Having met Mr. Erich Biehle before, it wasn’t until we were both invited to an Art Advisor’s home, for a home-cooked Chinese dinner, that I realized I must share this great secret and all (well, almost all) the mindtravelling stories, Erich, so kindly shared. Through Erich’s memories we can all touch history with the great Parisian houses and that once unforgettable lifestyle. Ladies and gentlemen gather up, the man that I am about to present has been a strong pillar to the iconic Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Dior, Lanvin, Pierre Cardin and Michael Kors textile designs; just to name a few.
In his seventh decade, Erich will greet you strongly and confidently, but before you feel intimidated, a smile will surface on his lips and you immediately feel understood and welcomed. He carries a career that many envy to achieve in a lifetime, but for him- as he simply describes it, it was: „a mixture of good fortune and hard work. [I] grabbed the opportunity and made something out of it“. Even now, he is not holding back but ready for a new chapter on his creative journey; redefining himself in Fine Art, where he feels „you don’t have the pressure of repeating yourself”.
Having spent his childhood in Lucerne, Switzerland, his teachers spotted a great talent in drawing and advised him to take the next train to Zurich, for a lifetime opportunity to be taught Art by Johannes Itten. Excelling in his studies, Itten took notice of his great „potentials“ in design and laid the first brick in Erich’s career by introducing him to Abraham, a textile company in Zurich.
After working in the textile industry for two years, Erich took his luggage filled with dreams to explore the world beyond the Atlantic Ocean. In New York he worked for Ready-to-Wear designs, where he enjoyed the challenge of executing within deadlines and making fast decisions. With the Vietnamese War humming on the background he had to return to his home country; Switzerland. Having had to give up the American Dream, a door closed, but a golden gate opened – and so Erich came to his first big job – a contract with Yves Saint Laurent which would prove to open a prosperous journey with many of the greatest Parisian houses.
In 1967 Yves Saint Laurent made history with the African Collection and the beautiful black women on the catwalk for the very first time. Erich was behind the scenes with his countless designs that let Yves Saint Laurent dare and shine with the textile designs for the dazzling mélange of beadwork, seashells, and natural grass pieces.
“Yves Saint Laurent was shy and our meetings were mind-readings, we never had a long conversation. Forget mood boards. The designs were created through our chemistry. A lot was given by the silhouette; the proportions and the movement defined the work.”
“Yves Saint Laurent didn’t care about trends – what mattered was individuality. As soon as something became successful you had the feeling that it was mediocre. It is average because everybody likes it. That’s not what you want.”
“The mindset that defines the barometer of success has since changed. Fashion was once a social issue where proportions and colors defined elite. In the 60s big Parisian houses wouldn’t design for the mass experience, what drove them was the great demand for quality, and the price was never an issue.”
Photo by Oliviero Toscani
Vogue Italia, July/August 1976, Yves Saint Laurent ‘Opéra Les Ballets Russes’ Haute Couture, 1976
“One of my most memorable designs I did for Yves Saint Laurent was the ‘Opéra Les Ballets Russes’, 1976.”
Hubert de Givenchy approached Erich asking him to work for him exclusively -their working relationship flourished for over three decades. Often Erich’s two kids would visit Hubert de Givenchy in his great Maison and he’d gift each with a perfume.
“Hubert’s first collection was in cotton, because he couldn’t afford anything else and he built it up, he cared what was done under the label.”
“What you mostly admired about Hubert was his punctuality. Never a minute late, he always kept his promise, a true gentleman.”
When asked about his favourite memory with Monsieur Givenchy, Erich reminisced about the summertime visiting Cap Ferrat, where Hubert had a holiday house: “We talked about the new Interior Collection and Fashion Collection, it was always a highlight. And when we went to Lyon to prepare for Balenciaga’s exhibition and sum up ideas at the textile museum, I found myself having lunch with the Duchess of Kent, a great friend of Hubert’s.”
In the mid 90s Erich took a different approach in fashion. After being hunted down by a head-hunter for the creative director’s position of Bally, Erich had a different commitment. The brand was suffering an identity crisis, their designs, packaging and logo were different in every country.
Carmen Dell’Orefice wearing Pierre Cardin
textile designed by Erich Biehle, shot by Avedon
On his first day at work, he was given a huge office that he sporadically used, if you’d be lucky to reach him on his mobile phone, he would be at a different Bally store worldwide, attacking the issue at its core, visiting productions and manufacturers. Within a short time he reached his goal; to create an international language for Bally. Within three years he cut 13 thousand shoe styles to almost a thousand (which he still believes is too much) and created the best sale results the company ever had.
Since midsummer 2014 he spends his time equally in Zurich and Georgia, US. In both places he still carries the need to create. This time when he looked for inspiration he found the young smiling child, who was once running the streets of Lucerne. This young boy was always complimented on his drawing and painting skills. He didn’t have to search far, he found everything he was looking for in himself.
„You may compare it to someone that you know who was a musician, and then he doesn’t play for many years and after all these years he would like to know, if he can get a tone out of it.“
“It was very important for me that I do something that I need. It is a challenge, being dissatisfied. Can I be happy with something, or not and try to make it better. It is a daily challenge and that it absorbs me, it gives me something meaningful to me.”
Text brought to you by Dimitria
Copyrighted material provided from Erich Biehle’s archive