Pret-a-Reporter

Designers Dish: The Creative Geniuses Behind Peter Pilotto

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Christopher de Vos and Peter Pilotto

Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos, the men behind the U.K.-based brand, chat with us about their latest fall 2015 collection and how they used to find out about their designs making it on the red carpet.

When Austrian-Italian designer Peter Pilotto started his eponymous brand in London in 2007, with Belgian-Peruvian Christopher De Voslittle did they know they'd help start the print revolution. What's come to fruition this summer, in terms of trends, are mixed bright color florals, digital prints, checks mixed with florals, prints mixed with stripes — it's a kaleidoscope, a mosaic and an explosion of visual excitement — particularly after decade upon decade of black or grey solids. But Pilotto and De Vos really started it all, and now eight years later their high-end luxurious dresses, coats, tops, skirts — and now, gowns — are in 50 stores and sell out fast on websites like Net-a-Porter.

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Nestled in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont during the second week of April, they brought the full fall 2015 collection of innovative knits, digital prints, lace and embroidery — in a truly novel color palette — to show at a trunk show at Neiman Marcus, and to editors and stylists in Hollywood (as one editor called their fall show in London, where they work and live, "Wes Anderson does Apres-Ski).

"You don't really know our clothes from the runway," Pilotto told Pret-a-Reporter. "You need to experience them in person and touch them to understand how much work, experimentation, patterns and building goes into every collection." Feted with two Hollywood dinners in a week and countless appointments, the British-by-way-of-Europe pair took the time to tell us what's going on with the brand that became world famous when they did a collaboration with Target in 2014.

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Pret-a-Reporter: There's only one person's name on the brand, but two designer-creative directors.

Peter Pilotto: That's because I started the brand just before Christopher and I decided to work together. We were going to change the name to both our names, but it just didn't work, so we stayed with this.

You've got the full fall 2015 collection here — a group with black background, a group with white background, laden with multi-colored piping, embroidery, and even paillettes — and amazing detail, pattern and color that looks all new, even for you! Yet the shapes are traditional: nipped waists, flared skirts, pencil skirts.

Pilotto: Yes, we wanted to change it up with this collection, but then, our collections are all a journey. We start with inspirations and fabrics, then build from there. We never know what will look good with up until we experiment. The major theme here was board games (Chutes and Ladders) — something we all know from childhood, but never really examined. The closures and buttons look like silver pinballs — there's a lot of detail here.

Who do you think is your customer?

Pilotto: She's international. She travels all the time. And she likes to have fun with fashion. She's not shy.

Christopher De Vos: But it's interesting how women wear the line differently in different cities and countries. That's why we travel so much — in some places, women must wear sleeves — but can wear things very short. Other places, they want sleeveless but longer. It's a real learning experience. And our customer is all different ages — a woman at almost any age can wear our clothes. That's why we do some short, some longer lengths.

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There are gowns in this collection! And they've got color, embroidery, amazing fabrics and texture, but they're still sexy.

Pilotto: That was the idea. Many of them are even strapless. We wanted to give women a new option when it comes to black tie. Our gowns do not resemble any other brand's.

De Vos: It's all in the fit. They are cut in a very flattering way, and we are always thinking of how clothes fit on the body, flatter the body. 

Pilotto: That's how we design with print and texture — you have to make sure that's how the print and texture fit or lay on the garment that it is still flattering to the body. You have to be careful with that. We test everything out, and give our suppliers and production team very specific instructions. If the print doesn't flatter the body, we move elements around or take them out.

You've been worn on the red carpet a lot in the last few years, in terms of day dresses and cocktail — now you can take it up a notch.

Pilotto: We started on the red carpet by accident. We just started to notice actresses in photos in our clothes. The way we'd know it was happening is a friend would call, hysterically, saying, "Have you seen this?" It's always exciting.

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I read that you're inspired by nature and science when it comes to designing prints.

Pilotto: That was more true when we started, but it's still true that we like to translate things that are not known as prints into a print, or the other way around. We look at everything — art, architecture, nature, all of it. We like history, but we love discovering new techniques of how to do what we do. 

I notice you are both wearing dark colors that are solid — what's up with that?

De Vos: Hmm ... I wear a little color now and then. 

Pilotto: If we do menswear in the future, then we will start to wear color. It's something we've discussed — we're talking about it. We've been asked about it a lot.

You brought some of your fall womens' shoes and booties here, which are a collaboration with Nicholas Kirkwood.

Pilotto: Yes, and you can wear almost any style here with any look and it works. We are talking about getting into handbags — but we must work with the right people. That's something we've been discussing, too. But of course, they would have to work into the aesthetic of the brand.

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Your collaboration with Target in 2014 was such a big deal. Before that, you were only known to serious fashion people and luxury shoppers. Did it make a big difference in your sales?

De Vos: It definitely put the brand name on the map.

Pilotto: It without a doubt put us in a different space, recognition-wise, and we got to work in a different sphere, which was swimwear, which we had never done. And of course, it was a challenge to keep the prices low and find the right fabrics at those prices. But it was certainly a great experience. A challenge that we were up for. We've done a number of collaborations and we'd love to do more.

What are your big plans in Los Angeles this week?

Pilotto: We have a lot of meetings. Some people are throwing dinners in our honor (one is jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth), and we're doing a trunk show at Neiman Marcus.

De Vos: We love meeting our customers. It really informs us as to what they want.

Pilotto: And then we're going to go to the vintage stores and hit up Book Soup to find books on famous Hollywood costume designers!

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