In Conversation with Alexandre Plokhov: Bespoke Label, Color Black, Helmut Lang
Alexandre Plokhov is a name that must be mentioned when crediting the establishers of the “dark-wear” fashion scene that emerged during the mid 2000s. The Russian-born American designer’s work for his joint-label with Robert Geller, “Cloak” as well as his namesake label pushed menswear boundaries and popularized military-inspired gothic fashion. Plokhov’s footprint in the industry expands far beyond the niche, cult-like fanbase which inevitably developed in support of his work. Throughout his career, Plokhov also designed for both Versace and Helmut Lang, receiving several accolades for his work in the industry.
Plokhov continues his extensive career under his new label “Nomenklatura”, where his talents as a designer are expressed at the bespoke level, rather than the runway. Alexandre graciously accepted the invitation to join ARCHIVE.pdf in an exclusive interview. Questions were aimed to gather insight on topics such as, what Plokhov’s design process consisted of during particular parts of his career and what factors influence his work most as a creative.
Tell us about yourself and your background, both before and after entering the fashion industry.
I came to the US from the USSR after the Berlin Wall fell, having spent my teenage years being obsessed with American movies, music and style. My mother designed and made clothes, my sister designed fabric, and my father built our dacha (summer house) by hand, so I guess envisioning things and then making them real is second nature to me.
What motivated you to transition from being an Interpreter to a Fashion Designer? What made you pursue fashion?
I majored in English and French at University in Moscow, thinking I wanted to be a diplomat or an interpreter at the UN. After doing my compulsory military service, I decided to leave for the US. When I got here, I did some interesting projects translating for a Junior All-Russia basketball team touring the States.
But eventually I just couldn’t resist the pull of fashion, so I enrolled in the International Academy of Merchandising & Design in Chicago where I learned how to turn what was in my head into actual garments. I also apprenticed with an Italian Master Tailor who taught me how to pattern, cut and make a bespoke suit.
After a few years in Chicago, I realized that I wanted to be part of the fashion industry right at its center. Thus, I headed to New York where I got a position with Marc Jacobs.
What films, art or literature interests or influences you the most?
“Le Samouraï” by Jean-Pierre Melville with Alain Delon
“Angel Heart” by Alan Parker with Mickey Rourke
“Blade Runner” by Ridley Scott with Harrison Ford and Rudger Hauer
Tamara de Lempicka
“Neuromancer”, “Idoru”, “Pattern Recognition” by William Gibson
“Cryptonomicon” and “The Baroque Cycle” by Neil Stephenson
“Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy
What does black mean to you? Why do you consistently use it in your collections?
For me, black is an ideal color (or lack thereof if one wants to be pedantic) for seeing how a flat sketch translates into a 3-dimensional design. I always prefer to see the first prototype in black.
Historically, it was also a uniform of choice for non-conformists, musicians, clergy, political zealots and movie villains. It means different things to different people, such as rebellion, freedom, faith, oppression, identity, though the effect and meaning of wearing black has somewhat weakened in recent years. As a fashion designer whose entire wardrobe is black, I cop to being partially responsible for that!
What was it like working for Helmut Lang? What was your approach when designing for the label?
My initial approach was to be respectful of the brand essence and heritage which dovetailed nicely with my own personal design ethos. However, the reality of working for a big organization was somewhat different from that. Not enough experimentation made the actual product offering a bit too “safe” for my taste – although I fully understand the business and commercial realities that are part of working for a big brand.
Photos provided by Alexandre Plokhov.
Having said that, however, during my 4-year tenure I’m proud to have re-launched HL Menswear and collaborated with both Uniqlo and Travis Scott. My department grew from two people into a team of 18 with 350 points of sale worldwide. Additionally, looking back through the prism of time, I find that I actually like my output even more now than I did back then!
Who do you design clothes for, if anyone at all? Who is the customer you envision wearing your garments?
I do not design with a specific person in mind unless I am doing bespoke work. I approach each collection as an aesthetic exercise, building on what has been done previously and challenging myself by using unexpected fabrics, silhouettes, pattern methods and/or construction techniques.
You said you were thinking of starting a record label. What kind of music interests you? Why does this music in particular interest you?
I’m no longer thinking of starting a record label, but I’m still an aspiring audiophile with an ever-expanding record collection who dreams of opening a record shop someday!
My taste in music is wide-ranging and, in some cases, rather esoteric. Music is like oxygen for me: I listen to it all day on Tidal while I work and then on my turntable at night. I am musically omnivorous from French torch songs to Black Metal with Goth, Neo-Soul, Post-Punk and other genres thrown in for good measure.
What was the reason behind the closure of your namesake brand?
Purely financial. Sales and reviews were both good, but it was difficult to produce in Italy for the quality level I wanted while keeping my pricing competitive. As many small fashion brands have learned, it’s tough to achieve significant growth without an investor – and all the angels and unicorns were (and still are) focused on tech start-ups rather than the labor-intensive fashion industry.
What would you say is different about your new label compared to your previous namesake label?
My current label is dedicated entirely to custom work for individual clients. It allows me to produce garments at my own pace, working with fabric and construction methods that were not always feasible in my previous endeavors. I also like making things that have lasting value, even though I know that’s not completely in tune with the current fashion zeitgeist.
What are some designers you admire or have influenced your past works?
There are too many to do them all justice, but to name a few, I very much admire the work of Madame Grès, Madeleine Vionnet, Azzedine Alaïa, Claude Montana, and Karl Lagerfeld.
In terms of influence, The Antwerp Six, Jil Sander and Helmut Lang have all had a profound effect on my design worldview – as has the quieter output of Italian and Saville Row Tailors , whose work I admire deeply.
What is your design process like at Nomenklatura?
It always starts with fabric. The fabric dictates a suitable garment type. Research and prototypes then follow until I run out of time and need to deliver!
Is there anything we haven't asked you about yet that you'd like to comment on?
No, I think we’ve covered a lot of ground! Thanks for the opportunity to chat with you!
Writer: Clark Reeve