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Q&A With Bruno Pieters

Today will see the Paris presentation of Bruno Pieters? second collection for Hugo, the edgy diffusion line of Hugo Boss.

Today will see the Paris presentation of Bruno Pieters’ second collection for Hugo, the edgy diffusion line of Hugo Boss. A graduate of Antwerp, Belgium’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, 31-year-old Pieters worked as assistant to Martin Margiela and Christian Lacroix before launching his signature ready-to-wear line in 2002 at age 24. In April 2007, Pieters was appointed art director of Hugo. Sales for the designer’s first collection there, currently in stores, rose 18 percent.

This story first appeared in the September 30, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

WWD: What’s your aim with Hugo?
Bruno Pieters: The original idea for Hugo was to create an avant-garde, fashion-forward brand within the Hugo Boss Group. I’m trying to develop a look and codes for them that are recognizable and are theirs by focusing on their strengths, such as tailoring and cut. Hugo is known for suits and it’s an element I love to play with in my designs.

WWD: What was your vision for the spring collection?
B.P.: I explored all that is interesting in Germany’s culture, its history and art scene, since it was a German company originally. This season it was Bauhaus. I wanted the whole collection to look very clean and graphic, with elements of classic men’s tailoring.

WWD: You’re holding a party here. Is it a sign you’re opening a store?
B.P.: The last two shows were in Berlin. Next January we would love to debut in Paris. I think Paris is unavoidable to create growth.

WWD: How has your new position affected work on your own line?
B.P.: I consider my own line today as a laboratory. It’s fun to do.

WWD: Is taking up design posts at established houses vital to your own brand’s survival? Are you receiving any financial support for your line?
B.P.: I’m completely independent for now. One of the reasons I accepted this position is because I love to work on different projects. I also work for Delvaux, a little-known luxury leather goods house in Brussels — actually the oldest in Europe — a great place to learn the trade. Of course, having a contract with Hugo Boss does make life as a designer more comfortable.

WWD: You’re based in rainy Antwerp. Do you socialize much with fellow Antwerp designers?
B.P.: Antwerp is very small. It’s like a village; everybody knows each other. I enjoy it because it allows me to focus on my work, whereas cities such as Paris have too many distractions. I went to school at the same time as many other designers, such as Kris Van Assche. When I was offered the position at Hugo, Raf Simons was so kind as to advise me on certain things. We all respect each other. We all work hard so there is not much time, at least not for me, to socialize often.

WWD: How is it to be a Belgian designer today?
B.P.: I think it doesn’t have any importance today. I feel people accept Belgian designers as part of the industry. We are just there, as are London designers or New York designers. What I find is a positive change in fashion is this tendency to focus on the individual, and no longer the nationality. If there are many Belgian designers working for different companies, I think this is because they fit the brand, not because they are Belgian.

WWD: Looking back, do you think you jumped into launching your own brand too early?
B.P.: Of course it was too early, but I don’t regret it. It was fun, naïve and completely mad but everything that happened was necessary for where I am today. I feel like I have learned a lot and that I can begin my journey.

WWD: What are the pros and cons of being a young, independent designer today?
B.P.: This reminds me of what Julie Gilhart from Barneys New York told me when I presented my first couture collection: “There will never be enough good designers, always room for more.” Today the interest in new designers is very low. It exists in London. When the press and buyers have a moment of interest in a young talent, the difficulty, then, is the ability to compete with the quality, deliveries, etcetera, of established houses. This was for us a big issue in the past. As a young designer, you are also expected to present something different — extreme — to be noticed. Big companies can afford to show a press collection and a different showroom collection adapted to retailers; this is impossible for an independent designer with no financial partner. They need to show what they sell, which is not always very exciting or innovative. But it’s not all bad — if there is a will, there is a way. This is still very true, and there will never be enough good designers.