Olivier Guillemin - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia

French fashion designer

Born: Paris, France, 10 July 1961. Education: Studied art history at the Sorbonne, Paris, 1978-80, and Studio Bercot, 1979-80. Career: Assistant to Thierry Mugler, 1981; assistant to Azzedine Alaïa, 1982; consultant and freelance designer for Woolmark, Claude Montana menswear, 1987-88; launched own line, P.A.P. for women, 1987; label produced under Paco Rabanne, 1991; specializes in ready-to-wear, accessories, fibers and yarns, and fabrics; Président du Comité Français de la Couleur, 1994. Exhibitions: Fashion and Surrealism, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, and Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1984; La Fée Electricité, Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1985; Les Créateurs, Villa Noaille, Hyéres, France, 1992; Mode et Liberty, Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, 1993; CONTREX, Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, 1994; Mode et Gitane, Carousel du Louvre, Paris, 1994; Voyage dans la Matiére, Grand Palais, Paris, 1994. Collections: Union Francaise des Arts du Costume, Paris; Musée de la Mode á Marseille, France. Awards: Bourse pour la Création, Ministére de la Culture, 1990; 1er prix de la Création Woolmark, 1990. Address: 177 rue du Temple, 75003 Paris, France.




Voight, Rebecca, "Vanity Fairs," in Paris Passion (Paris), October 1990.

Hepple, Keith, "The Young and the Fun," in DR: The Fashion Business (London), 1 December 1990.

"Guillemin to design RTW for Paco Rabanne," in WWD, 17 October 1991.

Hood, Frederique, "Fantastic Meteor," in Elle (New York), March 1992.

Valmont, Martine, "Les fils de l'été 1995," in Journal du Textile, 29 November 1993.

Molin Corvo, Roberta, "Vive la recherche!" in Trends: Collezioni (Modena, Italy), Spring/Summer 1995.

" Yes Minister Meets Ab Fab: The F.O. Has Designs on EU," in M2 Communications, 24 February 1998.

"China Hosts International Young Designers Contest," in the Xinhua News Agency, 27 March 1999.

"The Best Deal for Young Fashion," available online at Guillemin, www.scalaire.com/fashion , 9 June 2001.

"Fashion Cultures Exhibition," online at Intersélection, www.interselection.com , 9 June 2001.


I chose the profession of fashion designer because it was the catalyst for my various creative aspirations—commercial, sociological, and technical. I consider myself an experimentalist and it is this reason my path is very varied. The way my career is developing leads me increasingly towards a more forward way of looking at clothes, in unusual fibers, threads, and fabrics, but also at the process of distribution and consumption. I think we are at a turning point in our Western society and that in future years other codes of fashion are going to appear. It is with this in mind that I see my collections, which were elitist at the beginning of my career, becoming increasingly creatively democratic.

—Olivier Guillemin


Olivier Guillemin designs wearable art for the fashion follower who is looking ahead to the next century. One of a group of hot young Parisian stars, including Sophie Sitbon and Corinne Cobson, Guillemin frequently uses unusual and novel fabrics to surprising effect. His modern, futuristic designs often appear to signal a world where high technology will triumph over nature and the human body. Not unlike the 1960s science fiction looks of Paco Rabanne, with whom Guillemin is associated, these designs address today's postindustrial, satellite-linked global society head-on.

Guillemin demonstrated his stubborn individuality from the beginning by premiering his collections in odd and diverse places, from a gloomy medieval church to an old-fashioned hotel ballroom, or the French Institute of Fashion. In accord with the spirit of his times, he has been allied with other fashion deconstructivists; his designs have been called "absurd and enchanting." He has created garments which seem to have been literally torn apart and then patched back together, or merely draped over the figure, or left ragged and unfinished.

One collection included a frock made from pieces of a dress pattern secured haphazardly with strips of black tape, exposing bits of the model's skin. Others appeared to be exploding, as in his dress of woven paper fabric covered with forbidding spiky cones radiating from the bodice. A backless, gathered, knee-length shift looked like a paint-spattered drop cloth picked up off an atelier floor and draped around an artist's model. He created a jumpsuit with one leg missing; other garments have been shorn into bandage-like strips. As these examples show, Guillemin is not timid about exploiting the limits of what constitutes "clothing" within the fashion arena.

Unusual shapes, materials, and accessories are a Guillemin trademark, such as his black plastic jewelry designs coiling in arabesques around the model's face and body. One collection was comprised mainly of metallic fabrics, including metallic indigo toile suits and long, metallic toile coats. He has toyed with neon-colored fake fur, transparent plastics, and stretch Lycra. His fascination with industrial materials has resulted in long, rubberized apron dresses and black plastic luggage closures used as jacket fasteners. His clothes often seem to refer to a nonspecific, postapocalyptic era, where body covering will be cobbled together from the remains of urban destruction. But his fantastic designs have also been prescient; his use of neon colored fabrics easily predated the trend for those materials by several seasons.

When Guillemin was named ready-to-wear designer for Paco Rabanne in 1991, he expressed the desire to continue working on his own line and to keep the two collections separate. His own lines continued to display the inventiveness, unusual fabrics, and devotion to experimental fiber technologies for which he was already known. And, lest the impression be given that he is only a provocateur, he has also made quite wearable, (though still playful) clothing. Guillemin has demonstrated that both before and during his association with Paco Rabanne, he has not been entirely unwilling to create realistic styles.

Like many of his contemporaries, Guillemin revels in the exposure of the human form. The body is to be peeked at through a red plastic raincoat, peered at through slashed fabric, or simply left starkly nude. His penchant for peekaboo styles was protrayed in a most surrealistic selection of garments resembling hedges in a topiary garden. Models paraded in clingy dresses and bodysuits covered with tightly-cut net and tulle patches, giving the impression of a group of cartoonish, mobile shrubbery. In the same show, ruffs of stiff tulle were positioned around the figure like fur, with bare portions of the midriff showing through, creating a look somewhat akin to an oversized poodle. (The finale to this event was a bare-breasted stilt-walker.)

For Paco Rabanne, Guillemin has drawn upon the famous looks of the 1960s with their references to space travel and their use of metallic stretch fabrics. He has even revived Rabanne's famed silvery plastic and metal disk garments. But Guillemin is not simply paying homage to the past; he brought his unique vision to Rabanne with dramatic, well-cut modern garments utilizing the latest advances in microfiber technology. Whether creating his own phantasmagorical styles or updating the venerable but forward-looking designs of Paco Rabanne, Guillemin has remained on the cutting edge.

In February 1998, Guillemin was one of four designers to join 23 of Europe's up-and-coming designers in a 45-minute catwalk showing for London Fashion Week, held at the Natural History Museum to support the UK's presidency of the European Union. The spring/summer collection touted the distinct flair of native design displayed by what Doug Henderson, Minister of Europe, called the "brightest young fashion stars." It was a busy year for Guillemin—in fall of the same year, 1998, he was a feature designer at the Prêt á Porter Paris fair; the next spring, he took part in China's International Young Designers Contest.

In mid-May 2000, Guillemin spoke for the environment by addressing the Fashion Cultures Exhibition in Clichy, France, on "Well-Being Through Today's and Tomorrow's Colors." He earned respect for his choice of clean, organic cotton uncontaminated by fertilizers or pesticides and updated viscose manufactured by a non-polluting method.

—Kathleen Paton;

updated by Mary Ellen Snodgrass

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