“Ellsworth Kelly’s use of colours, Constantin Brâncuși’ pure sculptures and Anne Truitt’s simplicity—these are some of the things that have shaped my aesthetic.” Behind Camper’s simplicity and Camperlab’s surrealist designs is Finnish fashion designer Achilles Ion Gabriel, whose desire to create tension between Nordic severity and Spanish chaos has made him a fan favourite. Gabriel, who was appointed the creative director of the Mallorca-based heritage label and its sub-brand in 2020, has quickly summoned his vision to life through a delectable assortment of footwear, from chunky colourful boots to leather sabots—bold, playful and inherently silly.
The man behind the drawing board is just as multifaceted. Having grown up in various small towns across the Finnish countryside, Gabriel’s imagination steadily brewed. “My mother was a gravestone sculptor, so we had a fake graveyard at home instead of a backyard. My siblings and I would play video games, hike, swim and drive snowmobiles. I was never bored and everything felt magical,” he shares. An early interest in materials, objects and spaces paved the way for Gabriel’s distinct design savoir faire that we see today. “I loved how good leather felt or how perfectly light would shine right through an Alvar Aalto building. Slowly, this appreciation spread to other things in life, like fashion,” he shares. “I still don’t care so much about things being in season as much as I care about volume and how clothes fit.”
It’s easy to see glimmers of a young Gabriel in Camperlab’s spring/summer 2022 collection, which was inspired by children’s toys. Entirely unisex, the line boasts what the designer calls brutal pieces, from cow-print boots to an upgraded version of the brand’s hit Traktori shoe. As for who Gabriel imagines would be the quintessential wearers of his creations? “Edina Monsoon, David Attenborough or Tierra Whack.” Here, Vogue Singapore speaks to Gabriel about his foray into fashion, inspirations and what’s next.
What were some of your earliest memories of clothes?
I was obsessed with my Adidas track pants in second grade. Also I remember trying on my mother’s heels and bag secretly when I was five or six. They were minimalist pumps in turquoise and the handbag was made out of red patent leather.
How would you describe yourself as a designer?
I love twisting my creativity with what’s at stake in the world and researching the best match between all these elements while staying relevant and fun.
Who have been some of your biggest inspirations?
My mother. Her minimal and brutal yet loving attitude to everything has had a gigantic impact on me.
What was your vision for Camper and Camperlab when you were first appointed as creative director?
For Camperlab, it was clear to me that I wanted to bring more shapes and colours to the brand and make it less serious and be silly. For Camper, it is still a work in progress, but my vision is to clean the brand image and collection, yet go bolder on colours.
“Ellsworth Kelly’s use of colours, Constantin Brâncuși’ pure sculptures and Anne Truitt’s simplicity—these are some of the things that have shaped my aesthetic.”
A lot of what you do is linked to surrealism, from how you approach design to imagery. What about surrealism interests you?
The possibilities and fun. Life shouldn’t be so serious.
You’ve talked about how Mallorca has inspired you. Would you say any of the other cities you’ve lived in have had the same effect on your craft?
Definitely the Finnish countryside and Paris. Finnish austerity and Parisian decadence.
Tell us about Camper and Camperlab’s latest collections. What can we expect?
For Camper, this spring’s big inspiration was kids toys and picnics. Since I’ve joined the company we’ve been focusing on durability and reducing our carbon footprint emissions by using renewable and certified natural materials. We want our products to last. For Camperlab, I went quite brutal this season. The colours are harsh and the last season’s bestselling cow print is now in shocking pink.
“There is nothing better than a suit, especially if you feel a bit awful or just tired.”
What are your hopes for the brand over the next five years?
I hope we can get even closer to a product that’s respectful of the environment while making it durable and interesting. We actually developed a new shoe coming out this year that not only looks great but is also technically extremely sustainable as well.
What outfit makes you feel on top of the world?
There is nothing better than a suit, especially if you feel a bit awful or just tired.
And finally, tell us about your favourite pair of shoes.
I love boots. I wear them all year round. My current favourite ones are the pink cow boots that I designed for Camperlab.
Photography Claire O’Keefe