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  • Writer's picturePatrick Cabasset

Santiago Artemis: “I am KingKong in high heels!”

Last update: 7 Feb.

Over and above their spectacular gender-fluid appearance, what strikes you

when you meet young leading Argentinian designer Santiago Artemis is their

freedom and generosity, something that this rising star of international fashion

also impressed on ESMOD when they came to talk to students and deliver an

exceptional masterclass on 6 February. The need for inclusiveness was a

central part of their existence long before it became a topic of discussion. We

went to meet them.

Santiago Artemis

Born in 1991 in Ushuaia, at the far tip of the South American continent, Santiago

Navarro (to refer to them by their real name) grew up in a Mormon family. The

extreme discipline associated with this religious practice no doubt played a role

in their movement towards the other end of the social spectrum, and relocating

to Buenos Aires, they went on to study fashion first at the Escuela Argentina del

Mod and later at the University of Buenos Aires. They soon set up their own

design studio in the famous Recoleta residential area where they designed hats,

earrings, dresses, furs, gloves, heels and various other components of the female

wardrobe in their own spectacular style. Their rapid success was probably also

due in part to their appearance, their attitude and their extraordinary

personality; they were free, but they still listened to those who turned to them in

search of original fashion, something that becomes evident over the course of

the Netflix documentary series devoted to the designer. The six 45-minute

episodes of No Time for Shame follow Artemis as they move seamlessly between

their famous clients, their studio, their day-to-day love life and their therapist in a

supercharged Latino way of life that has won them millions of fans worldwide.

Gender-fluid Santiago Artemis knows how to prepare for the Parisian winter for ESMOD

Planet ESMOD: Why did you choose fashion? You have many talents and you

could have done anything you wanted to, couldn’t you?

Santiago Artemis: It kind of happened by chance when I was 17, but I knew I

could get by with fashion. Of course, by the time I was 5 or 6 years old, I was

already quite a star in my class, with my drawings, my style and my attitude. I

was quite advanced at school, and always the youngest in my class. Later on,

even when I was doing TV and films, I didn’t expect to become an ‘out’ celebrity in

that sense. I just wanted to be accepted and to be loved for who I was. But then

it became a priority: my image became my job, not just as a good fashion

designer, but as a good visual reference, and as a celebrity, and that’s something

I can really play around with, so I use that to my benefit.

P. E.: What has this fame done for you, exactly? What has it brought you?

S. A.: Fame has brought with it new responsibilities, actually. A lot of young

people see me as a role model, not just when it comes to fashion but also in

terms of my more independent attitude. I’m bringing their dream to life. I’m sort

of an icon in my country, and I like the ‘wow’ effect that fame brings me—that’s

obviously something I really enjoy—but as I have become something of an

inspiration, it can be very intimidating at times—I have to watch what I say and


“Fame doesn't mean anything unless you have a mission, a passion,

something to share”. Santiago Artemis

P. E.: Does this fame also maybe deprive you of something?

S. A.: The downside is that you no longer have a private life—everything you do

comes under close scrutiny. It’s like you can’t escape from it. Then there’s the

pressure of having to keep being what people want you to be. I dabbled a lot

with drugs and alcohol for a little while, too. I was brought up Mormon and didn’t

discover alcohol until I was 29. I’d become very lonely with this personality of

mine, so I tried to meet other people during the Covid period. My career was

doing great, but I was suffering emotionally. I drank a lot and took drugs with

strangers, but I very quickly realised that I didn’t really matter to them. Those

people were only interested in me because I was well known. They didn’t really

care about me. Those were difficult times.

P. E.: Are there any other dangers associated with fame?

S. A.: Yes, it can also make you lose your own personality, and you know that

anything you say, the smallest joke you make, could be misinterpreted, so there’s

a lot of pressure that comes with being famous. I’m an artist first and foremost,

and then, way behind that, I’m a famous person. Fame doesn’t mean anything

unless you have a mission, a passion, something to share. I make clothes and

then I entertain, that’s my job, and that’s why I’m famous, not the other way

around. I didn’t want to become famous, it just happened! Of course I was

looking for a certain validation, I wanted to belong to a certain world, but it didn’t

have to be through this fame that I’ve acquired.

Part-art, part-fashion, the creative work of Santiago Artemis embodies new values. Shown here is an extract from their show entitled The Rebirth.

P. E.: How do the social and political aspects of today’s world influence your

style? How does a sense of inclusion, for example, support your work?

S. A.: I’m not really into politics, and this sense of inclusivity comes naturally to

me; it’s not something I do because it’s trendy. I dress men who can look like

women and still be men. I wear high heels, dresses, skirts, etc. but I’m still just a

guy who wears briefs or boxers, and I’ve been like this since I was about 14. I was

probably ahead of my time. One key moment occurred when I was about 17 and

a designer asked me, “Do you know why you’re so amazing? You dress like a

woman, an old lady, actually... (laughs), but you don’t want to be a woman. You’re

a guy in ladies’ clothing. You’re a diva in boxers!”. I was a guy who wore women’s

blouses, a King Kong in high heels!

P. E.: Is that an easy way to live day to day? How do you react to any

conservative opposition you might face, or to any violence it might trigger?

S. A.: I’ve grown up since then, and I know better now how to behave and when I

need to be more boyish or more feminine. When I meet someone new I soon

learn how I can present myself, how not to shock them. You can terrorise people

with this type of look. It’s perfect for parties, TV, photos, etc., and on the

underground, if things get complicated, I grab my gloves, my hat and my earrings

and I get off. And if I want to make people feel comfortable, I wear more basic

things. Sometimes I even surprise my friends. They scream, “Oh my God! You

could be any of my lovers!”, but I don’t really look like me in jeans and a T-shirt!

A quick Business Class selfie for Santiago’s Instagram account en route to ESMOD Paris with Air France

P. E.: Do you tend to be met with approval on the Parisian underground, for

example, with this particular look?

S. A.: Oh, yes! People say to me in French, “So chic!” The nicest compliment I’ve

received this week is “Gorgeous!”, so I thank them, again in French. I’m not the

sort to start a fight or a war, but I am pretty proud. If there’s a problem, I stand

my ground and I face it; even though I’m not a violent person, I know how to

defend myself.

P. E.: In your Netflix documentary series No Time for Shame your daily life

comes across as being very hectic and dramatic, but how do you relax?

S. A.: No, the show really does show my life as it is. Nothing was created just for

the show; that’s really who I am, but it’s true that they did take out the downtime.

Now I’m more in control, I need to take more breaks, because the more

successful you are, the more you need your quiet time. I have more experience,

so I also have more tools to help me negotiate with the outside world. I started

out very early, and with very little knowledge of how society worked, how to

make friends, etc. I literally threw myself out into the world without any

preparation, and it worked fantastically, but everything in my personal life has

been crushed. I enjoyed some success and became famous without knowing

how to deal with life, but I learned, and even though I come across as being

tense, and very intense at times, I’m pretty cool, calm and collected on the inside.

P. E.: Do you have any role models or guides?

S. A.: Of course: Joan Collins in Dynasty was my idol, all heels and shoulder pads!

Then there were Cindy Lauper, Madonna,... oh, and Princess Diana, of course.

She was my inspiration from birth: her life, her fashion choices, her fearful

shyness, her Bambi-esque sideways glances... and even her tragic death! I still

can’t believe it! Aside from them, when it comes to fashion I also like Ms Vionnet,

Paul Poiret, Schiaparelli and of course Dior.

Beyond the clichés, the Santiago Artemis fashion events held in Buenos Aires always have a certain poetry to them.

P. E.: Do you have any plans afoot in France?

S. A.: There is already a book about me, but I’m preparing for a second, more

luxurious one looking at my collections. I’d love to put on a show in Paris, but I

need to grow emotionally first, so I’m waiting for the right time. I started so

young; now I feel more like a man, and it’s strange, but people are so willing to

open their arms to me. It’s always been like that in Argentina, but now it’s the

same when I travel: in Japan, Denmark, Paris... People laugh at my jokes. I’m also

really goofy, a bit like Jim Carrey but with shoulder pads!

P. E.: Speaking of Denmark and Copenhagen, the capital of fur, what do you

say to the people who hate this material and the violence we know it involves?

S. A.: I’d say they need to get a life! I like fur. It’s a remarkable material that gives

your clothes an extraordinary look. I’ve been working with Saga Furs for years,

and you might think it’s irresponsible, but I think plastic is even more dangerous,

and fur alternatives are usually made of polyester or acrylic, which are derived

from petroleum and will not decompose. These highly accessible materials result

in more pollution, over-consumption and ultimately more waste! At the same

time, we all love leather, leather shoes, leather jackets... I don’t see how leather is

any different from fur. But yes, it’s a complex issue. I try not to cause

provocation; if I wear fur it’s primarily because of the pleasure it gives me. I stand

by my choices; I’m not afraid, even if it does make me a few enemies. As

Margaret Thatcher once said, “you have to accept your enemies”. If you take

good care of your fur, your children and grandchildren will also be able to use it

after you, so it’s more sustainable from an ecological perspective.

P. E.: What would you say to ESMOD students and students of design schools

in general?

S. A.: My success came from being able to combine my talent as a designer with

my talent as a character, and they, too, can exploit their own personalities

alongside their styles to create an image. You have to know how to sell yourself if

you want to be successful, and you have to learn to love yourself first before you

start designing. Don’t compare yourself to others, either, because we’re all

different, and don’t get frustrated when you come across people you think are

better than you: this doesn’t mean that you’re going to fail. You just have to be

able to focus on yourself and your own work.

Fur is a sensual and long-lasting material where both Santiago and their Artemis collection are concerned. From their Instagram page.

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