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Q&A: How Designers Survive Through the Pandemic

By Dezember 11, 2020 No Comments
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Julia Kryshevich

Q&A: How Designers Survive Through the Pandemic

No doubt, 2020 was a challenging year for all of us. Yet we tried hard overcoming difficulties, accumulating vital energy, and just holding on to hope. The end of the year is a perfect time for reminiscing. Thus, we talked with the four participants of the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia #41 (which we covered earlier in the overview) about their recent experience. Both emerging and established designers from different parts of the world, Lucia Chain, Chelsea Grays, Lilia Kisselenko and Lesia Paramonova, shared their stories, views, and life hacks with PH editorial. Don’t miss!

CHELSEA GRAYS (Cleveland, US / Paris, France)

Fashion designer, stylist, founder of CHELSEA GRAYS

‘M a n y  l e s s o n s  l e a r n t,  n o w  i t‘ s  t i m e  f o r  a c t i o n’

Age: 27

Education: Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (North Carolina Central University), MFA Fashion Design (Academy of Art University, San Francisco); 

Founded CHELSEA GRAYS in: 2019

Awards and competitions: Finalist in CFDA Geoffrey Beene Award (2018), CFDA Future Fashion Designers Showcase (2019), Participant of New York Fashion Week, Winner of GLOBAL TALENTS – MBFW Russia (2019); 

PH: How did you face the first days of the self-imposed isolation? What were your thoughts and concerns and, perhaps, hopes at the time? 

CG: I spent the quarantine in Paris, where policies were very strict compared to the US. I spent this time in my apartment with a sewing machine and was thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with SMHR during the period. First I thought everything was dramatized so when things started getting serious, I felt a bit anxious. I also had to stop working on my collection at La Chambre de Syndicale, and end my internship. I just hoped that it would end soon and life would return to normal.

PH: Where did you spend (are still spending) the quarantine? Do you separate the working and living zones? 

CG: In Paris, with arm guards on every corner, as if COVID-19 was something you could shoot. Now we are back on quarantine from November 1—December 1, but this time things are more relaxed. I spend a lot of time at the park, I just need it. Prior to the pandemic, I used to work at home, but that was a choice. Now it’s a requirement. I live in a small space in Paris, so there isn’t much room to separate work from life. I wake up to work, with an industrial sewing machine next to me, drafting paper, and mannequins. Honestly, I got used to it. 

PH: How do you communicate with your team (personal assistants, studio colleagues)? Do you see the absence of life communication as a big hindrance to the working and creative process?

CG: I would love to have a full team and this is something I am currently building. As for now, I’ve created the recent project alone — design, prints, patterns, just everything. I had all the resources, I just needed to work 24/7. With quarantine, I would also go outside, take a walk, and breathe the air — I am an earth child, that pushes my creativity and my thinking. 

PH: You decided on taking part in the recent season of MBFW Russia (19—23 October, 2020). Did you participate in any other fashion events throughout the pandemic? What’s your relation to virtual events, phygital shows?

CG: I was extremely excited and honored to be mentioned as one of the MBFW Russia Global Talents. Taking into account the current nature of the world, I was glad to participate in a virtual presentation. That’s how I discovered some new options I didn’t know existed, such as virtual models & runway shows, animated robots that look extremely similar to humans. I appreciate that technology allows me to be a part of the amazing events, yet I rather prefer something tangible. 

During the pandemic, I also attended a Virtual Talent Acquisition Event with CFDA and a Fashion Incubator San Francisco Event, both of which were hosted for informational purposes. 

PH: What good has the period of general lull brought you in terms of your design practice? Any lessons learnt, personal discoveries made?

CG: During the pandemic I had plenty of time for self-discovery. As a result, I got more in tune with who I want to be as a designer and what it takes. Many lessons learnt, now it’s time for action. The key thing is I don’t have to and shouldn’t do everything myself. 

PH: Do you feel positive about the future of the fashion industry? Please share your vision of the upcoming changes/trends, if you already have one. 

CG: I am always optimistic. I feel that the future of fashion will be extremely positive, especially for the upcoming designers. Today when everything is performed through the computer and online, every designer shares the same platforms for awareness and has equal opportunities for growth. 

Through fashion we are experiencing unparalleled times. 2020 showed us natural disasters, political distress, marches in the street, and the pandemic. We didn’t have a rule book, thus, people are stressed, hurting, struggling with mental health, angry. That feeling will be expressed in fashion, I’m looking forward to seeing it. 

CHELSEA GRAYS on Instagram: @__chelsea.g

 

LESIA PARAMONOVA (Moscow, Russia) 

Artist, fashion designer, founder of the brand LES

‘I f  t h e  i d e a  i s  p o w e r f u l,  a n  o n l i n e  f o r m a t  w i l l  s h o w  i t’

Age: 30

Education: Russian State University of Tourism and Service (RGUTIS), self-education; 

Founded LES in: 2012

Awards and competitions: Winner of PREVIEW by Cycles & Seasons (2012), Participant of MBFW Russia; 

PH: How did you face the first days of the self-imposed isolation? What were your thoughts and concerns and, perhaps, hopes at the time? 

LP: I neither felt fear, nor any great changes. For me it has just stayed the same. I used to work at my own pace from the very beginning — I’m just more independent in this sense. Now that the world has been put on hold because of the pandemic, all we can do as designers is to keep on working. 

PH: Where did you spend (are still spending) the quarantine? Do you separate the working and living zones? 

LP: I spent my time either at home or in a forest. The reduced number of working visits has cleared my calendar a bit, otherwise, nothing else has affected the creative process of the brand. Thus, a new collection called PAGANS was born during the pandemic. Now all my life revolves around my job, which I just love. As a result, I don’t keep work and spare time separate. 

PH: How do you communicate with your team (personal assistants, studio colleagues)? Do you see the absence of life communication as a big hindrance to the working and creative process?

LP: Distant communication seems usual to me. I used to discuss things remotely with my team even before the pandemic started.  

PH: You decided on taking part in the recent season of MBFW Russia (19—23 October, 2020). Did you participate in any other fashion events throughout the pandemic? What is your relation to virtual events, phygital shows?

LP: Yes, I’m glad that a presentation of the new collection finally took place. It’s a small show — it immerses the viewers into its own world, which I find particularly important in the times when everything has moved online. By the way, I absolutely don’t mind that. If the idea is powerful, an online format will show it. 

PH: What good has the period of general lull brought you in terms of your design practice? Any lessons learnt, personal discoveries made?

LP: The main insight I gained during the quarantine period was to live my life starting from my possibilities and working flow. I could never really follow fashion trends that change so rapidly. And what’s more important, I had no chance to compete with other big brands. In such a situation it’s up to you whether to feel like a loser or ask yourself about your genuine goals and aspirations. Personally I have no investor, my team is little. Yet I’m happy to make things in a sincere, creative, and complex way. May it be the one and only collection per year, but an honest work, a true statement. Any restrictions one faces bring new opportunities. 

PH: Do you feel positive about the future of the fashion industry? Please share your vision of the upcoming changes/trends, if you already have one. 

LP: It’s difficult for me to make any forecasts, while I don’t really belong to the industry of fashion. I would rather call myself an artist. 

LES on Instagram: @les_store

 

LILIA KISSELENKO (St. Petersburg, Russia) 

Fashion designer, founder of the brand KISSELENKO

‘I t’ s  a r t i s t s ,  n o t  m a r k e t e r s ,  w h o  h a v e  c r e a t e d  f a s h i o n  i n  t h e  c o u r s e  o f  h i s t o r y’

Age: 58 

Education: Artistic Modelling, Saint Petersburg State University of Service and Economics (SPbSUSE), Seminars on business fashion (Japan); 

Founded KISSELENKO in: 1998 

Awards and competitions: Named ‘Designer of the Year’ by St. Petersburg Government (1997) and Vogue (2000), Participant of Tallinn Fashion Week and MBFW Russia seasons;

PH: How did you face the first days of the self-imposed isolation? What were your thoughts and concerns and, perhaps, hopes at the time? 

LK: It was 2 weeks after we (hereinafter: KISSELENKO team) had presented our SS 2020 collection, when the first wave of the self-isolation period came. At least, we enjoyed 2 weeks of robust sales.  

PH: Where did you spend (are still spending) the quarantine? Do you separate the working and living zones? 

LK: Unfortunately, I had to stay at home, but I gladly welcomed the opportunity to focus on the interior settings. At the workplace that I visited from time to time I would audit the fabrics and elaborate new ideas.

PH: How do you communicate with your team (personal assistants, studio colleagues)? Do you see the absence of life communication as a big hindrance to the working and creative process?

LK: All of us benefit from temporary solitude, however, it’s hard to achieve one’s goals alone. We established a timetable for our staff working singly in different rooms (e.g. sewing workshops, office space), thus, the production process continued to exist.

PH: You decided on taking part in the recent season of MBFW Russia (19—23 October, 2020). Did you participate in any other fashion events throughout the pandemic? What is your relation to virtual events, phygital shows?

LK: This season all our partners preserved their projects, which helped us a lot. Apart from the season’s collection, we also created costumes for a ballet baroque ‘Union of the Wind and the Sea’, an opera ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’, and presented a collection for the ESTEL show. Our presentation at MBFW went mostly online as we could host only 50 guests because of the pandemic. However, the live broadcast was available to the entire world, which I find fabulous. 

PH: What good has the period of general lull brought you in terms of your design practice? Any lessons learnt, personal discoveries made?

LK: We focused on reaffirming the brand’s importance for our customers and partners, who kept on collaborating with us despite the difficult time. The main thing is to not to stop, continue creating clothes and promoting new ideas by all possible means. 

PH: Do you feel positive about the future of the fashion industry? Please share your vision of the upcoming changes/trends, if you already have one. 

LK: It’s artists, not marketers, who have created fashion in the course of history. Fashion is interesting not for its manifestations of the past, but for its unpredictability and innovative nature. Generating new ideas is only available to those who are creatives and free thinkers. I really hope their value in society will increase in the near future, while people always tend to look trendy, beautiful, and harmonious. 

KISSELENKO on Instagram: @kisselenko

 

LUCIA CHAIN (Buenos Aires, Argentina) 

Fashion designer, founder of the brand CHAIN

‘I  a m  j u s t  a m a z e d  b y  p h y g i t a l  s h o w s’

Age: 32

Education: Architecture, Design, and Urbanism + Sportswear Design (UBA, Argentina), Fashion Business (Marangoni Institute Paris, France)

Founded CHAIN in: 2017

Awards and competitions: Winner of SEMILLERO UBA (2014), Regular Participant of Buenos Aires Fashion Week (BAFWeek), ‘Next green talents’ Nomination by Vogue Italia (2018), Winner of GLOBAL TALENTS – MBFW Russia (2019); 

PH: How did you face the first days of the self-imposed isolation? What were your thoughts and concerns and, perhaps, hopes at the time? 

LC: At first, I was afraid. Knowing what was happening in other parts of the world, I suffered a lot. Later I realized that the surest way to help others is to care about myself. I did my best creating new things and kept in touch with my family, friends and colleagues. 

PH: Where did you spend (are still spending) the quarantine? Do you separate the working and living zones? 

LC: I’m spending the quarantine at home, where, fortunately, I have my studio, too. So it was easy for me to work during these months. 

PH: How do you communicate with your team (personal assistants, studio colleagues)? Do you see the absence of life communication as a big hindrance to the working and creative process?

LC: I never cease communication with my team and clients. Perhaps, it turns into a more human vibe: while speaking with clients, we usually ask each other, how it is going, how our families are… I have stopped traveling, however, it’s digital tools that give me opportunities in times like these.

PH: You decided on taking part in the recent season of MBFW Russia (19—23 October, 2020). Did you participate in any other fashion events throughout the pandemic? What’s your relation to virtual events, phygital shows?

LC: Yes, I participated in MBFW Russia 3 times during the pandemic, as well as in DAB Diseño y Autores Bolivianos (Bolivia), DESIGNERS BA (Argentina), and Brazil Immersive Fashion Week (Brazil). I also took part in lots of international fashion talks and online conversations. I am just amazed by phygital shows. Thanks to a few great 3D artists who have reinterpreted my work and helped me to make my brand more contemporary, now I see a new way to talk about sustainability and the future.

PH: What good has the period of general lull brought you in terms of your design practice? Any lessons learnt, personal discoveries made?

LC: During the quarantine I had more time to work on my conceptual pieces. I also learnt a lot from the collaboration with 3D artists — it helped me understand the world from a different perspective. More recently I have fully realized the importance of human beings who stay behind the brands and the priority of giving work to those who need it. Working empowers, it grants freedom.

PH: Do you feel positive about the future of the fashion industry? Please share your vision of the upcoming changes/trends, if you already have one. 

LC: Yes, I think the fashion industry is already changing. However, the real change is going to happen when some new minds could freely enter the industry and bring their best aspirations to life.

CHAIN on Instagram: @chain_sustainable