settle there with a German lady. I think my parent enjoyed not really fitting in, though.
My father struggled to leave his country and find a new place to call home, and yet, never forgot his Iranian roots. He helped his family as much as he could, and spent his entire life looking for ways to free himself, and to give back. That’s part of who I am. He taught me to always search for the path that hasn’t been taken yet, and that you don’t change things by stepping into someone else’s footsteps. Even when we went hiking, he would humor us by deciding to step out of the tracks. “No, let’s go this way, it’s nicer!”
I still seek other paths. If someone tells me “This is how things are done,” I immediately start thinking of other ways to do them, because who can decide how things are done? Which doesn’t mean I’ll do the opposite. The second question I ask myself is “What do you feel? What do you want? What should you feel? What are you?”
Once I’ve answered these questions, I go for it!
How old were you when you decided making and creating clothes was what you wanted to do? What was your ‘Aha!’ moment?
Creating has always been a part of our family. My mother created all day long, sometimes even at the breakfast table. She had ideas, which my father would produce, so I always had those two figures as an example. At the time, I did not analyze any of this, I was a child looking at his father as he said “Let’s do it! Let’s create it!” And he would. It was funny because my mother was always the one with the ideas and my father would spend his time sweating to make them happen, whether it be cutting a tree in the garden, re-tapestring the couch, or even setting up the table. And when you grow up surrounded by those energies, they become a part of you, they shape who you’ll become.
As a result, I’m always up to something, always curious of real, authentic things – things that are able to spark a fire in me. I love feeling useful. I think I got this from my dad. My mother gave me the will to experiment new things and never stop creating, trying, adapting, improvising, so as to get new results. I started recreating and restyling my garments when I was 12, observing how people dressed and wondering what motivated their choices. Why did some people respond to certain fabrics more than others? These are things that you can’t teach, either you get it or you don’t. I got it from my parents, it’s in my DNA.
What memories do you have from your very first collection?
My very first collection was a recollection of everything I had done and thought of until then. Some pieces went back to when I was 14, others to when I was 22. It was my first time really expressing what I had inside of me. And the weird thing was, I had no idea what fashion was. I knew what garments were, of course, and was familiar with a few brands. I was into skateboarding and hip-hop music, and styled myself accordingly, but at the time, there were no brands dedicated to these universes.
The only skateboard brands were Airwalk and Vision Street Wear – we were the first generation to experience skateboard, so I used to wear Levi’s denims, Hanes and Fruit of the Loom t-shirts, and call it a day.
I grew up without any access to the internet, I’m not part of that generation. I always find it weird when people compare designers between them, put them in the same cup. In the end, it’s all about means and background. I didn’t have access to Fashion, per se. But I started wearing baggies that hung so low, my shirt wouldn’t cover my bum. People kept telling me “Pull up your pants” so I thought “Maybe I should wear longer t-shirts”. Since no one was making them around then, I had to. I’d look for similar fabrics, I’d buy 2 t-shirts and assemble them together, or extra-large t-shirts which I’d tighten.
That’s how I created the first TS1, which is now part of the brand’s basics.
And I call myself a primitive designer because it all started from a very primitive place. It was simple and simple-minded, and it all started as a response to a need.
I did study fashion, of course, because I wanted to know more, and became aware of all the other designers, which I’d never cared to look into because I had a visceral need to make and create. However, it never stopped me from doing things my way, approaching things like my father had, and creating like my mother did. I created a patched-up collection that somehow worked. It thought: “That’s cool! That’s a statement! It’s really you… and somebody should see it, because it’s impossible to create over 10 to 12 years a coherent story that has never been told before”.
That first collection depicted a very personal aspect of who I am. It was my life made into clothing. It was skateboarding, hip-hop, experimentation. It was baggy pants with tight ankles because skateboarding destroyed the hems of my pants, and rubber patched sneakers because I couldn’t afford new ones. It was a really playful story and it was new, or at least it was to me.
Flash forward to your last collection… What’s changed?
The main change lies in the creative process, since I now have a basis I can adapt and expand. I’ve discovered new fields, I’ve erased everything I had in mind and put into clothing. I ask myself “What do you need?” with a big smile on my face.
it’s more complicated than it sounds, because in the end, I have everything I want. Material-wise I don’t need anything, but I still like to create, make, recreate… It’s my message to the world. There are definite visions and statements behind what I do, and I want to get them to people, to catch their attention and help them think, basically. Think about what they want, what they feel, think about themselves. I like to dress them with clothing that come filled with energy, because I know that my team and I put a lot of positivity in them, and we love what we are doing.
I still want to keep the notion of necessity in my creative process. The last collection was based on science fiction and post humanism. I asked myself “What would happen if you only had one leg and had to improvise. How would you build your second leg out of what you find in a world without engineers, computers, 3D printers, and titanium legs.” That was my question, and I just let my imagination go wild, thinking about this and that together, and how it would get rusty with time, and how rust has beautiful tones of brown and yellow. I encourage my team to awaken the child in them, and we all start again together to create a picture gradually, infused with its own spirit.
So, finding your inner child, and focusing on what you need, are the essential ingredients to your creative freedom. What do people need today?
I don’t know what they need, honestly. I would love for people to close their eyes and start “feeling” again. I feel like people have lost touch with their feelings, focusing on what is surrounding them and how f*cked-up it is, without paying attention to how they feel.
When I design a new piece, I try it on to see how it feels on my skin. If it feels good, then I’ve succeeded in creating a new garment, something evolved, I’ve made something new happened. I have to feel something strong, so strong it hurts. I would love for people to feel as strongly about clothing, I think it could impact their life. Which must be the case, otherwise people wouldn’t buy my garments. I don’t want to create cheap clothes because I use quality materials, I employ a high-end team that puts a huge amount of research in every collection. Together, we create crazy objects and pieces ready to be fallen in love with.
We interviewed Bonotto, the man behind the Italian ‘slow manufacture’ of fabric. He’s an incredible, spiritual philosopher of sorts, he says that everything they do at Fabbrica Lenta is about putting human-made energy and feelings and joy and love in the thread, that they weave it inside every piece of fabric they make and that it’s what makes their work so different, and why so many designers want to use their fabric all around the world.
I’ve been working with Bonotto, it makes sense. I think we wouldn’t be working together if we didn’t have the same approach to fashion, to putting feelings into our work. I respect Mr Bonotto because he creates in the best possible way.
I make sure I feel a true connection with my collaborators. I don’t see myself as a spiritual person, I just try to get to the point and feel things. They have a special place in my heart because I could not do what I am doing without them. From my closest team to the fabric producers and factories, I handpick everyone. I want to be aware of everything, to be sure everything makes sense. If it doesn’t, I make sure it does. I choose to create my own fabrics and leathers. We mostly use original textiles made from scratch, because it’s the only way to separate from the crowd and stay authentic. At times, it works, at others, I seek materials that already exists. Thankfully I’m not running after fame or wealth, I know it’s not my path, and I’m fine with it. Time to create and produce is limited, and with each new collection we present, in a short amount of given time, I’m happy that we get to investigate and experiment as far as we do. This is why I create.
How did your relationship with Leclaireur start?
Martine & Armand Hadida love what they do and are truly authentic persons. They make sense together. I did not know who they were, I was just that blue-eyed Bavarian who knew nothing about the fashion world. As time went by, and as I showed collections and continued studying, Leclaireur’s name kept on coming up. Of course, I’d heard about the store but couldn’t possibly imagine what it was like. I was living in Barcelona at that time and didn’t have the time – or money – to come to Paris. But I had this feeling we were meant to work together, I felt we had the same level of expectation. Once my first collection was complete, I called them from a phone booth, asking to show them my collection. When I got to Paris, with part of the collection in a suitcase, Mr Hadida was traveling and there was no way I was going to leave my « children » behind in a foreign city. So he didn’t see my work that time.
I spent a year doubting my decision not to leave the suitcase in Paris. But some things are meant to happen. When we finally met, a year later during a showroom in Paris, the pieces were there to look at and to feel, and they started buying my clothes that very first season, which still amazes me. I admire their vision and am really proud to be part of their selection.
You started as a kid, because of skateboarding, hip hop and all this pop culture that deeply influenced you, do you still skate?
Hip hop has truly become a part of me, I can’t get enough of it. It’s crazy to be so taken with something that started so far away from where you did. I think it’s always resonated with me because we were a crew stepping out of the box, we had to fight to stay away from drugs and violence, we wanted to stand up for something. That’s what I felt I was doing back in Bavaria – in my own modest way: I was a skateboard kid trying to fight for something. And I feel like that’s still who I am. I don’t mind sweating and bleeding for what I feel is right, not for the money or for me, but for the world, in a sense. Hip hop surrounds me daily, almost exclusively. I try to keep up with every new artist and trend in that world, and even though some of it has become pretty plastic and commercial, which happens in every genre, there are still amazing creatives around, with sounds that could be directly imported from the underground scene we had in the 90s.
I still love to skate, it connects me to the very sense of freedom I had back then. However, doing tricks is more painful. I feel like a skateboarding grandpa.