Louis Gabriel Nouchi
Redefining masculine sensuality
“I see LGN as a platform for debating and challenging social conventions“
Walking through the doors of 4 rue Oberkampf means entering the meticulous world of Louis-Gabriel Nouchi, for the boutique embodies the very essence of his brand: a passion for literature, quality clothing and, above all, everything that represents masculinity. Rigorous, talented, visionary and a perfectionist, it is hard to remain indifferent to Nouchi’s work. The French designer, who trained at La Cambre, runs his eponymous label with a firm hand, creating fashion by and for men. LGN is both a platform for debate and a safe space, where Nouchi’s views on our society, conventions, habits and customs are translated into impeccably tailored garments. Moreover, Nouchi takes a distinct and often overlooked lens, that of sensuality, which distinguishes his contribution to the contemporary reinvention of masculinity
While the fashion industry is flooded with the steady emergence of new labels every season, few of them offer something truly innovative. Being successful in fashion requires a thorough understanding of all the technical aspects involved, but the key to excelling in it lies in providing a solution for a lack that no one had identified until the solution itself pointed it out. In LGN’s case, this need was that of a masculine visual space that embraced sensuality – a space for seducing and being seduced, where both notions coexist without falling into amalgamation or stereotyping. It comes as no surprise that Louis-Gabriel Nouchi is the winner of the 2023 edition of the ANDAM Prize, and his name is whispered all over the fashion scene… A meeting awaits.
Who are you?
My name is Louis-Gabriel Nouchi, I am 35, French, and I have always known that I wanted to work in fashion. Lacking a clear entryway, however, this world seemed unattainable to me… So I started by studying medicine for two years, then obtained a bachelor in law. Something completely unrelated! But fashion eventually caught up with me, and after an internship at Vogue during Carine Roitfeld’s time, I joined La Cambre in Belgium.
What do you retain from your years at La Cambre, one of Europe’s leading fashion schools?
The school is highly demanding and it requires a lot of work, as it offers a well-rounded programme covering all aspects involved in the creation of a brand: students are in charge of funding their graduation fashion show, finding sponsors and models included. Over these 5 years, our collections got developed and more precise in terms of looks, and now that I have my own brand, I realize just how formative this work has been. We learnt all the steps in the process of transforming an idea into a garment, thanks to a Belgian-style teaching method, which means rigour and a jack-of-all-trades approach.
Does this Belgian mentality still influence your work today?
Yes, absolutely. Although I’m often referred to as a French designer, the truth is that I was taught by Belgians and Italians, which deeply shaped my approach to design and the creative process in the broadest sense. As a matter of fact, it was this very same approach that allowed me to work in prestigious houses like Raf Simons, where I did pure “tailoring”.
You’re one of the few people who had the chance to participate in the Hyères Festival before you finished your studies, what did it mean to you?
I took part in the festival right when Lætitia Jacquetton, then head of brands at Galeries Lafayette, introduced the idea of collaborating with the finalists. She’s an extraordinary person, just like the many women who have accompanied me throughout my career. I could mention, to name but a few examples, Pauline Duval, my brand partner, or Clarisse Reille, President of Défi. Perhaps there is a recurrent pattern in there: I’m helped by women! In any case, what the festival gave me was, first and foremost, this meeting, and the opportunity to work on such an important project even before I had my degree.
Do you think it is necessary to embody your brand on Instagram?
Instagram is an astounding tool, especially when you have your own boutique. It functions as a storefront, a catalogue, and a way for the public to delve into the brand’s essence. That said, I have chosen not to display my face too much on social media.
It’s quite a natural choice, I don’t like being in the spotlight too much, and I feel like the brand is already personal enough as it carries my name. You don’t want to steal the spotlight from the clothes.
LGN collections are born out of your passion for literature, can you talk about this source of inspiration?
Each collection is based on a book, so the creative process is like constructing a library around a single character, a hero or an anti-hero. I have always had this creative process, which is highly instinctive and makes the label something of a therapy. I like menswear because it is subject to many constraints, not only in societal terms but also in terms of price, colours and materials.
This is precisely what makes it particularly interesting…
I’ve always done menswear because I think there’s still a lot to do. While women’s wardrobes are full of offerings, men’s wardrobes are quite limited. From a technical point of view, the design process is also simpler, because I can try on the pieces myself. In fact, the whole team tries them on, women, men, young and old, which explains the diversity of the brand’s cast.
How does literature play a part in this creative and reflective process?
It’s important to stress that literature is not just a decorative element. That’s the principle of the Belgian school: nothing is done without a purpose or intention. The whole team reads the book and then we use the context, the story, the writer and even the reception of the work to build the collection. That’s why we work with pieces that open up for debate on relevant topics, whether the book is contemporary or not.
Your show in January 2022 explored masculinity through the lens of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho and received a great deal of media coverage.
We’ve been working around the theme of masculinity for 3 or 4 seasons, and with that collection in particular we really hit the nail on the head with something interesting. It had a big impact and I think it was a real turning point for the brand and the way we position ourselves. Nevertheless, I also think that SS21 was what really got LGN off the ground. It was our very first fashion week and we had to do a video instead of a physical show. We had no more fabric, nothing left. This unusual context pushed us to think about the essence of the brand, which is composed of three things: books, people and clothes. As simple as that.
The issue of masculine inclusivity is still not properly addressed in Parisian fashion…
I think we are the only ones addressing it as such in Paris, which is something I’m quite proud of. We are inclusive at every level: in terms of age, skin colour, body type, anonymity or celebrity of the models who walk the catwalk – who are, in fact, clients of the brand. This heterogeneous character ends up creating a very coherent whole.
The quality of your textiles is part of the brand’s DNA. Can you tell us about the creative process in terms of fabrics?
I work differently depending on the feeling that I want a piece to have. For instance, marbled pieces are made in a variety of techniques, including lace, jacquard and print. I like to transpose the motifs from one technique into another one and our fabrics are all developed in-house so they are as personal as possible. Since the opening of our boutique on rue Oberkampf, the quality of textiles has gained even more importance. LGN is about touch, physicality, and change. Most of our fabrics are sourced in France and our supply chain is in Europe. Sometimes it’s hard to see from the outside, but what you see on a catwalk as a “simple” white T-shirt over jeans is actually the product of many people’s work. That’s the beauty of fashion, it’s a network where people with different skills converge.
Following this inclusivity maxim, sometimes you present the same silhouettes worn by different men on the catwalk. Why do you make this choice?
What fascinates me the most, is the social dimension of clothing. Let me explain what I mean by that: you can endlessly rework a look – a white T-shirt over a pair of jeans, for instance – by investing it with different social connotations each time. Why is it worn, and how? Therefore, it does happen that several men wear the same look on a catwalk. The look is different depending on the person who models it. We get a lot of requests in this area, and customers are increasingly well-informed. The same applies to pricing, we look for the right balance to create a beneficial circle, particularly in terms of traceability.
Do you receive a lot of inquiries about the eco-responsibility and traceability of your pieces?
It all depends on the customer and the market. Americans don’t talk about it much, for example. We try to keep our feet on the ground, but there are many factors to take into account when it comes to analysing a brand’s carbon footprint. For instance, the materials used, such as cotton, which is natural yet requires an enormous amount of water for its production. We manage to be a zero-waste label by estimating our sales quantities and producing timeless pieces that sell both in summer and winter. It’s all about working nimbly, without big logos and using the brand’s simple signature: a neckline that reveals the skin.
This signature neckline speaks for your interpretation of masculine decorum.
I love this soft revolution that recalls literature. For me, my reading moments are as intimate as a garment, it provides both comfort and a place of escape. You can read the same book at different times in your life and experience a completely different reading each time. The same goes for a piece of clothing, you can style it differently, while still sending a conscious message about yourself.
Is accepting this “masculine sensuality” the essence of LGN?
Sensuality, not sexuality, yes. While it’s easy to talk about sex, the notion of sensuality is harder to tackle. The subject hasn’t been explored enough due to social conventions that often lead to stereotyping. I see LGN as a platform for discussing and challenging these conventions: it’s an invitation for debate that starts from the book chosen for the collection. It’s also an invitation to feel and experience emotions through the clothing itself and reinterpret our own realities. The important thing is to avoid being aggressive so that genuine dialogue can take place, think of it as a safe space.
How did you incorporate underwear into LGN’s wardrobe?
It started out as an answer to a need, but it quickly became an it-product. It’s a very intimate way of getting to know the brand, through a product that is accessible, universal, and builds loyalty. Underwear belongs to a whole different world, it’s a bit like leather goods, highly technical. Since it is such an intimate piece, it has to be perfect. This particular garment also made me think a lot about the tone that I wanted to set for the label: what are we trying to say when we put a naked body and undergarments onstage? Should we make it very commercial or very niche? With the Tank-Top/underpants look we presented, we examined once again male sensuality by exposing skin.
You mentioned that you were taught at a Belgian school. How do you perceive the French system in comparison?
Well, that’s precisely what I don’t know! What I can tell you, however, is that the Belgian mentality is very radical in terms of creation. It is a genuine artistic lab and everything I built and developed there is reflected in what I do today. The Belgian school teaches us to be rigorous while knowing how to take a step back: fashion doesn’t save the world, quite the opposite.
Can we tackle any subject through fashion?
In my opinion, we need to be intellectually honest about one thing: a fashion show is, first and foremost, about selling. A label doesn’t function like an art gallery because clothes have a concrete function. It’s great to be able to convey emotions through the pieces, but I don’t want to be required to create a whole discourse around them so I can sell them.
Do we need a set of tools to understand fashion as is the case for art?
I don’t think these are the same frames of reference. Do I consider myself an artist? I don’t know. What I’m sure about, however, is that I don’t like to put things into boxes. Can we really compare a photographer and a painter? How should we talk about dance, writing, or journalism? What I can conclude is that what is particularly interesting about clothing is the constant change. The process of adaptation that comes with living in this world is an integral part of the discipline.
Interview by Pauline Marie Malier
Photos: Jean Picon
Translation: Cristina López Caballer