Photos by ChiChi Ubiña
Tell us about your boyhood life. Where did you grow up?
I was born in Paris, France, into a family of artists. My parents, Serge and Marina Clement have been famous painters for as long as I can remember and lived in a Hotel Particulier where they were always organizing parties with friends who were movie directors, actors, painters, sculptors, industry heirs, along with fashion designers and cloth makers. It was sort of an urban jungle with guests like Milos Forman, Jack Nicholson, Joe Dalessandro, Grace Jones, Umberto Ecco, Cesar, Armand, and Richard Bohringer, Claude Zidi and John Boorman and many other incredibly talented people. This group seated around a table with the right bottles of wine forged indelible and unforgettable childhood memories. The influence of these extravagant and often erudite people had a huge impact on my childhood. It gave me an immediate desire to find my own way to express myself artistically. My parents were also founding members in 1963 of the most private elite night club in Paris, named Castel. It was the epicenter of the cultural night life in Paris, where movie stars, philosophers, aspiring actors, super stars, chefs, writers and artists of all kinds, along with industrial moguls, European nobility and the who’s who of the 1970’s world scene were in attendance. My parents started taking me there when I was seven years old and these unforgettable nights became a part of my upbringing for the next 20 years. There were brass palm trees, red velvet booths, the smell of expensive perfumes and champagne and old wooden steep staircases. Paolo Conte’s “It’s Wonderful” soundtrack still resonates in my memories to this day.
What people or places gave you inspiration to become a designer?
The first twenty-five years of my life were spent on week-ends, vacations and trips to my parents’ tribe of artists friends’ residences between Paris, Geneva, Milan, Monte Carlo, Saint-Tropez, Crans-Montana and other European cities. The homes we visited were incredible, each was more interesting, curated, extravagant and fascinating from the others. From a 16th Century Milanese Palazzo to a 1930’s Parisian Townhouse, from an 18th century French corps de ferme to a beautiful Mediterranean-style villa perched on the rocks in Capri. These homes were filled with amazing antiques, Persian antique rugs, contemporary leather sofas, incredible art collections, musical instruments on the floor, drugs, liquor, vinyl records, books, books and more books, on Greek mythology, art, music, novels, philosophy, treasures upon treasures, discreet maids trying to keep a semblance of order, indoor swimming pools, parrots, dogs, horses, a cacophony of music, debates, arguments, dancing, eating and one common trait – a desire to live life to the fullest!
Your design evokes images of decadent, sophisticated, European nightlife. Has that been a part of your life? Tell us about your career in music production and how that helped shape your aesthetic.
At the age of seventeen, I joined a few friends in Paris and started throwing the first Goa trance parties, an east meets west style of electronic trance music produced in Goa, India by the psychedelic fathers of the 1960’s scene, who were experimenting with synthesizers, such as Raja Ram (T.I.P. records), Goa Gil, and many others. They were followed by talents such as Man with No Name, Simon Posford (Hallucinogen), Oli Wisdom, Green Nuns of the Revolution, The Muses Rapt, Total Eclipse, and many others. Other productions began at the same time, such as Trance Body Express, Tekno Tanz, Gaia, Return to the Source and by the early 1990’s, the scene was totally underground, vibrant, blooming and defining the rebirth of the psychedelic movement.
After years of back and forth to Goa, I decided to move to New York City in 1997 and launch my productions there. Synthetic Sadhus was born and gave birth to over 30 major events in NYC where we invited the who’s who of the international Goa trance scene. My parties were very colorful, completely decorated by the top psychedelic painters and sculptors, who were flown in from all over the globe. Everything was carefully curated. The stage featured several live acts at every show. It took place in the middle of a colorful nirvana with walls of sound (50,000 watts of EV system), and black light projectors. You literally entered another world. I continued producing music and live events until 2003. These fifteen years of full immersion into the psychedelic world allowed me to understand aesthetics and multi-dimensionality. Colors were in full bloom and sound was an expression, and freedom – a way of life. It allowed me to erase all inhibitions, brake all aesthetic rules and boundaries, experience total creative freedom and learn how to juggle the complex logistics of environmental creation. It had a huge impact on my understanding of nature and its interpretation on the objects we build to surround our functional needs. I had to create unseen environments where thousands of people needed to be comfortable and exhilarated. It is something that has stayed with me to this day.
You have a unique sexy urban aesthetic that you meld effortlessly into your client’s homes in the bucolic suburbs. What does it take to be successful in bringing those two worlds together?
I sincerely am convinced that there is a wild, exciting and fulfilling side in each of us and even though, I have a distinctive design style, I always listen to my clients very carefully, understand who they are, what they’ve achieved, how they live, what they need and what they lack. I come as a chameleon, an aesthete, to guide them outside the box, where they might not go on their own. I want to help them connect with that side of who they are, to bloom within and let their home reflect their desires, their sense of seduction, their sex appeal. One’s home should represent the seductive part of their personality, the artistic side of their personality, the B-side, the one you would not dare play in public for fear of judgement. I give them the confidence they need to express themselves through their furnishings and through their art; to make a statement and announce without excuses their true colors. Life is way too short as it is, I like to think I help them embrace what lies in all of us, beauty.
How do you divide your time between your design business and your art gallery? What made you decide to have two separate businesses?
At the completion stage of each design job, my clients used to ask me to help them curate an art collection that I felt would work with the vibe of my interiors. After a few years of helping them source the right artworks, I realized it would make a lot more sense for me to open my own art gallery and bring to Connecticut’s clientele of art collectors a stable of international contemporary artists that you could only find previously in metropoles. It was a gamble, and it took a lot of skills to convince famous artists to work with a new gallery, but we managed to get who we wanted. In 2014, we opened our first gallery, followed by a second one in 2017. We acquired a collection of rare talents and have consistently introduced innovative and original artworks to a seasoned and savvy list of avid art enthusiasts. We have also worked with newcomers to art collecting who feel the need to dress their walls with raw passion. The two businesses work in perfect symbiosis.
You’ve set up retail places in Greenwich and Westport – How did you choose those towns?
Both towns have a cosmopolite and international clientele, I do not think of them as suburbs but rather as islands of culture where New Yorkers and other urbanites with children emigrate to either accommodate their new family reality or retire to enjoy a more laid back lifestyle. We also have a strong following in the Jewish community. They undeniably impose themselves as strong and vivid patrons of the arts and are passionate advocates of all design related fields.
When the inspiration meter is running low, where does Gilles go to fill up his tank?
Frankly, the inspiration meter never runs low. How can one lack inspiration in a world that offers so many marvels!
Gilles Clement Designs
120 E Putnam Ave, Greenwich CT 06830