Integrating different disciplines together or employing materials commonly used in one field in another may lead to compromise and conflict. Unless you're fashion designer Marga Weimans. Since founding her label in 2006, Weimans has successfully fused in her pieces all her passions, achieving what may be dubbed as integrated design, a sort of perfect mathematical equation between art, architecture and fashion.
The first Dutch student to graduate in 2005 in Fashion Design from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Weimans went from strength to strength: her graduation collection “The Power Of My Dreams” won the i-D Styling Award in that same year; her “Debut” collection was shown in Paris, then exhibited at the Groninger Museum, where selected designs from Weimans' “Wonderland” series, featuring architectural elements from the Afrikaanderwijk, one of the poorest areas in Rotterdam, also became part of the collective 2011 showcase “Material World”.
Weimans recreated in her installation a series of spaces linked to a designer's life and career - a studio, a boardroom, a flat, an archive and even a flagship store - in which she displayed fashion designs and avant-garde sculptures that perfectly matched the various environments. The rooms recreated in the installation symbolised the spaces a designer needs to create the most beautiful dress in the world.
In the same way, each of the dresses from the "City Life" collection - some of them made with a print resembling chipwood, others in a black and white striated print of what looked like beams or an industrial concrete-like surface, plus a final showpiece incorporating mobile phones - was accompanied during the catwalk show that took place in July in Amsterdam, by an architectural metal and wood structure on wheels that represented spaces carved out of an entire house.
While Weimans' shapes are borrowed from vintage Haute Couture (think about her crinoline structures that she employs in an architectural way...), her choice of radical materials betrays her passion for experimental showpieces.
The designer employed so far 3D scanning and rapid prototyping, tin, iron, foam, resin and polyester-reinforced fibreglass for her creations, materials that belong to the construction field and not to a dressmaker's workshop.
Weimans will take part in the “Others About Us” lecture series organised by the Faculty of Architecture at Delft University on 23rd November.
You seem to have a wide range of interests, including art and architecture - what prompted you to pick fashion as your career?
Marga Weimans: I actually started studying Business Management at university, but, after a few years, I discovered that it wasn't what I wanted to do. I always liked creative arts - and therefore dancing, acting, drawing or making music - but I somehow took them for granted and didn't follow my interests, maybe thinking that fashion was a little bit too easy. Then I decided to follow my heart and switch profession. I quit my job and moved to Antwerp, did a propaedeutic year to train and go to the academy. I really wanted to go to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts since a lot of people I admire in life also had their training there and I felt inspired by their fashion shows.
In which ways do art and architecture merge in your work?
Marga Weimans: It's hard to explain since it's a very instinctual process. I'm very drawn to creative disciplines, even though I really love architecture. I think I'm drawn to disciplines that can make something out of chaos, that can create something beautiful or beautifully composed but also a bit far out. Architecture permeates everything I do: there is a lot of talk, research and exploration of different options behind my designs.
Quite a few fashion designers based in the Netherlands seem to have a connection with architecture, why do you think they are more interested in this discipline than designers based in other countries?
Marga Weimans: I'm originally from Suriname, so one of the former colonies, but in the Netherlands there has always been a long history of critical thinking. We do have a kind of critical approach to all kind of disciplines, from art and architecture, but we also distance ourselves more from them, so we sometimes look at things such as fashion in a more detached way, we maybe make a joke out of it or research it from different points of view. I guess that's what differentiates Dutch designers.
How many collections do you design a year?
Marga Weimans: I work in a slow way, as the first collection took me about a year and the other one as well. But then I usually work also on a lot of other projects that allow me to explore other disciplines. For example, I designed theatre costumes and worked on interior design, architectural and multidisciplinary projects as well. As I said, I like to take time and research things, but I'm slow also because I like living my life intensely, so I like travelling and being with my family as well. What irritated me when I was at art academy was the fact that I always felt a bit like the the odd one out for these reasons. I know I have to speed up as the time is ripe, but, while I don't mind about catwalks being two or even three times a year, I think it's really refreshing to show people that there can be different ways of working. Designers launch their Autumn/Winter collections in February/March and then buyers start pre-ordering them so many months in advance, but then there are a lot of designers who present their Spring clothes in Spring and you can buy and wear them immediately. At the highest ends of the industry, fashion can be a really hard world since quite a few people get stressed and drop out, so I think it's good to take a little bit of distance and introduce different business models that work all the same. Besides, with the Internet you're not depending anymore on a few power players such as specific shops or buyers.
How does your creative process work?
Marga Weimans: I like playing with and on different levels and exploring all the different aspects, from designing a garment to thinking about a building or a work of art. I usually start with a story and a concept and then I find the materials that tell the story, putting my tale into my designs and creating an item that can inspire people. I'm really a storyteller, but I'm also interested in how things change, so in the way our personal lives or life cycles change from birth to death.
What's the story behind your new installation and collection?
Marga Weimans: For my latest project “Fashion House: The Most Beautiful Dress in the World” I designed a sort of building, a “fashion house”, that contained a series of spaces where a designer can work, relax and create, spaces that you need to design the most beautiful dress in the world. Each space is accompanied by a dress. Illustrator Jeroen Koolhaas made a panorama of the house, a kind of landscape. The collection is the final embodiment of the installation.
So far you've worked with a wide range of materials, are there any specific materials you would like to experiment with in future?
Marga Weimans: In my first collection I worked with iron to create the structures and, since then, I've worked with materials mainly used in the construction business. I'm drawn to anything that is unusual, fabrics that are non-woven for example, such as felt. A while back I had a piece of foam and I thought it would have been cool to make a dress out of that, so I worked together with a designer who is well-versed in production to find a producer and make sure my dream of a foam dress became true. I just find things in different places and shops and I'm always thinking 'what if we made a dress out of this?'. I love to experiment, explore and show a different point of view to people, taking them down Alice in Wonderland's rabbit hole, letting them discover the different possibilities and taking them out of reality. I guess I like picking the materials in this way since I like playing with people's senses and emotions. For the “Wonderland” collection I used 3D rapid-prototyping, a process that allowed me to make things on different scales, and this went well with the fact that Alice changes dimensions through the story and goes from small to big, and then I created an illusionary and strange fairy tale world out of foam. This is how the materials tell the story for me: for the S/S 13 collection, I was thinking about building something but not being able to finish it, so using what you have and not having much money, that's why I focused on chipwood and materials that you throw away from the prototyping process or even garbage, to show the first stages of a “fashion house”, when you work with what you have. The materials I pick contribute to tell my story: for example, I'm not attached to any colours and I'm not a colourful designer, even though I've done collections characterised by bright shades, but usually materials dictate the colours as well.
Some of your shapes and silhouettes look very experimental and futuristic: do you use any digital systems to design your garments?
Marga Weimans: I'm not an amateur with computers, but I don't have the skills for that. Some of my silhouettes are inspired by vintage Haute Couture pieces, but most of the time I sit down and make a model using materials such as paper and foam. My assistants then help me making it in big scale or on the computer, but everything starts with a small model. I also like human interaction and I like talking in the studio, other designers may be inside their own world all day long, but this is the way I work.
Images 1-4: “Wonderland” Collection, Photographs by Menno Bouma
Images 5-9: “City Life” Collection, Photographs by Peter Stigter
Images: 10-14: “Fashion House: Most Beautiful Dress in the World' installation - Apartment, Mountain, Flagship Store, Boardroom and Archive - Photographs by Peter Stigter.
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