Marithé et François Girbaud: “From Stone To Light”

A couple of weeks ago we were in Paris at the Denim by Premier Vision show and were lucky enough to catch up with François Girbaud at his exclusive book signing of From Stone To Light — the newly released retrospective of 40 years of Marithé et François Girbaud.

The book accompanies a retrospective exhibition called L’Autre Jean, currently on display at Musee D’Art et D’Industrie in Saint-Étienne through May 6, 2013.

The tome is full of inspirational denim imagery that made the brand so famous since its foundation in the 70s. We especially love the 80s and 90s denim looks, reflecting an era when the brand was at its peak of popularity.

A personal foreword by the legendary Yohji Yamamoto sets the tone of the book, which is packed with exclusive interviews including text from Farid Chenoune, fashion editor, historian, and sociologist.

Sonia Rachline (Vogue France) worked on the unique chronology with the team alongside Muriel Mercier, their press agent and brand expert. The content weaves through their design history, highlighting the variety and wealth of their creations from early laundry innovation (the invention of stonewash) and silhouette re-invention (the first “baggy” jean ever created in 1977) through to François’ pioneering involvement in new laser and ozone laundry technologies since 2003. As a recognition to their sustainable credentials, the cover was produced from recycled denim.

Another quirky highlight is the playful glossary entitled “Do you Speak Girbaud”, which includes various François-isms that were used to identify his collections, campaigns, and fashion shows, as well as his own accentric nicknames for design details and inventions.

We sat down with François to ask him a few questions about the book and how it came to be.

What inspired Marithe and yourself to compile the book?

“It was an opportunity for us to look back for the first time; which is something we weren’t used to doing. As our work has always been driven by progression of evolution, Muriel chose not to structure the book chronologically; you can see that even when 10-30 years separate two pictures, they both tell the same story, just worked differently. We have a certain obsession with revisiting themes and functions.”

We would like to touch upon the controversial missing image, The Last Supper. It was a target of an advertising ban “in all public places and all media” following the lawsuit in 2005 brought by the Catholic Association Croyances et Libertes for its religious blasphemous references. Tell us what happened?

“The image to which you’re referring to can be read on different levels. As co-creator of the GRAIL interpretation (where the denim appears transformed in The Last Supper, human skin merging into jeans, revealing an attitude in the low-cut men’s styles), my message was supposedly more shocking than all the moral or religious blasphemy currently in the media when in fact my message was focussed on my environmental concerns and the sacrilegious manipulation of leuco-indigo molecules and the use of extremely harmful chemicals. Despite its beauty, denim is also a carrier of death, the message we were trying to deliver is finally beginning to get through today.”

Were there any other problems during the making of the book?

“Most of the artists we contacted to get image rights were very pleased to be selected and gave their authorization. We didn’t realize in the beginning that it would be such a huge work, and sometimes we found out some of the people were dead!”

The book was also launched in line with the exhibition L’Autre Jean. Which came first and how do the two correlate? 

“The desire was to find the true values of this brand within its history. The installation is both independent and complementary. The invitation to produce the exhibition came from the Museum of Art and Industry a pretty long time ago and Muriel de Lamarzelle wanted to release a book using her experience of the brand. In 2005 she hired Sylvie Marot who is in charge of the heritage and brand holdings. She did a great job and both of them were completely involved in both projects. All the ingredients were there to set up both projects and it’s difficult to say which one came first. It’s a combination: No exhibition without a book and no book without a special heritage event.”

What originally drew you to denim and what/who were your early inspirations?

“From the beginning there was a desire to make jeans ‘not like the Americans.’ This is evident in the exhibition, and less visible in the book. The chronology of the expo shows the evolution of materials, explaining the forms that are required to progressively intervene on the material.”

What has been your favourite time (decade/year) for denim throughout your career?

“Today. Because the challenge is even more important than the provocation. At stake is the human species and how humans clothe themselves. Are we going to destroy ourselves and our environment like the inhabitants of Easter Island?”

What is your personal favourite denim creation of all time?

To be able to make the great leap in life between thesis and antithesis. Inventing the industrialisation of fade-washed jeans and subsequently denouncing the mistakes through the use of chemical washing that we had made in all innocence at the beginning. From 1989 we began to question everything in order to get where we are today with WATTWASH, the practice of using air and light to launder.”


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