Fashion is the lifeblood of Christian Graciel. His educational background at ESMOD Paris and the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris has given him the learning needed to collaborate with prestigious brands like Zara, H&M and Mango, and bring added value to these fashion companies. As a designer, Graciel is known for his attention to detail and working closely with these artisans to ensure his visions come to life just like he wants them. Indonesia Design recently spoke with Graciel to discuss his approach to fashion and design.
Your last name, “Graciel,” means blessing. What does it mean to you?Indeed, Graciel can be decomposed in French into two words: “grâce” (blessing) and “ciel” (heaven). This name is, in fact, my first name, together with Christian. This name is linked to my birth in 1970 in Douala (Cameroon). I was pronounced dead as a new born and my body was put aside and unceremoniously bundled. Thanks to an alert medicine student who saw a glimmer of hope in me, I was reanimated and I, at last, came to life. My parents decided to give me this name as a tribute to honour heaven and a meaningful way to remember how I came to life.
You were once a professional soccer player and dancer. What drew you to fashion?
Even though I was a professional soccer player and a dancer once, I have always been in fashion as my mum was a seamstress. As a young boy, I always redesigned, unstitched, cut, and repurposed the clothes my mother brought just to reshape them with my own vision. So, fashion has always been part of my life.
Why did you move to Bali 17 years ago?
Coming to Bali had to do with a meeting with Jerome Abel Seguin, a French furniture designer and sculptor. At that time, I was staying in Sumbawa and my life evolved between Indonesia and France, where I worked as a designer for Zara and Mango.
How did you start using seashells?
I was immediately attracted by the shell pieces I saw on the beach while strolling along white-sand beaches in Sumbawa. The shells looked like small white whelks. I picked up one, put it on my finger, and suddenly felt compelled to give it a second life and turn it into a ring. So, I started to think about using these whelks in my creations, transforming them into beautiful rings.
These pieces of jewellery were first sold in the luxury resort Amanwana on the neighbouring Moyo Island. Later, they were displayed and sold at Selfridges in London, at Colette’s and Arts Décoratifs shop in Paris and were even used as window decorative elements at Hermes’ boutique. My set of Indonesian shell rings also won the prestigious Prix Découvertes at Maison et Objet in 2003, an international design and lifestyle trade fair held annually in Paris.
I started with tiny shells and then turned to larger ones to create precious clutches. But, of course, mother earth has always been my primary concern, and from the very beginning, I decided not to take the shells from where they were from. I started working with local shell farms in Lombok.
How did you expand to wood as the primary materials for the bags and clutches?
When I visited Jerome in his furniture factory, I noticed that some parts of wood were unused and thrown away. I decided to look for these scraps, to repurpose and transform them and create bags that are 100 per cent recycled. I then moved to create pieces of jewellery like unisex necklaces, belt buckles, tribal-style cuff bracelets, and earrings.
I recently turned to a leather collection and added some personal elements that make sense for me, like recycled wood handles for my series of tote bags. Old wood has so much character that I really like mixing it with more traditional materials.
There’s no mass production here. I work closely with local artisans and small factories. All is handmade by craftsmen. I am really into slow fashion. And all my products are naturally and ecologically made without any chemicals or artificial properties.
Where do you draw your design inspiration from?
I draw my inspiration from nature and the universe. The beauty of nature is something that delights and amazes me every day. I get my inspiration from all the trends and cultures I have been nurtured from my roots, as well as all the countries and cultures I have been lucky to discover through my life. So I would qualify myself as a kind of chameleon.
What word comes to mind when you think about your creations?
One expression: “second life”. This is the cornerstone of my life and my creative process. I get inspired by everything old, considered useless or unused, everything that has already had a life.
Do you take commission work? If so, in what capacity?
Yes, of course. It depends on the project and requests. I consider each request individually and see how I can do it. For example, I have recently been asked to create wooden eyewear boxes for a Russian designer working in Ubud. It is always interesting to work with other designers and commissioned work allows you to go beyond and to explore some paths you haven’t thought of before.
What makes one-of-a-kind fashion?
The unicity relies on the love of the artist, creator, or designer he or she puts in his or her work and creation. It’s one-of-a-kind, and far from the fast fashion industry.