We chatted with Florentina Leitner about her latest collection No Clue, design and collaboration, and what it means to be a young creative trying to make it in fashion.
The Austrian designer Florentina Leitner is currently studying fashion at the Royal Academy of Arts in Antwerp. After her second year at school, the aspiring talent once again proved she was someone to watch out for. With a subtle sense of construction and abstraction, her latest looks plunge into a surreal world inspired by a crime scene. From detective to victim, Florentina Leitner created unique looks that resulted from working with various media as well as collaborating with other artists.
We came together to talk about her current collection No Clue, work ethics and plagiarism, and to adapt art for a human to wear. An Interview by Julius Pristauz.
For this collection, you’ve worked on looks based on clear roles, inspired by various movies and the child’s play Cluedo. How did these roles manifest in the actual garments?
Exactly, this year I was inspired by a crime scene. I wanted to bring different characters to life without the clothes looking like a costume. For example, in my first look, I wanted to create the role of the detective in my collection. I was working around a trench coat that I wanted to give an Inspector Gadget touch with the umbrella details. For each character, I did research about actual garments, mainly from the 50s, that they could have worn.
Do you always think of characters when you create your garments?
No, this time it was the first time I really thought about designing for specific characters. And I have to say, it helped a lot in the design. Also, I always loved role play.
Your latest garments show very vivid colors and motifs. When do you choose fabrics?
Our teachers want us to work with fabrics and a color palette from the beginning. The fixing the final fabrics, however, takes place after the completion of toiling the looks. It’s also very important to find the right materials, and that’s not always easy in Antwerp. This year I traveled a lot to find my fabrics. In my opinion, the best place for this is still Paris. Brussels, London and even Vienna offer great shops.
What are in the end the components of a piece of yours that you’re satisfied with? Do you change a lot up during the production process?
Some pieces have already developed well after I worked them once, but mostly I did around 3 toiles per garment before I stitched them into the real fabric. So yes, I’ve changed a lot during the process, which is very important to get the collection to the point.
This time, when compared to your last collection, the focus on the construction of the pieces has definitely risen. Tell us about it.
I never had a classical pattern or sewing lesson and it was always a struggle for me to create patterns. Throughout this year, I’ve just been trying to do more with construction than last year, though much of it was freestyle. I knew that the construction is an important part that I do want to have in my looks. It was definitely worth it.
For your accessories in this look, you have worked with the artist Benny van den Meulengracht. How did this cooperation come about?
It all happened through Instagram. Praised be social media, may the Lord be open. After meeting Benny then at an exhibition of his work, we decided to work together for the collection.
I’m especially interested in the intersection and separation of art and fashion for our newly founded section, so I ask for it: Does art become fashion as soon as you wear it on a runway and do not put it in a gallery?
I think you should not separate art and fashion, but I do think that you have to adapt art for human to wear. For example, when Benny and I started working together, it was important for us to make something useful. We decided to make jewelry and bags because it was a great way to show Benny’s clay work, but in a wearable form for a human being. But in a way, it’s still a piece of art.
You take inspiration from different media and also work within such yourself. Would you separate art from fashion production?
No, I don’t part it for myself at the moment. In the Academy, we have many other creative lessons in which we draw a lot and make sculptures or installations. We’re not only learn how to make a fashion collection, but also how to present it properly. In reality, this means that we create many works of art that are not at the center of our practice but are also very important to the teachers.
There was an article by Business of Fashion that criticized and discussed the teaching methods of your class. What’s the atmosphere at the university? Has anything changed since that happened?
I think the school is really trying to change things after the article. And about the vibe in the school, for most students, it was a busy period, and everyone was stressed about finishing their collections. For me personally, there was not much time to focus on this article.
The questioning of serious plagiarism and work ethic in fashion is currently on the rise. Especially young designers are at risk of being copied and working with even big brands can sometimes be horrible. Despite all of this, do you see any pattern in getting it to the top in this business?
»In fashion, one day you’re in the next day you’re out.« I don’t think there is a magical formula of how to be successful in fashion, but I think social media opens new doors to a lot of young designers. That’s fine, but it also carries the risk of being copied, as you just mentioned.
Finally, I’d like to know: Which fellow young designers would you interview if you had the chance and why?
From the beginning, I was a huge fan of Claire Barrow, she has a brand in London and also makes beautiful paintings. I like her raw and chunky UK punk style. Another young designer and former student from the Antwerp Academy, whom I truly adore and would like to interview, is Iuliia Gulina. She is currently working for Maison Margiela in Paris, and I was very impressed with the collections she made during her time in Antwerp.