The fashion designer Eva Chatburn lives and works in Berlin. SUPERIOR Magazine talked to her regarding her label.
Tell us a little bit more about you as a designer.
As I see it a designers work combines aesthetics and a kind of engineering and this balance between the practical and the ethereal is what I find so appealing, there are some parallels to architecture in this respect: math’s and art. Architects in designing their shells for people and processes, may consider the weather, a designer has to consider more internal biological ‘weather’; buildings don’t stretch, lose and gain weight or perspire. There is also the psychological ‘weather’ of emotions and ego – internal wishes, aspirations and complex sociological signals shown through clothing. As well as sketching on paper I do the pattern cutting – constructing the 2D paper templates that will be transformed into 3D fabric shapes. This isn’t usually a job for the designer but I feel that outsourcing it would be like cooking blindfolded – I need that connection to the making process.
How would you characterize your fashion design?
My starting point is always the body (how can I make it look better basically!) rather than garments themselves – reinterpreting a trench coat or whatever. Making clothes can be quite sculptural and you get a deep kind of understanding of the human body. My background in art with years of life drawing – looking and measuring: bones, proportions, typical subcutaneous fat patterns – helps a lot. Often, shaving millimetres off the curve of a seam line with my automatic pencil poised I feel like a surgeon, visualising the planes of the body; how it bends and typically holds itself – how the fabric will cling and fall. In the end it is the great British tradition of tailoring, though the jersey fabric and shapes I now work with are quite different to the traditional cloth and cutting at Pooles of Saville Row where I was an intern, it’s the same principle: creating a garment that will enhance and improve the wearers figure.
What makes your clothes different from other labels?
My aim is that that my pieces can be recognized, to have a strong aesthetic which shows through – the ‘handwriting’. This is not to say there is no room for newness – that’s essential – but it means that new pieces may explore different silhouettes or details while fitting into the look which first attracted a customer. Like a relationship with a person the brand always presents fresh experiences and aspects but the essential character and values remain the same. In practical terms – general design decisions on details like how close fitting to the body a piece is – and most of mine are – to very specific things that may not be noticeable at first like a favoured depth for a band or collar (3.3cm) or button diameter (also 3.3cm) in this way there is a feeling of harmony when you buy a new piece and wear it with a piece from two seasons ago. So one thing that differentiates me is a concern for a much longer product lifespan.
How important is sustainability to you?
Beyond its recent incarnation as a rather annoying buzzword this has long been my major concern. Alex Williams writing for the New York Times described fashion as “the deliberate inculcation of obsolescence” which is what I am pushing to move on from in my work, I aim for pieces to be timeless and authentic. All my fabrics are organically grown fibres certified by GOTS and IVN, that’s just logical – responsibility and intelligence in materials selection as a creator. Sustainability is in the eye of the beholder perhaps; the materials used, the lasting appeal of the design and the use cycle – that is how often it needs to be cleaned and how – all play their part. My items are all machine washable, a vision may be baroque, bohemian or verging on insane, nevertheless, washable at 30 degrees please. That clothes be washable seems a design essential to me, the challenge is then to push that as far into extravagant shapes as possible.
Where do you get your inspirations for your label from?
Going through life, seeing mostly but also smelling, hearing, dreaming and fantasizing, fragments of ideas and images float by and some are captured and consumed in the form of memories and then inspire new ideas in the designers brain. There is a kind of internal selection process that may be instant or it may be that things lodge unnoticed in the mind and body to emerge years or decades later into consciousness and be absorbed into the creative process. I think all artists and designers do this and it’s a largely unconscious process – so the easy answer is: inspiration comes from everywhere, films, books, chats, loves, the way a shovel scraped a pile of sand on a walk around the block… just living which is why artists and designers often gravitate to areas with the highest density of visual diversity and contrast like a kind of kaleidoscope, different nationalities and social backgrounds and purposes shaken up to make ever new patterns. If I had to choose one thing as important for inspiration it would be this, my environment. If I come out into the street and there’s lametta flying in a tree for no reason or someone has written a poem on a fence or there’s a broken puppet on an electric box, this kind of seemingly banal trash street dialogue is for me the true cultural capital of a city and not its operas theatres and museums. Berlin more than anywhere presents me with this daily bizarre visual diary and I need it like food.
What are your plans for the future?
To keep on creating collections and exploring new ideas, adding to the library of pieces… I make sure I would wear a piece myself – so that I stand for what I produce, in the past I tried to separate the self and the product but I feel much more involved and authentic this way. I look forward to doing more collaborations, working with artists and filmmakers, which I’m planning – and finding new collectors and customers who share (and wear) my vision. Really I want to the label to be a basis for linking to other fields, like literature or product design, thinking and linking …hmm. I’m keen to do further research and consulting in ecological and sustainable design perhaps also teaching which I enjoy. A designer has the chance to influence and change things in that they choose the materials and processes with which they produce and I want to aim for continual betterment with regard to sustainability and technical processes. One field I would like to look at in more detail is dying – fabric not expiring – though I guess ironically a lot of what I do is ultimately concerned with mortality. Timor Mortis – I think it’s a very deep source for many creatives like Damien Hirst or T.S. Eliot who ‘saw the skull beneath the skin’.
Where would you like to be with your label in e.g. 5 years?
’5 years’ – like the Bowie song? – that’s quite appropriate. Right now my label is in its infancy but I want it to grow to be a premise for a viable alternative. An independent label with small but consistent collections that are highly collectable. I want to fill the gap for women who want something avant-garde yet wearable, dignified as well as playful, that want to be able to move and dance and stretch in pieces that combine a sportswear sensibility with their head in the coutures. My clothes are inclusive in that they are designed to actually look good on real bodies so they should have broad appeal in that way. However rather than aiming for being hyped I’d be happy with a quiet band of dedicated followers who are looking to express the complexity and contradictions in their character – and of course who have a conscience. A different kind of beauty.
Thanks a lot for the interview.
[Interview by Tom Felber]