(EN) Placing crochet in a contemporary context with French fashion designer Odély Teboul
interviews > (EN) Placing crochet in a contemporary conte…

(EN) The Lou de Bètoly founder and self proclaimed “aristocratic punk” on craftsmanship, housewives, and dressing sexy over sixty.

(EN) The Neukölln residence of Odély Teboul is a feast for the eyes. Every inch is covered with stuff: collections of pom-poms are strung over door handles, colorful crochet blankets and floral cushions are nonchalantly thrown over armchairs, and extensive piles of old records are stacked up against the white walls. Two rooms at the back of the apartment function as a studio for Teboul. In one, there’s a clothes rail choc-a-bloc with vibrant outfits ready to be sent off to Paris Fashion Week. In another, a wooden grid of shelves holds a wide array of bric-a-brac, from naked, bent-out-of-shape Barbie dolls to bags upon bags of Swarovski crystals—seemingly natural possessions for a fashion designer whose work explores themes of decadence, extravagance, and chaos. “I think chaos is very representative of me as a person,” says Teboul, laughing as she surveys her surroundings.

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(EN) “I think chaos is very representative of me as a person.”

(EN) Teboul originally studied fashion design at Esmod in Paris before taking up her first job as a designer at Jean Paul Gaultier. After moving to Berlin and founding Augustin Teboul—an avant garde fashion label co-founded with German business partner Annelie Augustin, which ran until 2016—she is currently the creative director of her own solo brand. Established in 2017 and titled Lou de Bètoly, the label’s name is an anagram of Teboul’s. “I added in the ‘de’ preposition as an allusion to aristocracy,” she says, revealing her preoccupation with the upper echelons of society. On her website, Teboul self-proclaims herself an aristocratic punk. “I’m making luxury clothing, but there’s also a strong punk element to my work in terms of the attitude and the destroyed appearance,” she explains, referencing the laddered tights and smokey eye makeup of her Spring/Summer, 2020 show.

While her international CV sounds glamorous, Teboul’s initial introduction to sartorial design was much more modest. Growing up in a town one hour outside of the French capital, she first started working with fabric at the age of five when her mother taught her how to knit, crochet, and embroider. Ever since, traditional craftsmanship techniques have been fundamental to her design practice. “Everything I make has at least one detail that is completely handmade,” says Teboul, proudly showing me a cluster of hand-woven beads on one of her latest pieces. Crochet in particular has become one of her signature techniques. By sending colorful, crochet dresses, bralets, and skirts down the catwalk, and styling them with metallic high heels and mesh undergarments, Teboul hopes to redefine the medium for the modern era. “If you were to find a traditional crochet piece on a flea market, what would it be? It would be something that you’d put on the table, a blanket, or something that you frame,” she says. “All these things are very degraded in value because they are objects that belong to the register of the housewife. They are seen by many as the products of hobbies, things women used to do to pass the time. When I talk about placing crochet in a modern context it means that I’m not trying to make a little thing to put under a cup. I’m trying to use the method in a way that feels contemporary and relevant.”

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During our visit to Teboul's studio, the fashion designer played a wide range of records from her vinyl collection. Here she has compiled a playlist of some of her favorite tracks to give you an insight into her musical preferences.
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(EN) Lou de Bètoly’s Fall/Winter 2020 show at Berlin Fashion Week back in January is a perfect example of how Teboul marries her seemingly disparate interests in the aristocracy and traditional craftsmanship. Titled Bourgeoibstrus—a combination of the words ‘bourgeois’ and ‘abstrus,’ the latter of which translates from French to English as ‘obscure’—the collection of 34 outfits was presented in a empty office complex on the 21st floor of an old postal building. Working with upcycled high-quality fabrics including tartan, tweed, and cashmere, Teboul hoped to create a collection that contrasted the luxurious with the decadent. Her preoccupations with the archetypal housewife were also apparent, with outfits being made out of materials referencing opulent home environments such as glass chandelier beads and old curtain tassels. She also drew inspiration from Surrealism and the work of Lewis Carroll. “I worked with children’s vintage clothes and reworked them so that they fitted the body of an adult. It means you get this interesting, shrunken silhouette,” says Teboul, referring to the growing and shrinking of Alice in Wonderland’s eponymous character.

One of the most striking aspects of Teboul’s show was the age diversity in her chosen cast of models. While most fashion brands select women in their early 20s to showcase their designs, one of the most notable faces at Lou de Bètoly show was that of a grey haired, mature model, who is also featured prominently in the brand’s social media imagery. Striding nonchalantly down the catwalk in elbow-legnth leather gloves and a tight-fitted purple puffer jacket, skimming her upper thigh and exposing her sheer stockinged legs, she oozed confidence and sex appeal. “It’s a bit politically incorrect to have an old lady wearing something like this,” says Teboul with a smile. “Society tells women that they should stop dressing a certain way when they reach a certain age. But I think that everyone should be able to wear what they want.”

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(EN) “Society tells women that they should stop dressing in a certain way when they reach a certain age. But I think that everyone should be able to wear what they want.”

(EN) Recently, Teboul has been passing on her knowledge of craftsmanship techniques to students at Berlin’s Akademie Mode & Design (AMD) as part of their Masters in Sustainable Fashion. While running a variety of workshops, she noticed that the students had a “quite guilty approach,” to fashion. “On the one hand they were studying fashion, on the other they felt guilty. A lot of the students, for example, said they only buy vintage clothes,” she explains. As part of the course, Teboul also ignited a lot of conversations about the fashion industry’s use of leather and wool. “We don’t actually kill cows for leather, we kill them for meat. One student found out that in America, some people are boycotting leather products at the same time as consuming a lot of beef. This means that some animal skins are just thrown away and that people are producing vegan alternatives which are made of plastic,” she explains. “You would first have to eradicate the meat industry before you get rid of leather. We shall stop killing animals en mass one day, but until we do, it’s better to use every part of them,” she says, before adding pensively: “I think we went too far with mass production. We really are killing our world now.”

(EN) Berlin Fashion Week, AW 20

(EN) “I think we went too far with mass production. We really are killing our world now.”

(EN) While many environmentally conscious individuals may no longer want to be involved in one of the world’s most polluting industries, Teboul believes her handmade approach is an eco-friendly alternative to fast fashion. But she does admit working as a small independent label comes with its challenges. “I don’t think people know what fashion stands for anymore,” she adds, alluding to a widespread expectation for competitive prices. “We are quite greedy with clothes in Europe. We want to buy new things all the time and are used to getting everything very cheap.” The rise of Instagram has also contributed to what Teboul perceives as fashion’s identity crisis. “If you take fashion shows as an example, publishing the images on Instagram has become the major tool for showing the collection. It’s almost better to do a bad show and have good pictures than to do a great show and have bad pictures,” she says incredulously. Luckily for Teboul, she seems to have a pretty firm grasp on both.

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(EN) Odély Teboul is a French fashion designer and the creative director of Berlin-based label Lou de Bètoly. If you fancy reading more about Berlin-based designers, why not check out our profile of Indonesian designer Don Aretino who explores his queer Islamic identity through fashion. Or, why not take a look at this interview with Tanja Bombach, the head of the fashion department at Berlin hybrid arts venue Trauma Bar und Kino.

You can also read a version of this story in German on Vogue Germany.

Text: Emily May
Photography: Aimee Shirley