Ten Meets Andre Walker, The Fashion Industry’s Favourite Creative Polymath
Andre Walker is a free electron, elusive and impossible to locate until observed. Hopping on a FaceTime call with him grants me access to his sharp, high-spirited and focused mind. He is currently living in Paris, a city he cherishes.
He has the habit of frequent travellers not to remember the exact date of their arrival. “I arrived January 15… or the 14th,” he ponders, looking for accuracy. “Well, one of those days was the 15th.” The designer seems to have a special bond with the city. “I fell in love with Paris through W magazine when I was about seven years old. I was always reading about the ready-to-wear stories in W and I always knew that I wanted to not only create garments and be involved in the creation of fashion shows, but I also wanted to know the city.”
Walker has lived on both Parisian banks – for anyone familiar with the city, there is an ongoing rivalry between the Rive Gauche, calm and bourgeois, and Rive Droite, buoyant and au courant. “I like both. The first time I moved to Paris, I lived in the 10th arrondissement, around Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord, near the Moulin Rouge.” The Rive Droite is a cultural melting pot, where the luxury of Rue Cambon and Avenue Montaigne clashes with the diverse and youthful spirit of Boulevard de Strasbourg and Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin. “I’ve only ever had an address on the Rive Droite, until recently, when I started hanging out on the Rive Gauche with my best friend Sylvie. This season, I actually had two Airbnbs in the 6th arrondissement. It’s a little more historical than the 10th.”
jumper and trousers by BALENCIAGA.
Walker possesses the eloquent speech of well-travelled people; his French accent could almost fool you into thinking he is a native speaker. In Paris, most of the time he travels by bicycle, though of course there is the occasional Uber. “I haven’t been on the Metro once since I got here. It’s easier to get around à la Bill Cunningham, who’s my hero.”
Walker is a man of style. As the French government is advising the population to stay home in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus epidemic – a nationwide lockdown would be enacted six days after our FaceTime conversation – I wonder what a fashion-conscious person is wearing at home. “I’m wearing a pair of pants I’ve been wearing for the past four days. Ralph Lauren. Cotton gabardine,” he says with a gradual tone as if double-checking what he has on. “Kind of sweatpants, but they’re cotton and not jersey. Margaret Howell sweater and a black silk T-shirt.”
Some people prefer not to wear footwear at home, but Walker seems always ready to hop on his bike. “I’m wearing Nike. Awful shoes. They’re black from biking. Wear and tear. I have three pairs. I left the cleanest pair in New York and brought the very white pair that still looks new for when I want to appear tidy and neat but sportive.” He confesses he wears his sneakers almost every day, although he isn’t a sneakerhead by definition. “I have a gorgeous pair of black suede shoes, kind of like a derby style, from Lanvin, with a plastic heel, which is recessed about three centimetres from the edge of the sole, so the heel appears very small and the feet appear quite tiny as well, because I have big feet,” he tells me, barely keeping himself from laughing. Important revelation for all the foot fetishists reading: Walker is a size 11-12. Paying attention, I notice that he might be chewing. I attribute such a comfortable attitude to his cool, unceremonious and unpretentious self.
Left: vest, trousers and boots by BOTTEGA VENETA; Right: waistcoat and trousers by JW ANDERSON.
When it comes to dressing up, as you’d expect, Walker puts a lot of thought into his style. “I’ve been around for so long. When I first started dressing up, it was all about imitating various subcultures, like punk or hardcore, or even rockabilly and new romantic. I’ve been swayed a lot by music culture and the way I dress, and of course fashion.” Music and fashion are inextricably intertwined. Tell me what’s on your playlist and I’ll tell you who you are, right? Today, Walker mostly listens to ambient electronica. “I love melodic ambient electronic music, and then, occasionally, I get swayed by real soul from the 1970s, like Eddie Kendricks.” He pauses. “I used to have a huge library of music, but I don’t any more. A computer of mine got stolen quite some time ago. It was the age of LimeWire and downloading. I had tons of music organised into categories I would make myself.” It’s reminiscent of the late Karl Lagerfeld, who would also carefully organise his music.
But Walker’s sense of style also derives from the idealised vision of masculinity that surrounded him growing up. “The way I dress is kind of about intuition. My first image of masculinity, as far as being aware of how I wanted to portray myself, was influenced by Thierry Mugler.” He is an aesthete who would not shy from defying conventions. “I used to wear women’s clothes quite often. I love a woman’s ruffle blouse, or a beautiful Bonnie Cashin coat that could be worn by a man or a woman.”
shirt and tie by LOUIS VUITTON, jeans by LEVI’S, shoes by MAISON MARGIELA.
Being a designer, and as with many style icons, Walker would make clothes no one could find in stores. “One of my first designs was a pant-skirt that I executed in various forms of plaids or checks. I’m pretty open when it comes to my style,” he tells me, before adding that he is somehow a bit of a traditionalist, too. “I love official looks. I grew up in London, so I was wearing a suit to school every day. That procured a predilection for grey flannel and suiting, classic garments and shirts.” He possesses an ebullience so typical of true fashion lovers. “I also love old underwear, as in tank tops, old swimsuits that I used to wear regularly. But those were a lot more available in the 1980s and ’90s.”
Of course, Walker is also an avid reader of magazines. He credits titles such as The Face, i-D, Details, GQ, Vogue and W magazine for contributing to his comprehension of style: “They influenced the way I wanted to appear.” Collecting magazines is also one of his hobbies. “I don’t do it as much. Because I had so many magazines, it’s a bit much. I don’t have as many as [the Spanish editor and publisher] Luis Venegas or other crazy magazine enthusiasts. When I was consulting a lot with Marc Jacobs, I was trying to find all the magazines I had when I was younger, because I started buying fashion magazines when I was about 13. I was reading Italian Vogue, Depeche Mode, Le Jardin des Modes, and so on. I loved modern and underground press. What’s great about magazines is how enduring they are despite the idea that print is dead, and what I love is that they don’t require electricity to work.”
Not many people know that Walker also started his own “objectzine”, TIWIMUTA, a book full of culture and conceptual ideas. “TIWIMUTA is an acronym for This Is What It Made Us Think About. I came up with the idea around 2007, but it didn’t come out until two years later. It was a combination of my obsession with old magazines.”
coat by BURBERRY, vest stylist’s own, trousers Andre’s own.
But who inspired Walker to assert his own flair? “Because I have such an independent spirit and I love the idea of creation in every sense of the term, I would say that my style heroes are Karl Lagerfeld… ” He pauses and backs up quickly. “No, I’m not going to say Karl Lagerfeld first because that would be misleading. Bill Cunningham is someone who really made me aware of style as a youngster. He was photographing me all the time, and I was ending up in Details magazine wearing a corset, or some item I had found at the flea market, or something I’d found at Matsuda or Charivari. You have to understand that I was a fashion freak, a fanatic. I also have predilections for the 1940s and ’50s, because I like the old style. I love black and white movies and the Ballets Russes.”
A sort of sartorial pluralism is evidently on Walker’s mind. “When you’re considering your own style, if it’s only based on fashion, you might have more freedom to express different looks, but I like the idea of appropriating my aesthetic desires into my lifestyle.” His lifestyle is that of a sports enthusiast. “I’ve always been athletic. I’ve been roller-skating since I was eight, and I’m often on a bike. So, obviously, movement and function. Although it didn’t stop me from wearing enormous corduroy men’s pants that were wrapped over twice just to give that look,” he remembers, laughing. “But the sweat added to the discomfort of having to roller-skate from the 10th arrondissement to Trocadero to hang out with the skaters, so that kind of didn’t work. So, of course a cashmere sweater and a T-shirt underneath can always fulfil the brief, depending on the weather, but in the summer it’s always a bit more limiting. Summer is about avoiding wearing T-shirts and looking like everybody else, or something long-sleeved and looking like an Olympic skier while on skates in the 1940s.”
coat and top by BALMAIN, trousers and belt Andre’s own.
Don’t get it twisted, Walker is not trying to bury his head in the sand. “It’s easy to say we’re all humans and we’re all equal. History has shown us differently, yet when it comes to racism, I honestly tend to wash over it. In the 1980s and ’90s, I never had this issue. I wasn’t aware of the fullness of the injustice of certain races throughout history, but it’s all coming up and it’s all very clear. Upon reading about the Berlin Conference [of 1884- 1885],” he laughs, as if he still doesn’t believe such an event could take place, “when Europeans were fighting over who’s going to get what in Africa, I found it outrageous because it’s just sick. But the unforgiveness that it brought in the perception of the public is daunting. But even knowing this, I’ve been guided by something completely different.” Unanimous physiology could well be the answer.
Top image: top and shirt by COMME DES GARÇONS SHIRT, trousers Andre’s own, shoes by BOTTEGA VENETA.
Photography by Stéphane Gabouê, styling by Edem Dossou. Taken from Issue 52 of 10 Men – COMMUNITY, BELONGING, UPLIFTING – available to purchase here.
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