Marc Ascoli searches for the X factor in Hong Kong

Searching for the X factor

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 January, 2013, 7:19pm

"It's a strange quality - an X quality. It's when you feel something special is coming," says Marc Ascoli, carving the letter "X" on a piece of paper to emphasise his point. "When you meet someone with it you know there and then - it's a combination of talent, enthusiasm and personality. It's very exciting."

When it comes to talent spotting, Ascoli has a sixth sense, so it is fitting that he's a guest judge of the Hong Kong Young Designers' Contest at Hong Kong Fashion Week.

The Frenchman has been the creative force behind some of fashion's most provocative imagery since he teamed up with Yohji Yamamoto in 1984. During an early collaboration with the Japanese designer, Ascoli employed the relatively unknown Nick Knight, who had been working as a photographer in the London underground scene. Ascoli took him and graphic designer Peter Saville under his wing to work on catalogues for Yamamoto and produced now famous images such as "Susie Smoking" for Yamamoto's autumn-winter 1988/99 catalogue.

"Bold silhouettes at local fashion contest", Video by Hedy Bok

Ascoli is also credited with discovering fashion photographers Mario Sorrenti and Craig McDean and, in the roles of art, image and creative director, has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry from Jil Sander, Cerruti, Chloé and Calvin Klein to Gianni Versace and Hugo Boss.

It's his third visit to the city, and he says he looks forward to exploring the local fashion scene further. "I saw some work of the young Hong Kong designers and it was very energetic, very few restrictions and a lot of research, which is interesting to see from the younger generation. It was exciting," he says, his hands swinging in unison with his silk purple scarf. "I can't compare Hong Kong's scene to what I saw while working in Japan because it was a different time. Japan in the early '80s was booming - the economy and the fashion scene. It was when Comme des Garçons and Yamamoto arrived in Paris and Japan was rising on the fashion map."

While fashion is one of Ascoli's greatest loves, he fears that the industry is becoming homogenised. "A lot of fashion today looks like it's been created with a cookie cutter. It's quite sad. I feel that people are buying labels only as a status symbol, but I'm more interested in the personality of the person who is wearing the labels. Clothes can explore a part of your personality."

Another great love is his wife, French fashion designer Martine Sitbon (he is the image director for her Rue du Mail label). "Martine is wonderful - my driving force. We bounce ideas off each other and she encourages me a lot."

Next on Ascoli's to-do list is a book with Chloé celebrating the French fashion house's 60 years in the industry. "I'll be in charge of the creative direction, which is exciting because in Chloé we have Karl Lagerfeld, we have Sitbon and we have Phoebe Philo. There are so many big names."

Next year he'll be working on a book about Marianne Faithful.

"I also want to write a book, not so much of my work but about my experiences," he says. "I need a lot of time and energy to do this and I think it will be quite difficult, maybe even a little uncomfortable to talk about myself. But I want to leave a creative legacy, to leave something behind that people will love."