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Fashion opens new spaces wherein the human moves

art point designer Lena Kvadrat talks to Liudmila Aliabieva, Muscovit editor-in-chief of the magazine „Fashion Theory“*

Published in Rondo, weekend supplement of the daily newspaper Der Standard, Oct 14, 2016.

LA: You founded your label art point at the end of the 90s in Russia under the conditions of a transitional economy. In 2001 you moved to Austria, and since then you have lived and worked in Vienna. Your collections have titles like “Crisis of the body”, “Traces”, “Fold’, or currently “Re:validation”, about which you also write texts and essays.

Your clothes are wearable, but on the runway you present them in the form of performances, and amend them with “unwearable” attributes/accessories such as white skateboards, eyewear with white glass, wigs on oversized peaks of baseball caps. For your collection “Escapism” you even wrote special lyrics…

You have been running a Concept Store in Vienna for many years, which you recently re-designed and expanded. At the same time you have consolidated your label on an international level. Your clothes are worn in Canada, USA, Russia, China, and Japan. Starting from this basic information regarding your development, I would like to pose the first question: What is the role of the “theory of fashion” in your work as a designer?

LKV: Fashion theory as a structural model nurtures our understanding that there is no clear boundary between concept and phenomenon in reality, both are elements of the overall system. It helps us to stay above the water, at the moment of the birth and death of trends.

These fast moving phenomena are based on different layers of information: corporeal practices, the duality of fashion, the perception of oneself as an other through clothes, cultural codes, paradigm shifts. Theory serves as a system of coordinates that helps us to find the best path for our work, and keeps us from being drowned in the “ocean of fashion”.

LA: You define the act of selling as a purely communicative process. You conduct seminars with your employees, and also offer them to the public. You completely avoid the typical opening dialogue between sales person and customer such as “May I help you?” or “Are you looking for something specific?”. What do you offer your customers instead?

LKV: Yes, I understand fashion mainly as a form of communication. For selling this means primarily paying attention to what the customer is focused on. The first information about the product must be concise and is preferably offered in a playful way, which requires a rather “bold” approach to information transfer.

Suggestive questions about the physical needs of warmth or coolness, length or shortness, narrowness or width help in formulating an image of a potential purchase. “Potentiality” is for me the key concept in retail theory. Today the customer, in terms of the material aspects of the product, does not need anything. It’s not about what we wear, but rather about our indirect affiliation to an idea, the desire to have something in one’s field of vision, to own it, as a form of participation.

Fashion communicates a permanent surplus in this or that direction, it does not let the scales freeze into a state of balance. So what has already been seen becomes uninteresting from the perspective of the new, but it is still worn, now from the angle of experience. And at the end of the season the pendulum of width, thickness, length, and other parameters swings back in exactly the opposite direction. For what?

So the economy of the “a-ha!”-effect automates itself and brings on the next step of consciousness. Change – this is what the human is occupied with. A new combination of components. Fashion has no unwritten prohibitions … in the long term. It reminds us of the ephemeral nature of any stability. The customer today looks for ideas that mirror his or her immersion in the world of potential.

The essential moments of communication with customers are for me: brevity, speed, humor. A key to a situation: In order to quickly understand the direction of the customer’s thoughts we do not show one, but two samples from a group. We comment on the product from the perspective of its functional properties and its position within one or other duality of fashion, rather than from the emotional perspective of the sales person.

Lena Kvadrat | Re:validation. Black & white post-ethnographic notes, 2016 | Digital print on Backlit Display | 240 x 160 cm

Lena Kvadrat | Re:validation. Black & white post-ethnographic notes, 2016 | Digital print on Backlit Display | 240 x 160 cm

LA: I asked the editorial team to insert an image before our dialogue that was created as part of your recent artistic project “Post-Ethnographic Notes”. In this work you play with the theme of fashion campaigns. For the shooting, in which some of your regular customers participated, samples of your upcoming summer collection 2017 were used that have already been presented at international fairs and are currently produced for your distribution partners.

In the vitrines of the exhibition accessories were shown under glass (shoes, bags, jewelry), and presented as if they were found in an archeological excavation of a fashion-civilization.

You wrote a fake text about “This Tribe” which – according to the results of radiocarbon analysis – settled in “This Territory” in the year 2016. One of the characteristics of this tribe was that they painted accessories white, because all other means of accumulating symbolic capital had already been exhausted. In this way you transfer us into our own future – with a few goosebumps from experiencing our own fugaciousness.

In this work you talk about how, today, it is possible to identify every subculture or “community” as a “tribe”, even if it does not belong to a common physical territory, because the basic principle that identifies a group is its clothing, cultural practices and interests. Today people can live in different parts of the world and be nevertheless connected as a community in the virtual space of a specific self-construction. What was decisive for the emergence of this project?

LKV: Ethnography, or as we say today, social anthropology. The courage of people to visit “others” and try to describe them from the viewpoint of their own imagination. The phenomenon of ethnographic photography was also important.

A fascination for different strategies of vestments: From men in Papua New Guinea who work all their life on a headdress made from their own hair, to jeans cut at the knee, to the wearing of baseball caps, and the cyclical and epidemic dissemination of such practices.

LA: For 18 years you have designed and produced two collections a year. What is your starting point? A text? The collection title? The silhouette? Something ephemeral? Feminine and masculine proportions? A shift? The combinatory potential?

[To be continued.]

* Teoriya mody began in 2006 and is published four times a year by the Moscow publisher NLO. It is the Russian issue of the magazine “Fashion Theory. The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture”. ISSN: 5-86793-472-1

In 2017, “Teoriya mody” published an extensive illustrated interview with Lena Kvadrat about her work as a designer and the development of her brand art point. The Russian version of the text is available online at the following address: NLO Books | Teoriya Mody No. 45. A translation into German and English is currently being prepared.


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