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THE FINE PRINT: Tell me more about yourself, and life in Sweden. What do you like most about it?
SAINA KOOHNAVARD: I was born and raised in Sweden. I can’t really compare life in Sweden to any other country since I have only been living here. I lived in London for a short period, but that was such a long time ago that it would almost be a romanticized comparison if I’d give it a go. Living in Sweden is quite peaceful and not as densely populated as many other European countries. Of course, like every country, Sweden has its shares of political and financial instabilities but in general it’s quiet, heavily forested in the north, and agricultural in the south. What I like most about Sweden is the closeness to nature, even in the bigger cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, you can easily access peace and quiet. That is one comparison I am going to do with London. Naturally, London is a huge capital, but I remember that sometimes I just needed some privacy and air. Swedes are great at that.
TFP: Is there a reason behind you styling your pieces with a see-through coat or poncho?
SK: I wouldn’t necessarily view it as styling. All the transparent pieces are there to present a complete outfit.The transparent layers are combined with their respective underlying garments to discuss the principles of figure and ground. What would be interesting is to combine several layers with each other or on different garments to see what color or pattern alterations you could get from that. When you work with a collection you’re so used to seeing it a particular way, so swapping layers or garments around could be a styling suggestion.
TFP: Seeing as you have studied at the Swedish School of Textiles for an MFA, I have to ask whether you design either the pattern, your fabric, or your pieces first?
SK: It really depends on the project or collection. I did a capsule collection called (I)Deal With It that was really about the material. I was primarily knitting and experimenting with variables in the software to get the structure I was after. I stayed true to the trial and error mode. Then I designed the pieces into the software. For this collection it was everything simultaneously since the pieces are all so dependent and proportional to one another. When I was working on a calico piece, I designed a print at the same time. Sometimes I’d paint directly on a calico piece to test a print. There’s this great thing called time management. Towards the end it’s a combat between you and time. Time always wins but you struggle to think you’ve cheated it.
TFP: Your collection is filled with a lot of geometrical prints which, I think, strongly resemble plaid. What were the inspirations for your collection and for your choice of fabrics?
SK: Since fashion design, or any other neighboring design field for that matter, triggers visual stimuli, I wanted to explore the possibilities of engaging the viewer at a different level than I have done before. So the real inspiration came from Gestalt psychology, something that my sister introduced me to. I wanted to investigate the principles from cognitive psychological methods that are used in other design fields such as interaction design, and apply it to fashion. That is where the plaid pattern came in. Our minds are programmed to categorize what we see. We differentiate figure from ground, group objects or patterns that occur in close proximity to each other, or that are similar to each other. The plaid pattern consists of a visual battle between figure and ground so it was quite natural to use it and to apply it to the collection.
The fabrics, on the other hand, were explorations of their own. Experimenting with these demanded some time. One thing that I knew, was that I wanted to work with opacity levels and transparency. Quite early on I knew that I needed a transparent material that would distribute light instead of reflecting it. So the transparent layers that I have worked with fit quite well into the general idea of creating offset patterns or blends with underlying colors and materials.
TFP: Who is the target audience for your designs?
SK: I have never really worked with a target audience. I don’t specifically enjoy directing designs to a particular group or niche. What I enjoyed mostly during the design process of this collection was that many pieces and tryouts could engage any viewer. That was the most important thing to me during the entire time period of redoing garments, and working on the effects. I had a great supervisor during this entire time period that kept reminding me to just look, take a few steps back, look again and see the garments’ relationship to the environment or room. I would test friends and family in order to understand their perception of the outcomes and in turn use that information to continue and move further into the design process. So during that time, I guess the target audience was anyone that was available. I guess some projects can demand that.
TFP: Last year you played with two-dimensional pieces on three-dimensional bodies, something quite revolutionary. How did you come up with that and was there a reason for doing so?
SK: I love working with Illustrator, it’s a great software that you can use to internationally communicate design and design suggestions. During 2012 and 2013 I spent a lot of time working with Illustrator, which assisted on drawing a lot of flat-sketches that later on went to production. What I found most interesting about working with it was how I’d sit working on a garment for days and how that could easily turn into a process of making the sketches as aesthetically pleasing as possible. When you’re a painter you have your way with the brush, it’s basically the same thing when you work digitally. You have a specific way of drawing a line or closing a path, and then the lines start to become one with the sketch. So working with flat-sketches was really about communicating what the garment ideally would look like when presented flat. Combining that with a two-dimensional template of a body you get a different idea of proportions and color. I guess that when the three-dimensional equivalents of the flat-sketches came along I had already fallen in love with the original sketches that were drafted digitally. I’d ask myself if clothes should be generated from the body or the other way around. A seed was planted and I started to think about the design process that I was engaged in. That it was all two-dimensional. And what would happen, then, if the design process would stop in that state, as it often does when you work in-house. I wouldn’t call the collection a critique, just a mere exploration of color, shape and the way we perceive it.
TFP: Do you see your work becoming international?
SK: I think that my work can be relatable to a larger crowd. My aim is to reach out and to open up a dialogue with a wider audience. I think that it will be then when things can become interesting, and when you can learn a lot about yourself and develop as a designer.
Text by ANDREA CARRERA