This story is part of a the Nob Hill Gazette’s feature, Perspectives on Beauty, in our March issue.
Andrew Gn prowls the streets of Paris in search of beauty. Like the poet Charles Baudelaire a century and a half before, the designer finds it in many places, and it is always united by a certain duality of spirit. Beauty has something in it of the eternal, Baudelaire wrote, as well as something that stamps it with a certain time and place. Which is another way of saying fashion.
Gn discovers this mysterious mixture of the timeless and timely in everything from street art and graphic T-shirts to baroque architecture and interiors. An aesthetic omnivore, his homes blend 18th-century furniture with contemporary art, and his cinematic tastes run from the rococo powder and wigs of Dangerous Liaisons to the stark futurism of the 1979 sci-fi classic Alien. “I try to see as much as I can,” he says, “and then let these images and emotions get stored in my subconscious mind. And I must say I’m blessed with a very good memory.”
Though based in Paris, Gn hails from Singapore, attended boarding school in England, and has developed a loyal San Francisco following via regular trunk shows. Although the Internet and social media have made fashion global, and he sees little difference in the response of his clients in each corner of the globe, he maintains for himself a distinctly Eastern perspective.
“I’m really Asian at heart,” Gn says. “The Chinese may spend a lot of time on the same thing, but that’s because they want to perfect it.” He cites the craft of Chinese ceramics, slowly perfected by artisans under the direction of the dynasties across the centuries. “It comes down to a harmony between what you might call the glaze and the form.”
This approach shows up in his own work through attention to detail. “You have the overall image of a garment,” Gn says, “and then you go through all the details the wearer will notice: the fabric, the intricacies of lining, a piece of embroidery — all those things play an all-important role in perfection.”
Like a jazz musician or athlete, Gn puts in the training and preparation in order to allow his art to come out naturally. The magical melange comes down to eternity and perfection on one side, and the temporal and spontaneous on the other. “A dress should be fashionable and of-the-moment, but also so beautiful that it can be kept for a long time. So instead of buying a lot, we should buy less, but more beautiful.”
And we should also be cognizant of the notion that beauty is ultimately something that is experienced, which is another way of saying that it’s felt. “Beauty is something very emotional, something that you feel,” the designer explains. “And today it’s also more adventurous and more challenging than ever, as we’re living in a world that’s very diversified and global.
I take inspiration from everywhere,” he concludes, “and that’s because I need to be inspired in order to go on working.”