FASHION HOMO FROM GERMANY GREW UP NAKED AND MAKES CLOTHES IN PARIS

Interview by Jop van Bennekom

Lutz has been a familiar face to me for at least ten or twelve years. But I never knew who he really was, this guy that kept appearing as a model, and more often as a best friend, in lots of Wolfgang Tillmans’ pictures — until I met him a couple of years ago when he was starting up a fashion label under his own name in Paris. Last spring I sat down with Lutz Huelle, that’s his full name, in his spacious Paris apartment and office on the fancy Rue de Rivoli. We talked for hours and hours, and after sifting through the original 24,000-word transcript, this is what remained.

Jop: My idea is to start the interview pretending that I don’t know anything about you. As if I didn’t do any research — like the way you meet someone in a club or a bar. So, who are you?
Lutz: Yeah, that’s a tough question.
I don’t mean it in a philosophical sense.
Well, I’m Lutz.
And then I would ask you, ‘What do you do for a living?’
I design clothes.
What kind of clothes?
Umm… women’s clothes. It sounds stupid.
Where are you from?
I live in Paris. And you’re from Amsterdam, right?
Yeah, have you ever been?
Yes, I have such brilliant memories of it. I went clubbing there when I was really young, like 1988.
Acid house time.
Exactly, I went to an i-D Magazine party in Amsterdam. I was living in Hamburg at that time and there had been an i-D party in Hamburg two months before. And when I heard that there was going to be one in Amsterdam I said, ‘Oh I’ve got to go! I’ve got to go!’
The i-D party tour at the end of the 80s is kind of legendary, no?
It is.
How old were you then? You’re like 35 now?
I’m 37. I think around that time I was probably 21 or 22. I’d just moved to Hamburg.
Where did you grow up?
I’m from a small town in Germany called Remscheid, near Cologne. There wasn’t anywhere to go. So when I arrived in Hamburg I started going out all the time. There was this brilliant club called Front, they played house music and that was so new, so exciting. The atmosphere was really positive — getting together, taking drugs, dancing… there was this incredible energy. Almost explosive.
The funny thing with the house movement was that it took about four or five years to become massive in Europe.
Right! You thought it disappeared somehow and then all of a sudden you had these huge raves. Like in 1992 or 1993. They’re still there today.
Where?
Well in Germany they still have raves. And there’s the Love Parade in Berlin.
Ugh, I hate that. Do you still go out?
Not really. The gay scene bores me, it’s so same-ish. Especially in Paris, because it’s just all these queens, I can’t bear it. It has never been as awful as it is right now. It’s weird, because this morning I was thinking about how, like fifteen years ago, I always assumed that every gay person was interesting. I thought that they’d all have something to say. Did you have that when you were young?
No.
Do you think the gay scene has changed in the last ten years?
I don’t know. Sometimes you don’t know if things change because you’re getting older or if things change in general. They both do, I suppose.
I remember going to a gay club for the first time. In Brighton, actually, in England. I was on a language course. I went there with Wolfgang, who was staying with friends of his parents in London. He came down and we went to this place called Manhattan.
Tacky?
Yeah, but I didn’t realize it was tacky at the time, it was just ‘Wow!’ It was all men in there. We walked in and we were like ‘This is so amazing.’ I was so naïve.
How old were you?
I think I was sixteen.
Sixteen. And you were already a raving homosexual?
No, you know what we were? We were raving Culture Club fans. Kind of artificial homosexuals, but we didn’t know that at the time. Wolfgang was always saying that we might be bisexual. What we really wanted to do was dress up. It wasn’t about being gay, for us, it was about being trendy. That was the 80s, the 80s really felt like that.
Were you imitating New Romantics?
No we were trying to be New Romantics. That was the fashion. In 1983 that was the trendiest thing for us. I always think we were really lucky to be fifteen or sixteen at exactly the moment that this kind of gender mixture was trendy. It was the same time that we actually wondered about our own gender and sexuality. We went to England quite often, and as soon as the train would leave the station in Cologne, we’d take out weird hats and things and spend the whole trip dressing up. Basically if you’d look at it now, we were just two raving queens screaming around the train.
And maybe bisexual?
In the beginning we were kind of bisexual, and then we would talk in percentages, ‘We might be 80% gay and 20% heterosexual…’
Were you both like maybe-bisexual, maybe-gay virgins at the age of sixteen?
Absolutely. I even didn’t realize that gay clubs existed. Later on in Germany I found out that the nearest gay club was in Wuppertal, which is close to Remscheid. But I’ve never been there, I think. Oh, well, maybe once…
The name ‘Wuppertal’ sounds funny to me, almost campy.
But it isn’t. It’s very industrial. Anyway, I have very fond memories of England and going to gay clubs for the first time. It’s weird because you don’t know what gays are like unless you see loads of them. Maybe one of the reasons why I’ve always had this huge love affair with England is that I’ve had great clubbing experiences there. I’ve always loved the English and I still do.
I love London. It’s a very mental place, very witty.
It’s really exciting.
It’s exciting because people want to be exciting. So different from Paris. When did you move here?
Like eight years ago. Before that I lived in London. I came to Paris because I was offered a job at Margiela, so I finished college in London and stayed for the summer. In September I moved to Paris.
How do you and the French get along?
I have to say that there’s loads of really really nice people. Everyday life is easy and nice, whereas it can be really tough in London. It’s just a beautiful place, Paris. What I don’t like about it is that it’s extremely snooty. Everybody sees themselves in this social hierarchy. I don’t find Paris to be very straightforward. It’s not cool. Maybe that’s the best way to describe it. Paris is not cool. But then again, for what I’m doing, Paris is probably the best place. As a fashion designer, I’ve felt really welcome in Paris. That’s rather positive, no?
I’m always amazed about the fashion scene. First, that it’s so small, like extremely small, and also that it can be really open to so many people. I didn’t expect that.
In Paris, people are really curious when it comes to fashion. They take you seriously as well. In London they don’t. It’s either things like Burberry, Paul Smith, these commercial and traditional brands, or it’s this really extreme London-y fashion, but that’s never been taken seriously as something that could actually make sense.
What’s happening right now in Paris? A few years ago there were so many emerging designers, from all these different countries. Some have survived, but most of them are gone, or am I wrong?
I don’t know. The thing is, just from a business point of view, it’s really really hard. You have such a short time span from being new and doing the things that you really want to do, to actually being a real business and selling straight away. It’s like you have to have something that fits into loads of different categories, but that also has to be really specific.
I don’t want to go into all the fashion logistics, but in three words, how do you do it?
I do freelance work.
That’s four words.
I have to live off something.
I suppose you’re freelancing on the side for like a commercial company? Something Italian? Something leather?
No, it’s not leather, but it is Italian. It’s commercial work, but I don’t have any problems with that. I like it — I love clothes. I’ve always had a kind of fetishist relationship with commercial clothes. Adidas shorts are commercial as well, but I love them.
Do you pay a lot of attention to the way you dress?
It’s weird. The more I work in fashion, the less I care about my own clothes. I wear the same all the time. Once I find something that I like, I just go on and on wearing it. Now it’s more about a certain kind of collar on a t-shirt, or a certain kind of jersey that I like. It’s the really specific things that I look for. The nice thing about clothes is that you actually don’t need to pay attention at all. I can only speak for myself, but I never find it sexy when you actually feel that people have been in front of the mirror and really constructed their look. It’s so much more sexy if it’s just natural. I love it when people are putting things on, looking completely relaxed and unselfconscious, but at the same time sharp.
Is that what you try to achieve with your clothes?
Yeah. And then there’s this thing that as soon as something is obvious, as soon as something is supposed to be a certain way,
I don’t want it anymore. Also, I have this thing with femininity and masculinity. I’ve never felt masculine in any way, but I don’t feel feminine either. There’s a whole spectrum between masculinity and femininity.
I just don’t want to believe femininity is strictly defined, but fashion in general always wants us to believe that femininity goes from there to there. I design clothes with that idea in mind. This gender issue has always been such a big thing in my life. You know, not feeling part of something and not wanting to restrict myself to how I should be, or how other people perceive me. I suppose when it comes down to it, when you’re sixteen and you sort of realize you don’t fit in, you have to ask yourself questions.
Talking about masculinity, femininity and categories… You’re German, and what always strikes me in Germany is that women look extremely manly, in a rather lesbian manner actually.
I mean, that might be a reason as well! (laughs) Part of German culture is that sexuality is something fairly normal. There isn’t that big of a difference between men and women.
Does it have something to do with the German Freikörper Kultur?
Maybe. When I was a child I was always running around the house naked. I’ve always seen my parents naked, and on holiday we always went to nude beaches. It was completely normal and natural. And I’ve grown up with that. Like sexuality has never been something shocking. Okay, being gay could be shocking at some point, because it was something you didn’t know, because it was something else. Sexuality itself wasn’t shocking. And that has always come through in the things that I do or
did. I never shock with sexuality. It just isn’t me.
German sexuality can be quite shocking actually. If you look at the Berlin gay scene for instance, it’s pretty specific. All the rubber, leather, skinheads — all the different kinds of fetishes…
Yeah, they love that in Germany.
They really really do. But it’s so defined.
I can’t deal with those strict definitions.
I understand, but at the same time you can choose a different definition every night. That’s the nice thing about it. I think it would be boring to do the same thing every time. You go through different phases of different things. I mean, the idea of a fetish sounds extremely exciting to me. It’s kind of mysterious. It takes the attention away from the person. I think maybe that’s also why the fetish scene has become so huge, because in general it’s much easier to deal with a pair of leather trousers than to deal with the person in them.
Do you have a fetish yourself?
Yeah, yeah. It’s not one, it’s several, really. I suppose it runs the whole gamut from sports clothes to leather, underwear… it can change. I’ve had moments when the clothes that some guy wore would define whether
I would go to bed with that person or not.
Like, leather pants would be a go or a no-go?
Yes, although, at the same time it has to look a certain way. How it is cut, how it fits the person, also how that person wears it. For example, high-fashion leather has never been exciting for me. When you sense that people wear things because they think they should wear them in order to be accepted in a certain environment, it’s not very sexy, it’s not real. When people wear things with conviction, because they feel sexy, that’s very exciting. And then it can be exciting from a fashion point of view as well.
Have you ever designed a pair of black leather pants?
No.
Do you own a pair?
I own ten pairs. They’re all second hand and one is too short… There’s always things that aren’t right. I probably wear only two or three out of the ten. But I’ve been going to second hand stores and markets and things for almost twenty years now. I have this huge, what do you call it, it’s not even a wardrobe, it’s like an archive.
What do you prefer to wear with black leather pants?
It depends. Normally just a white t-shirt.
And the pants, do you wear them tight?
No, when they’re tight they don’t do it for me. I’m not into tight clothes. It’s great when you only kind of sense a body under clothes. That’s something that I never liked about the gay scene, where they all wear their stuff really tight. You see the whole body immediately. Whereas if something doesn’t fit too well, if something’s slightly off, you sort of have to look for the person in there.
When you have leather pants on, do you tend to touch yourself more?
No, because I’m so used to it now. I suppose it really turned me on when I first discovered the excitement of clothes. Like with sports gear, I’d have wanks and wanks and wanks… I’d dress up to have a wank. Put on something exciting like leather pants and then lie on a bed or sit on a chair…
And then you would open up the zipper…
I mean, that’s what is so sexy about leather pants, you can just open up the zipper and take it all out… Would you go to leather bars dressed in leather?
That came later. It was a whole process… how can I put this? I was never someone who did things from today to tomorrow straight away. There’s this thing of how much you dare to do, how free you are or how free you can be at a certain age. There was a time when I went out all the time wearing things that I felt really sexy in.
But what I wanted to ask is if you used to dress up in full leather?
No, I’d always mix it with other things. If it’s leather trousers and a leather shirt and a leather jacket, it’s too evident for me. I find the proper leather-man look really old. I mean, it can still be sexy, but it’s old. What’s exciting to me, for example, is a businessman wearing a suit and when he opens his trousers you see that he wears shiny Adidas shorts underneath. It’s somehow there, but it’s not so evident. I love it when people are not made up of one thing, but of several things. The more things they are, the more exciting it is.
Do people still make the connection between you appearing in lots of Wolfgang’s pictures in the 90s and the work you do as a fashion designer nowadays?
No, not really. I look different now, older, and I have a beard.
Like that famous shoot for i-D, I think that was 1992 or 1993. Wasn’t that one of the very first times they showed explicit nudity in i-D?
I think it was the only time. I heard it got taken off the shelves in England.
Really?
It was banned by WH Smith, I think, and all the big chains. There was this one picture of me wanking. We were actually extremely surprised that they printed it.
How did that shoot take place?
Our best friend Alex and I were studying and living together in London. Wolfgang was studying photography in Bournemouth, so we used to go down to see him. Bournemouth is brilliant for going to the beach. It’s really beautiful. So we stayed whole weekends there, and Wolfgang took photos, as he always did. Wolfgang was supposed to do a fashion story for i-D, so he just took a whole suitcase full of clothes with him. We went to the beach and then we also went into the forest in Bournemouth, and we put on different things. I suppose about half of the photos in that story weren’t set up. Like the one of me wanking, that wasn’t set up at all. We had been in the sun all day and I kind of got horny.
Is that what you do after a day at the beach, have a wank with friends?
Well, that’s what I did, yeah. I was with my best friends, it wasn’t just any friends. It was just really natural.
How do you see that shoot in retrospect?
I think it showed exactly the way we were with each other, and that’s why I think those photos in the end turned out so good, because they were real. The fact that, at that time, that story was called ‘Like brother, like sister’ was even worse for i-D, because it made the public think that Alex and me were brother and sister. But it was that kind of relationship. It still is — it hasn’t changed at all. I don’t know what the pictures meant to other people at that time. When I look at them now, I think it showed different or alternative possibilities for being with each other. I mean socially. The fact that it was gay and straight, male and female… Alex was fairly masculine, and I wasn’t that masculine, so there was a whole mixture of things that made it all become like it was, undefined.

End