11 Dec HI-FASHION: Showcasing the Next Generation of Female Designers
From layered ninja-style to playful unisex to supremely kitsch garments, emerging fashion designers Justine Kelly Brown, Julia Bass and Blünke van Rensburg’s collections – when put alongside each other – appear like a visual liquorice allsorts. Julia’s Hidden Bodies has a neutral pallette with adrogynous appeal, Justine’s Kuji-Kiri introduces a street style with Japanese influence and Blünke‘s $ Cheap Indulgence $ embodies Harajuku girl and outlandish Gaga-esque flair. Earlier this week at HI-FASHION in Cape Town, all three collections were showcased together displaying strong conceptual processes and excellent craftsmanship.
Julia, your clothing has unisex appeal, how does this tie into Hidden Bodies?
Julia: The concept for Hidden Bodies came from my research into the effect of fashion and clothing on the wearer’s perception of the body. I wanted to create clothing that could improve the way the wearer saw himself or herself. I looked at how body image was constructed and the internal and external forces that affect it. A major one of these forces is gender. Society’s constructs place huge pressure on us to dress and appear outwardly as the perfect example of masculinity or femininity. When people feel they don’t live up to these expectations, they can develop very negative perceptions of their bodies. I really wanted to show how ridiculous and random these constructs were and how much happier we could be if we just ignored them and wore what makes us feel comfortable not only externally, but for all of our inner, perceived hidden bodies.
Is fashion art?
Julia: I think there are a couple different answers for this and they all depend on your definition of both fashion and art. If you consider all of the clothing retail industry as fashion, including all the Exact’s and Mr Price’s of the world, then are the mass-produced paintings you can buy in @Home art?
You could also definitely say that some couture garments are works of art in terms of the masterly skill and craft that have gone timelessly into their creation, but since the age of Modern Art, we’ve moved forward from thinking that art is only a high level of skill and craft.
There is also an argument for the meaning of design, to be problem solving. Much art exists for its own sake, while fashion, as it is seen as a branch of design, is created for the purpose of solving a problem and fulfilling a need. However, much of conceptual fashion also exists for its own sake. It is not made to solve the needs of others, but to express the designer’s message and ideas. I think a lot of designers would prefer to see themselves as artists. They call their work art for its craftsmanship and would prefer to see it in a gallery than out on the streets. I think though, in this instance, if as a designer you are going to call your work art, you need to motivate why, as an artist, you chose to express your ideas through the medium of clothing rather than a medium like painting.
There is already much to be said about the relationship between fashion and performance art. What we choose to put on our bodies will always be a type of performance. Each individual is his or her own performance artist. For me, I would prefer to see them as one joint form of expression, rather than two separate ones. While we have fashion as a branch of design, we can also have fshion as a branch of art; fashion art.
You made a jacket from a cheap Chinese blanket that made it to the semi-final round of the Foschini Design Awards in 2013. What unusual materials are you working with now?
Julia: I’m really enjoying taking fabrics out of their usual context. Who says duchess satin is only for ball-gowns? Is pocketing (a real fabric) only for pockets? Is a sweatshirt only defined by the fact that it is made from prescribed sweatshirt fabric? It’s also been really fun to combine fabrics that are never usually seen together, while also experimenting with different types of printing. The pink and blue marbling on the sweatshirts is actually PVA wall paint. We put so much pressure on doing things the right way, its quite fun try the wrong way, which is very much what that jacket was about.
Who is your current creative muse and why?
Julia: Okay, I have to name a couple. I’ll keep it to two, but one is actually a three-way split. Firstly Xavier Dolan. He’s a Canadian child actor turned incredible film-maker. Not only does he write and act in a lot of his movies, he also styles them. The clothing is always so amazing and perfect. I’m so inspired by the way he brings all the elements of his films together so expertly (and in a way you wouldn’t expect) to create one final, beautiful product. I’ve definitely found myself thinking: “What would Xavier do?” on multiple occasions. Secondly, there’s the collaboration of Serge Pizzorno, Noel Fielding and Aitor Throup. Although they’re from totally different fields (Throup is a fashion designer, Feilding is an artist/comedian, and Pizzorno is in the band Kasabian) they work so well together. The results are always kind of weird and twisted, hilarious, and totally brilliant. I love the idea of bringing art, design, and music together, preferably with a sense of humour.
Last we chatted was in the beginning of the year before you started your BTech. How has this built on your previous knowledge and inspired new ways or thoughts about designing?
Julia: Wow, so much! I feel like I’ve learnt loads, not only about fashion, but also the structures and context in which it exists. I think a lot of my ideas about the kind of designer I want to be, what I want to make, and how I want to make it have changed. There is so much luxury in the world already; so much consumption. I don’t feel comfortable adding to it. I feel like I need to try to do things differently. If anything, I want to influence the way people interact with their clothing, the way they think about it, to create an understanding about what clothes mean and why we choose to wear them.
Blünke, can you share your creative journey with us so far. Have you always wanted to pursue a career in the fashion industry?
Blünke: I would say yes, I’ve mostly always wanted to pursue a career in fashion. Before knowing what I wanted to do with myself, I knew that it would definitely be something creative. At one point I thought to do everything in the creative world, but now I’m totally devoted to my relationship with fashion.
Who is your current creative muse and why?
Blünke: My creative muse at this point in time is everything that’s cheap, flashy, trashy and colourful.
What kind of person do you envision wearing your garments?
Blünke: The kind of person I envision wearing my garments would be someone who understands my concept and would most likely receive it with open arms. Also, someone who isn’t afraid or unwilling to use fashion as a medium to express themselves. I would also appreciate if people who once rejected my work now uncontrollably love it.
The name Cheap Indulgence might imply a celebration of excess. What inspired this collection?
Blünke: This collection is inspired by a obsession with trips to the supermarket, kitsch prom dresses, fancy decorated cakes, neon lights and “goedkoop liefde” with a hint of gender issues.
Are you working on any exciting projects this coming year?
Blünke: Yes, I am working on a fashion film for this specific collection which is super exciting because I’ll be collaborating with some cool people. Also, my next menswear collection range has evil-androgynous-chic vibes for you to look forward to and I’m addressing the teen mom with my kitshy aesthetics.
Justine, you’re the CTFC graduate designer of the year. Tells us about your creative journey so far. Have you always wanted to pursue a career in the fashion industry?
Justine: As a kid I was always interested in design as a whole. Growing up, my dad always encouraged me to chop, nail, saw wood, paint, make a mess (but clean up), whatever it took really, and nudged me towards being a creative. He had a small-ish sportswear CMT company, and he struggled tremendously with late nights, financial issues as a family – I’m not shy about it because we’ve all struggled. My mother works for TFG, so I’ve been blessed enough to see that side of it all too.
So, I was exposed to the harsher side of the industry from a very young age through their involvement, and I’m honestly so glad I was. Many students enter this industry with the fairy tale idea of it being all glamour and money, and I feel blessed to have always had a realistic mind-set and am really grateful to my parents for what they’ve taught me over the years. I was not always interested in fashion, in high school I did a lot of sketches and anime styled drawings, and originally wanted to go into Japanese animation or graphics. It was only when I started noticing my sudden interest in the clothing worn by the characters I drew that I started giving fashion a thought. After a couple of years, I knew it was in this space that I felt the most ‘myself’ in.
Kuji Kiri is inspired by the 9 symbolic cuts or hand gestures used during Japanese ninja assassin meditation. How did this come to be the guiding premise for your collection?
Justine: Japanese street style has always been the basis of my designs – intentionally or not – there’s always been that golden thread and it was actually only this year I realized that and decided to embrace it. I love all tings Japanese! The CULTURE and ethos is absolutely remarkable to me, and I think it’s difficult to discard such fantastic sources of inspiration once it’s inspired you. As an individual I strongly believe in solitude and meditation, but deep strength and independence within it, and I think a boldness to be different regardless of how you’re perceived, as well and being true to oneself. That’s something that, for me, resides in not only ninja assassins but the culture as a whole. And I think what I love most about it is that when one thinks of a ninja, the immediate things that come to mind is precision, grace, wreckage and violence, beauty and anger and maybe even peace. Such an amalgamation of elements makes for a lovely concept for me. It’s scientific and it’s beauty in chaos. And, I think it speaks for itself in silence. Which is the main ninja vibe isn’t it?
What were some of the challenges and triumphs during the process?
Justine: I think my main challenge was being understood and guided. Many people who I needed help from found my ideas too crazy or too intimidating, or just did not have answers for me, simply because the creative grounds I’ve chosen to walk on is mostly undiscovered and misunderstood, especially in the Western world. However, I was lucky enough to be blessed with a handful of people – namely Walter, Shaun and Ahran, all from mine and Julia’s university – who helped me not only with my clothing but really helped me discover myself and trust my gut. I really owe a lot of it to them, things would have definitely turned out differently without them.
Who or what inspires your creativity?
Justine: Apart from all things street style and Japanese, Yohji Yamamoto inspires me. He is just absolutely phenomenal. He believes in a lot of the things I believe in; design comes above fashion always, what difference you are making in the world, wanting your customer to feel protected and lifted, and the importance of THINKING, the thought process, the questioning and understanding of every single thing in life, to find a way to benefit the world and the community and and disregard for materialistic ways of extravagant fashion houses.
What are you plans for next year?
Justine: Well, we did just have the fashion show on Monday, so we’re waiting on the film version to be published, hopefully that will go viral. Apart from that, I am a competitor in the Mercedez Benz Bokeh International Fashion Film Festival competition, so we’ll be creating brand fashion films soon – hopefully that will go viral as well. I’m also interning at Label Collections in The Point Mall, and will be showcasing my work in their window cases from 4-9 January which is quite exciting. My main focus is to learn and grow right now, as opposed to making money for stuff. I want to be the best version of myself I can be. Other than that, I’ve been overwhelmed with opportunities this past month so I’m just hoping good things keep coming my way.
HI-FASHION event photography by Bratpics