Being born during the creative and often romanticized “Flower Power“ era obviously left a prominent mark on Antoine Kruk. This Franco-Japanese creative genius is shaping new and original styles as an illustrator, author, artistic director, and a freelance designer for brands such as Louis Vuitton (the opulent corsets of Marc Jacobs’ last fashion show for the house were his work), Nina Ricci, Valentino, Thierry Mugler, but also as a costume designer for the Opera (“Nabucco”, “Mondo Della Luna”, “Butterfly”…) as well as for the iconic Parisian cabaret Crazy Horse and Japanese all-female music theater Takarazuka. Antoine Kruk also regularly collaborates with numerous fashion and lifestyle magazines as an illustrator known for his freehand drawing with sharp lines and capturing emotions always with an excellent sense of humor. He works in mixed media, collages, advertising pieces, brand logos, and shopping bags. Kruk is also the author of books “Shibuya Soul”, “Look at me Tokyo“ and “Crazy” – a timeless homage to the Crazy Horse. His works, along with Marc-Antoine Coulon‘s, can be seen at the Alfalibra gallery in Paris, where the ongoing exhibition “Icons“ is honoring the fashion personalities who have marked our time with their creativity.
At what point did you realize that you wanted to be a creative person professionally?
It was too long ago to remember. My parents were both artists, and I am born in Kyoto with color pencils and paper at my disposal. I am a self-taught artist. I never went to a fashion school or an art school.
Was fashion always an important part of your life?
In the beginning, it wasn’t specifically fashion, but certainly, a taste for refined things, as I am a “product” of Japanese and French culture. Quite young I saw wonderful films, like Fellini‘s “Roma” and “Satyricon”, or “Peau d’âne” (Donkey Skin) by Jacques Demy. These films were more fascinating to me than Walt Disney cartoons. I think costumes and incredible set designs influenced me more at the beginning than what we call fashion.
You had designed numerous costumes for the legendary Parisian nightclub “Crazy Horse.” How do you recall that period of your life?
As a dream comes true. My relationship with the Crazy Horse is not ended. For more than ten years, I had various collaborations with them, such as costume designs, guest stars styling, flyers, menu illustrations, the book that I made,… and I still talk about the future with the company.
In 2011, you did a hundred beautiful watercolors for the “Crazy” book, following the life of a Crazy Horse girl, before, after and during the show. Tell us more about that experience.
After my experience as a costume designer, I thought it would be great to do the first-ever Crazy Horse book of illustrations. I always loved a movement, body language, and dance too. The subject of Crazy Horse was perfect to fuse the beauty, dance, cabaret atmosphere, sexy Paris by night, glam and fun. The thing that makes me most happy is to know that the artists, the Crazy Horse dancers, loved the book and that they recognized themselves in my visions of them.
Cover of the Crazy Horse book
Drawing from the Crazy Horse book
Drawing from the Crazy Horse book
What made you venture away from fashion and costume in favor of illustration?
It is creativity, not only mine but of the creative people that I’m working with, that makes me move. I still do Fashion consulting, or costume designs if the project is interesting enough in terms of artistic challenge. Also, illustration gives me the possibility to express myself more personally, and maybe to work on more timeless things.
Is your background in the fashion and costume design advantage when it comes to fashion illustration?
Absolutely. For example, after years of creating clothes, you perfectly know how a fabric move or fall on a body. With a simple line on paper, you know how to make it feel like light silk or heavy wool… The consciousness of the body and anatomy studies are also very important to make that your drawing is taking life, walking, dancing, looking at you, or talking at you.
What is the most crucial element in fashion illustration today?
One thing is for sure: As in fashion photography, the purpose isn’t anymore just to show well the designer’s clothes. It is more about the mood, attitude, emotion. Gestures and reflections of our time. You can also play with the past, and history of fashion, have some references or nostalgia, but it is always better with a new twist.
Antoine Kruk; Photo: V. Preda
What makes a good illustrator?
Being yourself. Someone who has a unique way to express life. Also, “having a hand” that you can recognize without reading the name of the artist.
How would you describe your illustration style?
All in lightness and depth, on my good days!
It seems like you are very invested in keeping illustration fun. Why?
I am very sensitive to beauty, but I feel perfection is somehow boring. You need to keep things alive, otherwise, the audience is going to fall asleep. I like an unpretentiously beautiful thing like nature, a human being is too pretentious. I prefer to laugh a bit about everything. Beauty, fashion, style, vanity, etc. This is just fun, pleasure and dreams. Also, I like to say in a way: “look at yourself!”
Red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival
“Don’t smile” illustration for Madame Figaro
Do you have complete creative freedom?
I’m trying to. When I receive orders from clients, it depends, of course. I propose, they compose. But when I conceptualize a book or an exhibition, I often have a “carte blanche.” I guess people are expecting from me the unexpected, they want me to surprise them.
When did you begin to do collage art and what made you go in this direction?
From the making of my books, I started to use some collages. Some drawings for the Crazy Horse book had additions or paper, tape, tule fabrics… I love playing with visual effects. Our world is surrounded by images, and people are more used to watch everything on screens. I like to attend exhibitions and see the original things. I do illustration this way. That’s why I sometimes publish close-ups of my work on social media. People can see the hand, the details, the asperity of paper, shiny or matte, the imperfections too, all that make things more particular and real. Some five years ago, I started developing a series of drawings and collages directly on shopping bags. I love dealing with what already exists – the color of the bag, logo, cord,… and include it in my final work. It’s also talking about fashion on its own promotional support.
Please tell us about your technique.
I am well known for my “hand”, which means the black ink on white paper, the line drawing. But now I am developing different techniques, and mixing them all. When I use collage, I am trying to express the same energy. Even if the process is longer, it has to stay fresh. I hate works that look overdone. I like the feeling of effortlessness.
Who has been the biggest influence on your work?
I love artists from different periods, there are so many of them. I have so many books at my studio. I love ancient civilizations, medieval art, modern painters, and some contemporary artists. Let’s say I have a passion for Picasso – his total freedom, the genius ideas, the permanent changes, the larger than life art he gave us… He was changing during all the decades, always renewing his own style and his unique way of seeing life. A master and a monster for sure!
How did your artistic approach change over the years?
Spontaneously. There is a part of continuous searching, and there is a part of coincidence. Or a chance. It’s unnecessary to try to control everything. In the end, I think that perfection is a mistake. When you want to do things too perfectly, it becomes too technical, and you start to fear. Perfection is more about self-confidence. It is when you have the total freedom to accept all the possibilities of creation, to include the “imperfect”, or the “incorrect”, and decide at the moment that this is perfect by your own will.
What else inspires you?
I am very curious, I keep looking at everything. So, a bird flying is inspiring me as well as something in the garbage. And it’s not only a metaphore, I actually love recycling shopping bags and Kraft paper, cardboard boxes…
Since you started your career as a young man in Paris, the fashion industry has changed a lot. How would you sum that up?
I had a chance to work with top designers. At a period they were real artists. Such a strong personality as Thierry Mugler is not easy to find these days. He was “Mr. No Limits.” I have learned so much working with him. He was able to do real fashion product, and a real show at the time meant going beyond fashion itself. Today, it is more about marketing, relationships, social media, strategies, money… well, it’s often about less talent and more system. Which, for me, also means less heart.
How important is the Internet in the dialogue with your audience?
Instagram became a sort of must-have for many creative persons. I am using it and find it nice for sharing my work. I also receive unexpected orders through Instagram from all over the world. A useful way to find specific people who have the same passion. I like social media for that, for those who have more to share than the ice cream they are eating or their seats on a business class.
What are your further artistic plans and dreams?
Going on, always refining my style and production with my own way of seeing things. Trying to evolve, avoiding becoming a copy of yourself. I have a wonderful project, an exhibition next June at Joyce Gallery in Paris at Palais royal. It is a new challenge for me. I am keeping the subject secret for now. It’s still related to fashion in a different way. It’s mostly collages, universal, and it’s unisex!
Where do you see yourself in another 10 years?
Somewhere exciting and at the same time peaceful, meeting up with funny and smart people. I believe artists always need a part of the audience and a part of loneliness. It’s too far anyway, I don’t even see myself at the end of this year! You see, I have started the interview saying the beginning is too far, and now the end is too far! I am enjoying now.
Vesna Filipovic and Vukota Brajovic for Fashionela