Inside Brussels-based fashion designer’s private art collection

Subtlety, quality and elegance are usually the words which are most associated with Jean-Paul Knott’s world. The Brussels-based designer – a man who lives and breathes creativity – has a knack for twisting simple shapes and making them his own. And although it is for his sleek collections that Knott is most well-known, his outlook does not limit itself to fashion. We talked to the designer about his fascination for art and why it holds a special place in his heart.

There’s a strong relationship between art and your clothes. Can you explain why?

Ever since I launched my own line in 1999, I’ve been focusing on the same things: cuts, lines, finishes and comfort. There are permanent directions within my work, but the challenge is also to update myself and remain fashionable. When I created my brand, I wasn’t particularly inspired by the outside world and therefore asked friends to step in and collaborate with me on the collection. They were painters, photographers, sculptors.

Have you worked with artists since your very first collection?

Yes, I have. Most of the time, I have a personal relationship with them. They’ve been friends for years and we have a connection. I’ve known some of them for 25 years. Collaborating with artists pushes me to see things differently and step out of my comfort zone. Fashion tends to be very self-referential, and I’m not interested in that aspect of the industry.

Did you want to associate clothing with an artistic process then?

Yes, that’s right. It was a way to exist and mark my territory. Each season, I worked with new artists and broadened my horizons. I like sharing experiences with people and exchanging ideas. I used to organize exhibitions in my previous stores and guess I could never really separate art from what I do, even though fashion is clearly not art.

It’s always good when someone from another discipline gains access into your world and offers their own interpretation.

Do you enjoy working with artists?

Yes, I love it. It’s always good when someone from another discipline gains access into your world and offers their own interpretation. It’s quite stimulating for both parties involved.

Does the way some artists work echo your own patterns as a designer?

I’ve never been interested in the idea of disposable clothing and like to think that my pieces will last longer than one season. In that sense, there’s a certain consistency within my work and certain items that keep coming back, such as the white shirt, the draped dress or printed piece. I guess a love of craft is also something I share with these artists.

You created Knott Gallery in 2003 and keep showcasing new artists every year. Do you think fashion becomes boring on its own?

I don’t think fashion for fashion’s sake is still relevant. It might have been the case in the 80s or the 90s, but there’s something sterile about perfection. We don’t live in this reality anymore. The act of juxtaposing several means of expression and combining them feels much more interesting and contemporary.

How many artists did you work with for your upcoming summer collection?

I picked 3 of them this time: Pascal Durant, who specializes in screen printing and teaches silk screening, Jacques Weemaels, who is a painter and trained architect, and Martin Adika.

I noticed you have a Calder on your wall. Where does it come from?

It was a gift from my friend Betty De Stefano, who runs Collectors Gallery in Brussels. Whenever I went to her place, I kept telling her how much I loved it. I guess she got tired of hearing this, year after year, and gave it to me as a present.

Do you collect art?

Yes, I do. I often buy from people I know, or artists who exhibit here. Rosette De Stefano, who is Betty’s sister, is one of them. She makes incredible bamboo installations and I had to have some of her pieces, which are currently at my place.

Do you buy it as an investment?

Not at all. For me, it has more to do with falling in love with a piece than any other considerations.

Where do you find your inspiration as a designer?

I can spend hours on Google and Youtube. As I travel all the time, I’m usually jet-lagged and end up spending sleepless nights watching movies. Give me any French New Wave film and I’ll be fine for the rest of the night.