Secret Thirteen Interview - Lisa Shahno


The complex world of mesmeric geometric abstraction - an exclusive interview with ingenious Lisa Shahno

Lisa Shahno is an upcoming and promising fashion designer and visual artist based in Moscow, Russia. Shahno constructs clothing exploiting high-tech materials and geometric forms in a very playful and intuitive way. Using the language of abstract two-dimensional graphical surfaces, Lisa Shahno explores the space between fashion design, art, geometry and even physics. Since her first collection “Squaring the square” the main structural units of her pieces has become simple forms such as squares, rectangles and triangles. Rejecting the stereotypes of the traditional-cut method, Lisa Shahno does not emphasise the shape of female bodies. Designing always begins with abstract non-utilitarian idea. Having no connection to the body or wear, it is only partially adapted to the human experience, supplementing our illusory world with a fresh look on clothes and on things in general.

In this exclusive interview Shahno talks about her beginning, manner of design and difficulties in the creative process. Also, she reveals some of her favourite writers, designers and musicians.


What made you decide to become a fashion designer? Maybe you were directed by your family or your first school teacher or someone else? How important is it to you?

After graduating at pattern making department at Moscow Mossovet College I was in a doubtful state and wanted to be a graphic designer simply because I felt a little bit tired of practical aspects of clothing design and soviet methods of teaching it in Russia. Boundaries of graphic design looked mistakenly wider for me at that time. I’ve been a huge fan of shiny world of advertising since childhood. I liked to watch TV shop commercials, collected printed postcards, packaging design examples, parts of fashion magazines, catalogs. It was simply magical how marketing professionals can create a short sensation from electrical blender and make you believe that possession of it will turn your life into a kind of heaven. I felt my mind was a mixing bowl. In the upshot I got back to the point where I started – I entered Moscow University of Design and Technology, fashion design department. I still have a huge interest in these parts of the market.

Could you tell us about your process of making your puzzling fashion models?

It is an intuitive process that starts not from wearer's measurements and grid based on these measurements, but from simple shapes like squares, rectangles or triangles. It's a little bit similar to draping, but the main point is that while designing I just keep in mind that it could be wearable item, but don't concentrate on this subject, simply playing with shapes and after that I can put it on person or just leave as an independent item with no utilitarian function. This allows to loose hierarchy between wearer and an object, which is obvious in everyday life. One of the attempts to look at things from the different perspective.

Selected works:

What ideology lays behind your works? Does these abstract cuts and forms reflect something specific or are they only your experiments with material?

I like early modernism movement concepts, especially myths of a grid constructed geometric abstraction as a medium of things that can't be seen, but have to be expressed and materialized somehow. Approaches of De Stijl, Bauhaus school and Vkhutemas have made a huge impact on me. I like theoretical works of Kandinsky (“Point and Line to Plane”, “Concerning the Spiritual In Art"), but Malevich’s visually poor suprematism is closer to my perception – black square is a doubtless hero of mine. Works of first designers in the emerging Soviet textile industry - Popova and Stepanova are also great. Clothing can be a good storyteller and distributor of these relatively old, but still interesting ideas that emerged in a dawn of industrialization. In my designs I render 2D independent abstract (primarily straight lined) graphic composition into 3D objects (clothes) adding symbolism into poor minimalistic geometry from time to time. For example, The Iteration collection was inspired by the Fractal Cosmology theory. There models represented a variety of matter levels in the universe. All pieces' patterns were composed from the one repeating basic element - the square divided by diagonals - an elementary particle, but each model had a different scale and number of particles involved.

What excites you most about good fashion? What depresses you most about bad fashion?

Self-irony is the most impressive thing in fashion, because if you have it you will never be a victim. It allows you to take a sober view of things and analyze in a way what is going on. The depressive thing is when people, who run this business don’t take social responsibility and thinking only of increasing their fortune and don't care at all about environment of countries, where they place production or people, who work for extremely low salaries.

What are the biggest difficulties you encounter in your work? What gives you the greatest satisfaction?

Self organization sometimes is truly hard thing, especially when I used to sew collections by myself few years ago. But the result always worth it. Looking at the final result is the best satisfaction. Squaring the Square and The Iteration collections were made entirely by myself from idea to ready pieces. Squaring the Square took Best Avantgarde Award at Createurope competition for young designers in Berlin in 2009, also I was invited to take part in "The Future That Never Was" exhibition in the Modemuseum Hasselt in Belgium in 2011. Now the piece from The Iteration collection is exhibited in Kent State University Museum at "Shifting Paradigms: Fashion + Technology" exhibition.

Can you describe your work routine? What do you do when you are not creating? How do you plan your schedule?

Recently I've started to work for a fast fashion corporation. Just because I want to see how production chain with many departments works in practice. Previously I faced only small businesses or private ateliers, and for my brand I designed only artistic things almost with no connection to the market. Russia is huge and information spreads to the regions quite slowly sometimes. I find it interesting to analyze global fashion trends in this particular case, how they emerge, live and decay in context of the country with a certain mentality.

Who are some of your favorite writers? What are you currently reading? What place do books occupy in your life?

I like a mix of absurdity, ancient myths and Buddhist’s concepts in Pelevin’s works, dark and attractive worlds of Bradbury, Carl Sagan’s popular science books. I'm into more practical things now - Roland Barthes' “The Fashion System” is what I read.

What fashion designer most influenced you? Why?

Anti-fashion and irony of Rei Kawakubo is amazing because her vision simply exploded European pattern of fashion perception in the 80's. Hiroshima chic made a huge impact on all contemporary conceptual fashion designers. It's so important to have a look on things from different perspective and find people who are able to show this perspective. Yohji Yamamoto's clever and avant-garde approach to technology of fabric manipulation is also one the most inspiring things for a whole fashion industry and for me as well. His know-hows showed many new ways.

Do you often listen to music? What are your favourite bands, musicians or albums? Does music in some way influences your works?

When I worked on The Polyomino Game collaboration with jewelry designer Tania Hennessy of Aroha Silhouettes from Canada I was listening to Kraftwerk because the collection was inspired by a polyomino game with established simple rules: each designer was to create seven unique pieces exclusively using combinations of squares. To add an element of difficulty, my clothing designs were restricted to only using squares of 30 x 30 cm and Hennessy’s jewellery and accessory designs were using 1 x 1 cm squares. The colour palette was also restricted to black, white, grey and violet. That was visually very close to the early electronic music sounds I think. Lately I listened to Snog a lot – it fitted my mood well. Maybe it's a kind of nostalgia, because I used David Thrussell's track “Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars” for a catwalk during the Createurope show in 2009.

My favorite things at the moment:

Phillip Glass – “Knee 1”
Moderat - “Berlin”
Vangelis - “Rachel's Song"
Stockhausen - "Gesang der Junglinge"
Vladimir Vernadsky - “My Land”
Herbst9 - “Must I Die Because Of My Holy Songs”
Boards Of Canada - “i love u”
Isao Tomita - “The Sea Named Solaris”

And if you find it suitable you can place the link to Biosphere. Good compilation.

What are you currently working on (or recently finished) in your studio?

Normally I don't make long lasting plans, because I value element of unknown and unexpected so much. But in general it would be interesting to make a collaboration with a big brand one day. Also I hope to have enough time to finish the digital drawing series and organize an exhibition.

More about Lisa Shahno: website - facebook - blog

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An interdisciplinary journal, offering eclectic mixes and smart interviews with original artists and label owners as well as contemporary art reviews.

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