Ocean Waste, Spice Girls and the United Nations as Fashion Inspiration at KADK

On a recent trip to Copenhagen I paid a visit to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art (KADK), where I met a group of BA and MA fashion students working under the tutelage of Ann Merete Ohrt, Head of Programme at the Academy.

The visit resulted from an Instagram exchange between student Nina Balstrup and I, reconfirming the power of social media as a connector and entrepreneurial tool for switched-on creatives.  To the work…

Michelle Lyhne Schjerbeck dived, quite literally, into an underwater exploration of our littered oceans, recreating oil slicks and fish nets with locally sourced fabrics for her collection entitled ‘Beautiful Disaster’.  When quizzed about sourcing materials for this, her final collection before graduating, she explained  “It’s so hard for us to source sustainable fabrics”.  “In my process it has become clear how hard it is to make a difference as a fashion student and how hard it is to source materials in an eco-conscious way. Therefore, I have for now chosen to shed light on the matter of water pollution by using textiles and shapes that can represent the issue. I am however hoping that in the future I will be able to work a solution to the issue into my actual designs.”

Joining the discussion on textiles and sourcing, Nina Balstrup explains that there are only two quality fabric shops in Copenhagen, making options limited.  It strikes me that an alternative approach might be to source materials in general, rather than fabric shop textiles, and plundering neighbouring architecture and art student media might bear fruit.  In fact, Michelle has experimented with latex and mixed materials, portraying the idea of ocean waste adhering to the skin.  She did experiment originally with actual ocean waste materials, but they proved too soggy and un-salvageable for use in her collection. 

Michelle Lyhne Schjerbeck – “Beautiful Disaster” collection in progress

Morten Alberto Ishøy’s final collection ‘In desert, creatures appear telling lies’ began with an image that posed for him a philosophical question – how can something real look so manufactured – so unreal?  In the current climate of fakes (news being at the top of the list), this rumination led to an exploration of objects through a layer, or ‘filter’ – in this case, clay sculptures vacuum-packed and metamorphosed into other forms.  Morten’s design ideas are clearly driven by form, rather than textiles or materials.  The silhouettes of his collection were sketched from photographs he took of the trapped, skewed and partially melted vacuum packed clay sculptures which he had crafted.  At each step of his creative process a translation happens, making it an incremental design approach led by fine art.  

Morten elaborates on his process:  “Like in the Bible, Torah and the Quran, the prophet’s sights are that of  blurry human like figures. I have made my silhouettes for the collection by pouring sand on a human behind a plastic curtain and documenting it and then selecting the most interesting shapes.  From these I made clay figures and vacuum packed them, making them a blur once again. Out of these experiments I’ve drawn my collection – inspecting the vacuum packed clay figures closely for details that could be interpreted into garment elements such as lapels, cuffs, etc.”

Morten Alberto Ishøy’s ‘In desert, creatures appear telling lies’ 

Nina Balstrup’s work is a journey through her childhood and an exercise is search and discovery into what makes her so fond of bright colours and glitter.  She tracks back to her first toys, childhood outfits and even nursery school drawings to put together a collage of her design ideas that have been germinating since she was just a few years old.  She reads to me from her school report, which mentions early signs of creative talent and penchant for colour.

Nina’s inspiration includes her school report, childhood drawings and photos

In order to compile a final collection based on memories and nostalgia, Nina has undertaken a huge sourcing exercise, buying jars of Barbie shoes on ebay and dividing them into colour-ways for embroidery, as well as POGs for a Paco Rabanne-style sheath constructed with umpteen ‘o’ rings.  A myriad of 90’s vintage clothing and blankets are piled up on her desk, from which her four final looks for her collection will be crafted.  Her biggest challenge now, she says, is to navigate the garment construction process carefully to add refinement so that the end result is accomplished, yet youthful and fun. 

Nina ponders her journey through her BA studies, including the term she spent studying at Ravensbourne in London.  She says it opened her eyes to a fiercely competitive London scene and pushed her to her creative limits.  Access to all manner of heat transfer, prototyping and digital embroidery machinery at Ravensbourne kick-started her enthusiasm for experimental textile applications.  She hopes to intern at a fashion brand in London after graduating from her BA and before studying for her MA, which is virtually a right of passage in Denmark.  She elaborates by explaining that both BA and MA degrees are paid for by the Danish government, and students’ living expenses are also supported during their studies.  This means that the BA is taught almost as a precursor to the MA, rather than an end point leading chiefly to employment. Nina’s final collection is a bright and punchy textile, knit and embroidery adventure and I can’t wait to see where it leads.

Nina and work in progress for her final collection “REWIND”

MA student Alexander Marstrand is working on a UN-inspired brief for his final project, provoking some interesting political and social questions.  Alexander explains that from his research, he understands the UN to be, ostensibly, a unified group with equal representation and influence from all member countries – the UN flag looks down on all countries across the globe on an even plane.   However, five countries maintain the right to veto resolution votes, and communication is conducted in only six languages: Arabic, Chinese English, French, Spanish and Russian. “I see the project as a comment on the current condition of the globe as such with my personal mix of melancholy and playfulness” Alexander says, of his collection in progress, entitled “UNspiration”.

So how, fair and balanced is it?  There is a hierarchical seating structure at the UN, which he references in his visual inspiration and sparks his consideration of who truly has a voice and who does not.  He asks how the voices of those in Bangladesh, for example, are heard amongst the dominant voices of the west.  

His visual inspiration extended to Swedish artist Bo Beskow and Matisse’s cutouts, in addition to Picasso’s surrealist works, which have informed Alexander’s illustrations reinterpreting the flags and symbols of the UN countries.  The cutout theme extens to his garment silhouettes and pattern making techniques, where he has sculpted 3D shapes onto a mannequin before draping fabric on top.  He has then cut and pinned the fabric in a patchwork technique to use as pattern pieces for cutting and sewing his final garments. 

“UNspirational”, by Alexander Marstrand

Already making and selling a printed silk scarves, Alexander has a foot in commercial fashion.  He wants more platforms and opportunities, though, and explains his frustration at a lack of collaboration between music, arts and fashion in Copenhagen.  “It’s not like in London” he said.  “Fashion East (an emerging designer presentation platform during London Fashion Week) would never happen here”.  Why? I ask.  “It’s a small city” he explains, and cross-collaboration is rare and difficult.  In terms of creative scenes he says that “we don’t really have subcultures and underground movements don’t really mix.  We have been trying to create a street party with the music institute for years (he gestures out the window to a nearby building), but it hasn’t happened.”  

He also mentions what he believes to be a large gap between the fashion industry and fashion students in Denmark, seconded by Nina.  A ‘hands-off’ approach makes it difficult for students to break into the industry, and to be part of professional events, such as Copenhagen Fashion Summit.  Without a fashion week, or a platform to show their final collections (along the lines of Graduate Fashion Week in London, for example) the challenges are clear.   What these students do benefit from is immense support and work space, which is in very short supply at London-based fashion institutions, and the opportunity to study abroad, fully supported by the Danish government.  In the current climate, where creative degrees are under serious threat as tuition fees skyrocket and would-be university students feel under pressure to gain vocational degrees in order to justify fees, this freedom from financial shackles is golden.

Keep up to date with Nina, Michelle, Morten and Alexander‘s work on Instagram.

Header Image:  Nina Balstrup “REWIND” collection in progress

All images: Techstyler

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Copenhagen Fashion Summit Sets the Tone for Global Sustainability Agenda

On the eve of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, 2017, Eva Kruse, CEO & President of Global Fashion Agenda, the driving force behind the now annual summit, spoke of the challenges and opportunities facing the global fashion industry in tackling sustainability issues.

The world’s second most polluting industry after oil and gas, fashion faces the stark reality that by 2030 global garment production will increase by 63%, in response to the planet’s growing population, expected by then to exceed 8.5 billion – an unsustainable quantity that has sparked tomorrow’s summit’s call to action: appealing to fashion brands and retailers to adopt circular systems.  The crux of circular systems is collection, reuse and recycling of garments, feeding them back into the manufacturing process so that the majority of garments no longer go into landfill, ultimately making the existing linear model of “take, make, dispose” obsolete.  By 2030 retailer H&M aims to operate under a fully circular model – that is, only using recycled materials in its garment production.

Important points arising from pre-summit discussions today at the Hotel Skt Petri, a fitting venue, being that the hotel is powered by 100% offshore wind energy, included the need for innovation and collaboration between stakeholders across the fashion industry.  The Pulse of the Fashion Industry report compiled by The Boston Consulting Group and the Global Fashion Agenda will be formally launched and discussed at tomorrow’s summit and will outline where the fashion industry is in terms of sustainability efforts today, and where it needs to be to avoid environmental and humanitarian crises in the future.

Jason Kibbey, CEO of Sustainable Apparel Coalition, underpinned the importance of the Global Fashion Agenda by explaining that it could provide a unified focus amongst hundreds of splintered initiatives on sustainability across the industry.  He went on to say that recycling garments is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry currently, echoing the call for circularity mentioned earlier.

An encouraging discourse was led by Marco Lucietti, Global Marketing Director of ISKO, who outlined the denim manufacturer’s ‘long journey’ towards being fully responsible in manufacturing and sustainability terms, which has led to innovations such as indigo dyeing without the use of water and their Earth Fit collection, which has been created from organic cotton, post-recycled polyester and Lenzing fibres (which are manufactured under a circular business model).  Marco was clear in outlining the role ISKO has in shaping the textile offering to brands and guiding them to make sustainable textile choices.

Marco cited one of the biggest challenges for the sustainability agenda currently as being consumer attitudes towards ‘sustainable garments’ and the false impression that sustainability means a compromise on design and/or quality.  He is calling for a drive to help convince customers of the superiority of sustainable fashion and make it a major purchasing driver for consumers.

Eva Kruse and Marco Lucietti – Image: Techstyler

ISKO’s I-Skool initiative gives fashion students access to their sustainable denim and affords them the knowledge and understanding of how these materials can be integral to the design process, rather than an optional alternative to more polluting ones.  I-Skool is a denim award held in collaboration with Copenhagen Fashion Summit.  It showcased the work of ten fashion students with the eventual winner, Farah Sherif Wali, being chosen by an International judging panel including previous creative director of Oscar De La Renta, Peter Copping and Bandana Tewari, fashion features director at Vogue India.

I-Skool finalist designers included, from top – Annie Ansell (UAL, Chelsea), Quinton Lovelace (FIDM, LA), Elena Turkhina (ESMOD, Berlin), and winner, Farah Sherif Wali (Polimoda, Florence)- Images: Techstyler

Rounding off this pre-summit piece is a brief overview of the two day Youth Fashion Summit which ends today, from which a draft of the first ever UN resolution on fashion will be formed.  In partnership with Swarovski, the collaboration between the Global Fashion Agenda and the Copenhagen School of Design Technology (KEA) has given students the platform to discuss and produce the draft resolution in order to shape the future of the fashion industry and lead the fight for sustainable practices.  Expanding on this, Dax Lovegrove, Global Vice President of Corporate Sustainability and Social Responsibility at Swarovski, stated that the three key topics coming out of the two day Youth Summit had been climate change, a fair deal in the supply chain for all and circular economy.  Dax summarised by saying that solving societal problems and ‘eradicating forced labour’ were also key discussion points.  A promising start to a global summit promising to prove that sustainability is not only an environmental and societal issue, but a business issue too.

Youth Fashion Summit 2017 – Images: Copenhagen Fashion Summit 

Stay tuned for more fashion and sustainability news and interviews from the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and follow me Techstyler on Twitter and Instagram.

Header Image:  Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2016