This Amsterdam-based designer was at it long before the hyped Vetements-slash-Balenciaga head designer started incorporating the art of copying, pasting and mixing different brands into his own designs–perhaps most visible in the latest Vetements spring/summer collection. Other than asking herself if Demna Gvasalia is following her, on a more serious note, designer and researcher Elisa van Joolen questions value systems in fashion. Presenting her most recent body of work titled one-to-one (R.Mariz), on view and up for purchase in the Patta Store in Amsterdam. She has teamed up with street wear labels Patta, By Parra, Bonne Suits and Ontour, and will bare the connections between these various brands, showcasing the objective and legitimate form of appropriation. Further, proclaiming the political act of copying and pasting is at the heart of all cultural production, one-to-one opens up new ways of looking at authorship and ownership. Copy that, Demna.
Could you briefly explain the concept behind your new project?
One-to-one makes up part of my ongoing project 11” x 17”, which hopes to examine and challenge the fashion industry’s prevailing value systems and proposes new methods of production. One-to-one refers literally to the working method I adopted for this project, as items of clothing became large-sized stamps, covered in ink. Having received clothing from four different Amsterdam-based streetwear labels, various clothing items were inked in blue and black and used as a printing tool–creating a chain reaction. So, Bonne Suits was printed on By Parra, By Parra on Ontour, Ontour on Patta and so on. They serve as a stamp and are stamped: each piece, simultaneously being an original and a copy.
It’s also about how in fashion clothing is made to look or appear more appealing. Emphasis is no longer placed on the actual garment itself or the fabrication but rather on the idea a garment holds. This project, however, reveals all the material properties of a garment–from seams to zip linings and fabric structure. The production process almost allows you to feel the material in the print. Revealing all the intricate little details, such as sizing, from a different brand on yet another brand. This makes it possible to really play around with the materiality of a clothing piece. For example, printing the brand logo of Patta on Bonne’s suits is a witty take on branding, logo application and brand identity.
How did you come to collaborate with four street brands?
What I found interesting was that this collection or series includes four brands that all produce in the same factory in Portugal. Before, I had worked with a variety of brands. I thought for this project it would be interesting to work with brands that produce their clothing in the same factory, making them almost family–like brothers and sisters. All of the clothing is sewed together by the same hands, something that is generally not spoken of in fashion. It’s interesting to see when exactly a brand is brought into existence as all the clothing is produced and manufactured in exactly the same way.
You seem to stress the position of the producer. What role does a designer take on in this manufacturing and production process?
That’s always a good question to ask, because who should we call the true maker of a clothing item? The importance of a producer is often left unmentioned and that’s why I chose to emphasize it. The creative directors and designers, of course, all create their own designs. But once the designs are sent out to a factory, the seamstresses are the ones sewing together the actual garment. Shouldn’t they be considered designers? It remains an interesting subject matter.
How are you challenging value production?
Value isn’t a static concept: it’s constantly changing. This collection challenges and questions the prevailing value system. I find it important that we speak about these value systems, so it becomes questioned and examined. Last week we did a photo shoot at Bonne’s studio. All brand owners were present and were wearing pieces taken from the collection. They all seemed pleasantly surprised by the result and the idea that their brands were incorporated in each other’s designs. It generated a really good conversation about how these labels are connected to each other, or not connected at all. That’s also what I’m most interested in: baring these connections.
How important is transparency to you? And specifically, in this body of work?
In my projects, I always ask a lot of questions. For example, who owns a piece of clothing, who is the designer and how is value shaped in the fashion industry or how do we come to value clothing? I believe transparency is the future of the industry. A good example is Honestby, who discloses the entire production process. This project also reveals the production process, be it quite literally, as all the creases, seams, folds, materials are visible on the actual garments. Revealing material structure, quality and even the way I placed garments on top of each other.
What’s your take on plagiarism in the fashion industry?
Well, I literally copy and paste clothing. Each piece is a stamp and is stamped on. So, it becomes a copy and original in one. A week back I went to see Manifesto, which was great to see! It’s a large film installation comprising thirteen screens. One of the manifesto’s Cate Blanchett enacts reads: “nothing is original”, further suggesting that one should steal with authenticity and not hide it. It also advocates Jean-Luc Godard’s words that “It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.” So, either copy and do it well or don’t do it at all. Copy and pasting is how we learn. Taking it a step further, the amount of likes and shares is also a form of plagiarism – that’s how you gain visibility in fashion. So, copy only when it’s done in an interesting way. Given we live in a media-saturated world, I wouldn’t expect anything else than fashion taking on the act of copying and pasting.
What are the general reactions you’ve received so far on your work?
When I showed my work in Stedelijk people commented they wanted to buy it. The collection was eventually acquired by the Stedelijk Museum. That’s also the reason why I continued and made a new series. I’ve already got people wanting to buy this collection! I don’t want my garments to merely be objects for reflection, but also something that you can embody. That’s the most compelling thing about fashion–you can study it and wear it.