Designer Adrien Sauvage hopes his 'dress easy' philosophy will catch on
British basketball player Adrien Sauvage gave up scholarships in the US to pursue a career in fashion. He tells Kylie Knott about his 'dress easy' philosophy
Adrien Sauvage stretches out his long legs. He's dressed head to toe, all 1.98 metres of him, in black, complete with black sunglasses that seem justified under the glaring lights of Joyce's Central boutique. The British designer is the epitome of cool: stylish, chilled, chirpy and, it seems, unfazed by anything, not even about being squeezed into a ridiculously tiny chair for an afternoon of interviews.
"I'm blown away by Hong Kong … it's like luxury on crack," says the 30-year-old founder of A. Sauvage. It's his first visit to the city and the saturation of luxury brands is hard to digest. "I've never seen so many brand logos in that height and width … But at the same time it's interesting to see a new culture. I was on the ferry thinking what do people do when it's hot? Is it all shop, shop, shop. I'm loving the energy, though. It's my first time in Asia and first time really understanding this market. I haven't had a chance to think too much about the mainland market. I'll take it organically, slowly. I'm not in a rush."
This laid-back attitude has proved to be a winner for Sauvage, who was in Hong Kong to promote his autumn-winter 2013 collection that has landed at Joyce. It's a colourful and stylish collection bursting with patterns inspired by his Ghanaian heritage. But it also has calmer looks that place it in the categories of both sensible and adventurous.
A former professional basketball player, Sauvage gave up scholarships to US colleges to pursue a different path. "My basketball sponsor died of cancer - it was tragic but it also made me think about what I wanted to do. I'd seen a lot of people return from playing pro [and] they were washed up at 23 and I thought, jeez, what am I going to do?"
The unlikely answer was fashion. "A lot of people asked me how did I go from sport to fashion, but actually fashion has been with me from a young age," he says. "I come from a really strong Ghanaian background and the tradition there is dressing up. [With] African kids it's not just about colour … you see four- to five-year-olds in patent leather shoes, velvet jackets and corduroys - it's revved up. My mum was always working to build my individual style."
While playing basketball, Sauvage says, he often felt trapped in sweaty sports gear. "As soon as a game was over I would rip off my top," he says, acting it out. "I just wanted to throw off those clothes and put on something smart."
At 19, Sauvage shed his sweaty sportswear look to become a stylist and lifestyle consultant. Working in London under the name Untitled Muse, Sauvage penetrated both society and celebrity circles. "I started to get involved with fashion to, you know, hook up with girls," he says. "Then I started doing styling, but I thought I was only ever going to be as good as my last gig, so I decided to make my own clothes. With styling, I felt I could do that for another 10 years but I saw myself living in Paris in an apartment with a cat," he says, laughing. "I saw the future and I was like, 'no'. I noticed that women would look great but their husbands often looked like s***. I was always like: 'Oh man, come on bro, come with me …' The husbands were dishing out all this money on their wives but neglecting themselves."
He got his start working with Harrods and London boutique Matches Fashion, "but the twist was I wanted to dress people who wouldn't normally wear a suit, so I called it 'This Is Not A Suit'," he says. "I was working with really interesting characters: artists, musicians, architects - people who didn't wear suits but who now have a load of them - boxers, NBA players ... People were wearing brands that their dads wore, but I wanted to create clothes for my contemporaries, people who would go, 'Hey, at this time this is what we wore.' I wanted the clothes to make a statement about their generation."
He founded his house in 2010 and the rest, as they say, is history. "My clientele includes musicians, artists … African dictators and celebrities like Justin Bieber and Jude Law." He has also diversified into womenswear, but nothing too radical with his suits for women, or "menswear for women" as he says, much like a well-tailored men's suit. "Sometimes, women like to feel like men," he says.
And his talents go beyond fashion design. He also created a short film called This is Not a Suit, which he directed and performed in. The black-and-white short film introduces Sauvage and his dress easy or D.E. philosophy. It received positive reviews and was nominated for selection for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. He's also a talented photographer and shoots images for all his campaigns.
"I started photographing people in the street [and] relatives back in Ghana," he says. "Then I started taking portraits, and people started feeling really comfortable around me." In Hong Kong he shot a black-and-white campaign - images in wet markets, outside pawn shops and on Pedder Street. "I like being hands-on. It's allowed the brand to have that personal approach: everything's come from me and I've signed everything off and developed my own fabrics.
And it's those fabrics that make his looks stand out from a crowd. They are heavy on colour and texture, with some designs inspired by his African roots and others on traditional Asafo flags, produced by, among others, the Fante people of what is now Ghana.
"All these fabrics," he says, flicking through a pile of swatches, "are traditional patterns from Ghana. This pattern is a symbol of adaptation and dynamism. It's a traditional Ghanaian symbol ... these are characters you'll see on flags from my hometown of Cape Coast - they are used by the local Asafo groups in their traditional dances."
As if making a point, Sauvage leans back. "I feel like I'm becoming much more relaxed - I'm able to delegate because I have a good team. What I love most now is seeing the people who I call superheroes - those people who are skilled at something I'm not skilled at and who are integral to the brand. They do something amazing and I give them free rein to do it.
"I'm into that - I'm into superheroes."