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On The Map Of The Dress – PART 1

UPDATE: I talk about the journey of this dress in PART 2 HERE

The story of this collection begins in 2016. Once upon a time I had to create a dress that would reflect my vision of Australia. And that was the beginning of a long and exciting journey...

To start, I need to mention that I am very big on creating meaningful and useful designs and garments, the ones that would be loved and worn for years. I am well aware of harmful fashion practices and I believe it is every designer's primary responsibility to be as sustainable as possible in their processes. So I thought if I ever decided to take on this project I'd have to first of all create a fashion statement with clear ethical message.

For someone who moved to Australia only in 2013 it was extremely hard to design and create an outfit that demands deep knowledge of Australian history and understanding of its beliefs and traditions. But then I thought that it was a perfect opportunity to start exploring the country I chose to be my new home. I stopped and thought for a moment – how do I actually perceive Australia…

What does it mean to be a true Aussie? What are they like – real Australians? That is a very good question…  Today, Australia is populated by descendants from more than 140 countries making it one of the most ethnically diverse societies in the world. Although all these people, including myself, came here not so long ago – less than 300 years back, while the aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islanders have been inhabiting this land for more than 50,000 years. So, who is more Australian? Those who celebrate the Australia Day, or those who mourn it? Ironically, the 26th of January is the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet of convict-laden ships to the Australian land in 1788. Who are the real Aussies? Those who once upon a time created the “White Australia” policy, or those who survived it?…

As I see it, the answer is not that simple. In the modern cosmopolitan world when migration from the place you were born is a very common thing, the most important rule when settling at the new place is showing respect to the people you came to, their language, cultural traditions and history.

Modern Australian society consists of many layers of migrations to the land with each layer adding to the developments and formation of the country in its own way, no one layer is superior than the other. Australians of today celebrate the heritage of the historical land of the aboriginal people who now represent a small cultural minority of modern Australia and show respect to their fellow Australians from different ethnical backgrounds, no matter how long ago and where they came from and what their mother tongue is.

We need to unite, not to grow apart as in unity and integrity of multicultural diversity is our strength as a nation today.

So I had rather complicated and serious concept developed in my mind and I needed to come up with an idea of how to put this concept into a dress...

A dress like the one I was about to make is very often a “one-time-wear” garment… Beautiful, sophisticated, extravagant… and forgotten after the event. This is not what I wanted to do. A while ago I promised to myself that I would simply refuse to create garments that could not be used less than… well, quite a lot of times! Just as I started developing the design of this dress, social networks got filled with posts of Emma Watson’s gown that she wore on the red carpet at the Met Gala. Everything from the lining to the unique yarn which was created using recycled plastic bottles, was made from 100% sustainable materials and was meant to be worn again and again. And I knew immediately that I wanted to create something with the similar message.

Thus, I was on a mission to produce a sustainable outfit that would be made of several layers and could be worn in many different ways. I genuinely believe that beautiful things should be worn again and again and again, and when their life cycle is over they should be re-purposed into something else rather than create waste on our land.

The Dress is, like Australian identity, created from layers that could be worn several different ways.

To make the skirt and the top I used sustainable and exceptionally beautiful hemp/silk satin fabric from Hemp Wholesalers Australia. Both pieces are reversible and can be worn separately with other garments. Red colour represents the Australian land we all inhabit and black plays tribute to the minority of aboriginal communities who have been living on this land for thousands of years and represent the core of Australian identity. The shape of this layer was inspired by tribal hip wraps of the traditional owners of the land and the intricate corsetry heritage of the British Empire.

I used a recycled plastic folder to bone the corset and the Guterman thread made from recycled plastic bottles to assemble the outfit. Although recycled polyester, as I discovered while working on this design, presents quite a controversial issue too, and some say that breaking plastic bottles into millions of fibrous bits of plastic might prove to be worse than doing nothing at all. (This is something I have been studying more since that project and eventually decided to slowly move away from polyester threads all together also minimising any synthetic materials in my creations).

The upper layer, the gold dress, has been my personal experiment. It is made from “sewing rubbish” – recycled cotton gauze and threads leftovers from my previous projects (see pictures below) and depicts the world map representing the multicultural diversity of modern Australia. All the continents and islands are connected together to create a dress that symbolises our unity and integrity as a multicultural nation. After the life cycle of this dress is over it can be cut and repurposed into other creative arts and crafts projects.

When an issue of photography came up for this garment, I asked my friend, Yana Klein, a professional photographer, for a quote. For the first time, I wanted to obtain high-quality photographs of my design. But I had never thought that a simple chat with a potential photographer would bring this project to a whole new level! She first said, “Well, I normally charge quite a bit for this type of work, but it can all be done on pure enthusiasm if we find the right team of people who will want to collaborate in exchange for great shots for their portfolio…” So we started. We put together a great team of creative professionals including a model, a fashion stylist, make-up and hair artists and a jeweller – my friend Viktoria Repka made beautiful and intricate jewellery sets especially for this shoot (You can find out more about her amazing work here). And then, finally, the project came to life…

By no means it was an easy journey! We had so many failures and complications with this project; I had never experienced anything like it before! But now, reflecting back I think that in spite of all the difficulties we encountered, I have learnt hell of a lot from it! I also met some exceptionally creative people thanks to this project and want to express my gratitude to every single one of them for being so dedicated, for supporting me all along and for making this happen especially when I was about to give up!

Photography: Yana Klein

Model: Tatevik Chachoian

Styling: Holly Chan

Make up: Celide Wolanski

Hair: Steph Munday

Jewellery: Viktoria Repka

You can see more photos on Yana Klein’s blog page here

Read further journey of this dress HERE (On The Map Of The Dress - PART 2)

Let me know what you think of this project in comments!

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