An interview with founders Pierre Kaczmarek and Elena Motolla
words by Lindsey Okubo
The idea of youth is a fixture of the imagination that does not wrinkle with time. It is promised as it is temporary, living in the physical and emotional realms of our consciousness it hankers for expression and floats upon the exhales of beauty. In hindsight we remember it in bantam detail, a $20 allowance from our parents, breaking curfew, stealing from the wine cellar and of course, homework. But what happened after homework? What happened when the lights went out?
Pierre Kaczmarek and Elena Motolla don’t want to grow up. The power couple, ages 18 and 19, stepped onto the scene two years ago, debuting their brand, Afterhomework Paris, at Paris Fashion Week in 2016. The back-story: the year was 2014, Pierre was 16 and designing a few t-shirts for his friends from the innocence of his bedroom. After a dippy first kiss, the pair were able to combine their talents, Pierre’s artistry with Elena’s penchant for styling — spawning a creative revolution led by Paris’ own youth. Afterhomework is in its fourth season and features genderless silhouettes that transform and challenge our current understanding of the body and dressing. Gaining attention quickly from press all around the world, the only summons to contest the brand and its place in the world of couture came from the very place Pierre and Elena called home: Paris.
When I sat down to chat with the pair on a Thursday afternoon in April they were in their studio. Their French accents were thick and the wifi was spotty so an audio chat sufficed. They completed each other’s sentences often, with Elena translating English to French for Pierre.
Vocal intonations served as eye contact in this instance and my ear danced between the romance of their success and the conviction with which they spoke. The brand’s name is an accurate description of its work model, Pierre spoke casually about his upcoming exams at the end of theyear, he attends the Victor Hugo high-school and Elena is in fashion school at l’Atelier Chardon-Savard, learning the technical aspects of the craft. “It can be stressful but we like to do the two things at the same time. But even in school, I think about the brand, I think always about the brand but I have to study too so I make two,” said Pierre audibly leaning into the computer’s mic.
Yet while many might fault the duo for this work model, labeling them with the shake-your-head notion of being “young”, it provided them with a unique source of longevity. From studying the way clothes creased when his classmates fell asleep during a lecture, to observing emotion and movement on the Parisian streets, collection inspiration came organically and without the burn-out that so many in the industry face. It instead translated to feeling and an honest-to- god interpretation of their current life. “French youth is the biggest inspiration of the brand. Yes we are in the fashion industry but it’s important to not always be in this world, it’s not very good for creativity,” said Pierre. The pair is very aware that it is this difference in approach that sets them apart from the legacy brands that also call Paris home. Designing has become the art of living again as the originality of their quotidian experience plays its hand in the process. Afterhomework Paris knows where to find beauty in the mundane.
On the other hand, with Paris’ legacy comes with it a kind of misplaced inhibition of the city’s young creatives making collaboration a necessity. While it is easy to think of Afterhomework as a part of the rebellion against the system, Pierre and Elena disagree, calling it merely “la belle” and the spirit of the brand. “It’s hard in Paris because people, they don’t take the risk on you, they wait till you are famous. They wait till you have all the other people from all the other countries in your back-pocket, and then you can have Paris,” explained Elena. It is instead their friends who make Afterhomework a reality; they model the clothes, others like MMX Delta, do the music for their runway shows, and ultimately, they keep the duo grounded. It is this creation of community that lends it hands to success. In wanting to create something you must do it “with people who are already doing something,” said Elena. A unique fire is fueled, its flame burns with the unharnessed spirit of change as two worlds exist simultaneously in Paris in particular: the established and the underground.
The underground to which Afterhomework belongs seeks to bring freshness versus destruction to what they know to be a “conventional” system. Young talent should be allowed to spread its wings in familiar skies instead of having to migrate across France’s border to believe in their own dreams. Pierre describes this generation of French youth to be “very creative” but admits that they are “not supported” by those who are established, making the prospect of pursuing a career in the arts easy to walk away from. Luckily for Paris however, Afterhomework doesn’t see itself relocating to foreign shores. After all, they are now supported by the French Federation of Couture. “It’s my city, I’m born there and Elena too. If we show in New York or London, it’s fake and I don’t like fake stories. All of the energy of the brand, all of the contributors of the brand, are in Paris. We don’t have another story in another city. I know it’s difficult but it’s our story, we can’t change that. We want to try to give a contribution to the prestigious role of fashion in Paris,” said Pierre.
Theirs was a steep ascension into the glossy realm of success, not only as young people on an arduous road, but as a young couple that staggered not, in the name of love. The genuineness of their relationship extends outwards to embrace not only each other, but many concepts that the fashion industry is now hurriedly grasping to implement. The Afterhomework design process does not stutter in the face of sexuality or gender, Pierre does not sketch with gender in mind but only with the artfulness of his creation. Putting a male in a skirt is “natural” to a generation they are proud to be a part of because it is open. “It’s the present, not the future of fashion, it’s the present, at least for us. Youth is freedom, youth is novelty, having a strong youth is an asset for every society,” said the pair via email. There again is hope for the future of fashion, it flickers in the eyes of those who bloom.