The Outdoors Indoors With Spencer Phipps
Welcome to the Paris home of Spencer Phipps, the 35-year-old designer from San Francisco. After stints working with Marc Jacobs and Dries van Noten, Spencer eventually moved to France and founded his own eponymous label, Phipps. It’s a brand that prides itself on being firmly rooted in the great outdoors and placing sustainability at the core of everything it does. When he’s not designing clothes, Spencer’s great love is climbing, so much so that he recently installed a climbing wall in his apartment. In a feat of incredibly fortunate timing, he managed to finish building it before the current corona lockdown came into place. Here Spencer himself models some of his latest collection and talks about his dreams of being back in nature.
Eliot: Hi Spencer
Spencer: Hi Eliot
E: How are you?
S: I’m pretty good.
E: So I remember when I last saw you in Paris in January you showed me a photo of the climbing wall you’d just started building at home. You must be so glad you got it finished when you did.
S: The timing couldn’t have been better.
E: Tell me a bit more about it. It’s in a spare room?
S: It’s this weird room you have to walk through to get upstairs. It’s ok as a guest room and would be fine to sleep in for a couple of nights but it wouldn’t work as a permanent bedroom. So I decided to build a climbing wall in there.
E: Of course you didn’t know this pandemic was going to happen, so why did you decide to install it?
S: The main thing was, I realised my schedule gets crazy, and the only time when it’s really nice to go to a climbing gym is in the morning or in the middle of the day on a weekday when it’s not that busy. You want to have time, feel relaxed with your friends, try something new seven times in a row until you’ve gotten better at it without anyone interrupting you. Whereas in a busy gym after work you have one chance after you’ve wrestled your way to the front of the queue and you’ve got 35 people watching you. It’s really not great.
E: It must be brilliant to have this thing in the privacy of your own home.
S: Exactly. It’s not olympic level or anything but I’m setting my own routes and working at my own pace which is nice. And it turned out to just be amazing timing. But I have to say I can’t wait to actually go out and climb properly again.
E: I guess your regular climbing gym won’t be open any time soon but things are opening up in France and you might be able to go outdoor climbing soon?
S: Exactly. The rules are, you're not allowed to go outside of 100 km from Paris. Or at least that’s what I was told.
E: I’ve got Google maps up now, because I was curious to see what 100 km actually looks like in terms of the distance from Paris and it’s not bad. There seem to be a few large forests you can get to.
S: Well, you can get to Fontainebleau, that’s something. There are lots of bouldering areas around there. The last time I went climbing outside was in Fontainebleau, actually. It was really lovely. A beautiful sunny day, I remember.
E: What do you do on a day in Fontainebleau?
S: It’s super nice. You basically just go and hang out in the woods. You can take the train there and walk out and it’s basically a bouldering gym, except it’s actual boulders.
E: For people who are not at all familiar with climbing, can you explain the significance of Fontainebleau? It’s a historically important site within climbing, no?
S: It’s arguably one of the best bouldering spots in the world, you could say. Definitely in Europe, it’s really famous. There are guidebooks filled with all the different rocks and people come to France specifically to climb there.
E: Are there famous rocks?
S: They have names! Let me grab my books... There are so many clusters of boulders and all the rocks have numbers and all the routes have names. The rule is, if you discover a route you can name it whatever you want and that will go in the book and that’s what everyone calls it. So you’ve got “Le Coupe de Champagne”, “Le Exterminator”, “Les Écailles”, “Cross Country”... “Napoleon”, that’s a good one.
E: Any favourites?
S: My favourite, just for the name and also because of the area it’s in and because it’s also quite a classic one, is “Cul de Chien”... Dog’s ass.
E: Thank you for the translation.
S: It’s in this really weird area. Maybe Google it so you can see.
E: I will try but I’m afraid of what search results might come up.
E: Okay, here we go. Wow, it looks like a beach there. This is in the forest?
S: Yeah, it’s this area in the middle of Fontainebleau, it’s quite hard to get there but it's like a desert and there’s this odd rock in the middle of it. Millions and millions of years ago, Fontainebleau was underwater. Hence the sand and these unusual rocks.
E: It’s beautiful.
S: It’s really surreal to find a desert in the middle of the forest. So the blobby one that’s bigger on top, that’s the famous “Cul de Chien” rock. It’s really hard. There’s a big overhang and it’s quite flat so there’s not much to grip on to. You’re just hanging on by the skin of your fingernails, basically.
E: Where are you really dreaming of going climbing again?
S: Oh man, I want to go back to the US. I have a real hankering to go back. I just want to go back to California. I think it’s because I was planning a trip back home this summer and it’s not going to happen now.
E: Oh that’s frustrating. I’m sorry.
S: No, it’s okay. It’s nice to think about actually. I was going to go to Joshua Tree, then up closer to home and to Tahoe, I love going to Lake Tahoe. The whole family comes up and we rent a house near the lake. The only other person that climbs in my family is my little sister but it’s nice because the climbs are quite easy, friends will come with me. You can hang out in the sun all day. It’s a small thing, not the best wall but it’s the best place for me because it has all the best people there. I don’t even know the name of it. It’s small, a bit ugly, not really challenging, but I’m always at my most relaxed there because I’ve got my family, friends from growing up.
E: That must feel quite far away at the moment.
S: It really does. But I know I’ll go back eventually, and I can’t wait. More than climbing though, I have a really strong desire to swim. You know what I mean?
S: I just want to get sunburnt and jump off a big rock into a lake. That’s my real dream right now.
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