Creative Couples: an Afternoon with Maxime and Jen.
Maxime and Jen find a fluid stride in their respective crafts while staying fully immersed in each other’s lives as lovers and collaborators and are therefore our ideal duo for our new “Creative Couples” series. Maxime Ballesteros, a photographer from France, and Jen Gilpin, a fashion designer from Canada, combine their aesthetic which takes shape in Maxime’s lookbook production for each collection of Jen’s label Don’t Shoot the Messengers.
From their alliance to learn from one another’s art, the couple’s creative process branches into multiple layers, weaving its way across a continuum that reflects fashion’s cyclical rhythm, granting them the hindsight to evolve with every project and crystallise a cohesive vision, season after season.
We spend an afternoon with Maxime and Jen, biking from the DSTM boutique and studio to their home in Berlin-Mitte where we sip coffee and citron chaud, chatting about their collaborative synergy. They recently took several road trips, from Amsterdam to London with mb! Magazine and SLEEK, for which Maxime shot the photos.
You just got married, congratulations! How was it?
Maxime: It was fantastic. All of our very dear friends came and that was really the best part of the whole wedding, getting together all the people we really love and care about. It was more about celebrating friendship than us as a couple, more about people getting along and having a good time.
Jen: We rented a little trailer park for everyone. It was really beautiful and trashy, very us. When did you collaborate together creatively for the first time?
When did you collaborate together creatively for the first time?
Jen: When I first met Maxime, I was just finishing up the first collection for the label, and we did our first shoot together for the lookbook.
Was there a distinct aesthetic in your individual style that reinforced your chemistry?Jen: I really discovered his style on the first shoot. Going through the photos, he showed me what a good photo actually was and why it was good. He was always pushing a lot further than what I was necessarily comfortable with, but then it developed into an identity for the brand. Maxime: There was something very sexy in her clothes that we were both into. We figured out the brand’s identity when we began collaborating; it was her first collection and my first lookbook, so we created this thing together from the beginning.
Is there a flow in your collaborative work in which the development of the collection inspires a mood for the lookbook images or vice versa?
Maxime: I’m at the studio every day, so I see the collection at every stage, from beginning to end. But we may also start off from an image that I’ve done or one that we’ve seen that we want to push or take a step further.
Jen: Sometimes it’s an aesthetic of a shoot that he’s done for another project from which we decide to incorporate certain elements into the lookbook. Other times it’s very spontaneous, we’ll just get the models and the location together and draw out some ideas beforehand. Maxime always makes little drawings of different ideas of poses before a shoot.
Have you explored collaborating on other projects?
Maxime: When I need to travel for work on other shoots, I take Jen as my assistant. I’ve taught her to change films and use cameras. And Jen has designed outfits specifically for a shoot I was doing that went on to becoming best sellers, like the full cat suit for instance.
Once you discuss your ideas, is there a point at which an unspoken understanding comes through in the final image?
Jen: On shoots it’s my time to let go. We talk about what we want to do, but during the shoot itself I’m often not even looking. I pull back because when he’s working it’s really quite an intimate space between him and the model.
If you take a step back and see the evolution of your relationship, what is the greatest strength that has developed from your work together?
Jen: I feel like the image and identity of the brand is more solidified and the direction that we need to go is clearer.
Maxime: We use a lot of the same girls to model, so that whole part is also based on friendship. It’s almost like having an afternoon with family. I like to build a relationship with the people I work with and nurture it, because the more you work with them the better it gets.
How does your home life in Berlin allow you to nurture your creative work?
Jen: It seems like we fell together really naturally somehow. We’re both night owls, we work a lot at night. We love working, which is what it comes down to.
Maxime: For me, having a stable base is really important – I like to have a home. Berlin is a good base to have. I came here to find a home, and I found it.
What are you excited about now and for the future?
Maxime: I’m starting to do a book, so I’m excited to work on that. I also have a show coming up in Cologne.
Jen: The last collection is finished, so it’s always a really nice time when there’s a little moment to breathe and then start collecting ideas again for what’s going to be the next collection. And I’m excited for our next road trip with mb! Magazine and SLEEK – we’ll be discovering Leipzig, Vienna and Prague and the creative people who live there.
Above the roofs of Berlin.
Before saying goodbye we climb a ladder from Maxime and Jen’s terrace onto the rooftop of the building to hang out above the city. The sun slightly cracks the sky and Berlin’s moody autumn shades are in full view. Balancing across the edge in black high heels, Jen shows us her little herb and flower garden and the spot on the roof where the two had set up an inflatable children’s pool as part for the DSTM summer collection shoot.
In the whimsy of that idea, it becomes clear that Maxime and Jen haven’t waited for a hidden space where their creativity can play, they’ve made it up together.