Camille Villegas, the former personal assistant of Kenzo Takada, had a sentimental education in colour as he was growing up and has made it his speciality. The “Monsieur Couleur ” of the luxury and fashion houses navigates between each métier to create a world of harmonies around collections of products. In other words, we have here the colourful odyssey of a creative superhero, righting chromatic wrongs: a creative bridge between two worlds, which is profoundly celebratory
You are known as “Monsieur Couleur,” as you call yourself on your Instagram account, which you’ve translated professionally as “Colour material animation accessories and perfume designer” in the luxury domain. If you had to explain to us a little bit what this colourful activity involved, what would you say?
People have called me “Monsieur Couleur” for a long time because I am always dressed very colourfully and, let’s say, joyfully. [ed’s note: Camille is wearing a children’s t-shirt with a Spiderman print]. Concerning my job, it’s a job that I created and which only exists at the brands I have worked for. My mission is to ensure that the same iconic product is different every season via colour, material and animation, and thus make a collection in which everything is well matched, to ensure unity and harmony. For that I have to also navigate between all of the branches of the brand in such a way as to create a collection which can be integrated into prêt-à-porter and responds to the different needs dictated by trends and marketing objectives. What’s crazy is the fact that this job I’ve been asked to do makes total sense in terms of what I’ve done up until now...
It seems like you were encouraged to be sensitive to colour from an early age?
Everything started thanks to my parents and my second mother, my grandmother. My profession and my affinity for colour are a conglomerate of what they gave me, all three of them. My father was a photographer, my mother works in perfume, as a nose, and my grandmother from Alsace, always in colorful dresses, worked in leather, as a tanner. I began as a photographer. I was lucky enough to understand the world of colours through being the personal assistant of Kenzo Takada. Then I worked in perfume development and today I work on the use of colour, materials and animation in the world of leather goods. Like a return to my roots. I think that I learnt to observe colour thanks to my father. My earliest “artistic” memory is that of learning to look and to frame what I was looking at while I was playing with his coloured lenses. One day, he said something that has stayed with me all of my life: “the most important photos of your life will be mental photos. You can frame them with your fingers!” That taught me to be selective and only keep the essential. My grandmother, for her part, offered me a relationship with colours that was almost scientific. She arranged the dresses in her wardrobe by colour: pink, blue, flowery – and she did the same for her buttons and tupperware. Between the Germanic culture of my mother and grandmother and my father’s Mediterannean roots, I created my own chromatic language, an alliance of opposing senses, an in-between place which has defined my whole life, my relationship with colour and my profession: who am I, who is at home everywhere and nowhere?
How did you come to be a colour specialist in the great fashion houses?
It’s a long story. I think that my career came about through the various byways I have taken without my ever defining what I wanted to do. My journey has always been a bit like that of a modern Ulysses, the great sea voyager and mythological figure who always fascinated me when I was little. I came to this profession around colour as a result of numerous decisive encounters. As a teenager, I was posting my photographic work on a Skyblog. I had never thought, however, about becoming professional because I wanted to be a German history teacher. It was one of the readers of my blog who pushed me in the direction my life has taken. He told me about his art school, Olivier de Serres, in Paris [École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et des Métiers d’Arts: ed’s note]. I quickly fell in love with the place and its universe. I was 18 and I discovered all the creative potential I had within. I learnt to understand the different mediums, subjects, materials that I liked, and above all to understand where my interests lay as a designer and the kind of vision I could bring to things. Without wanting to revolutionize the art world, I got to know in which groups of artists and movements my research and sensibilities fitted. After my time at Olivier de Serres, I went to the Ecole Duperré, and the teachers there taught us to conceptualize our vision as a very colourful Rubik’s cube. It was magical! It could multiply to infinity all across the fields of fashion, sculpture, wallpaper… To get there was a long journey – a little bit like psychoanalysis. It was a very beautiful journey, as a result of which I discovered how to visually retranscribe who I am, that is to say, this in-between creature.
If you had to associate yourself with a group of artists who were sensitive to colour, which would it be?
There have been several colour shocks in my life: the encounter with Gustave Doré’s black and white works at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Strasbourg. I saw the colour escape from his works and I coloured them in in my head. I would also mention when I first fell for the works of the German romantic Caspar David Friedrich, whose end-of-the-world use of light was reminiscent of my own experience of the sun setting on the Vosges from the skylight of my bedroom. An in-between place that was melancholic, but also delightful for a dreamer like me. I also remember my father educating me in poetic cinematographic lighting in works like Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dune and the films of Wong Kar-Wai. In this same vein, I was really into the Light and Space artistic movement, and especially the work of the American artist James Turrel in which you float in a space of infinite colour and light.
This chromatic journey seems very intuitive but how do you approach colour in your work, concretely speaking?
When I work with colour, I’m more like my grandmother. I classify things, I am thinking about nomenclature, I make ranges of precise colours. In this framework I really like the naturalism of Werner’s Nomenclatures of Colours, where every colour is associated with an element in nature, or the Japanese book A Dictionary of Color Combinations, which classifies the colours according to their spiritual harmony. In the photographs I share on my Instagram account, I follow the same process of collage and combine colours which speak to each other.
Despite this process of quite formal observation and classification, don’t the colours ever make you feel dizzy?
Yes! As my father wrote when he was a teenager, I am crazy about everything I see because I always see the beauty in it. I am endlessly bringing my gaze to bear on people, objects, colours, materials, and it produces sensations, emotions, and inspiration within me. It really imprints itself on me!
So could euphoria symbolize your colourful life?
One of my dissertations was called “Adventure from a Place of Stasis”. That’s me down to a tee: a being who is always in movement. I am always between two airplanes for work, between Paris and Madrid, I party all the time, I’m never in one place. I am the will o’ the wisp with that crazy desire to experience everything, see everything, understand everything, because everything inspires me and everything moves me. I want my life to be a firework, a colour palette, a party! And at the same time, I need periods of extreme concentration when I create – in other words when I observe and draw. Those are the only moments when I feel calm, blissed out.
Translated into English by Sara & Emma Bielecki.