It’s a warm, August afternoon in the midst of Paris’s off-season. The cobblestone streets seem abandoned and the speed of the city has calmed. It’s Pierre Kaczmarek’s preferred summer season; the period when Parisians disperse in pursuit of rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. But while the bulk of the populous have fled their day-to-day, Kaczmarek finds himself staying behind to design. At just 23 years old he’s the creative director of Paris-based brand, Georges Wendell, and an audaciously old soul. This constitution bleeds into his SS23 collection, depicting how he, on the contrary, would rather continue his practice and break-up the monotony with a weekend away than a long holiday. “I prefer to do something intense,” he says as we chat over the phone, hitting his e-cigarette between responses. Depicted in the lookbook, Kaczmarek imagines the “couple” of models driving a nice car out of the city, staying in a beautiful house, spending their money and playing in the pool – but they’re aware that they must return to work on Monday. To Kaczmarek, this doesn’t detract from the experience: it makes it all the more sweet.
His collections come filled to the brim with grinçant French humour so it all feels very tongue-in-cheek, with a definitive proclivity for quirky playfulness and subversive sexiness. His clothes are timeless and classic, yet simultaneously innovative – an unlikely paradox, but one that Kaczmarek navigates with ease. He clearly knows his talent, and yet the youngin’ is anything but arrogant. “My work is experimental because I’m young and have ideas by the minute. But, I think it’d be better if it were less experimental because I’m growing up and I want to streamline my ideas,” he says. “Especially in a world where your work can be good one day and bad the next, it’s really important to stay constant.”
You might know Kaczmarek from his predecessor label, Afterhomework, a passion project that named him the youngest ever ANDAM award nominee, back in 2018. He admits that while honoured to have been nominated for such a prestigious award, he was disappointed when he didn’t win, a competitiveness that stems from his previous love for sport. “Fashion isn’t an exact science,” he says. “This was difficult for me to understand because everyone was telling me I was good. But at a certain point, if you want to level up you’ll run into new challenges and I think that’s what I learned from this experience – progress never ends.”
Kaczmarek launched Afterhomework when he was 16 years old alongside his now ex-girlfriend, the stylist Elena Mottola. For a year and half, they crafted clothes literally after their schoolwork. Though spontaneous, the endeavour took off and even earned Kaczmarek a place on the Paris Fashion Week calendar. “We really did it with nothing; without any help from our parents; without any money. We were just about energy and creativity,” he says. Kaczmarek treated Afterhomework like an education, absorbing anything and everything he could. As we chat, I get the impression that he, even now, goes about life steeped in curiosity, endlessly in the pursuit of knowledge and new perspectives. However, with age came evolution, both personal and professional, and soon Kaczmarek’s style changed, he and Mottola split and homework became a thing of the past; the end of an era, he was off to bigger and better things.
Enter Georges Wendell. Before Kaczmarek, Georges Wendell was a humble tailoring shop in Le Sentier. It was built by self-made Jewish-Algerian immigrants who fabricated the Western brand name to hide their heritage in response to the volatile political climate of the time. “They’re a real symbol of freedom in Paris,” he says. He goes on to describe these men as avant-garde for their time and as a result, successful and rich. “Sometimes they were even a bit “mafiozi” (meaning mobster), but in a good way,” he adds. “I think we all have a bit of Georges Wendell in us and that’s the story I really need to tell: I’m inspired by the everyday world of all Parisians.”
So, when Kaczmarek discovered that the shopfront was set to close, as Le Marais and La Republique gained popularity, he decided to buy it. “The original owner didn’t know what I wanted to do with the place, but he said, “Give me 1 euro and you can use it,” – talk about a bargain! “I was still doing Afterhomework when this happened, but I was beginning to need to make something more mature that better represented the lives of me and my friends now.”
A Paris native, Kaczmarek has a good understanding of the stereotypes that have arisen from the city’s sociology. “I can tell you where people are living; whether they’re based on the left or right side of the river, etc. So, without entering into the cliché of the baguette, the beret and the glass of wine, I’m into the characteristics of different districts.” Referring to this in his work, he admits that it can sometimes be challenging for non-Parisian people to understand. He admits, “Sometimes I think I should lean more into the classics.”
Besides his surroundings, inspiration finds its way into Kaczmarek’s mind via what he watches on the telly. “I like watching TV; French programs and the 8pm BBC news,” he says. “Sometimes I just stay in my district with all the same people, so I think it’s good to get out without physically going out. On screen, I can see what’s on trend for the average person and it allows me to remove myself from the fashion scene.”
But it’s not just the TV archetypes that spark Kaczmarek’s contrivances; rejoining reality, Kaczmarek also enjoys the company of elderly folk and eccentric strangers with tales to tell: “I can stay hours and hours speaking with all the old guys who shaped Paris before.”
Naming the illusive Martin Margiela as his greatest sartorial inspiration, Kaczmarek declares that he believes the enigmatic creative to be the designer who moulded Paris fashion into what it is today. “He took all the clichés and elegance of Paris and switched it into something super high-end. At the same time, he made classics with a creative touch.” Besides Margeila’s anti-fashion, “in between” positioning, Kaczmarek admires how the Belgian designer hid his face from the public: “We all loved that,” he laughs. Like Margeila, Kaczmarek could be considered an “in-between” designer as his work doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Kaczmarek was captivated by the allure of the fashion world from a young age, spending hours in and out of stores with his mother, a fashion buyer. His patronage, though not financially a disciple of the fashion industry, kept up-to-date on the latest collections, read Vogue and valued opulence. Yet, while his parents seemed the upper-crust sort, they weren’t so keen on their son’s artistic ambitions. When all was said and done however, Kaczmarek pursued fashion anyways. “I wasn’t a good drawer or painter, I wasn’t really good at art at all,” he says. “That’s why I chose fashion: to express myself, my feelings and my opinions.”
In the future, Kaczmarek plans to operate Georges Wendell via a “drops” framework where every two months or so, a themed collection will be released on his e-store. He will also be returning to the PFW calendar in the winter.
On a personal note, the multi-disciplinary aims to be healthier and kinder to himself: “I need to care more about me because I’m working a lot and I’m starting to lose my hair at 23 – it’s really not good.” We could also use a bit of self-care, so take it from Kaczmarek and be kind to yourself – but do it in Georges Wendell.
Photography courtesy of Georges Wendell.