Emanuel Ungaro (Oct,2001)
INGRID SISCHY: When you were growing up--EMANUEL UNGARO: --many years ago--
IS: --last year. [both laugh] When you were growing up, did you think of Paris in terms of fashion?
EU: Inevitably. You know, I'm not Parisian; I was born in the south of France and, for me, Paris was a dream. I remember when I was 15 years old I saw the photos of Monsieur Christian Dior covering a model with a white sheet so people could not see what she was wearing underneath. And I remember telling myself, "I have to know what's happening there." And it's why I did anything I could do to come to Paris. I left everybody, my family, Provence, which I love so much. I left with two shirts and one pair of pants, and not one cent.
IS: And when you first got to Paris, you worked with [Cristobal] Balenciaga.
EU: I could say, like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Papa Hemingway, that it was "a feast." I did not spend my time in the Ritz Hotel. I spent it in the university restaurants. At that time, in the mid-'50s, I was living in Montparnasse, and there were so many artists working and living around there then. It was like a village. Do you remember Yves Klein? I was one of the first people to see his famous blue paintings.
IS: Whoa! Do I have a surprise for you. In this same issue we have an entire Yves Klein blue fashion story. And it's in your dress that the model takes the famous "leap".
EU: Wow, I'm so happy. I have a story for you about him. When he was little-known, he was showing at a gallery on the rue des Beaux Arts. The gallery was covered with paper, the windows, too. Yves was in the street receiving people, saying, "Wait a minute, the piece is not finished." When we got into the gallery, do you know what was inside? Nothing. White walls. And at the time there were maybe a thousand people in the street. Someone called the firemen! Can you imagine? It's why Paris was a feast. We were all living together, and that was fantastic. We tried to invent a certain way of life.
IS: That's what this issue is all about. Today it feels like Paris has come alive again.
EU: Yes, I do agree with you. It's why Paris is attracting a lot of people again. In Paris we feel as designers that we cannot do the same thing in other parts of the world.
IS: And do you think the Paris of today has a fashion community?
EU: In art, we once had everybody living here: Duchamp, Picabia, Picasso, Miro, Brancusi, Giacometti ... all together, and they fed off each other. At one point, Picasso and Braque worked in the same atelier. Remember what Picasso said--"Braque is my wife!" [laughs] Fantastic, no? Unfortunately, that does not exist today. But I hope that with the new sense of life in Paris that might change. The danger is that the French are arrogant. The moment they think the city is alive again, they might lose it. [laughs] To maintain this sense of life we must be very lucide. But remember, "Lucidity is the wound that most resembles the sun." That's Rene Char, the poet.
IS: Oh, what a great quote.
EU: I will now say it in French: "La Iucidite est la blessure la plus rapprochee du solell."
Emanuel Ungaro is the Head Designer and couturier of Emanuel Ungaro.