Peter Pilotto

Shapes and shadows.

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Peter Pilotto stands in The Room at the Hudson’s Bay Vancouver, surveying the scene. Displayed out before him on racks and mannequins are three of his most recent collections—the results of months and months of work. Pilotto is quiet and thoughtful as he looks around the room, examining pieces from the womenswear brand that bears his name. It’s funny to see countless hours of labour held in a single place. On the one hand, it seems small—is this really it?—but on the other, and in deeper truth, what hangs artfully before him is a rather huge accomplishment.

Founded in 2007 by Pilotto and Christopher de Vos (they met at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp), Peter Pilotto the brand has become famous for its distinct and playful prints. Dresses, shirts, and skirts pop with colour as lines, swirls, and shapes work to convey a certain exploratory quality. This past year especially, though, has been about growing beyond the print; it’s a medium that will always be important to Pilotto, but he is eager to expand the label into new territory. “In the beginning we worked so much with print because we found the technique super exciting,” he explains. “So we really wanted to explore the topic to the maximum—but then we also wanted to add other things, other stories to the collection, and explore and work on things in the same way we did with these prints.” Most recently, that has meant playing with dimension, texture, and fabric, plus the brand’s first solo foray into shoe design (they had previously collaborated on printed footwear with Nicholas Kirkwood). “It’s a moment where people still love print, but are also hungry for new things from our brand,” Pilotto says. “People have been following and have been buying in one category, and they want to take us with them into other moments of their lives—and that’s really exciting.”

Peter Pilotto designs have a certain youthful vitality, but they are also very calculated, sophisticated. As Pilotto and de Vos dig deeper into new techniques, it would be easy for them to take on a certain pretension, a self-righteous outlook through which medium is of the utmost importance. Instead, they take an unusually humble approach that suggests the mode of transportation, as it were, is almost irrelevant. “Ultimately it’s about the experience and the attraction we have to whatever it is,” Pilotto says. Sometimes it is, in fact, less about the journey and more about the destination. “It’s our job to make it work behind the scenes,” Pilotto says. “We are just excited ourselves to be exploring those techniques.” And of course, while he doesn’t mind how much or little the customer knows about a specific procedure, his own knowledge is vast. Pilotto’s awareness of technique, his understanding of craft, is undeniable as he walks amongst the clothes, pointing out certain fabrics and details that only an expert could. The pieces reflect worldliness, spiritedness; it’s in the specific blue stitching of a flowy white top, and the bright yellow and green lines accented on a sleek black jumpsuit.

Pilotto was born in Austria and is also Italian, but the brand is based in London. He and de Vos (who is Belgian and Peruvian) love to travel, and it is in this sense of wanderlust and wonderment that they find their deepest inspiration. “It’s just so great when you are out of your comfort zone and have to integrate into a new place,” he says. “I find that very important to have had that experience. It’s simply part of our lives, and we don’t really know any other way.” Pilotto had some time to meander through Stanley Park while in Vancouver, and the mountains and trees reminded him of Austria. He says the stroll helped him understand how Vancouver is “all about that cool clash between the interesting urban skyline and the nature right next to it. It must be really nice to have that side by side, so you can dip into one or the other.”

It’s true of Vancouver, and is perhaps the essence of the Peter Pilotto label, too: the juxtaposed combination of something childlike, something free, but also mature and meticulously considered. It’s in this opportunistic mixing of perspectives that the clothing thrives, season after season.

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April 8, 2016