Interview with Alexander Noshpal, fashion designer and costume designer: Paris was the decisive and most significant moment in my life and that's why I'm coming back to it again

Photo: Dejan Jolev/Stefan Walzl

Alexander Noshpal for three decades he has been safely and successfully walking in the world of fashion, but increasingly also in costume design. Last week he celebrated his 50th birthday, an occasion to ask him to draw and highlight the turning points in his life, as well as his plans for the future.

Photo: Private archive

First of all, I congratulate you on your 50th birthday and with the congratulation I am enclosing a question: at the end of the first half, do you need to draw a line and summarize what you have achieved in life?

- Thanks for the congratulations. I hope that the second half will not end in a draw, so that we have to wait for the resolution of the match with penalties (laughs).
One needs to take stock of one's professional and private life from time to time. But it mostly happens with me when I have free time. The last three years have been one such period: a period of a new recapitulation of life, events and affairs; of what was achieved, but also of what was missed; of the past, present and future. And I can freely say that hardly anyone can boast of such a full, turbulent, dynamic and eclectic history in every segment and in every field. In short, many events, many trips, many changes of geographical landmarks, change of many professions, of course all in my field of activity. There are even periods when I think it happened to another person and another person, and I was just a silent observer. Many underlined features, many new beginnings, many successes, but also disappointments... All this is the beauty of life, of experience, of years and of what I am today as Aleksandar Noshpal.

The first fashion show with its own collection

Your CV is long and rich with successes, but still, which are the most important to you, what were the turning points?

- There are many... What characterizes me is precisely the restless spirit, the desire for adventure and change, new unknown challenges - especially in the profession. I simply do not like monotony, I am horrified by the existentialist principle of a stable, uniform and reliable life, which seems very interesting and fun, but of course brings great oscillations, waves, winds and unknown outcomes. In short: first of all, it is my departure to Paris for studies in the distant 1992 (and all the things that that city brought me, especially in the field of high fashion); then the return and the opening of my atelier; my first costume design and scenography for "Beauty and the Beast" at the Theater for Children and Youth in 1998; the four Eurovision experiences: 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2019; my departure to England for postgraduate studies as a Chevening Scholar in 2007; the deaths of my parents in 2008 and 2011; my professorship and dean engagement from 2008 to 2015 at three universities; the first international theater experience in 2013 in Rijeka with Ronald Savkovic; costume work for The Nutcracker and Swan Lake in Leipzig in 2016 and 2018; the work on the play "Silentium" in 2020 at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow with Martin Shakes; and the latest one at the moment that I think will leave (and already does) a big mark is my work on the costumes at the Opéra Garnier in Paris, again with Martin Shacks not the ballet "Mother Goose", which will take place this year in the month of April. It would be ungrateful to end here because big turning points are of course all the new experiences with all the directors and choreographers I have worked with, and there are many of them, among which I would mention my dear Sinisha Evtimov, Jean Philippe Dury, Igor Kirov, Sasha Evtimova and others; each of them in their own authentic way has greatly influenced my work and my integrity as an author.

Caligula St Gallen Switzerland

Paris. How did it nestle in your heart? What did the student and first working years there mean to you then, and what today?

– I think that I was born with Paris, that it is part of my DNA, just like the genetic predispositions of my family. However, the most "guilty" for the "nesting" of Paris in my life is my mother Katarina, who from every trip there during the 80's always brought me magazines - Vogue, Official, Marie Claire, Elle - and thus tirelessly it fed my already developed hunger for high fashion. And I didn't give up: in the time of transition and great political turmoil during my adulthood, in a country that was falling apart, I received the biggest premium from my parents, otherwise people with modest means, but hardworking and willing to sacrifice for to make my dream come true. Here I would also mention my father Veselin, who went to work in Ukraine, to enable my dream to come true.
Of course, those years shaped me as an adult, and I often say that it was my student days in Paris that shaped me into the person I am today: they were crucial to finding this Noshpal that you know today. I think that was the decisive and most significant moment in my life: here happened what I subconsciously desired, and with my great dedication, love and diligence it was realized - entering the waters of high fashion. But besides all that, there are also many emotional, personal moments, which are still in my memories to this day: many parties, friends and love experiences.
Today, Paris for me is still the city that has a special place in my heart. Frequent trips always benefit me and fill my soul. However, I have to admit that with this experience and after a life path like mine, today is not the city where I would like to live... Today it is like an old love with whom I have remained in excellent friendly relations, and with whom of course constantly I am happy to communicate, but I certainly would not return to her arms. (laughs). Of course, this does not apply to professional communication with this city.

You will soon be returning to Paris, and at the big door, at the Opéra Garnier. I guess you are excited. What further avenues can this cooperation open for you?

- It is no coincidence that this engagement happens exactly 30 years after my graduation in Paris in the field of fashion design - specialization Haute Couture. This is exactly why the excitement is great, especially since during that period I also trained for a short period in this temple of ballet and opera art. Of course I am not indifferent: on the contrary. I am excited and emotionally touched by that whole atmosphere. Tears of joy came to me from the first moment when I entered the workshops for the first time a few months ago: from the smell of the old wooden floors, from the moment that I return as a person who offers his design in the same place where someone else had realized it before. I have no words to describe the atmosphere and emotion: it will forever remain only mine. And what can happen next, I don't know and I don't even need to expect. This is already enough, because this was one of my big dreams. Everything is welcome from here on out.

Photo: Private archive

How did the invitation come about and what project will you work on there?

– The invitation came from my collaborator, dear friend and great artist, the choreographer Martin Sheks, who also entrusted me with the responsibility of making the costumes at the Bolshoi Theater in 2020. By the way, Martin is a student of the Ballet School of the National Opera in Paris, and worked for several years as a member of the ensemble of the National Ballet in Paris. Now, after his retirement from the ballet profession, he is actively and very successfully engaged in choreography, and is slowly but surely conquering the big ballet stages around the world. It is for this reason that he was called, as a former student of this prestigious school, by Mrs. Elizabeth Pletel, the director of this renowned school, to create a part of the students' final performance. The evening consists of three parts, one of which is this play, "Mother Goose" by Maurice Ravel, inspired by the stories of Charles Perrault. By the way, I must mention that for about 10 years there has not been a play as a new production specially for this event, which is traditionally held every year in April, which is a special honor for both of us, together with the scenographer Kamij Diga, as an author team. I will leave the concept and inspiration for the visual part of the project for another time after the premiere.

However, before that, the premiere in Germany awaits you this weekend. On what project and in which theater?

- I am currently in Oldenburg, where the premiere of the ballet project "Hammer" choreographed by Martin will be released on January 28. This project is part of the ballet triptych "Energy Emotions", in the city theater of Oldenburg, which has its own opera, drama and a small but excellent ballet ensemble. It is an abstract neoclassical choreography, which is inspired by the current complex situation in the world and the oppression of the stronger towards the weaker. The show is a tribute to perfection and tranquility, the balance that needs to be found precisely for the flawless and wise functioning of this planet in every sense.

The Hammer Ballet in Oldenburg
Photo: Stefan Walzl

You started out as a fashion designer, but now you seem to be turning more towards costume design. How do you balance?

- At the moment there is no need to balance because I am simply completely dedicated to costume design. I believe that the world of fashion has already become banal, as is fashion itself, and consumers themselves. What interested me in fashion is the art, the craft and the commitment to the profession, called haute couture, which unfortunately does not exist today. What we see today is a hybrid of instant gratification of the excessive consumer drive, followed by the aggression of social networks and media, which do not deal with or even reflect the real quality - and they neither look for it nor are they interested in it. Costume design, especially in opera and ballet, is something closest to haute couture, which interests me. Different, but also similar in many elements.

You have a particular affinity for ballet costume design, for which costume designers are rare in the world. What exactly is so magical about ballet?

– Of course, the balance between clothing and the body in motion, clothing as a function of movement, and mostly the technical and aesthetic forms that can be achieved in the performance of clothing, while not hindering the body from creating art through movement. Being a ballet costume designer is a difficult, rare, but extremely unique profession, and it requires great knowledge not only from a design aspect but also from a technological one. Unfortunately, today's designers do not and do not want to deal with the technological process of realization of clothing and costume; as if they were saying that clothing design still comes from tailoring. That's why good designers such as the great Balenciaga, McQueen, Dior, Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, etc. are rare today. All these, in addition to being giants and geniuses in their profession, were also great patrons of ballet and theater arts.

How does the process of thinking and working on a play that you are working on for the first time go? I guess you have to work out the work itself first, the characters, the actors...

- It all depends on what type of play it is - opera, drama, ballet, and what kind of approach to the work it is. Each author and holder of the project (director, choreographer, composer) has his own vision or builds it over the years. Some of them are already creating their own recognizable stamp with their creative team of costume designer, scenographer and lighting designer. If it is a drama, of course there is a text and a playwright, who give the direction together with the director in the analysis of the setting and the characters. In the ballet, the idea is given by the choreographer who assumes the role of the director, while in the opera the director appears again, but he is of course in close correlation with either the conductor or the composer, if it is a premiere of a work. According to their direction, ideas and conceptual sketches are elaborated, and then the realization is approached. The process is long, painstaking and can sometimes last about a year, from the conception of the idea to the final realization. We, the costume designers, together with the scenographers must of course start much earlier, especially in large productions, which require complex logistical and technological preparation and implementation.

He was a professor and dean of three universities. What experience and satisfaction did you find in the educational work and do you plan to return to it?

– I have never given up this profession (laughs). I consider this to be my greatest mission in life: to pass on knowledge and experience to future generations. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more difficult, because the new generations have a wrong idea about this profession, and they think that it is a very easy and fast process, precisely because of the social media that imposed the influence on people and society. Today, every influencer and every single person who has a slightly more interesting taste in clothing is called a designer. But this profession is still very complex, it requires a lot of sacrifice and constant upgrading and experimentation, a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of skill... and yes, a lot of talent and built work habits.

I will never give up presenting to young people the complexity and seriousness of this profession, with all my experience. That is why I am currently teaching at the Academy of Fashion Design at "Jolev and the Arts", which offers a one-year informal education in several areas of design to those who need further training or who for various reasons in life have not had the opportunity to study what they want. and they had great desire and potential. I hope to one day return to the academic waters of formal education, but when the right opportunity and the right time comes...

Photo: Private archive

Paris, London, Moscow, Dusseldorf, Leipzig, St. Gallen, Split, Rijeka... you are constantly on the go. A world opera singer, when asked where his home actually is, answered: "where my suitcases are." Does the same apply to you?

- Hahaha. No, my home is still home, in Skopje, with my closest friends and family, in the apartment that I kept from my parents, although I also bought my own. It is the place to which I keep returning impatiently, it is my corner where I have my creative, emotional and spiritual peace... where I am both an adult and a child, an ordinary person and an artist. When asked where my home is, I will answer: home is where my closest friends are, because true and sincere friends are rare, and they are the family of the 21st century.


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