Portrait of Alain Germain
A French director wearing many hats – actor, artist, decorator, costume-maker – and standing on a productive career, Alain Germain has been for over forty years at the head of his own eponymous company, which has the particularity of offering performances that combine many related disciplines such as dancing, singing, theater, visual arts and music.
He also teaches the art of textile design, and as part of his exhibition-workshop Textile to Texture presented at ESMOD Dubai and more recently at the Ateliers de Paris, familiarizes students with the different techniques used to manufacture garments for the world of haute couture.
Exhibition-workshop Textile to Texture, ESMOD Dubai, 2013
Why are you combining so many disciplines in your troupe? What role does textile play in this universe?
Combining dancing, singing, theater, music and visual arts has always been obvious to me. Later I added (the) writing, in other words the text. Text, texture, textile, another obvious fact. I believe that an artist can only become what he feels deep down and that everything comes together beyond the mere expression of one specific discipline. Choreographing, staging, designing a setting for an opera or an exhibition, creating costumes, writing a book or a novel, painting and drawing are only the visible forms of creation which have a common origin.
If we only take the example of textile or rather texture, my painting, my writing and my stage costumes feed on it by restoring their material aspect between words, lines, sketches, models and canvases. Canvas for painting, canvas for the preparatory cutting before using textile for couture clothing or stage costumes. Canvas again for the cinema. And canvas is nothing but a type of textile that belongs to a larger family.
Exhibition Opéra Côté Costume, Palais Garnier, 1995
How important are know-how to you? How do you stage them?
Know-how is the link that, from one generation to the next, enables designers to achieve what they have imagined. These designers develop intricate relationships with artisans, whether they are feather-workers, embroiderers, dyers, shoemakers, barbers, wigmakers, tailors or mere handworkers. Staging their work is very simple. You just have to pay tribute to them, tell their story, show their skills.
This was the purpose of my exhibition Opéra Côté Costume in 1995 at the Palais Garnier, where for the first time these different trades mingled with the architecture by displaying embellished draped costumes on mannequins which looked like characters hanging in time. Since that great adventure, I have always been the advocate for all the artisans who work behind the scenes.
As an example among many, the exhibition Alain Germain Mémoires de Scène in 2001 at the Opéra National de Paris, which allowed my stage costumes to be classified by the department for performing arts of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and lead to a collection, and more recently the major retrospective Alain Germain entre Costumes et Machines at the Musée National des Arts et Métiers and Alain Germain Habille Chambord d’Opéra at the Château de Chambord.
Exhibition Entre Costumes et Machines, Musée National des Arts et Métiers, 2008
Several ateliers create or manufacture bespoke costumes and garments for both the performing arts and haute couture, as the two sectors are very close. Is haute couture a source of inspiration for you?
In my opinion, haute couture and stage costumes can seemingly be confused. Such was the theme of my exhibition Costumes à jouer, Costumes à rêver at the Musée de Saint-Maur where I had, on one hand, staged garments by famous designers which were imagined as costumes for fashion shows and not designed to be worn daily, but to be photographed as part of a fleeting performance, and on the other hand working costumes for opera and ballet that must meet comfort and tenacity requirements without compromising on the aesthetics.
Although they share the notions of luxury and illusion, haute couture clothing and stage costumes are poles apart. Their function is not the same. As for the influence of one on the other, I let the well-informed public draw its own conclusions. Ideas are in the air, they belong to those who can breathe.