Get to know Alisa as she shares her experience as a designer through an interview on National futur.
Born in Germany ,educated at ESMOD international fashion university and now splitting her time between Paris and Berlin, Alisa is a unicorn who runs freely, she knows exactly how to put herself on the line and step out of her comfort zone, she’s busy working herself a brand and after reading the interview, the only thing you will have in mind is to give Alisa a hug. She wants to confront us with an aesthetic that isn’t easy to love and she’s not afraid to explore the notion of ‘the ugly purity’ in all its beautiful disproportion and disharmony.
National Futur /Before we launch into our discussion, why don’t you tell our readers a bit about your background ?
Well, I was born in a small town in Germany called Hagen, raised by Bosnian parents. I have pretty early developed the need of being far away from this little town mentality, I was curious about what else was out there. At the age of 18 I was sure of wanting to study art, but my parents wouldn’t support me in this idea. Instead I chose fashion design, thinking I could still draw and create. When I was 19 I moved to Paris by myself and worked hard to build my life there. Studies were really difficult to manage with a job, and I was discovering the very superficial and industrial side of fashion. After several internships and jobs as a designer I finally decided to find back that love for art and move to Berlin in order to create a kind of collective of my own.
National Futur/You live in Berlin, how does the city influence your work?
I like Berlin for its variety and authenticity. People still feel very raw here and don’t care about what other people may think of their style. Life in Berlin is still affordable (even though the costs have terribly increased during the past 10 years) which takes this pretention and competition out of the air. That feel had a major impact on my way of thinking and seeing the world, on my lifestyle and the way I design. I feel more free to please myself during this process, creating things reinventing myself regardless to the commercial success of it. All in one I would say the city has pushed me to reconnect with myself and gave me the courage to produce authentic work.
National Futur /You went through many artistic phases, when did you realize you had found your own voice? maybe you are still trying to do so …
I believe I have found my own voice during my studies. I was surrounded by very wealthy international kids who more or less were designing very similar, tasteful clothes. I would say my poverty was my strength at that time, because it forced me to work with materials that were not meant to be used for clothes, such as foams or blankets from the hardware store, fruit dyeing or weaving my own fabrics… sometimes I would have to pick the cheapest fabric in the shop and make it look expensive. This kind of “suffering” actually made me develop a very own perspective on fashion, and I understood I would never design clothes which would make people look rich or good in an obvious way.
National Futur/ You worked with big names, Damir Doma, Anne Valérie Hash, what memories do you have of that time?
Damir used to make only menswear when I interned, but working there was like Disneyland. All the fabrics, amazing protos and books laying around which really spoke to me, it was a good time working in an environment like that and to be surrounded by people who shared the same aesthetic as me. It just made me feel more confident about the directions I was taking in the future, but unfortunately I didn’t see much of the designing process as Damir was designing the collection in Germany next to his mother who is a tailor. Working next to Anne Valerie had probably the biggest impact on me, because we were working really close to her. It was a beautiful time, as all my colleagues became very close friends; we had such a great team and ambiance going on. Designing for her really got under my skin, and for a long time I couldn’t get this flowy, twisted style out of my hand – I must admit her world is much sweeter and softer than mine, so after I left the company I pretty much went back to my masculine, experimental habits. But both experiences gave me a big fascination for fabrics and cut, as both really spent a lot of time looking for the perfect fabric and the perfect fit.
National Futur/ Fashion has always been your first option ?
As I already mentioned earlier, fashion was not my first choice. I had a few career ideas in my head that were all very different. For a long time I wanted to become a psychiatrist, just because I was always really interested in human psychology and how our behavior and feelings all can be reduced to chemical reactions really. That was around the age of 14-17.. then I started to feel I really needed to do things with my hands, I was tired of studying at school in that academic way. My idea of breaking free was doing an art school, unfortunately coming from a humble family art was not very well seen. To my parent’s defense, they only wanted to make sure I wouldn’t end up as poor as they used to be and as I was doing particularly well at high school they hoped I would study medicine or law. Our sort of compromise went up to fashion, still they were not really happy about my choice of moving away… It was a controversial time. But I’m catching up with that part of mine I didn’t explore yet, anytime soon.
National Futur/ Your work has been the subject of great attention since its eruption, you didn’t ask for it but here we are, social media really gave you extra boost and I guess you were very surprised to see how virally the visuals were spreading ….
I was really surprised, indeed, especially that my accessories were born out of boredom and basic needs but all of a sudden turned into this project of having my own label. Once I uploaded a few images of my bags
(shot on my sofa at home wrapped in plastic bags from the fruit market down my building) they just went viral and all of a sudden I got buyers asking me for pricelists..
National Futur/ Since you are in a very spontaneous approach, we absolutely want you to walk us through your design process, so we can dig a little deeper to see how this pretty little brain of yours is structuring the beauty .
I am a night bird. I work the best when everyone’s asleep. The daylight makes me want to go out and do things, I can’t find a peace of mind. Seeing people active in the streets just distracts me, probably because my apartment has big glass windows which is just like a gigantic live TV. I need to be alone, focused on myself so I can use my instinct and my feelings as a source.I mostly start to do research 24h/day, I get really lost in finding artists, music, movies that inspire me. Then, when it comes down to the designing process I am more of a spontaneous person. Using a mood board just stresses me out; there is just too much which inspires me. I start designing one thing and will end up somewhere else; I embrace a fabric’s personality and listen to what it says. I like to start sawing in a very raw way and refine it little by little. I like to make mistakes and use them.
National Futur/ Using shearling in one of your backpacks was the first step in finding beauty in the hideous, and maybe erasing at the same time that polish aspect .When observing your products I felt the friction ,the confrontation, I was confused and amazed by your ability to transform the sterile to provocative .This all seems to make sense, or am I having a wet dream?
Yes my work always turns around this subject, just because myself I have suffered from a major skin disease which affected my life and psychology from birth till the age of 16. Not that it has completely stopped or disappeared, but I deal with it much better now.
During my childhood and teenage hood I was the last person on earth people would talk to because of my looks. Later on, when it improved, people started approaching me and started to be interested in me. I’m trying to introduce this process, of people having a closer look at the odd to discover its beauty and depth, because it is what I identify with and constantly am attracted to.
National Futur/ it’s no coincidence that you value craftsmanship, in your family the skills passed down over generations and your father was very influential ,you decided to craft your items by hand, because you wanted to return to a certain tactility, to communicate an emotional sincerity which I found absolutely beautiful if you ask me ..I can tell when someone is true to what he’s doing , there is some real passion here, so my question is, even with enough money to produce more, you would be still in the handmade business ?
I would stay in the handmade business for local businesses in Berlin, which would request special orders from me, but unfortunately, I physically wouldn’t be able to pull this through for long. Manufacturing leather is a bloody job, one needs strong and resistant hands which can stand heat, cuts, hammering, pressure. The attention and love put into a product, nevertheless, will never decrease.
National Futur/ Lot of people appreciate the quiet confidence in the quality of your items and you produced around 20 pieces for a pop up store (June Basel) at the Art Basel in Miami, would love to know all the details
I have met the two shop owners through a friend in Berlin, they saw my products and wanted to sell them at their pop up store. They have on – a very short notice – ordered around 20 products of mine, which I
produced by hand in about 1 month. I was really happy about the result, the pop up store looked beautiful, they had beautiful merchandising and they sold almost all products.
National Futur/ But you didn’t stop here , you met Olivia Foster and you made some beautiful babies with her .Your collaboration was based on the fusion of two different approaches to design, but complementary at some level, both of you have the same obsessions and a pretty similar aesthetics , mainly focused on materials . We would love to know the whole story on how you managed to give them a place to exist.
I have mostly picked the people I wanted to collaborate with myself, in Olivia’s case it was the same scenario. I had a very precise idea of what I wanted to express, and her work was inspiring me, so I thought we would make a good team and create something beautiful together and bring this whole thing to another level.
I like to work with people; it actually drives me insane working alone on long term. I think there is nothing more beautiful than exchanging on a subject with someone who gets you and at the same time will bring you a different point of view. Getting a different point of view – oh, people in the fashion world don’t talk enough to each other, they are such divas. I am always happy when I meet a person who is relaxed and doesn’t take him/herself too seriously; there are not enough people of that kind around.
With Olivia we simply just started exchanging pictures, inspirations between each other. We really quickly knew what media we wanted to use, and started to experiment on materials. Unfortunately the project has never really concluded, but only our tryouts were already very positive. I have gotten in touch with her recently so we might talk about a new project soon.
National Futur /What can we expect from you next?
I am planning to join an art atelier including pottery, wax, wood, metal machines, so you might just want to expect more schizophrenic creative meltdowns.