Wonderland gets a lesson in DIY garments by designer Anita Hirlekar.
Icelandic, London-based designer Anita Hirlekar is a master of DIY. Getting the art of knitting and felting down at age five, it was only natural these textiles techniques found a way into the Central Saint Martins graduate’s BA and MA collections. Her graduate collection (autumn/winter 2014) captured the attention of Fashion Scout, as well as LVMH when Bvlgari approached her to collaborate on a handbag.
This September her collection caught Wonderland’s eye, as the rainbow thread fringing danced around the models’ bodies on Fashion Scout’s ‘Ones to Watch’ SS16 runway. Anita dives into the nature of her handiwork.
You’re from Iceland and we heard that you didn’t pick up your first Vogue until 18. What made you decide to move to London and study fashion at CSM?
I was really interested in peoples’ individual styles – and still am. I wasn’t so into fashion trends and labels, actually, I didn’t care at all, but was curious how people dressed and how to not blend in with everyone else. Growing up in a very small town, around 15 000 people, it was important to me not be like everyone else.
Me and my friends used to always make our own clothes and deconstruct vintage clothing. I was lucky enough to travel a lot when I was younger, and when I was 18 I went with my friend to London for three months to work. That’s when I saw that you could actually have a profession in fashion design. I read all about John Galliano and McQueen, and saw the CSM was the best place to study fashion. It wasn’t a complicated decision. It felt right.
In Iceland, people are more educated in knitting and crafts. Can you tell us about some of your earliest craft memories?
I was always making things from a really early age. In Iceland you get early education on craft skills – woodwork, felting and knitting – which is great because these skills are always in you. I remember being quite good at knitting and felting at the age of five, and making ponchos. There is also a big DIY culture, our grandmothers used to make sweaters and scarves and beautiful tablecloths in all kinds of hand techniques. This skill has been passed down to generations. There are so many young women making amazing handcraft.
You started felting techniques during your BA. Could you tell us more about what drove you to use this handcrafted technique?
I had been working with this technique for so many years and it had so many qualities to it. For example, it’s really sustainable. If there is a hole it’s easy to fix by felting extra wool on top and so on. Also, instead of sewing my garments together I used the technique in the construction as well. None of my garments are sewn together.
When I was researching it, there seemed to be a lot of older women that were exploring and working with it. My challenge was to make it look really new and innovative, and more modern. I experimented with modern fabrics, like lace and velvet, and manipulated it to get interesting textures. I played with the technique in a really abstract way instead of controlling it too much.
Then you had progressed into embroidery for your MA Graduate Collection. Can you walk us through your textile journey?
When I was researching I found a vintage needle sampler where the reverse looked liked an artist drawing. It was really dramatic as opposed to the front, which looked really perfect and organised. It made me think of using the embroidery in an artistic way and inspired me to explore the beauty in the imperfection. I started playing on a small scale, which eventually developed into being quite scratchy and playful. I didn’t do any drawing but always worked with models and using my samples as a guide.
After I’d done all my textile samples we designed a silhouette, which consisted of a skirt and a top, also jacket and trousers. The pieces were cut and I then embroidered on top, hiding all the seams and darts so the garments looks completely covered in embroidery. I figured out the placement of each sample by placing the samples randomly on a model, like patchwork, so it would become really abstract. I liked the idea of placing some colour combinations together that you wouldn’t normally put together but work beautifully.
We loved your SS16 collection on Fashion Scout’s ‘Ones to Watch’ catwalk. The movement in your garments was amazing. What sparked the tassels/fringing?
Thank you! Well it was an idea to try and bring it all to life. I wanted it still to look quite abstract and like not too perfect. I had been watching Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown by Almadovar and it inspired me to look at clothing when it is in a certain state, like eveningwear that’s tangled and irregular, and when the woman moves the threads have their own freedom instead of me controlling them flat.
You interned at both Christian Dior Couture and Dianne Von Furstenberg. What did you learn during your time at these impressive houses?
When I went to Dior in Paris I had never done an internship before. I had no idea what to expect. But in fact, I got quite a lot of responsibilities straight away and I got to work really close with the design team. It just was really valuable because the chance to be a part of John Galliano´s vision at Dior was something that thought me a lot about the design journey. It was different at DVF of course, both the work and speed, but I was so excited just to be in New York as well.
Can you walk us through your creative process?
The creative journey never starts the same. Sometimes I see an image, photograph or an exhibition that just gets stuck with me and inspires me to look at certain techniques.
I always think about what fabrics and materials I could use, then things just evolve from there. I start playing with it all and that’s the stage where I am the most messy and unorganized – a bit like a child – making mistakes, starting over, dying, manipulating, using every colour there is. Then weeks later the editing process begins, and that’s when things really start to happen. For me, as I am drawn to so many things and love basically every colour in the world it is super important to get all my ideas out on either fabric or paper and then decide what I want to develop. Of course it never looks like you would think in the beginning, but that is a good thing.
Is there an artist you continually reference, or who is inspiring you at the moment?
It really depends on my mood what artist I am drawn to. For example, in Iceland when its winter it’s so dark and cold, so I love colourful and textural things like Jess Fuller and Ellsworth Kelly, and in summer when its bright 24/7 it is the opposite, like Richard Serra and George Condo. Right now I’m really into emerging artists in Iceland. The art scene is amazing, and I am particularly drawn to artists like Georg Óskar Giannakoudakis, Margeir Dire and Rakel McMahon.
What’s next for your eponymous label?
Keep growing and developing the identity of the brand and some exciting collaborations.
WORDS: Janine Leah Bartels
PHOTOGRAPHY: Kjartan Hreinsson
ART DIRECTION AND STYLING: Anna Clausen
MODEL: Ólöf Ragna @ Eskimo Models
HAIR AND MAKE UP: Salóme ósk Jónsdóttir