Interview: Christelle de Castro
Photos: Pierre Ange Carlotti
Christelle: So, what’s the creation process for the two of you? Do you guys bounce off ideas of each other?
Agatha: Yes we most definitely bounce off each other, somehow we agree on a vision. You know, because we are always around each other, we get into the same things together, and then it will kind of spiral out from that.
Sarah: Usually it starts because we can’t deal to be in our studio for any longer, because we see it every day and so we go to Starbucks and draw a lot of little minimal sketches on napkins and we take them all home, and I think often for a couple of weeks we both have a completely different idea of what we think the sketch is of. And so in the end it becomes an amalgamation of both our ideas.
Christelle: What’s the core of your brand? Is it streetwear? Because you could create any concept each season for ASSK.
Agatha: Yeah, and that’s the thing about us, in the beginning it was quite differet, and as the brand develops it really changes with each season. Also we didn’t expect the brand would get to where it is today.
Sarah: We’ll we never really expected to have a brand at all.
Agatha: (Laughs) Yes, that’s true.
Sarah: But the more we work on it, the more it has evolved into something else, but the more we have come to love it. But the idea is to have uncomplicated comfortable clothes which can be unisex, and are inspired by whatever theme we are interested in at that moment.
Agatha: We are really into comfort, especially now we work from home.
Christelle: Mmmmm, I love that, I am super into comfort too. So I feel you on that level. So, how did you two meet?
Agatha: That is a long story. It was a wild night, that’s all I can say.
Sarah: We met one night when I was on holiday back in Australia, and when I was back in France we just keep in touch, until Agatha moved here a few months later.
Christelle: If I may ask… Are there any interviews that talk about you guys being a couple? Or is that still a non-disclosed fun fact a lot of people don’t know?
Sarah: Well I think it’s something a lot of people didn’t know at the beginning, especially up until doing VFiles Made Fashion, like we had two great separate double beds in our hotel room. But afterwards we did do an interview for a magazine, and the interviewer who was a friend of mine wrote quite a lot about it, and after when I was reading it in french I was like ‘Hang on, is she just totally outing us here?!’. But it was fine, it wasn’t something that we hid.
Agatha: I guess it is kind of like a secret, but not intentionally, it just is what it is. If you happen to know us it would be obvious. I guess we also didn’t go around saying ‘we are a couple and here is our brand’ because we didn’t think it was important. It’s just normal life.
Christelle: Do you think that the fact that you are lesbians categorizes you in some way? Or do you think it is more about being designers, and not a couple?
Sarah: I don’t know, I think that we just really didn’t realize it was going to be a ‘thing’. It’s like when we started people keep on saying ‘It’s so different you are doing unisex clothing! But is it for men or women?”. We didn’t even realize that would be a thing, for us the idea of bring unisex and wearing unisex clothing was just normal life. And it was the same for being a couple, or being queer or lesbian, it’s just our normal life.
Agatha: (Laughs) Yeah!
Sarah: But the one thing that people always ask us is: ‘How can you work together!’ Like it’s like this crazy achievement.
Agatha: But it kind of is, in a way.
Christelle: It is! It’s not easy at all. But I totally understand. Working with your significant other is one of the hardest things to achieve. Time management is crazy, having to know when you are colleagues and when you are girlfriends again.
Christelle: Like working for my family, that was an issue, I felt like they were my boss. You know?
Sarah: (laughs) Well if they were paying your wage they kind are your boss.
Christelle: Not really. I was kind of more like their slave… Hahaha. But it wasn’t this nurturing loving environment, which is why I have always been skeptical, of this way of living and working together, because it didn’t work for my parents. But I have always admired how you guys are doing it so seamlessly.
Agatha: I mean I guess it can be hard to turn off what is relationship and what is business. Sometimes things fuck up and you get mad, and Sarah is the only person around so she might get a blast of something. But I think we are quite aware of this, so we can say ‘Hey, I am not mad at you, I am just mad at the situation’.
Christelle: I think it takes a good partnership, with really good communication for that to work out. Like the photographers Inez & Vinoodh, their entire body of work has been together and that’s amazing.
Sarah: That was something that I was very much looking for in my life, was some to be with who I could also work with or do creative projects together.But yeah we do have hard moments, so it was kind of good working up to our most recent collection, we had two interns working for us, which really chilled out the situation. We were always like ‘don’t fight in front of the kids!’ grows.
Christelle: ASSK makes a lot of unisex clothing. Are you trying to express something with this, for example the elimination of gender?
Sarah: Not specifically, but maybe it was a subconscious decision. A lot of the people around us don’t identify as either gender or they don’t identify as the gender they were born with. For me, I think gender is a personal choice and should be irrelevant to clothing and design. It made sense to make clothing that could be worn by everyone, anywhere. It was actually quite a surprise when the press started commenting on it. I was like ‘Wait, some people are still worried about traditional gender roles?’.
Agatha: Yeah for us it was just obvious to do unisex, as that was things we already buy and it’s the style I want to wear. Walking into a store and buying what you want, rather then being like ‘this is the men’s section, and this is the women’s section’. In a commercial sense all of our stores have been really open to this, and often pieces which we have thought would be more suited for women have gone on to be our most popular selling pieces in our menswear stores.
Christelle: Ok, official question: in a world where most designers are men, do you identify yourself with a ‘feminist image’?
Agatha: Are most designer’s men? I feel like there is a lot of female designers around today.
Sarah: I think that all three of us identify very much as being feminist. However I don’t think that has anything to do with why we became designers. I would say I agree that a lot of the artistic directors of the big companies are men, and I really hope this changes, but there is definitely a lot of women working in all parts of the fashion industry, from my experience it’s more then 50 / 50.
Christelle: There is a very interesting note I would like to repeat: “Is your intention to project and claim your position as women designers in a industry increasingly condensed by gay male power?”
Sarah: I will always be proud of being a woman and of being a female designer and entrepreneur. But in my life when I have felt any equality it had not been from a gay man. For us we have many gay male friends and find them to be so helpful and supportive, and especially being a gay women in the fashion world has been a big advantage! Going out to parties and meeting people in the industry has been very easy. Everyone is friendly, but I have found often gay men are more open to giving you a helping hand then other people. Maybe it is because we are all used to being a minority, there is a slight understanding and bond already there.
Christelle: What were the both of you doing before you decided to start your brand together?
Agatha: We were both working, I had a 9 to 5 job plus I was working as an assistant stylist. But we wanted to start something to really change our lives and our living situation, because in Paris everyone lives in shoeboxes. And so we started the brand to do something creative together, and just see what happened.
Christelle: And Sarah, what were you doing?
Sarah: I was working at Nina Ricci at the time, designing handbags, and I just really wasn’t that excited creatively, or enjoying the environment, and wanted to do something extra. But I never expected to have my own brand, so it’s been a wild ride, but it’s been a pleasant surprise.
Christelle: So when you started ASSK you were both still working.
Sarah: Yes, it’s only been 3 months since we have quit our other jobs and can now focus on ASSK full time.
Christelle: Did you see a great difference since you decided to work on ASSK full time? Has this change been positive our negative?
Sarah: It’s been really good to have more time to work on the brand. At the end there where I was still working for another designer it didn’t make sense, because we were missing out on opportunities, and I was losing more money on ASSK then the wage I was being paid. For example because everything was done at the last moment so we had to pay more on shipping, etc.So I was really forced to give up that job, but it was a sacrifice I was happy to make.
Agatha: And we are still working really hard, but it’s looking like we are slowly getting ahead of the curve.
Sarah: But the feeling of the achievement of doing it on your own is so much better then doing it for someone else.
Christelle: I feel you! I 100% feel you. It’s like what we said before. Someone asks you to turn up from 10am to 5pm from Monday to Friday and you’re like: “Noooo!”, and then you work on your own stuff since 7:30am.
Sarah: (laughs) for sure! But at least you can wear your pajamas, and can go out for coffee anytime you like. Another reason for doing ASSK full time was to have more control over our lives and create an environment we wanted to live in.
Christelle: How was your experience doing thr VFiles show? What did you get from it? Or just answer as you wish!
Sarah: I love you as a interviewer Christelle!
Christelle: I mean, I am sure you have answered this question a bunch of times.
Sarah: But it’s really great to be interviewed by someone we know, because often the natural discussion is better then the rehearsed press ready answer.
Agatha: The Vfiles Made Fashion experience was great. Apart from the fact we got flown to New York and had this opportunity for a show which we could have never otherwise done, we also met a lot of great people. We love VFiles, basically. They do so much for everyone. Even the kids that hang out there.Sarah: Nowhere else in high profile fashion would they let a whole bunch of 13 year old fans come sit in the office and hang out, listen to them and let them participate.
Agatha: They are really doing something cool for young people, and young designers.
Sarah: And there was a really great feeling between us and Hyein and Melitta, the other two designers. It was the liquid sildenafil citrate girl power issue of Vfiles Made Fashion!
Agatha: This season in Paris we even shared a sales showroom with Hyein, and met some of the other designers from this season’s show.
Sarah: It’s cool to have other designers, to ask ‘Who’s the buyer for this’ or ‘we got approached for this project, is it legit?’ or ‘how’s your production going’. In Paris in general there is not many other small brands, and no-one wants to share this type of information with you. Also in fashion, which is often male dominated arena, it was great to meet young and creative women doing it for themselves.
Agatha: Yes it’s cool to have other people around us that we can really talk to, and know we are all going through the same things as young designers and entrepreneurs.
Sarah: But the other great thing was to have the public feedback, and people say ‘That’s cool, we love it’.
Agatha: Because when you are just home working day and night you don’t know if anyone else is liking what you are doing.
Christelle: So before VFiles it was just Internet, online sales and things like that?
Sarah: At the start we just had some simple t-shirts which were sold at a few stores including VFiles, and it was Zachary the buyer who said ‘you should make shorts that match to sell these as full looks’. So we did, and then when we got the offer for the VFiles show, it again pushed us to take the next leap, making our first real collection, with looks made of multi- ple pieces and outerwear.
Agatha: Yes it was good, to really be pushed to go bigger.
Christelle: So do you… Actually I am not going to ask this question. It is about subcultures, and I feel like you have answered this a lot of times already.
Agatha: Hahaha. For sure, we always get asked about sub-cultures.
Sarah: And it’s such a funny question, the sub-culture question, because I feel like often press want a certain answer.
Agatha: And we never give them what they want to hear!
Sarah: Yes, we did an interview for a big magazine who shall remain nameless, and they asked us the sub-culture question. When we were contacted by the fact checker to read over the article, we were like ‘that’s not what we think at all!’.You know, because I think a lot of designers are like ‘Hey we are inspired by punk – even though we never went to London, and that was 40 years ago’ but it’s just ‘cool’ for the moment, they don’t identify or respect what is the feeling behind it, they just look at visuals. I feel like we are interested in all the other sub cultures nobody else is interested in.
Agatha: Also again with subcultures there are so many, and you are always finding out about new ones, and different types. Subcultures in subcultures.
Sarah: The thing which I am particularly interested in, modern day subcultures which are often formed with the assistance of the internet. Rather then formed by an event or a particu- lar localized area. I like that all these disparate people all over the world who have this weird interest, who might otherwise have felt lonely or that had understood them, can now find a whole community of people who are into the same weird thing as they are. Everyone has their little spot.
Agatha: Hahaha. Did we just answer that question when we said we wouldn’t?
Christelle: So in a way your collection is kind of like your child? I mean, it’s your baby, you made and raised it together. And now you’re projecting your values as it grows.
Sarah: Well I think it’s a mix of both our styles and ideas, but I wouldn’t say it’s our baby. I have worked for other designers where their brand has been their baby, and they have got completely lost in loving their baby, and they can can’t compromise on anything, which is really not a way to run a business.So it’s a combination of both of us, but it’s still a business. We want to make something with integrity that we believe in, but still be able to step back and make the best decisions for the life of the brand.
Christelle: How do you see yourself in 10 years? Ideally.
Sarah: Makin’ it rain?
Christelle: That’s a great answer.
Agatha: I want to be grounded a bit more. To have a home and a livable lifestyle.
Sarah: For the first time in my life I am not making a plan, so we’ll be where we will be. We might be still doing ASSK or we might be doing something completely different. I might have completely freaked out and built a cabin in the woods and be selling free trade jam.
Christelle: That sounds great.
Agatha: I feel like a lot of people are into this! It is the space in Paris which is really killing us at the moment.
Sarah: I think living in a city can be really exhausting. One thing I have really learnt as I have got older is being happy is the most important thing.
Sarah: And this was a great thing about this article is they sent a photographer to us, and said ‘oh maybe you can take some photos of nice things in the studio’. Which is kind of funny because the space is around 13sq meters (around 139sq feet), and packed with stuff. I am happy it got documented when it was like this, because I want to remember everything we have gone through.
Agatha: But that’s the best thing! Making it happen, going out and doing it all on your own and beating the city at it’s own game.