Visitors stepping into the Willem van der Vorm Gallery at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam in the next few months will find themselves surrounded by a series of designs by Rejina Pyo characterised by experimental shapes that are in some ways reminiscent of Roberto Capucci's eccentric sculptural dresses. But while in Capucci's wearable designs there was a contrast of volumes, in Pyo's unwearable sculptures there is a contrast in the dynamic interrelationships between materials.
The designs - in bright shades and incorporating materials such as metal and sheets of plexiglass - are part of the “Structural Mode” collection, commissioned by the museum to Rejina Pyo.
Born in 1983 in South Korea but based in London, Pyo got an MA in Fashion from Central Saint Martins. Her graduate collection - inspired by modern art and sculpture, but also by Ellsworth Kelly's 1950s paintings - featured elegant and long dresses characterised by fluid shapes matched with wooden sculptures carried during the graduation show by her models.
The pieces, looking mysterious and a bit primitive but also endowed with a symbolic significance and a hieratic meaning, were selected to be featured in the "ARRRGH! Monsters in Fashion" exhibition hosted at the Benaki Museum in Athens. The designs also won Pyo a job at Roksanda Ilincic's label and a collaboration with H&M's Weekday, for which she created a range of designs based on her MA collection.
The jury of the biennal Han Nefkens Fashion Award - comprising Penny Martin, Viktor & Rolf, José Teunissen and writer and collector Han Nefkens (from the H+F Fashion on the Edge Foundation) - selected last year Pyo as the winner. The prize - founded in 2008 and boasting among its previous winners Christophe Coppens and Charles LeDray - was aimed this year at fashion designers in non-Western and lesser known European countries.
While working on the collection, Pyo probably wondered what does the boundary between wearable and unwearable imply and what is the result of the equation between two very different expressions, annulling the corporeality of a woman and at the same time highlighting it.
The answer to Pyo's quest was a series of elegant gowns, colourful sculpture-like habitats for the body with built-in panels in mixed materials creating curves, spirals and exuberant circles.
The designer recently launched also her Spring/Summer 2013 collection, dedicated to modern young women, characterised by dynamic yet minimalist forms and constructed using simple sheer and matte panels of fabrics.
Can you tell us more about your studies and your first experiences in the world of fashion?
Rejina Pyo: My mum - who is now an interior designer and painter – used to work as a fashion designer when she was younger and I always looked at her sketchbooks when I was a kid. They looked incredible: whenever she was making something, I would wrap the fabric around me and play with it. I started to learn how to use a sewing machine from her and made some dresses when I was 14. Fashion was just everywhere for me. The MA course at Central Saint Martins was a special experience: you are right in there from the start doing it for yourself, creating your own collection to be shown at London Fashion Week.
You created a range of designs based on your MA collection for Weekday: did you find it challenging to adapt your pieces to a commercial market?
Rejina Pyo: Weekday loved my graduation collection and wanted me to create something along the same lines. So the collection is based on that same idea, which is a contrast between material and colour, but with more wearable designs. I was thinking about how girls dress these days and I think a big part is being able to play with their clothes and how they look. I therefore decided to create fresh and simple clothes where the back and front panels are in different colours and materials, like black and red and silk and linen. That way they can turn it around, tuck it in, wear it with a belt, accessorise it, dress it up or down - in a nutshell, make it their own. I would say it wasn't challenging...it was actually fun!
Which were the themes/inspirations behind your graduate collection?
Rejina Pyo: I love simple abstract shapes and blocks of colours and also modern art and sculptures, so I took inspiration from my favourite artwork, for example paintings by Ellsworth Kelly from the '50s. The simple, primitive aesthetic and block colours of this artist, and of others like him, is what drove my collection. I wanted to achieve something that was elegant and timeless, yet at the same time I wanted the garments to be effortless and unrestricted, which is why I chose these fabrics, such as brightly coloured silk and linen, both giving a fluid and at the same time raw and organic look to the final designs. I chose these two fabrics as the texture, weight and movement play against each other beautifully.
How did you feel at winning the Han Nefkens Fashion Award and at being honoured with your own display at the Museum Boijmans?
Rejina Pyo: I actually thought it was a scam when they first called me! I was at work and incredibly busy and this woman on the phone started telling me about this enormous prize fund and a very prestigious award, I just thought it was someone trying to fool me! Now that everything has actually happened I am so happy and very honoured to have been chosen. I had never been to the Boijmans before but now it's one of my favourite museums in the world, and not simply because I am exhibiting there, their collections are incredible. It's really well-curated and I love the contrast between modern art and classics, even the restaurant is beautiful.
The new creations you were commissioned by the museum look very architectural, what inspired them?
Rejina Pyo: I wanted my collection to strike somewhere between art and fashion, which suited what the museum wanted also, as they were looking for something that progressed on from my MA collection which used wooden sculptures along with the garments. The brief was very loose and it could be in any form, which gave me a lot of freedom. The boundary between art and fashion is always somewhat blurred, so I wanted to experiment with a more direct approach. I did not want to create fashion garments that could be worn and had just been inspired by the colour, mood or design of an art piece, instead I wanted to create sculptural art that had been influenced by garments. So none of the pieces is wearable, although at first glance they look like dresses or garments to some degree. Then when you get up close you can see the pieces are made using metal and plastics, together with some fabric, creating in this way sculptures in their own right.
How long did it take you to develop the newly commissioned pieces?
Rejina Pyo: I was working at Roksanda Ilincic as a full time designer. I thought I might be able to do both jobs, but in the end I had to commit myself full-time to the exhibition, so I left Roksanda. I think it took me about 6 months from research to completion. It was hard to find the right people to work with at the beginning, as I had no idea where to find them. But once I did, things ran more smoothly.
This is a question without a definite answer or with an extremely long answer, but I'm going to ask it all the same: in your opinion, can fashion be art?
Rejina Pyo: I think art and fashion share a lot of things. It's something that you want to look at, you want to possess, there is often the element of the surprise or the unexpected, it can be beautiful or ugly and ultimately it is a matter of taste. So for me fashion is absolutely an art form to a certain degree.
Is there a designer/artist you particularly like and that you consider as a constant inspiration?
Rejina Pyo: I don't have a favourite designer or artist. I take inspiration from a very wide range of people.
What are you working on at the moment?
Rejina Pyo: I am standing at a crossroads, literally. I can launch my own label or I can go into the industry for more experience. I finished another small collection for the S/S13 season which is very wearable. We shall see, as they say!
"Structural Mode" is at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, until 20th January 2013. Pyo's designs will also feature next year at the '"ARRRGH! Monsters in Fashion" exhibition at La Gaîté Lyrique, Paris (12 February – 07 April 2013). You can keep up to date with further events on the designer's site or by following Rejina Pyo on Twitter.
All images courtesy of Rejina Pyo/Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; Photographs of the "Structural Mode" display at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen by Lotte Stekelenburg.
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