Going back to your teenage years in Latvia, what did fashion mean to you?
I started with art studies, I guess I was 9 years old. I think I was 13 years old when I joined fashion design course and did my first illustrations for magazines. It was all coincidence as I was more interested in art than fashion, but as there was special course for fashion design and my tutor studied abroad, I decided to give it a try. And I never regret it, but I was not really fashionista or something, I was more interested in fashion history, creating fashion, illustration. My family, including my dad and both grandmothers, they where all able to make cloth, my grand-grandmother had an atelier, where she had a few tailors making embroidery after her sketches. I always loved the fact that actually we can all dress ourselves, but I never really loved fashion. I do fashion as I am not very happy what is available in the stores or what people should wear, because the industry has decided so ( very often due low cost production).
After graduated at Art Academy of Latvia in 2004 you move to Shanghai where you will work as fashion design lecturer for six years. As an artist what have you found to be most challenging during this time and how have you deal with it?
After I of my MA of Arts in Fashion Design, and even during studies I was already working in the industry. I was fashion editor and stylist since I was 18, TV host, tutor at private fashion school, designer for some other brands and even spent two years in one of the biggest fashion factories in Latvia and learned production process. I left in 2007 and it was a very spontaneous decision, but not my first time in China and I loved it since the first visit. Most challenging was the beginning period, when I had to adjust to a different culture, teaching and thinking in English and even learning some new things in a short period of time. But I set up very clear goals for myself since the beginning as my target was to start my brand, and I did it.
In what way has living in Shanghai and Chinese culture shaped your life and your artistic aesthetic?
Shanghai is really a fascinating place to be at the moment and especially 7 years ago, when there where not so many foreigners. It is still full of contrasts, you can find and buy what ever you wish, you see bad taste and good taste, fake and real, smart and stupid, ancient and modern, all together in a mix. I am thankful I had this experience, as I guess if I would stay only in Europe, my artistic aesthetic wouldn’t be the same as after my Asia experience. I know that my work does have quite strong Asia influence.
A place in Shanghai we must visit.
To me Shanghai is not the Bund, but old lines in former French Concession, I is very charming and unique. Streets like Xinhua Lu , Julu-lu. Actually I contributed for Shanghai guide: http://www.stay.com/shanghai/guides/354786-0781cfd3/fashion-in-shanghai/
You are also a stylist and an illustrator, what have you learned from these two artistic expressions that later has aided your designer-career?
I did all these things parallel to each other, passion for fashion illustration professionally came about 5 years ago, and it was quite successful as I was invited to exhibit next to artists like Laura Laine and Stina Persson. My work is published in a couple of publications and now I am giving private classes as well. I started after teaching fashion drawing, I felt it worked for me like meditation, as fashion design and styling environment can be heavy and fake sometimes. But fashion styling, I did since I was 17 I guess, for various magazines and TV channels in Latvia. After moving to China I started working with international photographers and magazines such as Elle, movies and commercials for world top brands. It all came naturally as I am passionate about doing all these things. Of course it helped me building my own brand, but I never really stopped making fashion, even while I stayed in China I did a couple conceptual projects.
In 2014 you presented your first ready to wear collection “The House” at Riga Fashion Week. How does it make you feel? To what do you attribute your success?
It was more a way to announce that I am back and I have something to say. I guess I was different and had some freshness in my work, so I got invited to other fashion festivals and fashion weeks. I hope the best is yet to come.
Do you consider your works improvised or thinking out?
Very often it comes from architecture, feeling, shape or material. Like “The House”, it all started with idea that we dress way too different than our interiors, so I started collecting various antique items such as tiles and pieces of wood and by scanning and manipulating them, created prints that I later transferred to the fabrics and garments based on geometric, interior inspired shapes. I am really interested in zero waste cutting, new garment construction and draping methods. When designing I try to think of a garment like a house of ones body. I tend to think and work like architects or sculptors do, as the problem in garment industry very often is due to production costs, we have very limited and boring choices. There is no great creativity, especially in a mass market. I always imagine if all architects would design a house side after side, like very often in garment industry, we would all live in a box like buildings. But there was Gaudi in Architecture and Rei Kawakubo in fashion, so change is possible. I love draping and 3D thinking idea. I love sketching, thinking, developing and making new shapes, I love working on a dress form similar to sculptor and I am not a big fan of too many obvious details such as lapels, zippers, buttons, unnecessary seams, patch pockets or any unnecessary decoration. My accessories are very minimalistic, but still very practical, as for example invisible magnet bracelets that are great tools for hairstylists or tailors as the pins stick on them.
From your collection, the shoe design captured our attention in a particular way. What is the story behind it?
Inspiration came from basic chair, as it is very stable and well balanced design. But shoes, especially high heel ones, very often has a very unbalanced proportions such as very heavy front side and to weak heal. I developed shoe, that is well balanced, more stable visually and practically. The first prototypes I did in stainless steal and it was a quite difficult process as shoe makers couldn’t make it and metal workers thought I am a little bit crazy. But I did it. And later developed more wearable version in wood and leather. Now Lily Gatins and Lady Gaga owns a pair, and actually people are ordering them and it makes me very happy.
What is the most important idea or message you wish to spread through your works?
Fashion clothes are not more important than a wearer. It should compliment our personality and lifestyle, it should blend with us, it should be comfortable, but not boring or pretentious. Some items especially accessories should be timeless, seasonles as they represent your style or individuality. Innovation, quality and new approach in pattern cutting is future in my opinion.
Who are your heroes in real life?
People who help each other on a daily basis, hard workers, especially people who work in fashion, if they remain kind and smart, well they are my heroes. As in a way there is this really ugly side of fashion, that I don't want be part of. My heroes are not the ones that scream louder, or push each other harder or sell faster, but the ones who stay quietly in their studios and develop things and concepts that's makes sense and are truly beatutiful. So my heroes are less visible, but without them this would be a very very ugly place to be…
What are your future goals?
I am planning to work on my brand and fashion illustrations. Next March until May I am visiting Asia again, presenting my newest collections for showrooms in Shanghai and Tokyo. I have many ideas and plans, let’s see how it all goes! I hope my work can make people think that fashion is more than just a T-shirt, jeans or pair of sneakers, I am interested in creating new shapes and developing new concepts how clothing can be still simple and comfortable, smart, less pretentious or boring.
All images, courtesy of artist: Baiba Ladiga