Photo credit : Mathieu Faluomi
Paris, Milan, London, New York .. The names of these cities evoke their effervescence and their lights, strongholds of culture, and above all the fashion capitals of the world. Between the catwalks of Fashion Week, the crowded streets of working-class neighbourhoods, and the cinema screens, fashion is everywhere. It is as captivating as its industry is harmful to humans and their environment. Among the issues at stake, the place of the human body in the clothing production process is the subject that Jeanne Vicerial takes up; what happens when we put it back at the heart of the machinery? Can industrial methods be thought of differently?
The artist-researcher brings her vision through her CLINIQUE VESTIMENTAIRE (clothing clinic) project, at the crossroads of craft, philosophy, and science.
CLINIQUE VESTIMENTAIRE has its origins at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, where Jeanne wrote a thesis in 2014 entitled Un corps sur mesure, la peau étoffe du XXIe siècle (A tailor-made body, the fabric skin of the 21st century). The publication takes stock of her thoughts at the time; historically, clothing is created according to the silhouette of the client or customer, known as ‘bespoke’, but from the 1950s onwards, the textile industry experiences a major turning point. The Second World War overturns production methods in favour of standardised and faster assembly-line processes, which contributes to the advent of ready-to-wear clothing. The human body is now an object like any other, standardised according to a grid of sizes (S, M, L), and it is now up to the customer to adapt to the clothes.
Worse still, we modify our bodies to fit these standards: nutrition, sport, plastic surgery… Tattoos act as tailor-made jewellery, because made-to-measure is always there in another form, and the skin has become the fabric of the 21st century.
It is also the largest organ in the human body, and provides protection to our tissues and other internal organs. As a natural barrier to the outside world, the skin envelops the self, our spirit, our dreams, our unique way of thinking. Jeanne considers the individual as a whole, interested in the bodily transformations that tell us her personal story. Although she does not exclude men, she is more interested in women’s bodies, whose morphology is in constant mutation, whether it is due to menstruation, or to the punctual events that mark their bodies.
Jeanne now has to make a collection as part of her studies, she researches morphology, the starting point of her work, and marvels at the discovery of muscle weaves. For her, this is the first garment.
Jokingly, the artist calls herself a “clothing surgeon”, operates on parts of garments, and ends up being seriously inspired by medical procedures, even spending time in various laboratories.
She developed the technique of “tricotissage”, a mix between lace, knitwear and weaving, which uses the doctor’s curved needle to make the stitches. The aim is to produce the garment with a single spool of thread, by hand, made to measure, without offcuts and locally. Also inspired by muscle tissue, knitting takes a monofilament yarn (a strong, flexible, single-filament yarn), and connects the stitches geometrically.
In order to remain ecological and economical, she uses scraps discarded by Parisian companies, and her first collection is named after the length of the spool, 466 km of thread. But the last piece, whose thread is badly dyed, takes on a flayed appearance, turning bright red, an intense vision. Despite the success of the project, Jeanne abandons the idea of making such long pieces by hand.
This creation meets the objectives that she has set herself. She therefore pushes her thinking further; automating the tricotissage technique makes it possible to offer clothes based on the same criteria, with the advantage of saving time. She then embarks on the design of a digital craft machine, enabling her to make “tailored-to-wear” garments.
The research on the construction of the tool requires prolonged and sustained efforts, so Jeanne starts in parallel to make a new collection.
Still thinking about tailored-to-wear, she has the idea of creating a system of adaptable sizes ranging from 36 to 42, using classic sewing techniques. But she quickly comes up against the reality of the market; despite a few retailers and manufacturers who also seek to facilitate the transition to more ethical and sustainable fashion, the project is generally not well received.
Jeanne works in a logic of degrowth; the creation of unique pieces is not adapted to the laws of the seasons and the current market. This experience strengthens her in the idea that she must deepen her research in the field of textiles and mechatronics. She prefers to create her laboratory workshop, a place of prototyping and creation, where she continues to develop her thoughts. In 2016, the construction of the tricotissage machine begins, in partnership with the Ecole des Mines de Paris, and within the framework of her SACRe (Art, Science, Creation and Research) thesis at ENSAD.
To understand how it works, we can refer to the model of the 3D printer; on a flat surface, the machine is programmed to come and plant the needles with a system of clamps, they form the pattern of the garment. The single thread then connects these points. Software is also used to visualise the machine’s movements in real time, to control it, and even to run full simulations.
With the filing of a patent with the INPI, tricotissage becomes a new technology.
Its use is evolving with the research, and at the moment it is as follows: Jeanne meets the person, takes their measurements, and draws the garment. The machine takes the information gathered by the artist, but is only semi-automated, an important element for the process that can be stopped at any time, to redesign the creation for example. Most importantly, the hours are now converted into minutes.
Today, with the Soft Matters research group of which she is a member and within the ENSAD Lab, Jeanne and the team of partner engineers continue to develop the machine, which remains her core subject. Nevertheless, her artistic practice is not limited to the tool, quite the contrary. Her residency at the Villa Medici in Rome in 2019-2020 allows the project to take on an unexpected scope. By mixing artistic mediums and including staging in her project, she orchestrates performances in which she combines the human, the garment and nature to tell us a story, around the values that animate her.
CLINIQUE VESTIMENTAIRE is composed of various projects, and their exhibitions immerse visitors in a unique universe. Jeanne, always in a collaborative approach, invites other artists to bring their works to life with hers.
From a simple thesis, a vast performative and critical project was born.
Guided by her convictions, Jeanne Vicerial opens up an alternative path of practices and approaches for the textile designers of tomorrow.
To conceive of creative practice without going through the collaborative process is an intergenerational bug; this is the increasingly common view of younger generations within the cultural and creative industries. We can no longer think of our future without permeating disciplines and encouraging exchanges. Jeanne Vicerial does not wish to define her work simply, nor does she wish to meet standards. Her experience shows how difficult it is for young artists who aspire to mix disciplines to position themselves in the art world.
From an early age, Jeanne was influenced by the performing arts, which her parents loved. Costumes play a central role in this; allowing actors to slip into the skin of various characters, they give them a certain freedom of movement and with it, a new meaning to each new skin. Jeanne wants to learn the history of costume, so in 2009, she enters the Paul Poiret school in Paris, one of the only public costume schools, where she studies 19th century women’s costumes, and learns how to make them to measure.
A first experience marked her: she prepares the Christian Lacroix exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, for which the clothes do not have models. The process had to be reversed and bodies had to be modelled to fit the creations. Moreover, the training at the school is technical and requires meticulousness; Jeanne learns to work for a creative, and to make a model from an initial drawing, but at the slightest mistake, even if it is only a few millimetres, she is asked to start again. As the school is film-oriented, she is working on a docu-drama for Michael Radford, but does not like this position. For Jeanne, costume designers are not given the recognition they deserve in the fashion world. Also, she needs creative freedom in her work.
In 2011, she starts a course at ENSAD, where she studies ready-to-wear. It is a century-long leap into the industrial sphere where the individual is hardly taken into account, and this is the origin of the first reflections that lead her to write her famous thesis. But that is not all; the split between art and design is being heavily felt, and access to different disciplines can only be achieved through a double degree. She leaves for the London College of Fashion for a year in 2013, where she learns leatherwork and leather techniques, which are quite similar to surgery. She takes advantage of her stay in England to do an internship at the studio of Hussein Chalayan, a designer known for his innovative ideas, his experiments and his ability to mix artistic disciplines with new technologies. On her return to France, Jeanne, who would also like to mix several in her practice from the genesis of her projects, decides to found her own studio: CLINIQUE VESTIMENTAIRE.
Photo credit : Joseph Schiano di Lombo
At first, Jeanne has fun, studies, experiments with sewing techniques, and creates her first collections, between school and various collaborations. But the brands and fashion houses reject the concept, asking her to make it more commercial, and to make ready-to-wear. The degrowth model does not suit, and Jeanne focuses only on research for a while, which is, in her opinion, pure and liberated.
Reading the Anti-Fashion Manifesto written by Lidewij Edelkoort in 2015 was a landmark episode for CLINIQUE VESTIMENTAIRE; the fashion industry has fallen ill, she says. Jeanne already has an ecological and humanistic approach, and feels comforted by the rejection of some brands. But she gives her project an even more critical dimension as she makes these two aspects her battle horses.
The porosity between disciplines remains an element dear to the artist’s eyes, and takes another turn when she implements her idea of a tricotissage “robot”, letting new technologies invite themselves into her project. As part of her SACRe doctorate between 2015 and 2018, she collaborates with HND and Ecole des Mines students, with whom she files a patent. The programme is based on a mode of operation that validates hypotheses through experimentation, a model that she finds satisfactory.
With time, CLINIQUE VESTIMENTAIRE also unfolds in a performative aspect; Jeanne leaves for a residency at the Villa Medici in Rome, where she experiences the first days of the pandemic a little ahead of France. The relationship to time is different, a feeling we all know by now, and the artist makes it her mission to post a photo a day on Instagram to keep up with the work. For the first time, she manipulates colours and light, creating clothes with flowers from the garden, waiting for materials that have become inaccessible. And because she can’t touch other people, she uses her own body as a medium by making self-portraits. Photographer Leslie Moquin joins her on site and produces an almost documentary series in which, together, they stage her creations.
Named Quarantaine Vestimentaire (clothing quarantine), the project was built around the first 40 days of lockdown; one clothing composition per day, more than 250 photographs, and numerous mythological and historical references, evoke an actress who changes her skin over the course of the day, in a grandiose setting. Together with the faded flowers, these ephemeral creations perfectly illustrate the artist’s comments on movement and the idea of change. Moreover, when asked to lend her collection for Fashion Week, Jeanne can only refuse.
Photo credit : Leslie Moquin
The role of exhibitions is also becoming more and more important; they allow Jeanne to show all the facets of the creative process, from the simple tool to the final creation. As we saw during the exhibition at the Magasins Généraux, she seeks to put forward her varied artistic collaborations, to mix universes and to confront the public with them during the numerous events organised for the occasion. In an approach of knowledge transmission, she also proposes conferences and offers creative workshops in art schools.
More recently, she returned to her first love on the stage of the Grand Théâtre of Geneva, for which she produced the costumes for the opera Atys composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully, choreographed by Angelin Prejlocaj. Her next appearance is at the Galerie Templon, which represents her and is dedicating an exhibition to her work in its Brussels space until 23 April 2022.
Photo credit : Gregory Batardon
Over time, Jeanne has turned CLINIQUE VESTIMENTAIRE into an umbrella of diverse projects that are collaborative and multidisciplinary, and against institutions whose model paralyses creation.
Jeanne Vicerial wanted to heal the fashion world, but she did much more; by thinking the system differently, she made room for those who could not find any.
Photo credit : Isabelle Arthuis
“The fashion world still operates on a twentieth-century model […] in a society hungry for consensus and altruism, a world where individualism is long gone; this places fashion outside of society and de facto makes it old-fashioned.”
This excerpt from Li Edelkoort’s Anti-Fashion Manifesto depicts the deep problem with the fashion industry today. Ranked in the top five most polluting industries on the planet, the political and social problems it creates are also regularly highlighted to the general public.
One of its most destructive segments is fast fashion ; it offers clothes at low prices, available for sale in a very short period of time, with limited stock to encourage customers to renew their wardrobe very quickly. Not to mention their catastrophic ecological impact, the big fast fashion companies relocate their production to countries where labour is cheap, making them responsible for modern slavery. On the consumer side, the link with the garment is broken, the individual only has a place at the end of the chain, for the financial transaction, and even more so when the purchase is made online.
These observations led Jeanne Vicerial to take an engaged direction with CLINIQUE VESTIMENTAIRE. The individual, regardless of his or her morphology, takes part in the design of the garment from A to Z, and the designer accompanies him or her all the way. If it offers an alternative to ready-to-wear, which can also have its advantages, the problem for her is not just that: redefining the systems of consumption and production, without having a negative impact on the people already caught up in the process, is a considerable challenge. We can easily compare this phenomenon to the food industry.
Photo credit : Gregory Batardon
In her own capacity, Jeanne is able to stimulate thinking about change, encourage others to start, and experiment with new materials and concepts. Having left behind the reels of salvaged fabric she used to use, she is developing textiles, some as fine as hair, and mostly synthetic. But she is not averse to the use of cotton, for example. Jeanne works within a logic of permanent constraints in order to develop her own solutions. She does not use a sewing machine, yet she designs a semi-automated tool to produce.
For her, technology is not just about creating gadgets, and it does not have to be excluded from thinking about ecology. It is a question of finding the right balance and working to make compatible elements that at first glance seem contradictory.
Due to her willingness to be open to other disciplines, Jeanne has shown herself to be able to think about a problem in its entirety and to consider alternative solutions. The younger generation, of which she is a part of, is inspired by positive change. The awareness is there: a multitude of new companies are emerging with new visions, where innovation and revaluation of know-how go hand in hand. Some artists and designers are putting diversity back at the heart of their creations. The general trend may not yet be in this direction, but a parallel market could well be created.
Our world is changing at an impressive rate. Now more than ever, exchange and education are essential to break down old systems and build better ones.
Following in the footsteps of Li Edelkoort, Jeanne Vicerial does not just point to the problem. Her project will eventually play a significant role on the international art, fashion and research scene.