Tilmann Grawe Design


His name might not be on everyone’s lips, but his innovative designs are on several celebrity heads and bodies. Tilmann Grawe is a German-born Parisian designer who is attracting new fans with his inventive couture and accessories as he celebrates 25 years in the fashion business, including seven with Paco Rabanne.

Stars such as American singer Lady Gaga and Indian actress Aishwaryra Rai have worn his designs, but this is not something that Grawe dwells upon. As a designer, he’s focused on his art and also involved in social causes.

He has been a long-time participant in UNICEF’s Frimousses de Créateurs (Designers’ Dolls) venture, for instance, contributing to a project that raises funds through the selling of designer dolls in order to provide vaccines for the children of Darfur in Sudan.

„This project is very important to me,” Grawe says. “The money raised helps to save children’s lives and that’s the reason we’re all involved.”

This past year has seen Grawe doing magazine shoots in Azerbaijan (a country not without certain problems), and he’s getting ready to launch a project that he’s keeping private for now. But it’s also been a time of reflection on his quarter-century as a designer, working with icons such as Rabanne and others.

Grawe began presenting his own clothing and accessory collections in 1989. He says he has always known that he wanted to be a designer, as he grew up watching his grandfather work as a tailor. But when he eventually did a sewing workshop as a teenager, he realized that he “liked fashion, but not for men”.

“I found that tailoring for men was annoying because the colours were always dark blue, grey or black,” he told Tasshon. “Light blue was the most exciting you could get. You couldn’t let your imagine go wild which is what I wanted to do.”

He pursued an apprenticeship in Frankfurt and, after two years of study in Germany, he became conscious of the fact that he needed to leave his homeland to pursue his dreams.

“Frankfurt is a banker’s city, and while there is money there, it doesn’t mean that’s the best place for fashion,” he says. So he moved to Paris with his parents‘ financial assistance, and attended classes at the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in the French capital.

At the time, he was very “oriented towards haute couture,” he recalls. “I thought I would just do one dress a year, handmade from A to Z.” But business and economics would “intervene” to change his goals. While he was completing his studies, he was hired by Louis Féraud Haute Couture, and learned the first tough lessons of the industry.

“The attitude then was that you work but you don’t ask for money,” Grawe says. “That was just how it was.” He spent a year at Louis Féraud and saw one of his sketches turned into an haute-couture dress, which the design house gave to him when he left to embark on full-time designing rather than toiling in the workshop.

A few years later, in 1992, Grawe got his big break when a colleague recommended that he contact legendary Spanish-born designer Paco Rabanne and he landed a personal interview with the couturier after sending him a letter. Rabanne, whose outlandish designs had gained him a huge following in Paris, was interested in Grawe’s experiments with metal, crystals and other materials.

“At this time to be honest, I didn’t want to go back into a fashion house because I didn’t like the aggressive atmosphere,” Grawe says. “But working with Paco Rabanne was wonderful because he gave me so much freedom. For every collection, I had my own part, doing showpieces.

“Paco Rabanne was never afraid of being different,” Grawe says of the 80-year-old designer who incidentally was erroneously reported to have died this month. “Most people are afraid of what their neighbours will say, and when you start thinking like that, you’re cutting your genius down because you don’t take risks. He always did things that made him stand out.”

After a very fruitful seven-year collaboration, Grawe stepped out on his own when Rabanne’s haute-couture line ended. In 2000 Grawe presented his first luxury ready-to-wear collection at the landmark Bristol Hotel in Paris, and the show was hailed as a resounding success. Among those drawn to select a dress was actress Rai, who chose a creation that combined pink chiffon, crystals and Plexiglas that she wore to the Cannes Film Festival.

Since then, Grawe has travelled the world, showing his collections that range from headgear to footwear, and expanding his clientele. One experience that remains close to his heart is his association with Eunice Johnson, co-founder of the Johnson Publishing Company and of the renowned magazine Ebony. Johnson also produced and directed Ebony Fashion Fair, where she raised funds for charities, and Grawe was among her favourite designers.

“She was an amazing person,” Grawe says of Johnson, who died in 2010. The entrepreneur worked to promote models of African origin, and Rabanne and Grawe have always included such models in their shows, unlike some other stylists.

“Human beauty comes in diverse forms and this has always been my vision,” Grawe says. “I don’t understand designers who use only one type of models.”

Regarding his participation in social initiatives, such as UNICEF’s designer-doll programme, Grawe sees this as being part of his future over the next 25 years.

“Whether you’re a designer or a doctor, you always have to give something back,” he told Tasshon.


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