Purple Magazine
— The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

cédric rivrain

Cédric Rivrain studio with autoportrait au singe (self-portrait with a monkey), 2023, oil on linen, 24 x 19 3/4 inches Cédric Rivrain in his studio with Rodrigue à la fenêtre (Rodrigue at the window), work in progress, 2024, oil on linen, 63 x 35 3/8 inches Cédric Rivrain, Rodrigue à la piscine (Rodrigue at the pool), 2023, oil on canvas, 51 1/8 x 38 1/4 inches Cédric Rivrain, François-Xavier à la fenêtre (François-Xavier at the window), 2023, oil on linen, 63 x 39 3/8 inches Cédric Rivrain studio with cygne et multiprise (swan and power strip), work in progress, 2024, oil on linen, 35 3/8 x 27 1/2 inches Cédric Rivrain, Jade (puppies puppies), 2021, oil on canvas, 35 3/8 x 63 inches




portrait by OLIVIER ZAHM




After years working as a fashion illustrator and designer, the French artist has now returned to his first love, painting. He has dedicated himself to creating an intimate iconography centered on the representation of the self and on the eyes as mirrors to the soul.


OLIVIER ZAHM — Cédric, I’ve known you for a long time, and you’ve always been part of the fashion scene in Paris. You were like the baby doll of this world, and then you took time to establish your own artwork.

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — I always wanted to be a painter. I started painting when I was a teenager. When I came to Paris, I wanted to work straightaway, and the easiest way for me was through drawings. I had done some for jewelry shops and special orders when I was a teenager, so I knew I could make money this way. But what I really wanted to do at the time was paint.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, painting was your first love.

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Definitely.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You once told me something beautiful. You found, by accident, an attic full of paintings and paint tubes in a house that you moved to when you were a child.

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — I always loved going into attics. When I was a kid, my parents moved many times. And when I was 11, we arrived at a house where the previous owners had left some things in the attic. It was like a weird horror movie. So, I went through their stuff and found many tubes of oil paint. I tried to use them, but oil paint is so particular. I didn’t even know how to clean it. They were preserved because the attic hadn’t been heated. That’s why I normally never heat my studio. I prefer to keep the paints in a cold atmosphere. It took me about three years to understand how to use them. Back then, there were no tutorials on the Internet. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you learn by yourself?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — I experimented on my own. I knew how to work with acrylics, and I was already painting on canvases quite early on. Then I asked some art teachers at school how it worked, but they weren’t too technical. At 14, I finally began working on oil paintings and observing the ones in museums. I used to go to the Beaux-Arts in Nantes quite often. And I would look at the paintings closely to see the artists’ gestures. But what I found in the museum was something less technical, something more pivotal. It was the notion of queer art.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Oh, really? 

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Yeah. They had photos by Claude Cahun. They were one of the first museums to show her. They had her in the collection, then they made a retrospective. That’s where I encountered her work, and it fascinated me. I was very androgynous when I was a teenager — when you met me, actually. So, when I encountered this kind of art, it resonated with me. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you study at the Beaux-Arts?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — No, I didn’t study at all. I stopped after high school. My parents had put me in art classes with good teachers, but I didn’t like going to them. I hated people telling me what to do, especially once I found my own techniques. And once I was technical enough, I didn’t care. I knew what kind of art I loved and where I wanted to go — even if, when I arrived in Paris, I started drawing for fashion. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — And you were very young?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Eighteen. I sent some drawings to a few fashion houses and magazines, and it started that way. I quickly met Martine Sitbon, whom I worked with for many years. And the fact that I didn’t really want to do fashion made it easier for me to work in the industry. I didn’t take it too seriously. It was something fun for me to do.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, fashion and art seemed to be very organically connected for you from the beginning?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Totally. Especially illustration, a perfect combination of them. And I would always try to make the drawings more personal. I was never really fond of fashion illustration, to be honest. There are very few people I admire in this field.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You remember Pierre Le-Tan?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — I loved Pierre Le-Tan. I am friends with his two daughters. I love his work. He was an illustrator but not a fashion illustrator. I mostly knew him for the book covers he did for his friend, the French writer Patrick Modiano. Pierre Le-Tan was more an intellectual to me. I am sensitive to drawing when it goes beyond mere representation. My own approach of illustration was nourished by seeing the drawings of Hans Bellmer, for example. That’s what I had in mind when I was doing my fashion illustrations. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you know Hans Bellmer’s wife, Unica Zürn?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Of course. I love her work. She’s one of my favorite writers, even if she only wrote two or three novels. The Man of Jasmine is a very important text for me. And her drawings are amazing. The portraits of her by Bellmer are so strong. Some are paintings, and he did very few paintings — mostly drawings. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — You did a lot of beautiful portraits of the fashion community and your friends at the time.

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Thanks. At the time, I already loved to do portraits of my friends. They were very inspiring, and I’m proud that I’ve never worked with boring commercial stuff. And in the fashion world, there were many intelligent people who made different kinds of fashion. Especially the ones who emerged in the ’80s and the ’90s. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think fashion was more connected to art at the time and maybe less commercial?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — There was always a part of the fashion world that was very linked to the art world because of people like Rei Kawakubo, Martin Margiela, and Martine Sitbon. Those people had a very special way of looking at fashion — the way an artist looks at their work and the world. Those people made fashion to make things evolve, to make the human being keep evolving and keep thinking about how to present to the world. This was what inhabited me when I started illustration.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And you also did jewelry?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Yes, jewelry illustration. Jewelry is super interesting for an artist to work with because it’s about light and the way it penetrates the material or the stone and the way the color changes with the light.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did they give you jewelry to copy or reproduce in a drawing?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Yes, or ideas to develop.

OLIVIER ZAHM — They gave you a direction, and you had to elaborate on that.

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Yeah. Same as when I worked as an in-house illustrator for haute couture. I would work from the spirit of the collection, but I would have to interpret what a client wanted and also understand what would fit them. And I had to do that through drawings, of course. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Full drawings. So, you would send a drawing to the client?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Yeah, you met a client, and they told you what they liked about the collection. And then together you would imagine what would suit them best. I would do the drawings in color, and I would reproduce each detail, like the embroideries. It was very precise because they acquired these very luxurious garments just from the drawings. So, it had to be done well. I even pushed it to the point of doing their portrait in the outfit. They would keep the drawings, of course. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — And did painting happen slowly, step by step?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — I was painting on the side. I would just never show it because I never felt ready for that. And when you work in the fashion industry, money comes easily, and you get stuck in the spiral. I was always connected to artists, though. Most of my friends were artists whom I met super early on in my life. So, it came slowly that some galleries started showing some of my drawings — the ones that were less connected to fashion, of course. Even when I worked with fashion magazines, I would sometimes do portraits or studies of a human figure that wasn’t necessarily dressed.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because at the time, maybe less now, galleries were a bit scared or reluctant to be connected to the fashion industry. 

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Definitely. Now, I’m always surprised how the new generations don’t care. They really don’t see that boundary. It’s just so fluid for them, and it’s great. But at the time, they were so serious about it. I heard so many people talk about how opposed they were to artists considering doing something with the fashion industry because it’s too commercial. Of course, if you do that just for the money, it can be a question. But if you work with designers who have an artistic vision of fashion, I think you’re in it for something way more rewarding. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a lot of work, sometimes more than what goes into an artwork. It takes so much work. It’s crazy. People have no idea that you have to be totally devoted to fashion to accept the amount of work.

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Exactly. So, at some point, I started showing more and more works with galleries, and I had to make the decision, which was my decision all along, that I would stop fashion.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It happened naturally.

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — I needed to be away from drawing. It makes me really angry when I have to draw. It plays on my nerves so much because drawing is so shy. You have to do so many little lines that just don’t come out that much. You have to be super close to a drawing to get it. With a painting — even if it’s subtle, and you want to look closely and go deep inside of it — you can still see it from afar and be attracted by it. I feel that’s not the case with my drawings, which just makes me crazy.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you are much happier painting?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Oh god, yeah. It changed my life. With painting, I’m never frustrated. The image is created in successive layers. I can always go back to what I’ve done and develop it further. Details and more precise strokes are superimposed on an often hazy, blurred base. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s very cosmetic. 

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — It’s so funny you say that. Every time I paint, I always think of people putting make-up on. Even the brushes I use are very cosmetic-looking sometimes. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, even though it’s painting, it’s not very far from drawing. The precision and the delicacy…

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Basically, the difference is that drawing is about the contours, the lines. Painting is about the material. It’s about putting on the layers and the textures. I don’t paint the way I draw at all. I don’t do the contours of my paintings; I go in with big blobs of human shapes, and then I start doing more precise gestures. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Suddenly, a little monkey appears in the painting. Or a little dog. Do you know where that comes from?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — I always felt connected to monkeys — I don’t know why. I met some in the places I grew up in, like in Gibraltar when I was a kid. And later when I traveled in India, I connected with monkeys in a very intense way. They have always followed me in my life. It’s weird, but I feel connected to them. And they’re so close to a human figure, the expressions. To me, animals are so touching because you don’t know what they feel, but they can show you through their eyes. As you have probably noticed, I work a lot on the eyes and the expression and the feeling in the eyes.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, the eyes are very important for you?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Super important. The eyes are the soul. And I grew up in a family where you didn’t talk that much. You had to read emotions in the eyes.  My parents were quite strict, and if it was not the moment to talk, you would know. It was in their eyes. And they both had very light eyes, very expressive. So, from early on, I was always trying to read into people’s eyes. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, now you’ve become recognized for your painting and your work. You have a few galleries with you. How does it feel to become a recognized artist? Is it a more solitary life in a way?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Yes. It has changed, especially because the way I paint takes so much time. It is, for sure, lonely work. But the relations with the gallerist are very important. I love to exchange with Robbie Fitzpatrick, my gallerist in Paris. When I paint in the studio, I am alone, but Rodrigue Fondeviolle, my boyfriend, who is not in Paris right now, is normally never far. He’s a writer and photographer, and every day, he writes while I paint. We are both artists in our own fields, and we always work in the same place, even if it’s in different rooms. When I work, I sing and dance in front of my paintings. It must be so annoying for him. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you recreate a world of fun and noise and parties around your paintings?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — The paintings are quiet, but you don’t know how much noise is behind them. Or in front of them. It has always been that way, since I was a kid. I sing loudly, and I dance. It makes it intense for the painting to happen. But when you say I’m solitary, I am. Even with the people I paint, they’re never in front of me. I mostly paint from the memory of them.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I thought that you started from photographs?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — I just use photos for the details, like when I need to go back to some beauty mark that I missed or the way the eye folds a little. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you start from a sketch? 

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — No, I observe the person. I don’t like preparatory drawings, so I recreate the person when they’re not around. For me, the best way to reproduce them is to recreate them from their absence. That’s how I’m most effective in bringing them back in front of me. That’s also why I have to know them well. When I talk to people, I watch them, and I think about how I would paint them. Sometimes when people talk to me, I can suddenly, unconsciously stop listening. I’m just looking at how I could render a certain color they have in the corner of their eye.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And in terms of fashion, your paintings are very minimal.

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — It’s very minimal because I did so much fashion illustration with many details, like the light on a certain angle of the buckle of a belt. In the end, I needed to get away from it. And to be honest, fashion doesn’t interest me as much as it did before because it’s not the same for me. There aren’t many brands that I’m interested in.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you see the evolution of fashion from this distance?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Well, I long for fashion to go back to what I think it was — less of just a market and more of the mirror of human evolution. I think we lost that in fashion because economic issues now outweigh artistic and ethnological ones. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — There’s less room for people like artists. It’s a massive industry. 

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — It’s more of an industry than it’s ever been. It has changed so much since the ’90s. At the time, I would never have enough money to buy all the clothes I found interesting. I loved Margiela. I was fascinated by that way of presenting yourself to the world. That was a new, weird way of thinking. The body could be shaped in a certain way. We could put these weird clothes on and dress in such a different way than our parents or grandparents did. As a teenager and then as a young adult, I loved thinking of the ways you can introduce yourself to the world, especially as a queer person. Fashion helped me do that.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Would you define your art as queer?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Yes. It’s an intrinsic part of my work — of my identity, of my artistic affinities. Most of the people around me — the friends, artists, and models I paint — are queer. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — And is it also a self-portrait?

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Exactly. There’s an autobiographical dimension. My paintings tell a story of intimacy, encounters, and the crystallization of an identity. A story where the queer dimension is central. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — In that sense, the world of fashion and the world of art have opened up this possibility for the nonbinary.

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — It has, definitely. That’s a thing I would love to see evolve in the fashion world. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — There are a lot of new, young designers who are more fluid.

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Yes. It’s more fluid than before, and many collections are unisex, which is important for me. When I was younger, I always dressed in the women’s lines. Questions of gender may not have arisen in the same way in art, but queer sensibilities were invisibilized, too. Of course, Francis Bacon was gay, but you didn’t see it that much in his work. I mean, it was a straight man’s world for such a long time. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s not that the queer artists were not there. 

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — No, of course not. We were talking about Claude Cahun, who actually worked with her partner Marcel Moore, and we could mention many others. But they’ve been marginalized for decades. Most of them remain relatively confidential. What reassures me is to see the emergence of trans artists and nonbinary artists at the forefront. There is still so much work to be done, of course, but it’s evolving in the art world.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What kind of bodies do you like to paint? 

CÉDRIC RIVRAIN — Bodies are so multiple. That’s why standardizing the body is weird. In many ways, I don’t fit the archetypal male body. There are so many different bodies, so many different shapes, so many different ways of presenting your body. 


[Table of contents]

The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

Table of contents

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