California Seaming: an interview with Bernhard Willhelm

Bernhard Willhelm. Photography by Bryan Sheffield.
Bernhard Willhelm. Photography by Bryan Sheffield.

Following a brush with death, German fashion iconoclast Bernhard Willhelm relocated to California to take stock while preparing for his forthcoming exhibition at LA’s MOCA institute. So after years of relentless hard work and provocation, is the German designer stepping down a gear? We picked the highlights from our interview with Willhelm, originally printed in Sleek 45: Silent Spring

On moving to Los Angeles

Every 10 years I get antsy. So, I said, ‘L.A.’ Why? It’s probably because, for me, America is a very exotic place, and, I was thinking of ‘California dreaming.’ That’s why I called the company ‘California Creaming,’ so let’s make some cream.

On consumerism

I think it’s good to make a consumer profile from each century. A consumer profile is a bit like a catalogue from a museum. It moves between people’s tastes, emotions, whatever people spend money on. It’s the same with art.

What I also want to show in my presentation at the MOCA is that eventually choices become more conservative, and I found that, as a freethinking person, very scary. People are giving away privileges that their parents fought for, without even caring about whatever it could be.

Bernhard Willhelm. Photography by Bryan Sheffield.
Bernhard Willhelm. Photography by Bryan Sheffield.

On normcore

Obviously, people like to conform instead of being a unicorn. After Jean Paul Gaultier being super eccentric and Thierry Mugler, and McQueen showing the most extravagant, expensive shows, there was a movement which said, we want to be completely normal. The boy next door.  The thing is, people are hiding behind the internet at home, but not necessarily wearing something nice. They feel best in sweatpants.

On fashion and sex

What people cannot eliminate from their lives is that fashion has to also do with sexual attraction, and I’m an expert at that. So, people are coming to me—even porn stars: ‘How do I put that cock ring with that outfit?’ And I love to show them how to do it. It’s one of the pleasures when you’re a fashion designer.

Bernhard Willhelm. Photography by Bryan Sheffield.
Bernhard Willhelm. Photography by Bryan Sheffield.

On ageing

How do fashion people get old? Some get crazy, some kill themselves, some do plastic surgery.

On health

The biggest change I tried to achieve when I came to L.A. was to work less. That’s a very big achievement when you have been working day and night for the last 15 years. I got a tumor, a bad one. It was a strange thing to happen. It’s really worth re-thinking how you want to live, and I realised that stress is your mind’s and body’s biggest enemy. Now, at 42, I can actually feel that my body is aging, California is perfect for me. It could, in the best case, be a little anti-age cure – to be in a better surrounding with good food, and to have my little hike in the morning.

Interview by Maxwell Williams 

“Bernhard Willhelm 3000: When Fashion Shows the Danger Then Fashion Is the Danger” is on view at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles until May 17, 2015

Read the full interview in Sleek 45

More: read our 2011 interview with Willhelm

More: it’s all fun and games at Centre Pompidou’s Nouveau Festival 



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