Moritz Waldemeyer became known for collaborating with Ron Arad on chandeliers for Swarovski and with Hussein Chalayan on his video and laser dresses. It wasn’t long before the likes of Mika, U2 and, most recently, Rihanna, asked the enterprising alchemist to create spectacular, laser-embedded outfits for the stars to wear on stage.
Waldemeyer’s story is pretty astonishing by any standards. Born in the former East Germany, he moved to London in 1995 a few years after the fall of communism to study European Business Administration at Middlesex University, followed by a Master of Science in Mechatronics from King’s College, London. This education in mechanical engineering, electronics, embedded control and IT led Waldemeyer, 35, to become a research scientist at Philips Research, exploring how technology could be developed for clothing, home entertainment and lighting.
His lucky break was in 2003, when he became a visiting tutor at the Royal College of Arts’ design products course, when Ron Arad was head of the department. Since that auspicious encounter, Waldemeyer has even collaborated with Audi during the Milan Furniture Fair and with Maybach, the Mercedes-Benz brand, at the Beijing Motor Show.
Moritz Waldemeyer spoke to Luxuryculture.com about meeting U2 at Barcelona’s football stadium at the start of their 360° tour, why Bono and Rihanna both picked red lasers, and his exploding dress for Rihanna.
Your first music project was in 2007 with OK GO http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_i9rXZ8BZKVY/R0tM22cCbzI/AAAAAAAAAGY/y-vt3e3YGB0/s1600-h/Library+-+00067.jpg, stitching LED lights into the four performers’ jackets that spelt out the letters of the band. How did that come about?
This producer in Los Angeles had seen an article on the projects that I had done with Ron Arad and connected me to the White Stripes but they cancelled the tour. Then she suggested OK GO. The idea was basically like a Las Vegas slot machine. They came onto the pitch-black stage with their backs to the audience. And all of a sudden you saw these letters scrawled across their backs and heard these big, jackpot sound effects.
Last December you collaborated with them again at Design Miaimi by illuminating fur-trimmed guitars, which had been customised by Fendi. http://gallery.me.com/mwaldemeyer#100037
How did the brief develop?
Because Fendi is traditionally a fur company the Gibson guitars were covered in fur and leather by crafts people in Rome. There’s white fur all the way round the guitars that’s illuminated by LEDs and on the base guitar there’s a LED text under the strings. All the guitars have lasers shooting out of their heads like a continuation of the strings.
How do you get to collaborate on Mika’s ‘We are Golden’ video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEhutIEUq8k?
I got in touch with Jonas Akerlund, the Swedish video director, because I was interested in Lady Gaga and he said, ‘Oh, I’m doing this video for Mika, do you want to do something together?’ So you have a red crown embedded with lasers, which is a bit like the Statue of Liberty, and we made some boots and trousers. Some of the details are not that visible on the final video-clip but it was a complete outfit.
Did U2 hear about you following your first collaboration with OK GO?
No, their stylist Sharon [Blankson] heard about me through the whole Hussein Chalayan stuff. I proposed a couple of different ideas about lighting concepts on clothing for Bono to wear on the 360° tour and they went for this particular design. What’s beautiful is that the lasers extend almost indefinitely, pointing all the way to the seats at the far end of the stadium, creating a direct link between the performer and the audience.
Who chose the colour red for the lasers?
The red kind of chose itself! The choice of laser colours isn’t as big as with LEDs. There are three colours, and the green and blue ones cost 10 times more than the red ones. When you use 200 of them, it makes a really, really big difference in price. The red one was developed first and is more mass-manufactured. I guess that will change now we’ve got the blue-ray discs. There’ll be a much larger market for blue lasers and they might come down in price.
So all these technological developments have an impact on your work?
Yes, a little bit. A lot of the stuff that we use comes from different industries. And we use it in a different way than it was intended initially. I’ve got to look at technological developments in completely unrelated industries. So funnily enough, the blue-ray disc might have an impact on what colour laser I use on clothing.
Did you meet Bono?
Yes, I met all the band in the dungeons underneath Barcelona’s football stadium for fittings during their rehearsals last summer. He’s a funny guy, really bubbly and excited. It was complicated because of the whole massive machinery that is U2. There’s not much room for trying something out quickly. And because of the crazy amount of security you can’t just walk into a room because they’re there. I only saw the rehearsal in Barcelona. It was weird because I was sitting on the lawn, seeing the whole U2 show in an empty stadium with a couple of people on the tour, like the stylist and the designers. It was like a private concert.
Can you describe your concept for Rihanna’s dress for her current tour http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_i9rXZ8BZKVY/S-nJ60-xKVI/AAAAAAAAAXU/LhKXeVhRjZU/s1600/rihanna.jpg?
It’s a really complex sequence of events that Simon Henwood, the creative director of her tour, came up with. His idea was to have an exploding dress with several layers. There’s a black overcoat that starts splitting up and then explodes away from her and reveals the dress underneath which has LED panels. On the LED panels, there’s animation of a pulsating heart with blood dripping down. Then the LED dress is pulled away to reveal yet another layer, which is like a catsuit.
To what extent do you coordinate with the costume designers?
I kind of work in parallel. While I’m working on the illumination concept, they come with the design. I tell them where they need to pay attention or give me certain spaces to integrate my things and they take that into account.
Are there specific considerations for creating pieces for pop stars?
You have to think about how to make them sturdy for life on the road. When we did the Hussein Chalayan dresses, it was more about how far we could push it for that one show. For rock ‘n’ roll, you have to be a bit more conservative and think about something that’s going to get used.
What kind of feedback have you had?
I get a lot of feedback from the Bono jacket because it’s more prominent and visible than the Rhianna dress. The funny thing with Rhianna is that it happened at the same time that Kate Perry wore this light-up dress at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQgw4etpyCs. There were opinion polls on the Internet about who wore the better light-up dress, and we always won!
Do you have the impression of having kick-started a trend?
I was always really sceptical about this whole electronics and clothing thing. Even though I did these projects I never thought it would enter into public consciousness. My feeling is that, just recently, there’s more happening and it’s gaining momentum. So I’m curious to see how it evolves, continues and progresses. It’s a very exciting time.
You were sceptical even though you’re one of the pioneers?
Maybe because of that. Since around 2000 at Philips, we were doing research into this and academics were saying, ‘Oh my God, in five years time we’re all going to have this and that.’ And none of it ever really materialised. There seems to be a shift in that people are paying more attention to it now, which is strange because the technology is not more advanced than five or even 10 years ago. I made the Hussein Chalayan dresses three years ago. If I were to make another one today, there’s no new technology available that would allow me to make it that much better.
So you have to think of new ways to apply this technology but don’t invent it yourself?
At the moment, I just apply it creatively in the most elegant and efficient way. To move forward, it would require investment. And I don’t see anybody placing that because there’s not enough of a market. Even the big rock stars want to have things as cheaply as they can. It’s not as if Bono comes to me and says, ‘I’m going to give you crazy amounts of money so I can have the most advanced jacket.’ The stylist has a certain amount of limited budget and we find the solution that is cost-effective.
So which band is next?
We’ve been talking with the Scissor Sisters. But that’s still really up in the air and preliminary. It would be for their next tour.
Last year you created a white coffee table that transforms into a virtual dancing cage with red lasers shooting up for Wallpaper* magazine.
They commissioned a few designers to come up with reusable objects around the home disco theme. As a magazine, they didn’t have much budget and said, ‘We’ll give you £200.’ And I thought, ‘Well, either we do it properly or not at all.’ So I called up Corian®, who were kind enough to sponsor it. I have a great relationship with them. If I have the right project, I just have to make one phone call!
At DesignMiami Basel last week, you made a presentation with Audi that was similar to your Audi presentation at the headquarters of Emilio Zegna in Milan in April. What you can you tell us about this?
Audi’s tagline is ‘Lifetime Companionship’ because they have a car for every stage of life from when you’re young and quirky to refined and established. So I made an installation with this flow coming across two cars – the A1, their new small car, and the A8, their biggest car – which is like the flow of life, as if the cars were in a wind tunnel. I also wanted to show this new efficiency in cars because efficiency is king in the world of automotive now; it’s not power any more. There are LED strips that go across the cars and a flow of text that people can interact with. We always have two girls with iPads that people can write onto and the texts are displayed on the installation. It was much bolder than I imagined it would be. Somebody wrote “Will you marry me again?”, which was amazing.
You also made a performance-style collaboration with Maybach, the Mercedes-Benz brand at the Beijing Motor Show. http://gallery.me.com/mwaldemeyer#100084
China is now officially the biggest car market in the world, having surpassed the US, so Beijing Motor Show is super important for all the car brands. Maybach premiered two new models and wanted a show. I love kung fu and thought it would be fantastic to have some kung-fu artists so I designed light-up weapons for them. There’s a part of kung-fu called wushu where they fight with weapons. There were 14 martial artists on stage doing various routines with these weapons, then the car would drive in and it was as if they were armed escorts to the car. The weapons were programmed to create visual effects with Chinese characters, space invaders, hearts and graphic patterns in mid-air. I worked with some of the best people in the world doing this kind of martial art, which was absolutely amazing. Hopefully, I’m going to do some more work with them and we think this has the potential to be a big stage show either in London’s West End or maybe in Las Vegas.
It’s all a far cry from your upbringing in East Germany. How do you remember that?
I always hated East Germany and thought that if I could escape and leave, I would. Even now that it’s changed I would never go back. But in my family there were a lot of artists. In a way, the GDR regime enabled this bohemian community to be created because there were no commercial pressures on artists to produce anything viable. It’s a paradox because, with this crazy system in place, artists had a liberal lifestyle.
Your life today must seem beyond your wildest dreams.
If somebody had said to me 10 years ago, ‘You’ll do a jacket for Bono, a dress for Rihanna and a guitar for Fendi,’ I would never have imagined it. Nobody would have imagined such a thing. Everything collects on my computer screen, then you see the madness of it all.
DesignMiami Basel is from 15-19 June 2010. www.designmiami.com
For more information: www.waldemeyer.com
What’s your definition of luxury?
The most luxurious item is really time because it’s the most sparse. For me, it’s just total madness working on several projects in parallel at any point in time. So I’m looking forward to the summer because I’ll have some time off.
Maybe something that is designed without compromise. Mostly because of the time ingredient, there’s never enough time to do things properly.
A place that you don’t have to share, that gives you freedom and where you don’t have to compromise. And a place that’s not polluted in any way, that is clean and pure. It could be diving in the coral reef or being on top of a mountain or in a city in a restaurant; it very much depends on the situation.
Somebody who is kind and supportive, witty and fun.
It could be a moment of tranquillity. When we climb the mountains in Italy, that’s a perfect place and moment. You get beautiful views and nature around you and calm. Or it could be a moment of pure excitement. If I’ve just completed a project and it’s all set up and running and there’s a party, I think that’s a very exciting moment.