Bernhard Willhelm Moved to L.A. But He's Still Up to His Old Tricks

It's mere days before his fall 2015 collection — with a companion exhibition — at MOCA’s PDC gallery and Bernhard Willhelm is busy...cooking. Which isn't to suggest the Lycra-loving gym bunny, neo-New Age health nut, bottle-blond and recent Los Angeles transplant has turned into a ditz, real housewife-style. Quite the contrary, the (mostly) men's designer is very street-wise and world-savvy, having been born and raised in Germany, schooled in Antwerp, based in Paris — and now communing with Hollywood's nature.

Willhelm says the collection and the site-specific work are a meditation on the future of commerce, his response to the uniformity of fashion as we know it. That he's juggling vegetables as we speak by phone simply means everything is under control — the mannequins, the videos, the ephemera, and of course the clothing, leaving us ample time to discuss dolls, cruising, and a certain male-only accessory.

Lee Carter: By what cosmic power did you land in Los Angeles?
Bernhard Willhelm: The cosmic power of black cock.

I see...
Seriously. What is the world going to do when there’s no oil anymore? Will it switch to solar or to black cock? I think black cock could power everything.

I take it the show is a mix of your classic tropes — humor, high-camp, homoeroticism — but also touching on some serious issues.
Absolutely. Basically you'll see a sculptural installation of doll-like mannequins, with their clothes on. It’s a very special doll made in Spain with heads made in an atelier in Berlin, and we put it all together here. So it’s a bit like a puzzle. And we’re going to have a selection of products taken from consumer society, things like shampoo and sexy underwear.

What does the show's title — When Fashion Shows the Danger Then Fashion Is the Danger — mean?
I think fashion gets very dangerous when there is so much of it. I’m also trying to be educative about the environment, sexuality, racial diversity, as well as eclipses and utopia. You could think of it in terms of a magazine cover — ten practical ways to increase your positive vibrations. So you see the black cock comes in handy.

I see that now. 
I'm also addressing the element of danger that people used to like about being homosexual. That’s why people still go to cruising places, and I can totally appreciate it. It’s about desires, and desires are not necessarily politically correct. The show is also about compassion and forgiveness. Let’s see how that pans out at the opening. Maybe everybody has a glass of champagne and heterosexuals and homosexuals will actually talk to each other. So let's say it's a witty comment, a witty collection. Witty and pretty...

Just like you. Is this your first show in a museum setting?
No, we did two shows before, one in the Antwerp fashion museum and one in the Groningen fashion museum in Holland. I donated my archives from the first ten years to the both of them, as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Palais Galliera in Paris. I no longer have archives, so this show is not a retrospective. It can't be. We are showing only the new collection, which will also be presented in Paris in March. 

So why did you relocate to L.A. — besides the aforementioned appendage?
It was my decision to have a different lifestyle, after ten years in Paris doing so many shows — sometimes four a year, two men’s and two women’s. I still split my time between Paris and here. I only have a two-year visa, but I have to say I have found a nice place here. We [referring to his business partner Jutta Kraus] are in Beachwood Canyon, so I can have my little hike each day in the Hollywood Hills. It’s about having a good and healthy life.

Had you become bored with Paris?
It was the ten-year itch. I had ten years in Antwerp, then ten years in Paris. I think moving is necessary to keep energy levels up. And doing so many shows in Paris, I just needed a change of lifestyle. I still have an office in Paris, and an apartment. I don’t want to give it up. It was an ordeal to finish that place. It took me two years.

L.A. is, of course, celebrity central and in my mind a little bit of a cliche. Am I wrong?
Not wrong, but people here are not naive. They see the good points and the bad points, the beautiful and the ugly. They influence the whole world through music, TV, and art. L.A. is creating the images and messages we all receive in this world, and we're all connected. I think it’s a very important place for the future.

I would agree with that. Plus, you've always had kind of a California surfer-boy vibe.
Also a lot of Miami. I’m a big fan of Versace, Gianni Versace. Recently I went to the Panorama in Berlin [inside the famed Berghain club]. I was the only one dressed a little bit colorful. Everybody had the same skinny jeans and Rick Owens T-shirt. I couldn't believe Rick had reached Berlin and my favorite techno club. Europe is very much in that state. Before, Rick was the best designer in L.A. — maybe I fit better in L.A. now.

Bernhard Willhelm 3000: When Fashion Shows the Danger Then Fashion Is the Danger, February 7 - May 17, 2015, Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles


Bernhard Willhelm modeling a Lycra bodysuit, available in the museum gift shop (photo Daniel Trese)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Daniel Trese)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Daniel Trese)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Daniel Trese)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Daniel Trese)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Myles Pettengill)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Myles Pettengill)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Myles Pettengill)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Myles Pettengill)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Myles Pettengill)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Myles Pettengill)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Myles Pettengill)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Myles Pettengill)


Bernhard Willhelm fall 15 (photo Myles Pettengill)


Bernhard Willhelm modeling fall 15 (photo Daniel Trese)





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Feb 09, 2015 12:31:00

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