The colourful and intricately modern prints on GUNEE Homme's shirts and ties betray an art derivation. The lookbook images for the Spring/Summer 2015 collection have also got something graphic about them, while their composition with minimalist geometric figures and precise lines points towards Suprematism and Constructivism. These arty references become clearer when you speak to the brand founder and Creative Director, Eugen Laitenberger.
After finishing university, Laitenberger - who has been into drawing, sketching and painting since he was a child - established himself as a graphic designer, illustrator and photographer creating works infused with the surreal pop aura of a comic book with a dark edge.
Last year Laitenberger found himself in quandary when putting together a photo shoot revolving around the theme of camouflage: how could he find a patterned wall and a tie with the same print? He solved the dilemma in a very simple way - he launched his own menswear label, GUNEE Homme.
The brand's debut collection for the Spring/Summer 2015 season includes a selection of shirts and ties - all tailored and made in Germany - characterised by symmetrical prints of Laitenberger's best designs. The drawings and illustrations go from abstract shapes to bizarre and cute tiny creatures.
There is a good balance between the basic shapes and silhouettes and the playfulness of the prints and, despite this is Laitenberger's first experiment in fashion, the illustrator and designer managed to inject in his pieces a degree of spontainety that at times is missing even in designs by more established menswear labels.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Eugen Laitenberger: I was born in Poltawa, Ukraine. After the fall of the Berlin Wall my parents moved to Munster, in Westphalia, Germany. I spent there my entire childhood. I took up drawing and painting lesson - in all kinds of techniques from oil and charcoal to watercolour and acrylic - from when I was 9 till I turned 16. The main point of the classes was to learn how to paint in a naturalistic style, but I was not really good at that. I would indeed draw small comic books and monsters rather than realistic portraits. When I turned 16 I applied for an education as graphic designer and, soon after, I founded a small magazine with a friend of mine. It was a publication full of absurd illustrations and stories. The stuff we made and wrote was quite nerdy and I was afraid it could have destroyed my future career, so I decided to come up with a pseudonym - Gunee. This is actually an anagram for Eugen. After I finished school, I had to make a choice between studying graphic design or opting for something else at university. I decided to expand my horizon and went for photography. I had no idea about photography, but I bought my first analogue single-lens reflex camera, made a portfolio within 6 months and was finally accepted. After university, I moved to Cologne, Germany, and worked at a design agency for German television, in the meantime I did lots of illustrations and sold my artwork to get a bit of extra money. Then, last year, I decided to experiment a bit with fabric and applied my illustrations to this medium. It worked really well, so I decided to make my first shirt collection and started the menswear label GUNEE Homme.
What prompted you to launch GUNEE Homme and which are the biggest challenges you faced when you started the label?
Eugen Laitenberger: First there is a difference between GUNEE and GUNEE Homme. GUNEE is my artist and company name and includes all I'm doing in my creative process. It was formed as a big playground for my ideas, or as an outlet for my creativity. GUNEE Homme is a more concrete and commercial branch of GUNEE. The idea for GUNEE Homme came spontaneously. Over a year ago I was thinking about making a new photo project. I had just the idea to make photos of a person that stands in front of a patterned wall, wearing a tie with the same pattern. But where would I find a wallpaper that had the same pattern of the tie? Two months later I got a revelation: I would have made the pattern for the wall and the tie by myself. As I worked on the project, I decided that it would be a pity to go to such effort just for a photo shoot. One thing led to another and I came up with six different patterns, made a small collection of shirts and ties, and founded GUNEE Homme, a label that has a main aim, transferring my art into wearable high quality clothes for men. The biggest challenge was to start from nothing and form within a year a label. I'm just at the beginning as you can imagine. The first pieces are manufactured, but new challenges are awaiting for me, like sales, distribution, marketing, expanding the assortment and so on.
Do you conceive yourself more as a fashion designer, photographer, graphic designer or illustrator?
Eugen Laitenberger: If you tell people you make photography, graphic design, illustration and hundreds of other things as well, they think you are a fool. And that you can't do anything really good. People don't believe me when I say I do all this by myself, even if they sit next to me and see me working with their own eyes. Photography, illustration or graphic design are tools for me. If I have an idea I can take one of this tools and use it. And if the idea is too complex, I can always turn to another expert for support. But, in the process, it's important for me to understand what this expert is doing and learn rather than just receive a solution and being told 'Here it is, now do what you want with it!'
Is there an artist who inspires your work or an art movement maybe?
Eugen Laitenberger: No, not directly. But I love Japanese music and animation movies; I like the clear geometric lines of Constructivism and Suprematism and I love the work of M/M Paris who create the artwork for Bjork. I think music is the main inspiration for my work.
What's the latest Japanese animation film you watched?
Eugen Laitenberger: I think it was the remake of sci-fi anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion - Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo - or the movie Mind Game from Studio 4°C. It is the craziest animation movie I ever saw, I adore it. Some weeks ago I was in Paris and saw the exhibition about the original drawings by Studio Ghibli at Art Ludique-Le Musée. You must go and see it!
For the time being GUNEE is only dedicated to menswear, but the shirts actually look genderless and desirable also for women, are you thinking of developing a womenswear brand as well?
Eugen Laitenberger: I'm not excluding this option, but I don't know enough about womenswear, though I can imagine working closely with another designer for womenswear in the future or making a collaboration with a fashion brand that is interested in my patterns. But at the moment I have a lot to do with GUNEE Homme, so my focus will remain on menswear for the time being.
Would you like to showcase your designs at any fashion week/international fairs?
Eugen Laitenberger: Of course, but I need a little bit more time to have my first 40 show pieces. So ask me that again in a few months' time!
Image credits for this post
All images/illustrations courtesy GUNEE Homme/Eugen Laitenberger