HAND PAINTED WARDROBE
Fashion is art. Or is it? The arduous, almost ancient debate has long triggered controversial responses from fashion’s who is who. Karl Lagerfeld once dismissed the art quality of fashion by implying that artists are only “second rate” when compared to couturiers. Though the opposite is also worth mentioning. Throughout history, there have been prime examples where garments are a constitutive part of fine art. Take Elsa Schiaparelli, a favourite of the surrealist school, whose lobster dresses and shoe hats speak volumes on fashion’s belonging to art. Moreover, her works have even been exhibited in several museums in recent years.
While professionals have yet to find an unambiguous answer to the question, nowadays, the line between fashion and art is as thin as ever. The collections of upper Austrian, Vienna-based designer Christina Steiner are a part of this truth. She admits that for her, not everything revolves around fashion, and she prefers to work with various established artists for her label GON. Steiner collects impressions of far-away lands and foreign cultures, which she then hides in her fairy tale-like wonder room, only to open it later for inspiration.
Alexandra Vaduva: Why did you choose to pursue an education in fashion at Die Angewandte?
Christina Steiner: I was interested in fashion from a very young age, but I never actually thought about becoming a fashion designer. It was my sister who suggested that I should study fashion, which I thought was a great idea. I did two years of college at Herbststraße (editor's note: Viennese technical school for fashion). After that I applied for Die Angewandte (Academy of Applied Arts) where I was accepted on the first attempt. Back then, Raf Simons was a professor at the Fashion Department and I was really into his collections and his vision, so for me, Die Angewandte was the perfect choice. I also appreciated the organizational system of the university and the fact that students have a lot of freedom and enough time and space to develop their own vision of fashion.
AW 15/16 © Andreas Waldschütz
AV: What is the story of your label GON?
CS: I started GON together with a Chinese friend of mine, right after we both finished our Diploma at Die Angewandte. However, she quit after two or three months because of personal reasons, but I decided to keep working on the project. The name “GON” comes from a Japanese story. I liked the name immediately because it’s easy to remember but it also makes an impact. This is what it has in common with my collections. As soon as I fixed all the details surrounding the label, we began working on the clothes. The first collection we designed was SS12, and then the first presentation in Paris was AW12.
AV: How did you construct the identity of GON? What does your label stand for?
CS: I have to mention that it took me a long time to find the corporate identity, name, vision, clients, shops we wanted to sell in – with other words, all the things that make the story behind the name. I started from the idea of the Wunderkammer (editor's note: cabinet of curiosities or wonder room). I transferred the concept of the Wunderkammer to my own personal world to define the abundance of my interests: painting, African influences, nature, foreign cultures from continents far away. Collecting impressions of different techniques, fabrics, emotions, and concepts has always been exciting for me.
SS16 © Katsey
AV: How do you usually gather inspiration for the items and concepts that fill your Wunderkammer?
CS: It’s an organic process. I am a regular at art fairs and I also work with painters for my label. It’s also somewhat of an intuitive decision, because I never use trend books. I find having a dress for only 6 months is superficial, so I aim at creating special pieces that you can wear for 10 years. Otherwise it’s too fast.
I also used to experiment a lot during my studies at Die Angewandte, so this was another source of inspiration. One time, I let crystals grow on metallic fabrics. I bought the crystals in a store in Vienna and let them and the fabrics soak in hot water for weeks. The crystals grew into the fabric, which I then used for a dress in one of my collections.
AV: Can you describe the impressions and emotions encapsulated in your latest two collections?
CS: My AW15 collection is about classic menswear translated to womenswear. The collection has an androgynous vibe emphasized by simplicity, pinstripe prints and tweed fabrics. These are classic menswear details which I transformed mainly through painting. I used men's silk shirts on which we painted the patterns. The pinstripes are normally woven but in my case, they are also painted in aquarelle. The whole collection has a very feminine twist.
AW15/16 © Andreas Waldschütz
SS16 is called “Monkey gardener” and it is best described as kawaii, which means “cute” or “adorable” in Japanese. I used prints of Japanese woodcuts, but also flower prints, mainly monkey orchids in vibrant colors. On some items I reinterpreted camouflage patterns and pop culture through painting. All in all, the collection has a very young vibe to it.
AV: It seems that no matter which themes you approach, your collections always incorporate painting. Who is the artist you work with?
CS: Maria Lici is the painter I work with and who also creates the patterns for my collections. I then digitalize the paintings and print them on high quality fabrics like silk or cashmere. I enjoy working with people who are not in the fashion industry because of the diversity it creates. I’m also creating prints and patterns, but only digitally, and sometimes I work with photo manipulation. Designing prints is a constant process at GON, because I never use the same ones twice. Every season means new prints and colours.
AV: Who do you think are the people most attracted to GON clothing?
CS: I sell in the USA, Spain, Denmark, Japan, and of course Vienna (PARK in Mondscheingasse). These are all very different parts of the world with very different people, so I couldn’t name a typical customer. I can’t mention an age for the women wearing my clothes.
AV: Where do you usually produce your collections?
CS: The production process takes place in Slovenia and Slovakia, but prototypes are made in Vienna. I do the first cut and draft for the production company. Clients can also mix cuts with their favourite prints - many of the items in my collections are customizable.
AV: What happens if you receive a request that you believe doesn’t work or doesn’t fit in the style of your label?
CS: So far, all the requests I received have fit well. When I have the feeling that it doesn’t work I say no, but I try to always find a solution.
SS16 © Katsey
AV: What can you describe as your biggest professional success until now?
CS: I have been working on my own label for 5 years now and this is difficult enough every season. I have to bring up the money. At the moment I am using a crowdfunding platform to raise money for the AW16 collection. My goal is to fund the prototypes for the upcoming collections and to present my label during Paris Fashion Week twice a year to secure retailers worldwide. On the crowdfunding platform, users decide if they like to have a piece of clothing from my label, then they pay the corresponding price. If the campaign turns out successfully, my buyers receive their orders. If not, they receive their money back. But I think crowdfunding works best abroad, as this is not so well known in Vienna.
AV: What do you think Vienna can offer young fashion graduates in comparison to bigger cities like Paris or London?
CS: Vienna is quieter so you have more space to focus on your style and your vision. I studied and worked here but one has to go outside Vienna to present their label. It’s not enough to present your collections in Vienna - fashion designers everywhere have to think internationally. A really big advantage is the proximity to Slovenia, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, which offer cheaper production costs. It’s quite easy to go there by car and visit the production place. For me, it’s important to talk to the people that produce the clothes, to get to know them and also to check if they are working in good conditions.
You can find her pieces at the PARK Concept Store in the 7th District.