The lovely Nabil Azadi recently caught up with designer Boris Bidjan Saberi for an intimate conversation, discussing everything from the creation and narrative behind his collections, blood as insiration, to his relationship with street and Hip-hop culture.
Nabil Azadi: So I’ll record but like last time I’ll send it to you before it goes anywhere so you can change whatever you need to change. It’s the easiest way.
Boris Saberi: And so I can talk freely.
Nabil Azadi: Yeah.
Boris Saberi: Because I’m really not diplomatic, you know.
Nabil Azadi: You are a friend so I have no problem breaking journalistic oaths.
Boris Saberi: I cannot be diplomatic, you know. I’m one person and there is not another face to roll over to and I cannot change it. I’ve tried a lot of times to work with my team to write a nice press release but I cannot do this – I cannot sit back and find the best way of talking about myself. I know what I did because I did it – I can tell you why! I like it! I’m behind it because I did it (and if not I would not do it).
Nabil Azadi: Press is best left to storytellers, not to the person living the story. One problem I’ve noted with press releases recently is that people are relying of a limited sartorial vocabulary in order to define the unique quality of their product. With a brand, you need to have honest heros and tangible stories. With a product, you either need to provide detailed information on technique and progress or you must let it speak for itself. If you don’t want to discuss technique then that’s fine but to half-heartedly discuss it does a disservice to the brand itself as well as to those few designers who consider it an important part of their work and their evolution.
Boris Saberi: Exactly. So for me this same logic means focusing on the menswear I am doing and to develop it. I don’t want to start now with womenswear. I know that if I did it I would do it with one hundred and eleven per cent of my energy but then I would not live anymore. I love clothing but I really don’t want to be a person who only thinks of one thing because it’s not good, I think, for your brain. So I have to choose now: take my life away for only this or have a social life and make it better? You need something like that because you lose yourself.
Nabil Azadi: And you lose the essence of what creates your clothing. We are transformed through interactions – we take from them and forge forward because of them.
Boris Saberi: Yes, you lose the naturalism and the reality. It is possible to see when a designer loses these things – loses part of their soul. It’s not difficult for it to happen because they have no time for anything else because they are doing womenswear, menswear, fragrances and diffusion lines. They lose something and this ephemeral thing is what I don’t want to lose because if you lose this – if you lose your respect for people and the reality of the day-by-day – then I think you’re not able to clothing and you instead do something like Creations (with a capital) which are very far from reality. And this is not what I intend to do and what I intend to be. I think I will stay where I am right now and will continue on this path but I will not grow in size any more.
Nabil Azadi: Do you find that since I last saw you it feels a lot more like you’re having to push it?
Boris Saberi: Well, it’s always a fight because my production is really complicated and now we make forty percent of everything ourselves in our atelier. And, for better or for worse, I keep designing so things become more complicated. With the gluing, now we glue all our seams from the inside and the dying processes we have to do by hand, one-by-one. There has to be an evolution in product – I want to make the best thing in the shop because this is a responsibility; not only because you have to continually reinvent some part of yourself in any line of work but because I’m known for making a high-end product and it’s not enough to only do this for part of one season. For me the avant-garde first exists in the construction of the product and in whatever measure of perfection you can achieve with it.
Nabil Azadi: It reminds me of what you once told me about your mother and [the way in which she would put on] her scarf. Do you remember? She said that there has to be such a perfect, quiet finesse about the final product – the perfect arrangement, even if it is simple.
Boris Saberi: Exactly.
Nabil Azadi: To go back to manufacturing and production: it’s strange to me that there are so many designers who make clothing that is not recognisable if it is turned inside out. This kind thing – including the imperfections in hand-made products – lend heritage and narrative.
Boris Saberi: Exactly. I want to see that it’s hand-crafted and I want to see that you tried your best even if it appeared you were limited. I want to see and hear about the work behind the product. And for me it was the goal this time to see different kinds of glues be used.
Nabil Azadi: Is this kind of like the glue they use to attach pieces of Perspex to each other?
Boris Saberi: No, it is like a glue tape which you have cut into the shape you want and then apply it with a lot of pressure and heat. It becomes the second skin of the fabric. A lot of mountain gear is made with a similar mentality but in the end mine seems more industrial – it looks like gaffer tape.
Nabil Azadi: That must mean that whatever you’ve used this glue on is incredibly durable, no?
Boris Saberi: Absolutely. You know, I like this collection a lot – I’ll tell you some things about it. It started with the blood. There are two reasons: one thing was, as my Mum died last year, I wanted to take the blood as a symbol for her death and I don’t know why but there was always this curiosity of blood and death. The other reason was that I cut myself and saw that the blood was red and turned to black as it dried and I found something of a curiosity in that shade change. That was really then like a thing for me. Every inspiration for me is an inspiration if you cannot stop it. It has to be something you cannot stop. If you say tomorrow that you’re inspired by traffic signs, then you shouldn’t be able not to look at traffic signs. So we tried a few kinds of blood and they all acted differently. I would try human blood but it’s a little bit difficult.
Nabil Azadi: I’ll put it in my will so that if I die you can give it a shot with my body. I’ll be immortalised forever in a satchel.
Boris Saberi: People always ask me when the human leather jacket is going to come out but it’s a little bit complicated.
Nabil Azadi: If only for legal reasons.
Boris Saberi: But Maxime from Sang Bleu told me that what I can do is put all of my money (which isn’t a lot but what I have left) into a bank account and then I’ll get patches and patches of my own skin in petrie dishes. So with stem cells I could make skin and sew my own leather into a jacket.
Nabil Azadi: Is that not the best idea you’ve had?
Boris Saberi: Yes, I think it’s cool. Maybe it’s the next thing. Anyway, we’ll see. It’s funny, isn’t it?
Nabil Azadi: I always liked how you had a sense of being an inventor. I’ve been saying this a lot in the past week but I’ll say it again: if you don’t keep expanding the toolbox and enduring your early ineptitudes, you won’t know what else you are capable of doing.
Boris Saberi: That’s really true. The next big step for me is to invent a new machine or a sewing machine. This will be my next goal, I think, because there has to be a new way of sewing two pieces of fabric together. I think what makes me interested in doing this is as simple as my boredom with what already exists. I suppose locking my leather jackets with a fur machine – which is an anomaly – gave me a taste of what could be different. The volume is altered, the form is altered. I want new characters in stitches. For me it’s more about this than inventing a new trouser. I love my pants because they have a shape that is tight across the body and which you can feel when you walk… I love that and I stay with it. Now I focus on fortifying that design.
Nabil Azadi: Usually designers flit too quickly between different visual concepts and they don’t have time to perfect production and that’s a problem because it propagates a mediocrity in technique.
Boris Saberi: There are a lot of products on the market that are not intelligent enough. If you’re talking about avant-garde there has to be a perfect balance between aesthetic and technique. There has to be perfectionism on every level. To design well you must be real and think hard and respond emotionally to the production process and the final shape of the clothing. You must respond emotionally to function and to form and be obsessed with consistency. I like to be able to close projects calmly and say that maybe this thing isn’t perfect but it is as perfect it can be at this moment and I did everything I could. Then I can grow and look for mistakes and make it perfect again later. This will show you how I grow. Being able to watch this growth is important. This is how you share yourself and bring your soul into your clothing. The soul, in this sense, is what you are and what you have lived – it is a single red line through every collection, through every side-project, through every thing you make.
Nabil Azadi: What becomes fascinating then is the fact that by being consistent in your innovation and, above all, by offering yourself as openly as the medium allows, you are allowing others the opportunity to share your narrative. It’s sometimes difficult to extract your attitude from your clothing’s attitude and then from your customer’s attitude. Tangible communities certainly exist in the lives of people who do not know each other but who share the same products.
Boris Saberi: Absolutely – this is why I held Eleven [an event Saberi hosted in 2010 in a group of connected caves under Berlin where he invited a cross-section of friends, customers and celebrated German musicians, dancers and artists – the common thread uniting them being Saberi’s clothing and a collective providence of street culture].
Nabil Azadi: To interject there for a moment – you know, there’s been a lot of poor fashion journalism in relation to you. Your relationship with hip-hop is described as being visual. You actually are more concerned with the kind of co-dependence and productivity it encourages, it seems.
Boris Saberi: Yeah, hip-hop isn’t Puff Daddy in a big Range Rover – it’s people who are working on something in a crew. It’s the feeling of being five people walking down a street and having one language like Crips or Bloods. I like that sense of determination. Kids who fuck around on the street and then say, “Hey, let’s build something!” I want you to be a little skater, a little hip-hop, a little provoking street fighter. And I’m trying to keep some tradition alive: I’m using all this tape and glue because when I was skating I would glue my shoes together when they broke and I had no money to buy new ones. I go step by step backwards through my life, finding senses of me and putting them in there. I think there are not a lot left already because now it’s this, but now it’s an evolution and now I have to think of new machines and new materials. This will never die because inventing and experimenting and getting dirty is like a drug for me.
Nabil Azadi: Yeah, there is a reason my mental image of you is hanging over a strip of leather with a bucket of oil and a bunch of nails, distressing for your life.
Boris Saberi: [laughing] Yeah, exactly.
Nabil Azadi: That idea of flitting back and forth through moments in time – fixing your shoes when you were a good with Shoe-Goo and then using that technique again with your clothing now, using that idea to forge forward – that echoes into everything. The more… I’m young and I don’t know shit I’ll say it anyway. The more I live the more it seems to me like concepts and circumstances repeat themselves and you can either take power from them and move them in a different direction or suffer from that.
Boris Saberi: Look, everything that you did in life, everything that you saw in life, everything that you thought in life when you were young is the scent of you. It stays. If you were playing Play Mobile because you loved it…
Nabil Azadi: Or Mechano – did you have that?
Boris Saberi: Yeah, I loved it. Or Lego?
Nabil Azadi: Yeah!
Boris Saberi: I loved all of them – and I used to like putting pieces together like in Tetris. In reality things are very clear – you only have to remember and go back and see who you are and what makes you happy. This is me and these are also my limits; I like them and this is what I want to have in the future. For me, this is the business plan. And it sounds really romantic and esoteric but it’s not and neither am I.
Nabil Azadi: Uh…
Boris Saberi: Yeah, I am romantic. I am, I have to say. And I do always look to see that things are correct and I think a lot. Too much sometimes.
Images from the Eleven Event.
Interview: Nabil Azadi