The two friends reunite in Paris to reflect on a decade of defying convention
Alexandre Mattiussi and Yoann Lemoine’s friendship personifies the special symbiosis between fashion and music. The creative chemistry between the fashion designer and musician is undeniable, their commonality lying in an ability to defy industry convention, leading them to critical and com- mercial success without sacrificing their artistic integrity. For Mattiussi, this has manifested in the creation of his own label, AMI, just over nine years ago, and for Lemoine, otherwise known as Woodkid, in a refusal to bow to the demands of the streaming age.
Outside of their friendship, Mattiussi and Lemoine are connected through the chronology of their careers. In March of 2011, Lemoine released his first EP, Iron, a stirring collection of melancholic neofolk songs replete with epic, swelling baroque pop flourishes. A few months later, in another part of Paris not so far away, Mattiussi held his first runway show for his fledgling label, presenting a line of sophisticated yet ultra-wearable and unfussy menswear. A former student of Pierre Hardy at Duperré fashion design school and menswear alumnus of Christian Dior, Givenchy, and Marc Jacobs, Mattiussi’s solo project earned him an ANDAM prize; a string of boutiques in Paris, Tokyo, London, and Beijing; and a cult following that includes Jay-Z and Caroline de Maigret. The years that followed Lemoine’s initial EP release saw him become a critically acclaimed musician, producer, and music video director who has worked with Drake and Rihanna Harry Styles, Pharrell Williams, and Lana Del Rey.
Both at the apex of their careers, the two friends meet in Lemoine’s Paris studio in the 10th arrondissement. Ahead of the release of the musician’s second full-length album, S16, and the designer’s first runway presentation since the 2020 global lockdown, the two fabricate their friendship’s origin story, discuss leaning into the darkness, and reflect on a decade of creative freedom.
Alexandre Mattiussi: We have to be honest. We don’t remember when we met for the first time, so we decided to invent a story. We agreed that we could have met at Le Tango. It’s an old-school disco.
Yoann Lemoine: It’s the most incredible place in Paris. I go there almost every Friday. Until one in the morning, it’s a proper tango studio. There are couples who have been dancing there for 30 years, gay couples.
Alexandre: I’ve been living in Paris since 1998, and it was the first club I went to. It’s a good story. It’s very probable that we met there. It was way before Instagram, because you started with your first album ten years ago, and I created AMI ten years ago.
Yoann: So we had momentum at the same time. Also, we have tons of friends in common. There’s something about Alexandre’s ideology that is close to mine. I don’t think we’re into cynicism, in any way, or aggressive hype.
Alexandre: I think we’re doing our own things with passion, in a friendly way.
Divya Bala: We are coming up on tenth anniversaries for you both. When you look back over your careers, how has your creative approach changed?
Yoann: I’ve learned how to redefine what my concept of success is. Ten years ago, I was still somehow an old teenager who wanted to eat the world, make money, sell records, be famous, and explore. Now I realize that my work is the center of my life, and it’s what’s most precious. So, I feel like my success is, is my work better than yesterday? Is it solid? Does it have more of a political conscience? If you don’t really find your notion of success with time, you can become delusional and hit walls.
Alexandre: I’ve been very ambitious since I was a kid, but not in the way of wanting to be famous. In France, success is validated by a social environment and money. I was very humbled when I started my brand because I didn’t know whether it was going to work. I only realized recently that it was a success. The business is growing, I see people wearing my clothes around the city and the world every day, and this is something that touches me in a very emotional way. That recognition from people is probably the most important thing. Now, turning 40, maybe it’s the age of maturity, I feel like I deserve this because we’ve worked a lot. Even after this COVID-19 crisis, we’re still here. But I feel like saying ‘I’m successful’ was something I couldn’t even do a few months ago.
Because I’m my own boss, I feel like I can play with the rules to make them work for me. And, in music, it’s definitely the same. How you deal with success in a way that doesn’t put your health in danger—how many artists, musicians, and designers are very depressed in their own world?
Divya: Do you have this problem, Yoann?
Yoann: The past years have been about reconnecting to a certain form of private life and intimacy and seeing how precious it is to be forgotten. It is very precious to be forgotten. It’s a fear that drives a lot of musicians, in a bad way. I’ve seen it during confinement. There was a sort of panic that I understood; you could open Instagram and see Live feeds everywhere. Like, ‘Are people going to forget me in a few months?’ You could feel a desire for attention that was really intense. My own perspective is that it’s completely fine to not express yourself at a time like that.
Divya: What’s it like having a record come out in this context?
Yoann: It’s new for me. When I released my first record, it was the age of iTunes where you could still buy music. I [released it] at the very, very early age of streaming. It is something that completely reshaped the industry, the typology of music that labels are pushing on these platforms, because it’s music that’s fast to produce, doesn’t cost much money, and can be streamed easily by users who tend to repeat one song over and over again. Streaming platforms are designed for this. It’s all led by the concept of playlists and fast frequency of delivery, and that idea of something that you consume very fast. Almost like—
Yoann: The record took six years to make. It’s absolutely not compatible with what the industry asks. But I’d rather be a utopist if that’s what I need to reveal my conscience and have something to say, because if I don’t follow this, I betray myself. It’s choosing between something I don’t like, or am not proud of, and taking the risk of being forgotten. I’d totally prefer to be forgotten.
The CEO of Spotify said something like, ‘Artists must stop complaining about the amount of money they make. They should just make more music and they should not expect to make a living out of making [one] album in three years.’
Yoann: Which is the most aggressive thing you can say to artists in a time of COVID when they have tours canceled, and most of them don’t make much money from record sales. It doesn’t take into consideration so many things—mental health, for example. Why do some musicians take three years to make an album? Because for some of them, it takes a lot of time to recover from a tour. It’s such an ignorant comment. I have trouble saying this because it’s a platform that can make my album live, but at some point, if artists don’t raise their voice about this, it’s never going to stop.
Alexandre: When I look back at when I created AMI, it was clumsy. I was lucky enough to do that at a time when it was still possible. If I launched a collection now as I did nine years ago, I don’t know if I would have the same success. But back in the day, there was room for that kind of collection. I discovered myself being a better designer, season after season. I’m happy to challenge myself because the business is growing and now, I can do things I couldn’t imagine doing before.
Yoann: What excites you, thematically and conceptually?
Alexandre: We’re really evolving, and my team is a part of that creative process. It’s the conversations we have together, we have new people in the room—young kids, older kids—and we share the vision that they have of AMI too. I like the idea that my boyfriend is part of it, my mother is part of it, and all my friends are part of it. I didn’t want to make the brand grow as I grow, that’s why I always have young people on my team.
Yoann: Is it less about what your vision is?
Alexandre: It’s a little bit less about me. I don’t know if you listen to much music?
Yoann: I don’t listen to music at all.
Alexandre: I don’t look at fashion at all. It’s strange. Even dressing myself, I would love to be naked. You don’t experience your own style anymore.
Yoann: I pretty much dress the same every day. Sometimes, because I’m a musician, I feel like I have to try things.
Alexandre: The womenswear line helps me try things. I like certain fabrics and proportions, and my eye is going to change a bit, but the essentials are there. Womenswear was like a breath of fresh air. When I do a dress, there’s a femininity in the clothing that can be translated into the men’s collection.
Yoann: So you like to blur the lines?
Alexandre: A little, yes. Men’s collections are women’s collections, women’s collections are men’s collections. I’ve played with this from the beginning.
Divya: Is it important to go against the grain when creating?
Yoann: You can’t turn on the radio and hear a track without a rolling high hat, which is inherited from trap music. [Music is often] played in earbuds, and these types of frequencies really work for this space. In his book, How Music Works, David Byrne talks about how music evolves with the performance space. Today, the performance space is arenas and clubs but it’s also the cars and the earbuds. So, music tends to shift its spectrum toward this.
When I made the record, I could tell you for sure there’s not going to be a rolling high hat in my music. I’m not going to use any guitars, or drums, any classic instruments that put that varnish on music and allow it to go on the radio instantly. At least if I am lucky enough to go on the radio, I won’t go with everyone else’s music. I purposefully made an album that is very dark, which everybody warned me against. It’s crazy how taboo the subject darkness is. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, no, no, you can’t talk about that.’
Alexandre: You assume it.
Yoann: I could’ve pushed to enter into a system and make a lot of money. As a director, as a musician, I’ve had countless opportunities. I just know that the happiness I would have had would have come with a price, which would be, in the long term, a very deep and solid sadness and shame of having played a game that is not aligned with who I am.
Alexandre: This is why I’ve refused all the creative direction opportunities I’ve been asked to do for other brands. I’ve been asked to do big jobs, and I didn’t say no just to say no. I’m not a snob, but I know myself very well. I feel like, okay, I could do that, I could get lots of money, be very famous, have dinner with fantastic celebrities around the world—why not? But I’ve reached such a right balance with my life, professionally and personally. I couldn’t imagine myself being The Fashion Designer with the notoriety and the money. There’s one opportunity that’s the only one I would want to do. I have this dream [fashion] house. But I want to be low-profile, at the service of the brand, work on good products, not put too much of myself into the company, because sometimes the designer takes so much room that you can forget who the company or the house is.
Divya: Do you have a similar kind of dream, Yoann?
Yoann: I’ve had that, and it’s amazing. I hung out with Harry Styles on a helicopter, I worked for Katy Perry and with Lana Del Rey, I creative directed the music video for ‘Happy’ for Pharrell Williams. These were successes for these people and for me, because I’m super proud of doing all these things. But when you’ve had that type of success, then you really find it. And that’s it, it’s done. Once you have it, then what? That idea of success is really central in my head right now. What is success if it’s not the number of celebrities you’ve worked with or dressed or the number of records or clothes you can sell? How do you know you’re better? And what does ‘better’ mean?
Alexandre: It’s funny because I went on a TV show, and they had an introduction where they listed the celebrities who had worn AMI—Jay-Z and so on—and I was so surprised by all the names, and I have the same feeling when I see Jay-Z in AMI as a guy in the street. It’s the same feeling. Is your new album for the car or earbuds?
Yoann: I think it’s an album to listen to, not to hear. It’s hopefully a great album for travel. It’s a great album for breakups, to say something to someone in the middle of a breakup.
Alexandre: Your first album had a strong impact on me. It was overwhelming because it was all I wished to listen to, my dream album. I used to be a classical dancer when I was a kid, and when I stopped, at 14, I just switched off. I put all the music in a drawer, and when kids were building themselves through music, I listened to nothing. It was like a trauma because I had to stop dancing; being a kid in the countryside, dancing was hard. So, music has to give me goosebumps, it’s the only way I can enjoy it. Then I discovered Max Richter and you came later, and it was like, ‘Wow.’
Yoann: We just did a playlist together.
Alexandre: Yes, for AMI’s Instagram. I would love to invite you to do fashion. I would love for you to invite me to do music. We should try something together.
Yoann: We should make a queer anthem.
Alexandre: Yes! Let’s play it at Le Tango, where we met ten years ago.