Interview: Fashion’s Controversial Star Charlie le Mindu
To say 26-year-old Charlie le Mindu has a certain je ne sais quoi is like saying Lady Gaga has a flair for the subtle. The French-born, London-based designer has already made a name for himself as a man of extremes thanks to his unique fusion of coiffure and couture, as well as his controversial methods of displaying his vision.
Some of his more noteworthy pieces include nude models drenched in blood, headwear crafted from dead rodents and pieces made from 100 percent human hair sculpted and manipulated into elaborate designs.
However, le Mindu doesn’t create pieces solely to shock—he designs to evoke a reaction. As he told Haps in a recent interview, for him, it’s part of the process.
“I just think when people come to my show I want extreme reactions. I prefer them to hate it or to love it. I don’t think having naked models is shocking at all; everyone has seen someone naked before. At least, I hope so.”
And really, is it that shocking to see a naked woman in the world of fashion? Even at shows by designers as staid as Calvin Klein or Michael Kors, one sees nipples or buttocks making an appearance on the runway. What is truly shocking is if nudity is used to objectify or degrade the subject, and that clearly isn’t le Mindu’s motivation.
Recently, at his Couture Fashion Week exhibition at the Cartier Institute in Paris, he used two plus-size nude models. “They were amazing!” he exclaims. “I don’t think anyone was shocked by it, and it wasn’t the point. My point is to create beautiful and interesting images, and it worked.”
“I always like to work with celebrities and singers. I just think Gaga is kinda perfect from what she chooses in my collections, but I love doing bespoke pieces for her as I can really play and have fun. Like the pregnant outfit I did for her in leather and latex was amazing!”
To this point in his journey, nothing about le Mindu’s life has been ordinary. He started his career as a prodigy at the French Hair Academy at the astonishing age of 13, and later moved to Berlin seeking new adventures. Initially, he struggled to survive financially before deciding to ask bars and clubs if he could cut hair in their venues at night. He began at iconic gay pub Barbie Deinhoff by snipping and styling club patrons, developing his technique and style; from there, the Pop-up Salon was born.
He took the Pop-up Salon on the road and toured the clubs of Europe, eventually establishing himself in East London. He still enjoys doing pop-ups at festivals and shows and has just opened his own salon in Urban Retreat at the illustrious Harrods department store in London.
Along the way, le Mindu has established a long list of celebrity clients including the B52s, Jodie Harsh, Carrie Mundane, Peaches and, most infamously, Lady Gaga. Having worked with several high-profile photographers and filmmakers, he now styles for Vogue and has managed create an avant-garde and refreshingly irreverent vision by integrating hair into fashion, which has established him as a pioneer in the field of haute coiffure, all by the current age of 26.
So, who or what moves a man like this? According to Monsieur le Mindu, he is most influenced by “older” icons, such as Cher, Iggy Pop and John Waters—“They lived more, they teach me and show me more”—as well as lesser-known stars like Diamanda Galas, Nina Hagen and Angelyne, an American model and actress who ostensibly became a Hollywood icon by purchasing billboards and advertising herself.
Conversely, he is also inspired by a number of new and unique performers from the present, citing Canadian artist, musician and music video director Claire Boucher (a.k.a Grimes), British singer-songwriter and actress Rita Ora, American rapper and lyricist Azealia Banks (formerly known as Miss Bank$) and French electro musician Orion Bouvier of Kap Bambino fame. However, when asked who he would like to dress next, Cher stands apart from the rest: “She is the queen!” he says, enthusiastically.
This juxtaposition between past and present is clear in his recent collection for Fall/Winter 2012, which he presented at Busan’s own Prêt-à-Porter show at BEXCO in April. Charl’ de Jouy is described as 1930s futurism—art deco-inspired shapes, cropped jackets, pencil skirts, straight legged trousers, toile de jouey fabrics and a lilac and black palette.
As always, his ninth collection features garments and accessories crafted from 100 percent natural human hair. The highlight of the show was a floor-length evening gown braided from thousands of strands of lilac-tinted hair, which Lady Gaga was recently spotted wearing in Hong Kong.
Why lilac? “Lilac—it’s a color that I love… It can be old-fashioned like a grandmother’s blue rinse, but also all my young clients love it at the moment, like dip-dye purple or lilac hair. I think it’s such a strong color, but very soft at the same time. I always like to work with opposites and extremes.”
Speaking of opposites and extremes, it is difficult to talk about Charlie le Mindu without mentioning Lady Gaga. Ever since her emergence, she’s been making waves as much for her fashion choices as for her music, so it’s seemingly natural that Gaga and le Mindu might gravitate towards one another.
While he has worked with various high profile musicians, his association with the queen of shock pop is the one that has given him maximum exposure. “I always like to work with celebrities and singers. I just think Gaga is kinda perfect from what she chooses in my collections, but I love doing bespoke pieces for her as I can really play and have fun. Like the pregnant outfit I did for her in leather and latex was amazing!”
Lady Gaga has been photographed numerous times offstage in le Mindu’s designs, and has repeatedly incorporated them into her album cover art and elaborate performances. The impression le Mindu’s work has made on her sense of style is undeniable.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Korean fashion made much of an impression on the designer when he visited the peninsula for the first time. He surmised that it was perhaps “jet lag” or not being in the right part of town.
According to le Mindu he saw, “all the iconic Korean things: temples, towers, weird food, crane-lobster games. But if Korean fashion is what I saw, I will call it non-existing.” Ouch.
One thing he does have in common with Koreans, however, is his love of plastic surgery: “I’m a huge fan of plastic surgery! I do remember seeing some beauty salon [in Korea] where they do human placenta injection to look younger. It’s pretty amazing and intense… I think plastic surgery is like the future!”
In an age of commercial pop-music robots and Hollywood remakes, it’s refreshing and inspiring to see a young artist with such a lust for life pushing all the boundaries of what we know to be fashion. Love him or hate him—that’s how he prefers it.
Currently, le Mindu hosts an online TV makeover show on internet-based entertainment site Konbini, aptly named Charlie’s Treatment. The show’s intent, he claims, is “not to make you look 10 years younger, but to make you look cool.” The show has thus far been a success, garnering two million hits in its first week.
And while much of the world sees him as a purveyor of the extreme, le Mindu is, in his own way, still humble in the face of his rising fame. “I wouldn’t call myself a ‘TV star’, but I do love being in front of the camera. It’s like being a kid again.”
Charlie and models photoshoot by Zoe Hitchen.
Charlie with black hair wig from www.ericawoll.com
Further Reading: Charlie le Mindu’s Naked Models at London Fashion Show (Mail Online)