Interview | Thierry-Maxime Loriot

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Thierry-Maxime Loriot is a phenomenon in the art world. Though he enjoyed particular success in multiple fields, it is quite hard to find information about the handsome Canadian. Having modelled for some of the most renowned brands on the planet, Loriot made his mark on the art world during the last years as a curator who is held in high esteem by his peers. His very first solo project – an exhibition on Jean Paul Gaultier – is considered a landmark on curatorial acumen, while his following projects on the fashion artists Viktor & Rolf and on iconic photographer Peter Lindbergh, further cemented his position in the art world.

Interview by Andy Sturm

Describe yourself in three words.
Curious, fearless, loyal.

Its hard to find information about you. So maybe lets right start there. You were born in Quebec, moved to Montreal at 21 to study architecture and then your modelling career started. Can you tell us about that?
The modelling career started by accident. I was a student in architecture and I was looking for a student job at the same time to make money. I always had jobs when I was younger, worked in restaurants as a waiter, as a swimming teacher, in record and bookstores. Then at the opening of a hotel, a woman came up to me and said I should be a model, which was not my thing at all back then.

Was this something that interested you back then?
It was never something that came to my mind. I had zero connection to the fashion world. The only thing I knew was Chanel because my sister was buying all these fashion magazines with Chanel ads with Inès de la Fressange and plastered them on her bedroom walls next to her Wham! posters. This was basically what my fashion indication was about these days, thanks sister! Then, the grunge era came so, for me, it was more about ripped jeans and shirts, more anti-fashion like Eddie Vedder.

How did it go on after being told you should be a model?
The woman who approached me sent me to an agency in Montreal, Montage Models, who also represented Eve Salvail and Gabriel Aubry. They had huge careers so I knew I could trust them. Then that agency sent me to Paris two days later for a shooting with Mario Testino and from then it just went on. It all went very fast.

So you had your first real shooting with one of the most famous photographers of the world? This must have been quite exciting.
Exactly. I didn’t know who Mario was at this time though. I thought his name was Testoni! When he wanted to see my book, the only thing I could show him were 4 polaroids taken the day before, but he liked them. He was very nice and helpful. He always directs models and puts them in a character. That was quite helpful for me having zero experience.

Your first actual job as a model was for Burberry right?
After the shooting with Testino my agent called me and told me to pack my bags and fly to London. So I flew to London to do a Burberry campaign with Kate Moss. After that, I travelled the whole world to do all the fashion shows and did many advertising campaigns for Lanvin, H&M, Armani, Zegna, Banana Republic, etc. I worked the first months with nothing in my book as everything was coming out months later, but back home, one great photographer, Max Abadian, did a series for my portfolio that really helped me.

Burberry
1999 F/W – Fall Winter

What time period are we talking about? How long did your modelling career go?
It went from 1998 until 2006 or 2007. It was almost 10 years – quite long. Almost all my agents thought it would last a season or two. Photographers were still shooting film when I started and models were young men, not kids or Instagram sensations!

A lot of people imagine modelling to be a very adventurous job in the fancy and shiny fashion world. Did you experience it as such?
It was a real job for me. Some people do it just as a hobby, but for me, it was very serious in a way that I was not only no party animal but also very boring in a way when I think about it. I was not going out much and I never was the model type people think of. I was just going to bookstores and music shops, galleries and museums, not the gym and never to bars. I always enjoyed spending time by myself, discover things, look at things everywhere.

But serious of course is not negative, especially when we talk about work. Would you describe it as an exciting job nevertheless?
Although I didn’t lead the model life people expect or that some other models may live, I was always travelling around the planet and for me, it was very positive and exciting. I saw so many different things and fashion also opens the doors to worlds next to it like cinema and music – they are interconnected. One thing I really enjoyed was to discover music. Now you do that online but back then you went to a Virgin megastore for example, which I miss a lot!

Did you ever find it hard being an intelligent person studying architecture to be reduced to your body and good looks. It surely was flattering but was there anything you missed as a model?
I have never been naive. I always knew what was going on around me. But for me, it was a very positive experience. The people I worked with were nice and with most of them, I am still working together or staying in touch. I also still have a lot of friends in the industry and it’s not like I had to stay a model forever. I never dreamt of being a model. It just happened.

Then after years of modelling came a point where you searched for something new. Did you immediately know that it was the work of a curator that interested you?
It all came very naturally. It was quite challenging for me to find a job that involved everything that I love – pop culture, music, photography, fashion and architecture. I mean how can you put all of this together? What I do now allows me to mix a lot of those passions together and it is something I always wanted to do.

Lets talk about your outset as a curator. You finished your studies in art history, which you began while still being a model and just like with modelling, you achieved success pretty quickly. How did it start?
I met the director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Natalie Bondil. She asked me if I wanted to collaborate with her on some projects. That went very well as we and her team have a good chemistry together. I started as a research assistant and the first exhibition I worked on there, was a Bed-In exhibition on John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

It was also the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) which initiated and toured the Gaultier exhibition, your breakthrough moment as a curator and one of the most successful exhibitions of recent years. How did this exhibition come about?
What I know most is pop culture, fashion and music, and mixing them together. That is probably why Bondil wanted me to do it. She is very open-minded, forward-thinking, curious and likes to bring new approaches to exhibitions. We have a lot in common I think and we do not want to do what has been done before. The MMFA team is fantastic as well. They have a unique knowledge on exhibitions, I learned a lot from them, in fact in pretty much everything!

How did you come to pick Jean Paul Gaultier? I mean there are many great designers who accomplished so much in fashion and other fields.
Gaultier is simply unique. There is no one else like him, who is not only a fashion genius but also has a strong social message in his work. There is nobody who has done so many music projects and movies like he has. And no one will ever do this again because designers are not what they used to be. Now it is about which celebrity they dress and the number of followers they have, not about talent and innovation. They have too much pressure to create non stop all year long. Anyway, I think now everybody dresses the same and it’s all about being trendy you know.

So there is a lack of individualism, isnt it? Do you think that this is the thing that you liked about Gaultier, that he always stood for the individual?
Yes. See, fashion is so fast now. It doesn’t matter if you go to Munich, Paris, Melbourne, Montreal or over to New York. You‘ll find the same commercial landscape in every city with H&M, Zara, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and all the others. For me, it’s quite important to stay individual though. Jean Paul is someone who broke all the taboos in fashion and brought in something different and individual. He broke what was considered standard – it is very necessary.

Peter Lindbergh toothe protagonist of your current work fits in perfectly in this picture too.
The people I am interested working with are the ones that brought in something different, a different vision. Gaultier is different from anybody else and Lindbergh with his own vision of beauty is the same. I also did an exhibition on Viktor & Rolf who are also very similar – coming from the art world they express themselves through clothes. They are fashion artists, not stylists or couturiers. It was difficult for them in the first years as they acted in an undefined category that no one understood but they never gave up and it opened the doors to a whole generation.

Gaultier and Lindbergh are visionaries in the fashion world. Gaultier broke taboos by showing plus-size models on catwalks, for instance, and Lindbergh, considered a fashion photographer, doesnt really seem to care about the clothes he shoots but much more about the people. Would you say they are similar in a way?
They have a bit the same thinking. And there are indeed a lot of similarities between Jean Paul and Peter in terms of social approach and their vision of women and men. Their work witnesses the movements of society which is really interesting to study. For them, it’s more about the human being than about looks and it’s definitely not about perfection in the common sense of the word.

So they do not go for the flawless or the perfect but more for the individual and unique of each and every person?
They like what makes people different. Peter is inspired by wrinkles and traces of life and he would not want to shoot someone whose face can’t move because of Botox or cannot show any emotion. He’s inspired by imperfection. It’s about showing the different layers of someone. I think it’s very important to have designers and photographers like them because they normalize everything and give confidence to people who look at fashion and dream about it, thinking everyone is perfect when in fact they are all pretty much the same but there is a whole team working on them for hours to make them look like they do in magazines.

What is your personal take on ‘perfection? When we look at social media we find even normal people who strive for perfection whenever they post something.
I have nephews in their early teens who post images on Instagram and when they don’t get many likes they delete it because likes and comments are important to them – not just to my nephews but to many people. I think this gives pretty much insight about how our society is. I think it’s about values and being human and that is something people loose a bit, the basic things beyond appearances, fashion and beauty. People now express emotions with emojis and send texts for birthdays instead of calling, it is a bit depressing sometimes how communication has become.

Coming back to your current work: More than two million people have seen the Gaultier exhibition on its incredible twelve venues. Something like that is pretty unique and historic. How do you feel about that?
The tour was something exceptional, I do not know if it is something that will ever happen again in museum history. I feel pretty lucky to be a part of it, it was a dream team!

How do you explain this success?
Gaultier reaches everyone, many know his work via pop culture and can identify with his work and the humanism in it. We had most of the loans coming directly from the archives of Jean Paul Gaultier and other lenders were people like Madonna, Pedro Almodovar or Kylie Minogue. They were really open to lending the pieces for many years. Another aspect is that usually fashion exhibitions are all behind glass and you don’t have the direct approach we had. I think it was presented very differently than what fashion exhibitions were before.

In May the exhibition came back to Montreal for a last showing. Also that the return of an exhibition is not an everyday thing.

That is true. It’s pretty funny that it came back to Montreal. An exhibition is not like a Madonna tour where she comes back at the end of the tour with more dates but we decided to do this one last venue – our big finale as many people in Montreal were asking when it would come back.

Can you tell a little more about that big finale as you called it?
The exhibition is called ‚Love is Love‘ referring to Obama’s 2015 speech on marriage equality. It features thirty-five wedding gowns and bridal creations by Gaultier. This bridal-themed celebration spotlights straight, gay, intercultural and interracial unions to celebrate love, diversity and peace. The exhibition revolves around a large-scale wedding cake featuring models, some of which will be animated by Denis Marleau and Stéphanie Jasmin from the avant-garde theatre company UBU from Montreal. This monumental cake, with its chic and playful architecture and exhibition design in collaboration with Makkink & Bey from The Netherlands, is a celebration of diversity, inclusion and living together. As all the Haute Couture fashion shows end with the bride, we decided to end our tour with brides too. Brides and grooms, different couples, homosexual, heterosexual, wedding for all à la Gaultier. It’s something we didn’t show at the other exhibitions.

Was there a time when you had enough of the Gaultier exhibition during the seven years you worked on it? You must have known each and everything by heart.
Never! It was too much fun! In fact, we love working together so much that we bring “Love is Love” to Buenos Aires next March 2018! We will all be sad when it really will be over. It was never boring, quite the contrary because for every venue I adapted the exhibition. There was a base that always stood with the themes of the exhibition, Punks, Boudoir or Urban Jungle, but we adapted a part of the exhibition to each city it came to. In Madrid, we had a gallery dedicated to all his collaborations with Pedro Almodovar – movie costumes, fabric samples, sketches and clips. In Sweden, we showed some collaborations with Swedish musicians and inspirations. In New York, we had a whole New York section, in London more punks and in Australia one gallery with Australian actors, models and singers like Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Kylie Minogue which he collaborated with. So the exhibition was always like a ‘geographical’ evolution.

When you change things for each venue this surely means a lot of work. Do you work exclusively on one project at a time when it is such a big thing?
I am always focused when I work but of course, I love doing projects. When Gaultier ended I was already thinking about the next exhibitions with Viktor and Rolf and Peter Lindbergh. Now Lindbergh is still touring, going to Italy this October 2017, Viktor and Rolf was at NGV in Melbourne and will be travelling and there will be another touring exhibition announced in fall that will start touring in 2019. Next to that, I also do other projects and books with other people.

You mentioned fashion shows earlier in this interviews. I would like to know your opinion on the age of models. To me, it seems that models get younger and younger. I feel like quite a lot of the models today are still kids, maybe 14 or 15 years of age. How do you experience this?
It’s certainly true to some extent but I feel it’s less and less interesting. It is not the supermodel era of the early 90s when they had personality. There are new laws in Milan and Paris for age on catwalks though and also the clients can’t really relate to that. I, for example, let’s say I am a Gucci customer. If I saw a boy that is 120 pounds and maybe 15 wearing a 5,000 Euros suit on a skateboard, I would just find that ridiculous as I don’t want to look like that. But I would say there are more women now that are like Natalia Vodianova and Liya Kebebe who are older, have a family and also other interests than just fashion. And models like Gisele or the supermodels like Linda, Tatjana or Cindy still work which is good because they are the age of the consumers and sometimes fashion houses tend to forget that.

Lets talk about the work as a curator itself. One thing that interests me is your approach as I think it is very hard to build an exhibition from scratch. How do you start when you want to do an exhibition after you did the research on the artist?
It is like a puzzle. The way you do it can be different depending on whether I work on living or deceased artists with an estate. I always do a lot of research and develop a list of works I would like to show. Then I do a first interview and it slowly comes all together through groupings with different ideas and teams. Through research, the strong themes start to appear and you develop them. The research part is probably what I prefer most.

Your last exhibitions were all on living artists. How deeply involved are they in the development of the exhibitions?
For me, it is very important to involve them as much as they want. It’s very important to make sure that they like the speech that I have and that the things I am going to show are ones they feel are important in their corpus. The last thing I want is that they feel like complete strangers when they enter the exhibition. Some artists don’t even show up because they hate the exhibition. This would be my worst nightmare. So for me, I always try that they can relate to what I do and that they are proud of the way it’s shown.

One thing I recognized at your exhibitions is that you dont unfold chronologically but rather paint the whole world of an artist. You wear the mantle of a storyteller who tells the audience something about the artist without focusing on what the artist did during certain time periods.
Indeed I want to show their world and not a “funeral” exhibition where people wonder if they are dead or just ended their career. It’s more about passion and obsessions of the artists and behind the scenes than about anything else. This way you can learn about how they came up to this or that and understand the artists. If you go to the exhibition about Lindbergh you will, for example, understand what led him to shoot with industrial cities as backdrops, as he is from one, and what his idea of beauty is. If you did it chronologically it would be too easy and too boring. It is really about telling a story to everyone but yes I make my life complicated the way I present exhibitions!

Is it hard to make up those stories? I mean there will be visitors – real fans – that know everything about the artist but also ‚strangers‘ who dont know anything. How can you fulfil every visitors wishes with a single exhibition?
I give you an example. When I did the Gaultier exhibition, I was thinking about my nephews and my father, who was a lawyer and didn’t know anything about fashion and probably does not really care about it either. I thought about what could make it interesting to him and also about what the public would like to discover. For the real enthusiasts of an artist, the behind the scenes material will always be of special interest and make sure that they learn even more. The real aficionados will come anyways, it is the other you have to convince!

Since you are deeply involved in arts and a collector yourself, I would like to know your opinion on art. What is art for you nowadays and can you maybe even define it?
Everything can be art nowadays. But it’s very different for every single person. So I think you can not find a definition for it. It actually is very much like beauty. For some people something may be beautiful for others it might be horrible. It always depends on your taste and on your perspective.

Could we maybe say that it is about feelings?
Yes. For me, art is about what touches you. That’s what I like about art. Watching a nice painting touches me and gives me feelings. I love everything from sculptures, paintings to photography as it transports me to somewhere I wouldn’t go myself.

Do you have any favourite artists?
There are so many great ones out there. Gregor Hildebrand for example. I have works from him. Also Thomas Houseago, Hassan Hajaj or Douglas Gordon. I love different things. Photography too, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Alex Prager, Inez & Vinoodh, I like to go to art galleries. It really is education and for me like seeing a movie or a concert.

I think a lot of people do not know that there is an essential difference between galleries and museums. Would you advise artists to be cautious with galleries?
Well, museums have committees so it’s very prestigious to be part of a museum collection. With galleries, it is very tricky. There are some great galleries out there like Marianne Boesky, Almine Rech, Ropac or Kamel Mennour to name a few. They take young artists and hold their hands through their career. Other galleries are a bit like a machine though, very demanding for work. A lot of artists lose value then as they produce too much. If you are aware of how it works you will figure out good galleries that are interested in you and not only in money and make sure you make a gain.

Do you think that social media will democratize art, offering opportunities to new artists and not only to the ones who are lucky enough to be connected with gallerists?
I think social media is good to reach as many people as possible. That’s the beauty of it. I try not to give it too much importance art-wise though because I see a lot of crappy artists who have like a million followers. Just like in real life with the galleries, social media is not totally fair as the one with the most followers won’t necessarily be the best artist.

Your curatorial work so far orbits around fields that you are familiar with fashion and photography. Could you also imagine to do rather classical art exhibitions on topics like sculptures or paintings in the future?
Sure, I am very open to different mediums. It could be music as well or something very abstract. For me the work of Gaultier, Viktor & Rolf or Lindbergh is art and to be true I really don’t see a difference to things like paintings or so. I don’t make a difference between these fields. So my next work could be on trees or glass – everything that touches me and tells an interesting story around it.

Lets come to our final questions. If you could wish for one superpower. What would it be and what would you do with it?
Heal people. Heal everyone. If you are healthy – and sane – you can do everything!

You have a job within your passions something that a lot of people strive for. What advice would you give people who want to find exactly that a job that they are passionate about?
You spend so much time working. When you are passionate about your work, you really enjoy what you do. Many people are afraid to ask for help, you should never be afraid to ask, one can never know everything about something and should reach out.

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