Jean-Paul Knott, a designer with typical Belgian humility

19.02.2016 - Dries Tack

Counter-trend FASHION

Born in the United States and based in Brussels, this designer owes the development of his brand over the past 15 years to its success on markets that are only a pipedream for many well-established Belgian brands. Portrait of a success story that bucks the trend.

Jean-Paul Knott, a designer with typical Belgian humility

©JeanPaulKnott

After starting his career at Krizia in New York, followed by a long stint - from 1988 to the early 2000s - at YSL Rive gauche, John Paul Knott finally chose to set up his brand in Brussels, almost exactly 15 years ago. From the outset, this graduate of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology realised that his collections were not going to generate big sales in Belgium. "At my first fashion show, I was spotted by an American buyer. I very quickly became aware that I had no real foothold in Belgium," he explains. Knott is a name that resonates mainly on the US market and in Asia, a continent that is close to his heart and his sensitivity.

Jean-Paul Knott, a designer with typical Belgian humility
Jean-Paul Knott, a designer with typical Belgian humility

His trademark: a rejection of the "trend for the sake of the trend" and a constant quest to find the right voice of the garment. For him, everything depends on the cut, which has to be perfect, but also on sensitivity. "The US market was almost a no-brainer. That is where I studied and where I took my first steps in fashion. Department stores are also much less cautious when it comes to distributing up-and-coming names. The Asian market quickly followed. For a dozen years or so, I worked with the same team. Very quickly, they told me they wanted to open a Jean-Paul Knott store in Tokyo. I always replied that I did not think it was economically viable. Then one day, they told me they had found the ideal premises and that they were convinced of the potential of such a project. Of course, I took them up on it and we opened the store last year."

Jean-Paul Knott, a designer with typical Belgian humility

Passion and perfection

While precision and thoroughness are among the values ​​dear to John Paul Knott, the idea of ​​perfection conveyed by certain brands that are too smooth, too marketed and too photoshopped are not for him: "at the beginning, I was also fascinated by this pseudo-perfection. Then I realised it wasn’t me. I prefer honesty to perfection. I remember what I was told by Loulou (de la Falaise, a friend, muse and collaborator of Saint Laurent, ed): 'perfection is terribly boring'. So I therefore aim for honesty. And, like the Japanese, the idea of ​​progress, that is one of my drivers"...

Jean-Paul Knott, a designer with typical Belgian humility
Jean-Paul Knott, a designer with typical Belgian humility

Honest and passionate, Jean-Paul Knott is also a man of collaborations. During his career, he has designed costumes for Maurice Béjart (in 2000), a hotel room for the Royal Windsor in Brussels or trainers in collaboration with the Japanese label White Flag launched by the designer Tatsuya Oconogi.

Jean-Paul Knott, a designer with typical Belgian humility

He recently asked the Brussels-based jewellery designer Isabelle Lenfant to create a mini series of pieces that would reflect his universe. Jean-Paul Knott: "Isabelle and I had wanted to create something together. The collection came together in the course of a few meetings around a glass of wine. It all took place very smoothly and instinctively, in a convivial atmosphere. When you work together in this way, you become the tool of the other. It’s also a great way to get out of my own universe, to explore ways that I would be unable to consider if I didn’t team up with others," he says with a touching humility. A humility typical of Belgium. Of Japan as well. And that very much defines Knott!

Jean-Paul Knott, a designer with typical Belgian humility
Jean-Paul Knott, a designer with typical Belgian humility

FW15 Collection photos ©Hidemi Iizuka

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Luxury, Fashion

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