We visited fashion designer Vladimir Karaleev in his studio located on the top of an industrial rear building serenely overlookig Berlin. Vladimir grew up in Bulgaria and moved to Germany at the age of 19. His work is greatly influenced by contemporary art and strives to balance the beauty of color and abstract lines with the functionality of every piece. He is is deemed to be one of the most brilliant young talents in Germany.
PORTRAITS: Per Zennström
1. THE BLIND TASTING
CHARMES ET FEUILLES BY THE DIFFERENT COMPANY
We confronted Vladimir Karaleev with a mystery perfume in a neutral, opaque vaporizer. Only afterwards did we reveal the name of the scent. Follow Vladimir on his journey into scent …
“A fragrance for someone delicate and soft-spoken.”
A touch of leather, but also something synthetic — that’s how this perfume smells. I once boarded an airplane that was evidently almost brand new and it smelled so good, I thought to myself, “This could be the perfect perfume for me!” The smell of all these synthetic materials blended with the smell of the leather upholstery.
I’m sure hardly any other passengers found it appealing but, personally, I just love it when things smell new. Things one orders online for example: they arrive then one tears open the box, sniffs the new materials and feels happy. Appropriating new things is like turning a new page. I like things! I like the idea of being able to take hold of a thing and admire it.
The perfume makes me think of shoes, primarily, or possibly of a bag. In any case, of something that is firm to the touch and solid — something indisputably, palpably there! But not of fabrics. They have a different smell altogether: milder and more fluid.
I recently bought myself a new computer and when I opened the packaging the smell was incredibly intense. I’m sure they must have put a lot of thought into that odor, so as to ensure it prompted positive vibes.
I take pleasure in old things, too, in vintage furniture, for instance. But I don’t buy the idea that old pieces of furniture have a kind of spirit or soul. I never think about who their previous owner was. Regardless of their history I see them simply as objects.
When I design I’m always on the lookout for stuff that breaks new ground. I’d never focus on one particular look or era for themes or inspiration. And when designing a piece, I never really think about who may wear it. Actually, it surprises me time after time, to see who buys what. In any case, I’m more in touch with professional buyers and only rarely with end customers. Except for those, of course, who come to the studio here in Berlin to place bespoke orders — and pretty much all of them are art dealers or artists. They need fewer explanations than most because they’re familiar with abstract form. And abstract form is the very core of my work.
We work a lot on the mannequin. Which is a bit like sculpting fabric. It’s all about proportion, shape and color. A garment is an object in its own right. It must look great when still on a hanger but of course work equally well on the body.
This fragrance is made for someone who is a little delicate. It’s soft-spoken. There are other perfumes so emphatic that they completely hog the spotlight. In fashion it’s no different: if a garment is too loud, it drowns out the person wearing it. This perfume, however, does the very opposite! It is so subtle, so unobtrusive that it only strikes one at a second glance. And the same can be said of my kind of people: inconspicuously conspicuous characters for whom one needs to take a little time, if one wants to really discover them.
2. THE INTERVIEW
“The smell of my childhood? A small park in Sofia!”
SCENTURY: You grew up in Sofia. How did it smell there?
Vladimir Karaleev: It’s a very green city, plus there was a small park near our place where we spent lots of time as kids. Perhaps parks everywhere smell more or less the same but whenever I’m in Sofia these days and go by that one, it plunges me back into the smell of my childhood. And I really had a very lovely childhood!
SC: Was perfume used in your family circle?
VK: My mother’s enthusiasm knows no bounds when it comes to perfume. Access to luxury products was very limited indeed. But since my mother worked at the airport, she could shop at the so-called Free Store. “Perfume from the Free Store,” of course had a very exclusive ring to it! At the time, most Bulgarians would have thought Rexona or 8×4 very chic.
SC: What fascinated you about perfumes from the West?
VK: Alone the packaging stood out from anything we had back then. Bulgarian packaging was simply practical and plain. Everything from the West was glossier and more luxurious. That’s why we used even to treasure the boxes!
SC: Do you recall which perfumes your mother used to wear?
VK: Gabriela Sabatini and also Paloma Picasso — the latter came in a dubious black flacon with smooth curves. Also, whenever I visited my mother at the airport I passed by a huge billboard, a portrait of Paloma Picasso wearing bright red lipstick, with red gloves to match and a big ring on one gloved finger! That made a very deep impression on me.
SC: And yet you became a fashion designer, not a perfumer?
VK: An aunt of mine used to sew a great deal and collect Burda magazines. Maybe I inherited my penchant for fashion from her.
SC: Does your mother still wear perfume?
VK: Yes, and I always bring her back a bottle from my travels. Once when I visited her I was wearing Untitled by Maison Martin Margiela and she loved it so much it almost drove her crazy. I was astonished because I had always believed she preferred sweeter scents, not least because she used to wear Loulou from Cacharel.
SC: What was your first perfume?
VK: CK one, naturally! That’s what everyone wanted. Because everyone wanted to belong.
SC: Do you use perfume regularly?
VK: Every day, unless I forget — which I rarely do.
SC: Do you use several perfumes in parallel?
VK: No, I always use one perfume for several years until the point comes when I suddenly lose interest in it and go in search of a new one. At the moment I’m using Comme des Garçons’ Black.
SC: What is important to you in a perfume?
VK: I like perfumes that are suited to all kinds of occasion. There are some that can be worn only at particular times, for instance those heady scents that are just made for evening dress or a formal dinner. Whereas others are great all-rounders. And that makes them the perfect travel companions, too. They are suited to all types of place and situation.
SC: Would you like to have a signature scent of your own, developed especially for you?
VK: I’m actually not a great fan of customized goods. Even chocolate and running shoes can be customized, nowadays. But this shows just how over-saturated the market has become, as well as how horribly mundane. And, basically, it does my head in. I prefer to be surprised by the things that already exist. After all, it’s not as if there were too few things around us to choose from.
SC: That’s perhaps because your profession constantly obliges you to make decisions?
VK: Could be. Yes, that’s probably why!
SC: Thank you, Vladimir!
ABOUT VLADIMIR KARALEEV
Name: Vladimir Karaleev
Occupation: Fashion Designer
ABOUT THE PERFUME
Perfume: Charmes & Feuilles by The Different Company
Perfumer: Céline Ellena
This post has first been published July 2nd 2014.