“I think I was quite naive starting this project. I had just finished at Henrik Vibskov. I was working freelance as a designer. In the beginning, I called every hotel in Paris. I was being very open and naive about the whole thing. I had nothing to lose really. When I look back, I wish I had documented the whole process because I had some really funny interactions.”
Alexandra Hartmann, founder of Hôtel Vetements, continued, “This was a fun, weird adventure for me. It also made a lot of sense, because of how I grew up. My mother made all my clothes. She worked as a stylist back in the day. She had a thing for antique fabrics.”
It was in one of those phone calls that she found out about the auction at Hotel Ritz and eventually recuperated some very beautiful antique embroidered silk fabric, Genoa velour, and more. “Once I had that fabric in my hand, I kind of felt a bit pressured but excited at the same time. I didn’t want to mess it up but I knew I could give new meaning to this beautiful fabric again.”
The vision came about when Alex recuperated some old curtains outside of a hotel in Paris. She wanted to create clothing that captured the symbolism of the hotel experience through meticulous handicraft — this is how Hôtel Vetements came to exist in 2017 as a project and soon became a brand. Things went very fast at first and it was difficult to create slow fashion in a fast paced world.
“The industry had a really hard time understanding what it really meant, they loved the idea but not the restraints. I had to constantly explain how the process was, it is a slow one. You have to be thorough and agile. Also, we couldn’t produce 50 pieces of the same fabric. That is just not what we do. But I think it’s pretty clear by now.”
Today, Hôtel Vetements creates wearable heirlooms from forgotten curtains, upholsteries, handmade embroideries, linens, tablecloths, cotton sheets from Provence, and more. They are not all sourced in hotels of course.
“When we source our fabrics, we look for unique, antique handcrafted pieces of textile that have a story to tell. We work with antique dealers that know what we are looking for. Fabric can be full of restraints and working with it is often a meticulous and long process. It’s like putting together the pieces of a puzzle.”
When asked about a good memory she has, Alex recalled a French velour damask from the 1860s. She has never seen something like that since the encounter.
“The fabric was really thick and soft. The velour felt like fur because of the softness of it. It became the perfect jacket for winter. Sewing that piece almost broke down our sewing machine. Whoever bought that piece is a lucky winner. To be honest, there are some pieces I wish we had kept just for the archive.”
“The atelier in Paris is different from the one in Copenhagen. During the pandemic, we have had to readjust. The atelier in Paris is small, and people who work there have been in the business forever. They are local artisans that have the craft and a know-how that has passed on from generation to generation. I’ve learned a lot from them, and they are like a family to me. The team in Copenhagen is small, they are three new young artisans who bring a fresh perspective. Those people are the best; they come from different backgrounds, love what they do, and have a passion for their craft.”
According to Alex, there are a lot of fabrics and samples in the studios. As much as they try to organize, there always seems to be a little bit of chaos here and there; but she considers that is just part of the process. A relaxed and creative atmosphere is what matters. They always try to maintain a positive mood. This is probably how Hôtel Vetement can create a dreamy, poetic, and delicate French aesthetic with crafted, elegant cuts.
“When I started in 2017, I was a bit alone. All this was very new. I would say that fast fashion brands try to market themselves as sustainable; but in reality, nothing has really drastically changed. A lot of new, small ‘sustainable’ brands have started the movement, which is great. But a lot of them copy each other, and everything starts looking the same. There’s not a lot of space for originality, I think. So, it’s a little boring. Maybe because people get influenced by each other on Instagram. It has become very homogenic. The importance is to remain your own authentic self in the creative process, no one can take that away from you.”
I can’t agree more with what Alex said. Let’s do our best, my fellows.