June 20th, 2012
Interview with Tamara Albu: Fashion + Sustainability—Lines of Research Series
by Mae Colburn
Tamara Albu teaching design fundamentals to young weavers in Maheshwar, India.
Tamara Albu: It seems that fashion, in general, has a slow start in whatever is happening in the global industry and I think that the same slow start happened with sustainability. We are at the beginning stage in fashion here, but I think we’ve passed the stage of resistance. It’s happening. I’m feeling optimistic now.
As Associate Professor in Fashion Design at Parsons The New School for Design and former Director of the AAS in Fashion Design program, Tamara Albu plays a central role in defining Parsons’ fashion curriculum. Her enthusiasm resonates throughout the program. Originally from Romania, she travels widely, witnessing for herself the many breakthroughs now occurring within the global fashion system. She described the work of Anne de la Sayette who, for the first time in human history, is effectively producing natural dyes on an industrial scale in France, planting (in Tamara’s words), “huge areas with the blue, the green, the red.” She described a vertically-integrated textile manufacturing plant in India, Pratibha Syntex Ltd., which employs some 8,000 local people and sells cotton seeds to local farmers at half price, asking for payment only after the crop has sold. She described the 2006 Yamamoto exhibition in Antwerp, where visitors were invited into the design process by touching, and even wearing, garments on display. Her optimism, grounded in these discreet innovations, reminds us that sustainable fashion is, perhaps, best defined by example.
Mae Colburn: It might be helpful, at this early point in the conversation, to establish a working definition of sustainable fashion.
TA: Yes, I can name two things that we’re talking about when we refer to sustainability, but before I name those things, I want to say that it’s a very complex system. What might be, let’s say, a good example of social sustainability might not meet the economic or ecologically-sustainable dimension. I think it’s actually easier to define what is sustainable in the food industry than in the fashion industry. It’s more clear-cut, but nevertheless, there are a few factors that may contribute to an item being sustainable or not.
One of the key factors is, of course, the carbon footprint, which brings us to local versus global, or ‘glocal’ – a new term that describes exactly the kind of complexity we’re arriving it. So [a garment] might be produced locally, but distributed globally, or vice versa. Glocal is really a good term to describe this mixture between what is sustainable on a small scale, and what is systemic on a large scale.
That brings us to fast fashion against slow fashion. Slow fashion is more related to the local, where you grow your own animals or plants to obtain the fiber, extract the dyes from plants or insects, make the fabric, create the samples of the collection and produce with a relatively small assembly line that might include members of one’s family or particular community members. […] The social aspect of slow fashion is providing meaningful work to people who would otherwise have to give up their skills in order to make a living. It’s something very valuable on many levels, and very much related to wellbeing. It nourishes the soul and it nourishes the body at the same time.
Handloom women weaver at Gudi Mudi, the social business supported by the WomenWeave Charitable Trust.
I went to India in January with a colleague of mine, David Goldsmith, for a research project (Slow Fashion: India) and we spent a good portion of our trip in Maheshwar, where a group of practitioners and scholars […] were meeting to put together the basis for the Handloom School. The school was launched by WomenWeave to provide education in design, textile technology, business, and sustainability for handloom weavers in Maheshwar, and also to awaken a general knowledge and appreciation of “low tech” hand weaving (which has now been replaced almost entirely by “high tech” fast and large production vertical systems). That being said, I believe that the vertical and horizontal systems can not only co-exist and interact, but can, in fact, complement each other superbly.
MC: How do you think fashion education factors into this larger discussion about changes within the industry?
TA: I think it’s the key element. You get used to something; you don’t want to change. It’s comfortable; you want it to remain that way forever. It’s not easy to change.
MC: And yet fashion is predicated on change, right?
TA: Well, I think it’s a kind of change, but I don’t consider it real change. It’s more like a habit. I mean, maybe I don’t make such a good advocate for fashion (laughs).
But back to why I think education is such a key factor: our students are young, and full of energy, and ready for change, willing to change, eager to change. I mean, we educate our students to not only look at how pretty the fabric is, but where it came from, how it was made, what was involved in the entire process; to not only look at where they bought that pretty fabric, but to be interested in how, who, and why it got to be pretty. And also, what is pretty? When certain factors are considered, you might not find that fabric so pretty. We, as educators, are the ones that need to inject these parameters within every course we’re teaching. I don’t care if I’m teaching Portfolio, or Studio Methods, or Drawing. In every class, there’s so much you could give to make [students] sensitive to these issues. I don’t think [students] should have the option to choose sustainability or not. Every course should have a component of sustainability, no matter what you’re teaching.
MC: So you’re saying that now that we’re past this stage of resistance, the word itself, sustainability, is perhaps no longer needed as a distinguishing factor in programs such as Parsons?
TA: I don’t think so. It was so overused in the beginning. It was just a fashionable way to say nothing, really. To me, it was a buzzword that I felt would come and go. But the more I started reading and being exposed to the word (not being involved myself, just by just listening to what other people had to say), I started becoming more interested. It’s sort of like the air you breathe – it has to be integrated everywhere: the way you eat, clean, smell, touch – all your senses, and all your thoughts, should be guided by this because there is an end to how much this planet can give. It’s not a joke. It’s reality.
MC: How many years have you been at Parsons?
TA: Many years. I started at Parsons in 1992 as an adjunct instructor, and then I became full time in 2000, so twelve years in this position.
MC: So I’m sure you’ve witnessed other changes during this period?
TA: Yes, but I think this is the most dramatic of all. Parsons is really committed to being as involved in this movement as possible. I mean, if I hadn’t had Parsons’ support, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to these conferences, and talks, and symposiums. I went to France, to La Rochelle last year; to Italy for two very important workshops on sustainability; to Sweden – that’s where I met Yvon Chouinard. He was the key speaker at a conference, Design of Prosperity, about sustainability within the fashion industry. I think it was David Goldsmith who asked Yvon about his definition of beautiful fashion, and he said, ‘you know, everybody thinks about fashion differently, but when I talk about what is beautiful in fashion, I think of a seventy-year-old lady in a gorgeous coat that was beautiful twenty years ago, and is still beautiful now.’ For me, that’s a perfect definition of fashion.
MC: Would you add anything to his definition?
TA: No. It’s very much connected to how I feel about fashion, and I know fashion changes every season, so the twenty year old coat, it’s the opposite of what you would think. But for me, it’s beautiful. So no. It should have a long life, not a short life; it should gain value with age. You can look at it for eternity, really admiring every detail and the whole harmony between the labor, the fabrication, the color, the texture. This is why I consider fashion a form of art.
MC: As way to tie up, are there any projects or initiatives at Parsons that have really inspired you?
TA: I’ll give you an example of a course developed by Luciana Scrutchen and Julia E. Poteat called Textile Design Exploration. It’s about making the materials, the dying process, and designing the textile surface in the context of cultural, economic, and ecological imperatives. It’s exciting to see how our students are starting to realize that they can design a garment from scratch by making the fabric (weaving or knitting it), then playing and mixing various types of fibers to create their unique collection. When they are designing that way, they become so much more aware of the power of experimentation and the benefits of trial-and-error, which is so important in the creative process. They learn […] that process is a crucial and rewarding component of their education. It is an education in itself, experimenting, and not only in fashion. I think it’s a general value. When you make your mistakes, you try again, and improve the process as you try, and go a little bit further, a little bit further, and then you perfect that.
Tamara Albu earned her M.F.A. in Fashion Design and Illustration from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest in 1976. She is now an active artist and Associate Professor of Fashion Design at Parsons School of Fashion.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher based in New York City.
Posted in Designers, Fashion & Technology, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, Textiles, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
June 7th, 2012
Interview with Pascale Gatzen: Fashion + Sustainability—Lines of Research Series
by Mae Colburn
A student’s response to Jean Luc Nancy’s Being Singular Plural from Pascale Gatzen’s class of the same name, Fall 2010.
Pascale Gatzen: Sustainability has to do with awareness, with love, with wellbeing, with the realization that we are creating this world together. It’s about exploring what we can be and who we can be, about connecting to a sense of play, pleasure, love, care, to a place where we value each other, where we see and are seen by others, and where we are willing to share, to be vulnerable, to be courageous.
Pascale Gatzen describes her position at Parsons’ School of Design Strategies as that of a facilitator, nourishing “a productive flow of energy” between students. She isn’t interested in perpetuating disciplinary distinctions, social constructions, or the capitalist paradigm. She’s motivated by love, which for her involves movement, exchange, and relationships. Her logic stems from the realization, after years working in fashion and art, that creative production is too often motivated by insecurity and the need to prove oneself. Her focus now lies on the relational aspects of fashion, on alternative models of exchange. She describes student projects that include gifting, bartering, trading – models that explicitly forge a sense of proximity, immediacy, mutuality between people, between materials. For Gatzen, sustainable fashion is about nourishing a productive flow, motivated by love, of clothes, ideas, and identities.
Mae Colburn: You, and others, often use the words ‘love’ ‘play’ and ‘beauty’ to describe your practice. How did you develop this relationship to fashion?
PG: Growing up, I was interested in the idea of clothing, and fashion eventually became the focus of my education. I didn’t understand the notion of fashion practiced at that time. I didn’t see any real progress, or any movement. I didn’t see the difference between a shirt that was produced in one kind of cloth one season, and in another kind of cloth the second season. For me, they were the same shirt. I can’t say that my work was necessarily playful at that time, but I did at that time become aware that love was very important to me, that it brought me the most life energy, and that the closer I stayed to myself and to my own fascinations, the more vibrant my work would be.
Later, when I started teaching at Arnhem [ArtEZ, Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, Arnhem], I discovered that with the introduction of H&M and Zara, students had stopped touching their own clothes. There was this illusion that because they had access to fashionable clothes (which they could buy, because they were cheap), they were participating in fashion. So I started doing assignments with students that were very much about dressing. They had to dress themselves; they had to dress each other. They had to experiment with the notion of clothing, the power of dressing, which is a very vulnerable process. We have a lot of investment in how we dress and how we see ourselves, but something beautiful happens when we move beyond our comfort zones and everybody starts to feel vulnerable at the same time. Things become less absolute, less fixed, and people begin to feel a sense of play with their clothes and identities.
MC: On the Parsons’ website, you’re quoted as saying that you want students to “test the intersection between fashion and reality.” What do you mean by this?
PG: If I said ‘reality,’ I was probably referring to habituated reality. We live in this seemingly fixed reality, or at least we think we can trust certain things around us. With clothes, most people identify with a certain style, and they gain confidence from what they think they are and how they present themselves to the world. I did a workshop once where I compared the work of Coco Chanel to the work of Yves St. Laurent. If you really look at the work of Coco Chanel and see how it’s made – her attention to the make and finishing of the garment was amazing; how the lining was quilted into the jacket, the small metal chain against the back hem to weigh the jacket down, ever so lightly, the lack of interlining and shoulder pads, the way the sleeves fit into the body of the jacket allowing for movement and comfort – it’s very much about the person wearing the piece of clothing rather than the clothing as image, which is what I see on the catwalk and what Yves St. Laurent never escaped. Even if it’s an image of comfortable clothing, his clothing remains mostly image. Catherine Deneuve is quoted as saying that that you can wear Yves St. Laurent under any social situation because you’re protected, but I think Coco Chanel would say that clothing shouldn’t take up all the attention, that it should allow a woman to emerge as herself.
How do you engage the world? Do you engage in the world from a position of curiosity or do you engage in the world from a sense of fixed reality in which you have to protect yourself from everything that can happen? For me, of course, the first is more interesting and has a lot more potential for growth.
MC: Could you describe a workshop or project that you’ve done that encompasses these notions of curiosity, play, love – one that you’re particularly proud of?
I’ve done many projects and I always feel they’re very special. For instance, I worked one summer, as part of the Parsons’ DEED project, in Guatemala, with five students and two artisan women’s cooperatives, Ajkem’a Loy’a and Barco in San Lucas Toliman. The beauty of that was being together for a month and seeing those students for who they are, completely. There was so much love between all of us. They were so focused – taking care of each other and taking care of me – and very responsible towards the work we were doing. There was a fullness of experience, of exchange.
That’s something that I also felt when I did an intensive program in DasArts, a post-graduate program in The Netherlands for theater and performing arts. They don’t have a fixed program; they have a sequence of different artists come in and do three-month intensive workshops with twelve students. We spent whole days together. We cooked together, ate together, and were living and learning together. I structured our days so that we did yoga together in the morning and had singing lessons three times a week. There was a real exchange of knowledge, of experiencing together, of going through rough moments and very amazing moments. I love the notion of life becoming part of teaching, teaching becoming part of life.
I also created a sequence of core classes, what is now known as the Fashion Area of Study in the Integrated Design program in Parsons, and the third core class, Love, is really about this, about students recognizing that fashion is not an isolated practice. It’s about integrating that practice in your everyday life, where they live, how they eat, and in exchanges with friends. That’s the most important thing I can imagine teaching to my students, and teaching with my students, because a lot of them just naturally understand these things. […] The traditional notion of learning involves a hierarchy between the teacher (who has the knowledge) and the student (who doesn’t have the knowledge). I think that’s the first assumption that we have to abolish if we want to grow a different type of world. Everybody possesses knowledge, which is of value to us all. I know knitting, I know sewing, I know patternmaking, but I’m much more interested in seeing students teach each other how to knit. If the students are teaching, then they understand that they have the ability to teach and grow and that’s what will support them when they’re out in the world. I think that’s the most important lesson: that they can always learn, always grow. And teaching and learning, growing are definitely not confined to the classroom.
A “singing blanket” that student Daniel Anesiadou made for a public event at DasArts in Amsterdam in spring 2005.
MC: What kind of theoretical background do you share with your students?
My teaching is very much about experience, but I do include some theory in class. Last semester I wanted my students to understand the capitalist paradigm, so we read Marx and Being Singular Plural by Jean Luc Nancy, and now we’re looking at Hannah Arendt. We read Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, and we read The Gift by Lewis Hyde. We also read and look at the work of Sister Corita. Those are a few texts that I definitely use, but I don’t overwhelm them with theory. What I’ve learned in the past is that theory is more easily understood when there’s an experience to accompany the theory. The most successful theorists speak from a deep engagement with the world around them, and I think that’s very important.
Other people that are very influential to me – the way I think, teach, and practice – are people that I invite to teach. Susan Ciancolio is a very big inspiration for me. She has been teaching in the Fashion Area of Study for four years. I also have a very lively connection and exchange with Caroline Woolard, who teaches the barter class [at Parsons], and I’m very happy that Otto von Busch has joined our team. I’m very inspired by the people that I’m surrounded by.
MC: What do you hope to see your students to achieve in coming years, in fashion and beyond?
PG: At the moment, I think it’s about creating hybrid types of practices, hybrid types of life. Some of my students who graduated last year formed a business and living cooperative, building a business and growing their own food in a community garden nearby. If you support students in what they’re strong in, in what they want to do, they become more confident, more capable, more able to master their lives and make informed decisions.
I know from working, and many of my students know from working, that if you are really immersed in a dynamic relationship with your work, you will come up with unexpected insights that will result in unexpected outcomes. For me, it’s important that we constantly re-invent the forms that we engage with and relate to in order to give other possibilities for life. That’s what practice is about – constantly advancing the forms, because the forms are only ever temporary, limited, never sufficient for our ever-changing nature. We are always changing and always in a state of flux so we need to re-invent and continuously open up new possibilities for life to continue.
MC: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
PG: I love the exchange of collaboration, of growing together. I just think that cooperation is a much more natural way to live than practicing individually. It’s about care, and love, appreciating and respecting the things that we live with: the people, the objects, everything.
Pascale Gatzen is Associate Professor of the Body Garment Track at the School of Design Strategies at Parsons the New School for Design.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher based in New York City.
Posted in Designers, Performance, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, Textiles, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
May 31st, 2012
Interview with Otto von Busch: Fashion+Sustainability—Lines of Research Series
by Mae Colburn
“In your skillful hands, the sewing machine is a tool for liberation!” reads a passage on Von Busch’s website, where users can download everything from ‘zines, to toolkits, to recycling “cookbooks” such as the one featured above. Cookbook by Otto von Busch.
Otto von Busch is a craftsman, researcher, and activist. He joined Parsons’ Integrated Design Program (IDC) this past September and has since become the natural cynosure of a lively conversation about fashion and social engagement. His website,>SELF_PASSAGE<, features essays on topics ranging from mending, memory, and mindfulness, to spirituality, cyberspace, and sustainability. He speaks English with the lilting, faintly lyrical accent of a highly spirited Swede and has the remarkable ability to detect and demystify subtle metaphors buried in otherwise familiar words (fashion-able, sustain-ability). He is, in short, a master of remastry.
Mae Colburn: You completed your PhD, “Fashion-able: Hacktivism and Engaged Fashion Design,” at the School of Design and Crafts at the University of Gothenburg in 2008. Could you describe how you arrived at that topic?
Otto von Busch: I started studying different crafts at craft schools in Sweden after finishing high school. I really wanted to become a guitar builder, so I was studying carpentry and cabinet making, building guitars, restoring mandolins, banjos, and those sorts of things. Then I decided I should try something else, so I went to another prep school for printing and weaving and started taking patternmaking and sewing classes. But after a while it all felt very introverted, so I started studying art history. I thought ‘ok, I can try this for a while,’ and I got sort of stuck and studied art history for many years.
Later, I studied at a program called Material and Virtual Design (sort of interactive design and industrial design coming together) at Malmo University in Sweden, and that’s how I got into more ‘computer-ish’ thinking. That came together in trying to understand how open source, hacking, and open platforms could apply to fashion. I was recycling clothes and thinking about how I could produce fashion recycling programs (I called them ‘cookbooks’) that people could download, where people could follow my simple instructions but apply them to their own projects, like what was happening in hacking, Wikipedia, Linux, where the user was suddenly engaged as a collaborative knowledge producer – where the user’s knowledge is acknowledged.
So the question became, how could designers encourage people to become designers themselves, so that fashionable meant not only dressing people fashionably but also making them fashion-able – how could that engagement happen? And as a designer; how could you merge that sort of network thinking about open source with fashion? That’s how it came together at the end of my studies, which also became the theme for my PhD.
MC: You discuss Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and John Dewey’s Democracy and Education in your PhD. Could you go into more detail about how educational theory influenced your approach to fashion?
OVB: Of course they were influential as I tried to see how fashion could be turned from a phenomenon of passivity, or of very limited choices funneled through our socio-economic position, into a more liberating or capability-building process. I’m especially fascinated by the heritage of sloyd, the heritage of craft education, or shop class, and how that emerged in the mid 19th century – Friedrich Fröbel and the Kindergarten movement, and the birth of the Montessori school and these sorts of alternative pedagogical models that are very much about producing craft skills, hand-eye coordination, having agency in the world, agency because you are learning how to produce things, how to fix things.
It comes down to basic freedoms: if I know how to fix my bike, I have a choice that I didn’t have before. Knowing how to do something also produces another attendance to the world, another attention, another awareness. If I, as a designer, teach people to reclaim the sewing machine, they can also learn to see the complexity of the details of clothing – they can recognize good craftsmanship, and that’s an agency of empowerment, I think.
MC: I’ve noticed that you’re often described as a heretic, demagogue, hacker, subversive – kind of a ‘bad student.’ And, indeed, much of your work in fashion is about subverting, questioning the system. How does this role translate into your experiences teaching at institutions such as Parsons?
OVB: Those terms are a little provocative of course, but at the same time, as I write in my thesis, a heretic isn’t necessarily an infidel. It’s somebody who uses the system to give way for liberation. Also with demagogue, hacker, I try to put the emphasis on constructive critique, or positive change.
From a pedagogical perspective, working with social engagement in general can be very tricky within the academic industrial context, but that said, you have to create your own free space. I think it was a student of Georg Simmel who wrote about his lectures that he felt as though he was at a place where thought was being born, not where thought was being repeated. I love to do projects like that, where I’m as curious about something as my students, and I hopefully manage to convey that curiosity in a structured way. I’m lucky at Parsons that some of the courses in Integrated Design allow that space to happen. Currently, I’m leading a course called “The Gift,” where students set up Etsy stores, but also challenge the borders of what’s sold on Etsy. Could you sell services? How can you find your own independent voice within a standardized framework like Etsy?
In Otto’s Community Repair Project at the London College of Fashion (2011), students explored the social dimensions of home sewing by collaborating with community members to repair unused clothing. Garments by Rachel Clowes (top) and Renee Lacroix. Photos by Otto von Busch.
MC: You use two phrases throughout your writing that seem to define a certain pedagogy – ‘small change’ and ‘action spaces.’ Could you give us some examples of how these ideas come through in your teaching?
OVB: You’ll have to come and see. Some of the latest projects have turned out really well, such as the Community Repair project with MA students from Fashion and the Environment at London College of Fashion. We used garments in need of mending as probes for students to get to know their neighborhood and their neighbors. Instead of leaving it to the tailor or just throwing it away, how could you engage your neighbors in the repair by barter service in a site-specific way? It produces all these histories, sort of a narrative litmus paper, and brings out local qualities. Of course it’s a small change, but as a fashion designer, how could I set up a brand that would actually work exactly like that? A brand that produces new local action spaces rather than only happening within the commodity economy?
MC: Could you say a few words about how your work relates to sustainability?
OVB: I don’t talk about sustainability in my work, and if I do, I usually talk about abilities and the ability to sustain values. I think that we have to disseminate abilities, whether it’s the ability to repair, or the ability to have attention to detail, or the ability to use the sewing machine. It’s about building those capacities rather than disseminating the commodities. How do we produce the ability, the courage, to dress and interact with the fashion system differently?
Otto von Busch is Assistant Professor of Integrative Fashion at Parsons the New School for Design. He holds a PhD from the School of Design and Craft, University of Gothenburg.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher based in New York City.
Posted in Designers, Fashion & Technology, Performance, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
May 23rd, 2012
Interview with Timo Rissanen: Fashion+Sustainability—Lines of Research Series
by Mae Colburn
MLS Pyjamas, 2011
When I met Timo Rissanen, he was fielding a flurry of emails and phone calls. His office was crowded with books. Sample garments were piled next to the door. The arrangement was clearly deliberate, testament to his belief in the productive synthesis of research and design. Rissanen is one of few academics globally to bear the word ‘sustainability’ in his title. He developed the idea of Zero Waste fashion in his P.h.D. dissertation, “Fashion Creation without Fabric Waste Creation.” Now, he’s teaching Zero Waste at Parsons the New School for Design, where he is Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability.
MC: How did sustainability inform your own education?
TR: Zero waste fashion design started for me in 1999. We had to do a written dissertation in our final year of undergraduate before we went into final collection, and mine was on Madeleine Vionnet and her influence on Issey Miyake, John Galliano and Claire McCardell, and myself. I actually wrote in the conclusion that it might be possible to design clothes without wasting any fabric. After graduating, I went into industry, had my own label for a few years, and worked for a few other people. Then in 2004, I decided to put the label on hold and got interested in postgraduate study. […] It’s been just over seven years now.
It’s been interesting the shift over these seven years, too. People were skeptical [of zero waste] in the beginning. Things like ‘I’m not sure it’s possible to design without fashion waste.’ Or whether it’s possible within the industry from a cost point of view. And also a very valid point about the much bigger problem of waste connected to the level of consumption, the idea that we don’t hang on to the clothes we buy. When I started my PhD, the main focus [in fashion and sustainability] was on materials. That’s still important, but it’s just one piece of a much bigger picture: the fashion industry as a system, fashion consumption as a system, human culture as a system.
I would encourage more fashion designers to get into research, although it’s still a fairly new thing. That’s been one of the responses from people [regarding my PhD]: “I didn’t know designers could do a PhD.” It’s sort of a duel challenge because if you look at fashion design in an academic context, it’s done a pretty good job of isolating itself from other design disciplines, so there’s loads that’s been written about design theory over the past 20 to 30 years in particular, but most of the time fashion design doesn’t enter the conversation. I think it’s partly the fact that fashion has lived this very insular existence. Even with the way that fashion media writes about itself or writes about the industry (and particularly fashion designers), there’s a lot of myth building about the practice of fashion design.
MC: Do you feel like there are enough educational resources available to teach sustainability?
TR: When Kate Fletcher’s book came out four years ago, it filled a massive gap, as did the book by Janet Hethorn and Connie Ulasewicz, which I was in as well. Before then, apart from some conference papers and journal articles, there was very little [on fashion and sustainability] in terms of books. I had a book out last year with Alison Gwilt, and I know that Kate Fletcher has a book out this year with Lynda Grose. They’re really the two people that I look up to because they’ve been doing it for two decades. They’ve been so generous with information, recognizing that the problems are bigger than us as individuals and any of the institutions that we might work for and also bigger than any one country. The industry is global. The really tough problems cross boundaries on so many levels. It’s going to take collaboration.
MC: In terms of educational infrastructure, it seems like there are some very strong sustainable fashion programs in England. Am I right?
TR: The London College of Fashion had the first MA program in fashion and the environment but Parsons was quite forward thinking in that sense, too, in that they started advertising the role that I’ve got in 2008. Apart from Kate’s role at LCF, which is Reader in Sustainable Fashion, I think my position is one of the few still globally where the word ‘sustainability’ is actually in the title. I also know that within a couple years, sustainability will be implemented into all of Parsons’ core courses. Quite often, sustainability has had to reside in electives or students get introduced to it in their third or fourth year of study, but really it has to be present from the ‘word go.’ It’s going to be consistent from 2013, and it’s going to be part of the education that everybody at Parsons gets.
We’ve had increasing numbers of seniors taking sustainability on of their own volition. I’m also aware that in the junior and sophomore years there is an increasing number of students that are interested, which is fantastic because they are the future. I feel very optimistic for the industry. That’s the beauty of teaching, really. You see these young people that are so passionate and so committed to keeping what’s amazing and what’s beautiful about the industry but then really working on the things that aren’t. That’s how I see the next 20 to 30 years: trying out lots of different solutions to lots of different problems. It’s going to take us at least 20 to 30 years before we have an industry that’s really about producing beauty in all its aspects. That’s how I look at things now: let’s create an industry that’s about creating beauty, and not just beauty in its garments, but beauty all around.
Endurance Shirt I, 2009
MC: How does the Zero Waste curriculum tie into these themes?
TR: I present Zero Waste within the larger context of fashion and sustainability and explain that it’s is one potential solution to this problem, but that there are of course other problems that have other solutions. The one thing that I really didn’t expect to come out of my research (it was kind of a nice side finding) is that Zero Waste fashion design can really be a gateway for other fashion design. You simply can’t design Zero Waste fashion in the same way that a lot of fashion is designed in the industry, where design is considered to be a sketch which is then given to a patternmaker. In Zero Waste fashion design, you have to begin making the pattern before you know how the garment is going to look. What that’s saying is that patternmaking is integral to the design process. That’s a shift in thinking and a challenge for a lot of people – both students and a lot of industry people that I’ve spoken with – because historically in fashion education, but also the way the industry is organized, all of those skills tend to exist within their own categories: you’ve got the designers, the patternmakers, the cutters, and the machinists, and there’s kind of a hierarchy. With Zero Waste, you have to bring the patternmaking and the cutting and the making into the design process. Once that shift happens, it actually becomes very easy.
When I show students [examples of] Zero Waste pattern layouts, I always ask whether anyone is scared. Some of them always say ‘yes’ because they see these beautiful, finished Zero Waste pattern layouts. To some of them, these look like a form of witchcraft or black magic. But that’s just the final product. The process of getting there can be quite messy. That’s probably the one thing that’s shifted in my teaching: I make sure that I show the messy parts of the process, this combination of sketching, patternmaking, paper-folding, draping. Quite often I can’t say that ‘I designed that garment through draping’ because there were all these other messy parts to it. So I share that with students, but I don’t expect them to work like me. Every designer works differently. It’s dangerous to paint a picture of fashion design as one formulaic process.
Endurance Shirt I (Pattern), 2009
MC: Can you describe how sustainability integrates itself in the classroom setting, within the curriculum, even within the student dynamic?
TR: With my class of seniors, a lot of [the curriculum] has to do with asking questions and figuring out their place in the world as designers and as human beings. I’ve had students say ‘Why would I design anything ever, the world doesn’t need any more clothes.’ To me, that’s the most beautiful thing a student can say. Of course to complete their degree, they’ll have to produce their ‘six looks,’ but it’s a beautiful question to be faced with, because you only have to go shopping for half an hour to know that there’s too way too much stuff in the world.
Whether you worry about fabric waste or animal rights – whatever it might be – all of those things have to do with personal ethics. And that goes back to my teaching. I don’t impose any of those things on my students. What my job really is, is to give students the best possible information and a variety of viewpoints.
MC: You mentioned that research is really important for fashion designers. Could you explain?
TR: What I would really love to see is more questions asked about fashion design practice itself. Historically, I think that a lot of what we – fashion designers – thought about fashion design was based on assumptions. But it’s shifting. Every year there’s more fashion designers doing either Masters or Doctorate degrees, and that’s great. It’s not about academizing fashion design. It’s really about learning more about what we actually do and how it can be done in the future.
Timo Rissanan is Assistant Professor of Design and Sustainability at Parsons The New School for Design. He previously taught fashion design in Australia for seven years.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher based in New York City.
Posted in Designers, Fashion & Technology, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
May 23rd, 2012
Fashion+Sustainability—Lines of Research: A New Fashion Projects Series
by Francesca Granata
Just in time for the summer weather, we are starting a new series on the many ways in which a number of people here in New York are working towards a more sustainable fashion “industry.”
Mae Colburn, a writer and textiles researched based in New York is curating the series. We thought of starting close to home and thanks to my current position at Parsons we were able to get in touch with some of the most exciting researchers, designers, and educators working at the crossroads of fashion and sustainability.
Naturally we decided to start with Timo Rissanen, Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability, whose amazing work and teaching are truly re-structuring the way we think about fashion in New York!
We do hope this series might inspire you in your practice as a consumer, wearer, or designer/maker of clothing. And please do send us your comments and questions!
Posted in Designers, Fashion & Technology, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
May 14th, 2012
Prada and Schiaparelli: Impossible Conversations
by Ingrid Mida
It seemed like it would be an impossible task to match the Costume Institute’s McQueen blockbuster of last summer with an equaling compelling and aesthetically engaging display. Nonetheless, curators Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda achieved the impossible in their latest exhibition called Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. In this witty and provocative installation, they have set a new bar for curation of fashion by their creative use of technology and their innovative juxtaposition of fashion from the past and the present.
Waist Up - Waist Down Gallery
Although Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) and Miuccia Prada (b. 1949) came from different eras, they both challenged cultural norms and expressed their unconventional ideas about beauty and femininity through fashion. Koda and Bolton developed themes that reflected the two women’s shared interests and visual aesthetics, but also identified their different approaches to design by creating imagined conversations between the two designers. It is in this novel approach to animating the exhibition, which reminds us that garments reflect the ideas and attitudes of their creators and are designed for living bodies.
Surreal Body Gallery
Taking inspiration from Miguel Covarrubias’s “Impossible Interviews” for Vanity Fair in 1930s, the imagined conversations are presented in the context of a dinner party with Miuccia Prada sitting at one end of the dining table and Elsa Schiaparelli at the other. The script for their conversations was developed from the text from the 1950s autobiography by Schiaparelli and from interviews with Prada that suggest a real-time response. Schiaparelli’s part is played by an actress and Prada responds as herself. Their imagined conversations seem like good-natured arguments between two friends, infusing the installation with whimsy and a cheeky playfulness.
The exhibition has a modernist, clean aesthetic and includes ninety designs and thirty accessories from the two designers. In general, the rooms are dark putting a spotlight on the video presentations, and creating focal points through selective lighting of the outfits on display. Mannequins act as blank canvases for the garments and are organized in thematic groupings of Waist Up/Waist Down, Hard Chic, Ugly Chic, Naif Chic, and aspects of the Dressed Body. There is an aesthetic coherence to the four rooms, providing a unifying element for what could easily have become a chaotic mess without the tight editing and restraint that Koda and Bolton have demonstrated in this visually appealing installation. Although Schiaparelli’s lobster dress and skeleton dress are not on display, the exhibition cleverly makes reference to these iconic garments and conveys the whimsy, irony and unconventional nature of these important designers.
Exotic Gallery View
In another stroke of brilliance, the curators commissioned Guido Palau to make customized masks for the mannequins. These masks, each unique and exquisitely embellished, add an element of surreal fantasy to the display, as well as unifying the presentation. These masks often play off the design elements within the garments themselves. For example the mask accompanying the gown for the Tear Dress, 1938 by Schiaparelli and Dali, includes a Dali moustache.
Naif Chic Gallery View
As a whole, the exhibition gives the viewer cause to consider the nature of fashion and art. At the press preview Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said “Schiaparelli’s collaborations with Dali and Cocteau as well as Prada’s Fondazione Prada push art and fashion ever closer, in a direct, synergistic, and culturally redefining relationship.” There are also direct references to the two designer’s opinions on the topic and it is clear that this is a point of difference between the two. In the Ugly Chic gallery, Schiaparelli said: “Dress designing…is to me not a profession but an art.” To this Prada responded: “Dress designing is creative, but it is not an art…. But to be honest, whether fashion is art or whether even art is art doesn’t really interest me. Maybe nothing is art. Who cares!” The exhibition closes with an animated conversation between Prada and Schiaparelli on the nature of fashion and art, in which the designers conclude by agreeing to disagree. This part of the exhibition caused me to smile. It seemed to provide another connection to my interest in the intersection of fashion and art, and I recalled my conversations with Harold Koda and other curators on this topic. Imagining my own conversation with Miuccia Prada, I would have suggested to her that instead of “Maybe nothing is art”, maybe everything is or could be art. To that, no doubt she would have responded like she did in the installation: “The term [artist] itself seems old-fashioned. It’s a term that does not relate to modern times. And it’s too confining. What I love about fashion is its accessibility and its democracy. Everyone wears it, and everyone relates to it.” And on that point, we would have agreed.
Prada and Schiaparelli: Impossible Conversations opens to the public at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on May 10, 2012 and will run until August 19, 2012.
Photo credits: All photos provided courtesy of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and are subject to copyright.
Ingrid Mida is a Toronto-based artist and writer who is interested in the intersections between fashion, art and history. She has a show called “Constructions of Femininity” opening at Loop Gallery in Toronto on May 26, 2012 and will be speaking at Fashion Tales 2012 in Milan in June 2012 on “The Metaphysics of Blogging”.
Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Fashion & Technology, Museums
May 9th, 2012
Panel: Defining Chic: Then and Now
by Francesca Granata
Next Tuesday May 15 I will participate in a panel in conjunction with the exhibition “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute. The panel Defining Chic: Then & Now is moderated by Julie Gilhart (fashion consultant) with Leandra Medine (The Man Repeller), Scott Schuman (The Sartorialist), and Lynn Yaeger (Vogue.com Contributing Editor).
Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Lectures, Museums
April 26th, 2012
Hacked Design at laRinascente, Milan
By Simona Segre Reinach
During the Salone del Mobile 2012 (Milan Design Week 16-22 April) la Rinascente, Milan’s most fashionable department store, is hosting ‘Hacked – Rebellious Imagination’(16-21 April). For those who don’t know already, hacking is a growing global movement, predicated on modification and customization. It’s about taking what exists and altering it in ways that create unexpected, dramatic or playful narratives. Hacking history draws on elements of Bauhaus, DIY, Arte Povera and Punk, combining it all with the excitement of new technology.
Over the course of 100 hours laRinascente has been radically altered inside and out to become an interactive expermental lab space. Following a contemporary concept of appropriation, alteration and transformation which pervades art, design, web and technology, Hacked is an experimental programme curated by Beatrice Galilee which includes live activities and events, installations, performances and workshops. Temporary, site-specific works by artists, architects and designers include a monumental hack of t laRinascente colonnaded façade by CarmodyGroarke; a flexible, movable ‘HackedLab’ stage by EXYZT; and – very briefly – a scale model of Large Hadron Collider.
The hacked lab programme is intended to provide a platform for young designers whose work exists outside of the parameters of conventional exhibition-objects and across various disciplines. One of the most interesting installation staged by EXYZT is TAP TAP, an installation inspired by the ‘Taxi Bush’ – the Haitian taxi, famed for their beautifully decorated exteriors, set up by Alexander Romer, a berlinese architect based in Paris. TAP TAP is a van organized into a modular system that, after its first stop at laRinascente will travel around Italy, promoting performance and participation from the public. The first opening event of Hacked on Monday, Botanica, the workshop from Studioformafantasma has taken place into this TAP TAP van and is a homage to plastic and its future.
laRinascente has long been known for promoting new designers in Milan.
Promoting new designers has long been one of laRinascente’s main aims. Hacked celebrates brilliantly the store’s 150 years of activities and its strategy for the future. Tiziana Cardini fashion director, commented that laRinascente wants to give to young designers the possibility to experiment with new ways of conceiving a product – no only for its functionality only, but also for its quality of participation, expression and performance. As Beatrice Galilee stressed, Hacking is about building bridges between different industries: design, architecture, fashion, art and performance. It also raises questions about creativity, independent design and the relations with mainstream consumer culture.
I have interviewed for Fashion Projects both Beatrice Galilee, the curator of the event and Tiziana Cardini, laRinascente fashion director.
Simona Segre Reinach is Contract Professor at Bologna University, Italy. She also teaches at Domus Academy and MFI (Milan Fashion Institute). She is in the advisory board of Fashion Theory and of Dress Cultures Series by I. B.Tauris and a member of MIC (Moda Immagine Consumi) a center for Fashion Studies at Università Statale of Milan. Her latest book, Un mondo di mode. Il vestire globalizzato, is published by Laterza (2011).
Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Fashion & Technology
April 26th, 2012
Interview with curator Beatrice Gailee
by Simona Segre Reinach
SSR In which ways did Milan Design Week and la Rinascente inspire your project Hacked?
BG This is my first time working in a shopping mall, and I found a lot of enthusiasm from the people here in Milan. The shopping mall is an exciting place to involve people in the events, which is exactly what ‘hacking’ is about. For me, having to organize so many events, three times a day for the duration of the Milan Design Week is, of course, both challenging and inspiring.
I particularly liked the idea of working during the Salone del Mobile (Design Week) because people come in person to the Salone. They want to be present. People make reservations, buy train and air tickets, they like to really participate in the event. I like the idea of people wanting to be there and to do things. We devote one of the days of the Design Week to laRinascente customers and to the people who will call, everybody is invited to participate. Performances such as ‘make your own thirsty plant detector’ and ‘build your own musical instrument’ are examples of design participation and creative experiments.
SSR What’s the relation beteween art, design and fashion nowadays?
BG They are all cultural fields although they involve different roles. But they have a lot of things in common too, interesting forms of collaborations between art, design and fashion are emerging – nowadays it is really about exploring boundaries among different fields. Artists, architects, fashion designers and designers are influenced by each other more and more.
SSR Is hacked somehow questioning also the concept of copyright? Is there any difference between design and fashion concerning copyright (as in fashion you can protect a logo/brand but you cannot protect a style)?
BG This is an interesting question. I think that copyright is becoming less and less important. The whole idea of Author with a capital A is undergoing severe change, challenged by the very act of the creative process. Products are becoming a completely open source. In a way this is liberatory, but, of course, it entails a lot of changes in the way we think about design. The relation between author, producer and buyer (consumer) is no longer a neatly separate one, but there is continuous interchange between these three elements of the process. Traditional authorship of course still exists, I would say it runs in parallel with these new forms of creativity in which the roles are constantly redefined, to set a new form of commerce and patronage. Take for example kickstarter.com – it is an interesting platform devoted to all new ways of funding and following creativity. You can design a dress and then find somebody there who can create it according to your and his or her ideas about making and distributing. You customize the ways in which you can put that dress on the market. For a new generation of designers, the idea of a ‘product’ to be manufactured, distributed and sold in the traditional way is no longer interesting. Using hacking, strategy, fiction, technology, science, performance, play and collaboration as tools of their trade, collections of emerging agents of design have demonstrated a different way to exhibit and experience contemporary design.
Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Fashion Shows
April 26th, 2012
Interview with Tiziana Cardini-LaRinascente Fashion Director
by Simona Segre Reinach
SSR La Rinascente has often hosted events during the Salone del Mobile of Milan. This year it looks as if you want to be more involved in the actual co-production of an event. How did this develop ?
TC: This is the first time laRinascente is totally in charge of a big event. Before we just had partnerships with the likes of Interni.This time we thought that the time was right, we were ready to be part of the excitement of the city during the Salone. We have a strong heritage of relationships with the Milanese designers starting with the 50s and 60s Compassodoro and we have worked in the past with big talents like Bruno Munari, Gio Ponti etc.
SSR: Why hack?
TC: We wanted to choose a concept which crosses art, design and technology and is part of the language of design today and could be understood by today’s design community. It is also a concept that is very of the moment for the artistic community in general. Transforming a reality into something else. It’s a tool. A way of being in a relationship with the creative process.
SSR: Why Beatrice Galilee?
TC: Because she is one of the coolest and most relevant young curators today. She has a great knowledge about today’s trends and design, not to mention she’s very well connected within the design community.
SSR It is a shared idea that the Salone del Mobile (and more generally design) is an open system, which endorses participation from the public – whereas the fashion weeks are the very opposite: elitarian and selfcontained. Is the Hacked event meant to bridge/connect the two worlds – fashion and design –both very well represented at la Rinascente?
TC: No, not really. We wanted to do something really specific about the process of creating design. And we wanted to do something where people can really participate. We weren’t really thinking about working on a different scale, or creating a new relationship with fashion. That wasn’t the aim.
SSR: What does such an event mean for la Rinascente?
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Performance
About Fashion Projects
Fashion Projects began in New York in 2004, with the aim to create a platform to highlight the importance of fashion — especially “experimental” fashion — within current critical discourses. Through interviews with a range of artists, designers, writers and curators, as well as through other planned projects and exhibits, we hope to foster a dialogue between theory and practice across disciplines.
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