Homa Taj In Conversation with Marc Bouwer on Dressing Angelina, Charlize & Co.

Angelina Jolie in Marc Bouwer @ The Academy Awards, 2004

A typical question for Tinseltown’s favourite Couturier is not whom Marc Bouwer has dressed? It is more like, which superstar female celebrity is queueing to parade on the Red Carpet in her Bouwer. A select list of his close friends and clients include: Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Whitney Houston, Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Lopez, Sandra Bullock, Lydia Hearst, Paris Hilton, Ivanka Trump, Toni Braxton, Iman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Catrall, Mariah Carey, Nicole Kidman, Emily Blunt, Kim Kardashian, Angie Harmon, Alessandra Ambrosio, Candice Swanepoel, Ciara, Eva Langoria, Heidi Klum, Jennifer Hudson, Jessica Simpson… for starters…

Homa Taj – You were born and raised in South Africa. Who /what were the biggest influences on your choice to become a fashion designer?

Marc Bouwer – As a child I loved the clothes worn by women in all the old Hollywood movies. I was definitely influenced by some of Hollywood’s best designers, like Adrian, Edith Head and Givenchy. Then as I grew older, I became more influenced by more modern designers like Halston and Thierry Mugler. I love the easiness of Halston’s draping and his sexy sporty-ness, but also loved the heroic strong women that Mugler presented. Somewhere between the two, I found myself.

HN – Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

MB – I find inspiration everywhere, it can be the yellow and black taxi cabs whizzing  by me in NYC or the rainbow of lights reflected in a muddy puddle on the streets of Manhattan after a rainstorm. It can come from anywhere and at any time, I’m always on the lookout and know it when I see it!

HT – Do you collect art – what, how, etc…?

MB – I love art and try to collect as much as I can. I collect more obscure and unknown artists, often things you find being sold on the street or at benefit auctions. I am a painter myself and have some paintings of my own hung in my apt.

HT – What is your favourite museum? Do you have a favourite artist(s)?

MB – It’s hard to say that I have a favorite museum, because I’ve been to and seen so many great ones. As a New Yorker, I guess the MOMA and the Whitney come to mind, and I visit them often. I have several favorite artists, in fact 3 of them were the inspiration for this particular collection (Spring 2011):

-Aubrey Beardsley, for his fantastic black and white drawings.
-Alexander Calder for his incredible sculptures and mobiles.
-Wassily Kandinsky for his marvellous use of primary colors in conjunction with black and white.

HT – You are best known for your Red Carpet super glamorous gowns. When was the first time that you dressed an actress at the Academy Awards (The Oscars)? How did that feel to have a billion people (give or take a couple of million) around the globe see your design?

MB – I would say my most memorable dress that I have designed was the one worn by Angelina Jolie, to the 76th Academy Awards, in 2004. This was a turning point, both for Angelina, as well as for me. I suddenly became a household name, after many years as a working designer. Seeing her step out onto the Red Carpet, saying my name, being viewed by millions of people watching around the globe, was a surreal out of body experience for me! Even though I had dressed many famous women before Angelina, this was the one that put me on the map.

HT – One of the primary elements of your design philosophy that I find truly awe-inspiring is your almost militant discipline not to steal the show from your clients. Honestly, if I were dressing someone for an Academy Awards Ceremony, I can’t guarantee that I would not go for that Va Va Voom gown which everyone would talk about the next day. I can totally imagine editors running around, asking, “Wait, does anyone remember WHO wore That (Bouwer!) Gown, …again?” …

MB – I guess my philosophy for designing for glamorous women are clothes that skim the body, enhance the female form with deceptively simple cuts and architecture. Clothes that look effortless, but always sexy, empowering a woman with clean lines and bold shapes. Every celebrity has their own personality and style, and as a designer it is my job to enhance and frame who they are.

HT – When did you introduce GlamIt! and what is your design philosophy behind it?

MB – I introduced  GlamIt! about 5 years ago, and this was to expressly reach a wider audience, by having a similar design philosophy to the couture,  but being more affordable in that it is produced on a larger scale as apposed to the limited editions of the couture.

HT – Re: GlamIt! How do you make money designing such classic shapes? Seriously! Fashion is about change… so, every season, women are made to feel perfectly inadequate until we buy the next hot thing …and, then, we are redeemed. But with a collection like this, a woman buys half a dozen dresses and she is set for the next 5-7 years?

BM – Again it is my design philosophy that takes classic shapes and reinvents them in more modern and edgy incarnations, that has driven the success of GlamIt!

HT – How long ago did you introduce M by Marc Bouwer on QV? Other top designers whose collections are shown alongside include Isaac Mizrahi, Pamela Dennis and Melania Trump. However, let’s be honest, QVC doesn’t exactly have a reputation as the most fashionable of venues…

MB – I introduced M by Marc Bouwer for QVC about 6 years ago. I was one of the first in a group of younger, more modern designers QVC took on. The QVC of today is a very different place than it was years ago. It has a much more modern approach to apparel and host’s some of America’s top designers and celebrities on their roster.

HT – By the way, do you only show on QVC America or their UK, German and Japanese channels too? If all four markets, how do responses to your designs differ from country to country?

MB – As of now, we only sell QVC America, but have been asked by many of the international QVC channels to participate and will probably do so, fairly soon. However for now, my three different collections keep me very busy!

HT – Let’s talk about your models: Candice Swanepoel & JP (Jennifer Pugh) – Aside from the fact that they are both drop dead gorgeous, what qualities about them attracted you the most?

MB – Fall 2010: Candice like myself is a fellow South African, but aside from that, she is one of the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever worked with; she has an incredible trained dancers body and the most beautiful blue eyes.

For Spring 2011, we used IMG supermodel JP. I was attracted to her incredible ability to move and act in front of a camera and transform herself into the essence that embodies my new collection. With her large expressive eyes and her pouty sexiness, she became my muse for the new collection. I, especially, think that she embodies the spirit of an edgy modern day Brigitte Bardot!

HT – You don’t use any material that is derived from animals – fur,leather or wool. I understand that this philosophy encourages you to discover new types of textiles…

MB – Technology today gives us the ability to recreate the look and feel of fur and leather, without the cruelty involved. So for me there is no reason to use the real thing, when there is a cruelty free alternative.

HT – So, have you directly worked with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)?

MB – PETA has sponsored 3 of my past collections and actually made history by me being the first designer to be sponsored by PETA.

HT – Are you a feminist?

MB – Am I a Feminist? Yes, definitely!