When thinking of what to write about in my first article on this website (which later didn’t turn out to be my actual first one), I realised one could simply talk about the project itself and explain IDENTITY DRESS through all forms. But to present it through the eye of the participant might be the most interesting one.
In fact, for those who didn’t know it until now, I have had the honour to be invited by Eric and Matjaž for the first ever edition of the project. It all started with a personal message in my “Other” mailbox in Facebook. Upon reading it, I was overwhelmed with excitement. First of all, being contacted for such a project, meaning to have a certain international visibility, was very flattering.
To situate you a bit in where I was in my life at that precise moment, I had just gotten back to Dubai, UAE after a summer holiday filled with emotions. In fact, I had taken part at the Vogue Talent Awards in collaboration with Muuse, the platform for emerging designers, which was the first ever real step for me into the international fashion design scene. The competition was rough, we had to literally beg people, those we knew and strangers on social media, in the streets, in the hotel, in the media, practically every soul that we encountered, to vote for us as if our life depended on them (well it did in a way!).
I must admit I was in a very critical phase back then; I recently quit a “slavery” job in retail that had completely devaluated me as a designer and creative, after which I promised myself I would give my art a go and expose it to the world. Moreover, my relationship was breaking apart and it just looked like the universe had decided to make a funny smoothie out of my life. It was up to me to find out what it would taste like.
After having passed the semi-finals, a few interviews and a little, yet not invaluable public praise, I had realised soon enough that my work had a power I never really gave the chance to evolve; my designs were “speaking” to people across the world, no matter the continent, generation, gender or any other sort of man-made way of categorising humans. That was the most fulfilling experience I’ve had so far. Realising I was capable to create a connection with people who had never met me, through my art, was the most eye-opening conclusion in my life. The invitation to IDENTITY DRESS was a beautiful reminder of that, and despite the two and a half week deadline, I was more than enthusiastic about participating.
I had just started a new job as a buyer in a boutique showroom in Dubai showcasing emerging and independent designers, so it seemed like the smoothie actually turned out to smell amazing! The day after the IDENTITY DRESS 2013 launch we could assist Ljubljana Fashion Week, and the possibility to discover and meet many fellow designers from there and abroad made me feel like everything just came together perfectly.
The only problem was, I didn’t know what to present.
As I mentioned, I was in quite an unsatisfactory phase at that time. But in my work it is vital for me to be able to translate all the low energy and despair into something bigger than me, something that completely takes over my being and unfolds all the aspects of my suffering, in an aesthetic and consistent form of course. It’s when putting my thoughts into it and exploring my suffering inside out, that I realised we have to stop running away from our feelings, but welcome the suffering and truly embrace it for us to be able to create and to get back on our feet.
That’s how I decided to put a visual definition to this concept. We are humans, it is normal to feel things. Some days are good, some are bad, everyone is familiar with that. The body is the same, from a physical point of view; we are made up of organs and bones, amongst other things. The organs could symbolize the fragile parts. Those are very quickly victims of our feelings and depressions. When that happens, we need to be maintained by a structure, a strengthening core in which we can find shelter, otherwise we die. Visually, the main organs symbolising our feelings were obviously the heart and the guts. The structure that keeps us upright is the spine, you guessed right.
I decided not to perform my “famous” pleats, but do something different. I had changed and I wanted to translate that. I must admit also that I didn’t want to produce a “déjà-vu”. I wanted to surprise everyone, including myself. It is a constant need in my life to challenge myself (even if I hate it). It is something I cannot avoid and this time seemed perfectly right; I wanted to try something new and see how far I can take it, or better said, myself.
I decided to render the organs with a transparency play; different levels for different feelings and thoughts, all over-crossing each other. (It’s freaking me out how these explanations are just flowing out of me right now, as I am discovering my thought process again, with a new view now.) Therefore the translucent plastic forms on the height of the heart and the underbelly. The spine stands for something very strong and unbreakable, therefore the metal chains. The metal structure was designed in the form of a “cage” protecting the heart and guts from anything coming their way.
I liked the idea and started to work on the dress. I had printed out the imposed pattern and used it as a base canvas, so I kept it white. Initially I wanted to keep the organs shape in red, it somehow sounded obvious to me to use the symbolic of the colour of the heart to represent that on my dress. However, it quickly frustrated me; it looked like %$&@! And I had one week left. Had I made a wrong choice? Was I not capable of anything else than my pleats? Did I overestimate myself?
Running between my “more than 9-5” job and home, I forced myself to find a solution. Fast. I remember it’s when I was in a cab on my way to my apartment, that it hit me; feathers! Feathers are assumed to be ugly when combing them the opposite way; we “break” them. But that new appearance was interesting to me. I wanted to explore how far we can actually exploit something that is considered broken, hurt or even dead, and make it beautiful. The feathers would be the symbol of the thing that connects it all – the venous system that enables every second of us being alive at all. That would be the red coloured element, so I decided to make the organs completely transparent, to insist on the fragility of their state. A few days later, I thought it still needs something; to enforce the defence, I added the red claws all the way on the metal chains, that gave the garment a real tridimensional appearance.
I was very happy about my design; when I finished it, I felt like I had achieved a whole transformation within myself. I finally managed to literally express my authentic mental state into a concrete form that you could see, touch and wear. I cannot even explain how I felt when I wore it for the first time myself; I felt like one. It was as if it has been part of me from the beginning, a real extension of myself. I felt liberated. That’s what I owe to this project; it was the revelation of something deep down in me. A need of protection that I not only finally had put into concrete matter, but also mentally within me.
Fast forward a few days, the opening of the show was magical. We were all sitting in the front row of our own show. Our own, yes. For the few days when we all got to meet, exchange and get to know each other, we felt like a family. It was exciting to connect with the other designers and incredibly interesting to discover their minds and creative worlds. We were all part of this amazing opportunity, we knew that we all contributed to the final form of this project. Everyone was a valuable part of the whole; each with a personal approach through our own visual universe. Even the authors and organisers, Eric and Matjaž had participated, which was beyond remarkable, considering the amount of work put into the achievement of that project.
When the last model left the stage, we all looked each other in the eyes full of joy and relief. It were intense weeks of preparation, conception, sewing, hand-sewing and it was more than worth it. But it wasn’t over. It was the start. A beautiful start of knowing who we all really were as fashion designers, the start of exciting collaborations and amazing friendships. We had just realised we were already part of a global network. The seed that had been planted in the little capital on the crossroad of Central and Southeast Europe had finally blossomed into something very powerful. We realised we didn’t only find our identity, but moreover, we found our tribe.
creative process, Eric Maj Potočnik, exhibition, fashion, Fashion Design Exhibition, Featured, Feyrouz Ashoura, identity dress, IDENTITY DRESS 2013, identitydress, ljubljana, Matjaž Plošinjak, Month of Design Ljubljana, slovenia