Born: Of French parents in Casablanca, Morocco, 28 November 1949. Education: Attended Catholic boarding schools in France, 1955-66; studied law, Faculté de Droit, Limoges, 1966-77. Family: Married Katherine Lee Chambers, 1979; children: Guillaume, Louis. Career: Founder and designer, with his mother Jeanne-Blanche de Castelbajac, of Ko & Co., ready-to-wear fashion company, Limoges, beginning in 1968; freelanced for Pierre d'Alby, Max Mara, Jesus Jeans, Etam, Gadgling, Julie Latour, Fusano, Amaraggi, Carel Shoes,
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If color produces optimism, then Jean-Charles de Castelbajac is the most optimistic designer in existence. Void of lux rhinestones or glitz, his collection features color to luxuriate the world. The designer, who has been deemed "the space age Bonnie Cashin," not only clothes people in color but creates an environmental lifestyle, with everything from sofas to crystal to carpets.
Castelbajac is a man of passions—for form and function, for color, for comfort and protection—and therein lies the basis of this humanistic designer. Castelbajac began his obsession by cutting his first garment out of a blanket from boarding school. Because the material already existed, he was left to play only with the form. Many times each year he returns to this first gesture, cutting the cloth, so he remains close to its essence and function.
Having been titled Marquis, Castelbajac has erected the first monument to celebrate the living in Paris: 150,000 names of young people are inscribed on a steel totem pole to support Castelbajac's project to give inspiration and a sense of worth to generations used to growing up with war memorials celebrating the dead. Despite his interest in youth, he has always been involved with heroes and heritage, but he has never been archaic in his designs. Castelbajac is a man of the future, but he does not make futuristic clothing; his designs fulfill the need for practical and unassuming fashion of maximum quality. While favoring natural textures and fibers, Castelbajac creates designs that are innovative but respectful of the classics; he has been called a modern traditionalist.
Castelbajac's fondness for architecture is apparent in the harmonious, finely-drawn shapes that flow through every collection. He has a great affinity with painters, with whom he spends much time to strengthen his creative impulses. Having a strong revulsion to prints on garments, he humorously solved the predicament by using large scale motifs of Tom and Jerry, or phrases from Nerval or Barbey d'Aurevilly inscribed on silk, for very simply shaped dresses. At other times his garments are filled with angels, medieval and heraldic motifs, or childlike inscriptions drawn with the skill of an artistic adult but with the imagination of a child.
In 1994 when Castelbajac began designing the collections of André Courréges, the futuristic designer of 1960s, Castelbajac managed to successfully to rejuvenate the original spirit of Courréges clothes. Castelbajac had a somewhat similar style to Courréges, but he added courageous touches along with his trademark sense of humor. Castelbajac worked with the house about two years, after which he went out on his own again. At this time in the mid-to late 1990s, however, minimalist fashions were in vogue, and Castelbajac's eccentric, fun-loving designs did not find as much acceptance.
In a surprise choice, Castelbajac was selected as the official designer for the 1997 Catholic celebration World Youth Days, held in Paris, for which he created the Pope's vestments and the apparel for the 5,000 priests at the event, as well as souvenirs such as t-shirts and baseball caps that helped subsidize attendees from poorer countries. Although his selection was controversial, Castelbajac pointed out that much of the inspiration for his designs had always come from the liturgical shapes and stained-glass window colors familiar from his Catholic upbringing. His design for the papal robe was inspired by the story of Noah's Ark.
Castelbajac revamped his label significantly in 1998, collaborating with young designers—including for his noted "Painting Dresses"— and opening several concept stores. He has also continued to expand into a variety of categories, notably home furnishings, where he has refreshed classic furnishings styles, such as the Chesterfield sofa, but with his own colorful flair. He has lent his name to a line of brightly colored paints, manufactured by Castorama, as well as porcelains, linens, carpets, light fixtures, and other home-related objects. His ideal for the home is warm and cozy but still luxurious.
Castelbajac's product lines, best-known in his home country, include his signature designer sportswear and jeanswear, as well as women's and men's deluxe ready-to-wear and accessories including bags, umbrellas, glasses, ties, and jewelry. He introduced a line of fragrances with Parfums Lolita Lempicka in 2001; an earlier line with another company dating from the early 1980s had been discontinued. Outside the world of products, Castelbajac has dipped into broadcast design, creating vignettes for the cable television network Muzzik.
Castelbajac's spring/summer 2001 collection was typical of his style. Using materials such as varnished leather, embroidered jersey, and camouflage, his clothes featured Op Art, depictions of action figures, huge comic book-style characters and words such as YAOOW! and KLINK! His traditional bright colors—evidenced in creations such as Day-Glo green and orange skirts of tulle—were accented with touches including brooches in the shape of marijuana leaves and giant fabric pins. His sense of fun and color were on display, as they are in all of his endeavors.
The inscription of Cervantes in Castelbajac's 1993 self-titled book reads: "Always hold the hand of the child you once were." His clothing and his art are identifiable by his manner of being true to himself; by being profoundly human and knowing something is not simply style.
updated by KarenRaugust