Meet Paul Ropp. The visionary, the renaissance man and the revolutionary designer.
Paul Ropp, you were a major figure in the 60’s movement. The first time I saw you was at one of your events in Central Park, NYC. You wore a Herbert Johnson, a majesty of England’s private milliner’s top hat made for the Ascot Races, a long cape and had a huge black, great Dane dog at your side. You were the wild man they called the Mayor of Central Park! Tell me about being a part of the revolution of that era.
That was an incredible era. The flavour of those times will never be replicated, however its influence is all around us. The seeds of that movement are still flowering today. People came together in an inexplicable way. It was a true movement, a community of ideas and ideals. Max’s Kansas City in NYC was a place everyone gathered from Warhol to Jagger, Bowie, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and a few people that are right here in Bali today. People today cannot imagine. It was a meeting place for us outside the system; a meeting of minds and philosophies. We took the time to be in the present. We gathered in Central Park on sunny day, playing music and embracing all the possibilities that lay before us where colour was abundant. That flavour of ‘what was’ will never be replicated and a few of us seriously committed to a very different lifestyle. As Timothy Leary advised, `Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out.’ After going to Woodstock I showered Central Park with American Flag rolling papers. It was an act of performance art which took me from the Central Park events to the White House lawn during a mass protest with my friend Abbie Hoffman. I flooded the Isle of Wight Festival where Hendrix was playing. The American flag papers were dropped on Tuscany, Italy and throughout Europe. The success of these endeavours eventually led me to India.
How does that ideology affect your design work? If fashion is politics, what is your message?
I don’t follow fashion and I don’t do politics. I believe in true change and I support things that work. I have an intergalactic perspective so it would be pretty narrow-minded to only focus on what is going on here; on this planet Earth. I enjoy what is and I enjoy who I am. Changing the planet isn’t my role in life. I live and enjoy the present. If we think, talk and act properly and positively, that will change the world.
You were among the first westerners to export garments from India. How did that happen?
I made very sophisticated, unique t-shirts. The t-shirt is the most basic classic garment. I hand silk screened 23 different spiritual motifs, using Buddhas, Garudas, and dancing skeletons on each shirt, which are now in museums. Western skulls and tattoos combined with Chinese Tibetan motifs. This skilled labour could only be found in the East. They were evolutionary. I sold all the Boutiques, which at that time were more clubs than shops. The boutique of Tiger Morse, whom I consider a mentor, is now in a museum in Chicago as an environment of an artist. I worked with Paul McGregor, and Peter Max. I did eight-foot canvases entitled “The Comic of Fashion” supported by Leo Castelli, the innovative art dealer. I then took the cheapest, most commonly used fabric of India; 100% hand spun and hand loomed cotton and started making flowing garments. I was in all the major publications and I dressed all the top models such as Christie Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs, Pat Cleveland, Janice Dickeenson and of course the fabulous Jane Hitchcock, who appeared on the front page of Women’s Wear Daily [USA’s fashion bible]wearing my first Bali collection.
Despite being a vagabond of high fashion and dressing rock stars and art icons, you were living and working in New Delhi. What brought you to Bali?
I came to deliver John and Marie De Coney’s first daughter, Wayan in Goa, India. I came to assist on the second daughter, Made De Coney. I split my time between India and Bali.
What elements make the current Paul Ropp Collections unique?
Our fabrics, which are hand-spun, hand-loomed cottons and silks from India. These fabrics will last forever. I believe clothing should be sensual not sexual. Actually I don’t believe in fashion, I believe in ‘oooh and aaah’. All our fabric is recycled into product. There is no waste. We do clothing for men, women and children. We do accessories such as shoes, bags and thigh high boots, embellished with intricate artworks of fabrics. I have created a line of home furnishings and I recycle fabrics as art in my tapestries. The Paul Ropp label includes an Islamic collection of exotic Oriental and African styles made in rich colour tones. I just created a line of Winter Wear, heavy hand-loomed fabrics for jackets and pants.
Who is your customer? What is your largest customer base?
I design clothes for people who prefer to be naked! I make garments that are an affordable luxury for well educated and well travelled people that know quality. Forty percent of my customers are men. Our largest market is right here in Indonesia. In Bali we will soon have eleven shops. Thailand has six Paul Ropp stores and two more stores are in the process of being opened. We are at the Duty Free shops in Jakarta. Our market is also strong in Japan, Brazil, Peru and throughout the Americas. The brand is global and in over 35 countries.
It’s the most culturally creative per capita place on earth.
How do you envision Bali in a decade?
Bali missed its chance. It should have been made a living museum.
Any brilliant ideas for the future?
The Paul Ropp Art Hotel! When you walk into the lobby, the colours, textures and details make you smile. Everything is for sale, you simply log onto your computer and it’s yours. Everything will be unique and inspiring. Every room will be different and there will be a continuous flow of transient creativity and comfort throughout the environments. High technology meets beauty. Hand-painted smart cars will be available to drive. It will be a place where people can meet their potential.
It sounds incredible. I’m spinning out just envisioning it! Any words of wisdom to share with us?
Funny things happen when you have the dance in you and you are open.