Text: Martha Miklin
Photos: Walter Oberbramberger
There probably is no one with more insight into the country’s scene of up-and-coming fashion designers than the two founders of the Austrian Fashion Association (AFA), Marlene Agreiter and Camille Boyer. They were also involved in the decision on what the team at the Austrian pavilion at this year’s Expo will wear this summer: elegant, yet sporty outfits by Vienna-based label Superated. In our interview, the two ladies talked about emerging Austrian designers, the importance of sustainability in fashion and the strong confidence of young Austrians.
The team uniforms could not complement the motto of the Austrian pavilion, “BREATHE.AUSTRIA”, any better. They are made from light fabrics by Austrian producers in the colours of the forest, with references to both classic workwear and Austrian traditional costumes. The jury simply loved the project of Peter Holzinger, founder of fashion label Superated, and designer Dragana Rikanovic. “Peter did a really great job,” says Marlene, and Camille adds, “very contemporary.” His concept, they found, was very elaborate, covering and reflecting many facets of Austria’s Expo project in a very profound way. AFA, as an intermediary between emerging designers and the industry, grants sponsorships and had invited five promising Austrian labels to submit their ideas for the Expo team’s outfits. They all did really great and it was not an easy decision for the jury of reputable fashion experts. But, as always, only one could finally win the bid.
“Austrian designers interpret fashion on a very high, very contemporary level. There is so much motivation and drive to make something new and leave old paths behind,” says Marlene enthusiastically. She is the head project manager at AFA and has been working in fashion and design since 2008. Before, she studied psychology and fashion design at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. Camille, the artistic director, talks about creative excellence among Austrian fashion designers, and a high level of self-confidence in the sense of independent, contemporary design that is not simply trying to follow trends. Camille knows what she’s talking about, she studied, created, taught and sold fashion in Paris, Shanghai and Vienna. Talent, both of them agree, is a combination of sensing, being aware of things and then being able to implement one’s findings. But there’s more to it, they say, “If I’d say, you will recognise talent when you see it, that would actually be enough to answer your question.”
Fashion is not only about making clothes, Camille and Marlene say. It’s also a reflection on the zeitgeist, on issues like production methods and sustainability. “Fashion has to strive for fair ways of production; after all, literally nothing touches us as closely as fashion.” Consequently, it’s only smart to be careful with how we make, dye and process fabrics. A more current issue is the no-waste use of materials. “How do I have to create sewing patterns to minimise waste? How do we produce things that are completely recyclable or self-decomposing?” ask Marlene and a new generation of designers concerned with similar topics. Some answers to questions of sustainability, however, come very naturally to young designers, “Young, independent labels almost always cooperate with local production companies. So if you buy young fashion you not only support talented designers but also production and clusters in Europe.”
The sleeves of the Austrian pavilion’s team outfits feature a QR code made of Swarovski crystals, leading users directly to www.expoaustria.at. It is more than just a gimmick, it’s a symbol for the partnership between new technology and fashion that has long been established in Austria. In the fall, a new “Fashion and Technology” programme will start at the University of Art and Design Linz. Applications are in progress, there’s a lot of interest in the programme. And there are Austrian designers who have worked in this field already. “There’s Wolfgang Langeder with his label Utope who cooperates with the Fraunhofer Institute on the development of jackets with an integrated microelectronic system consisting of LEDs, sensors, control units, an on/off switch and a rechargeable battery. Michele Stinco and Elisabeth Frey of polychromelab created a now patented laminate for reversible jackets that either warm you up or keep you cool, depending on outdoor conditions and temperatures,” explains Marlene. Other trends are 3D prints, laser-cutting and digital prints – all embraced by young Austrian designers who ride these waves without exhausting themselves or chasing fame only.
Vienna is said to always be behind time. This may be true for some fields, but definitely not for the country’s young fashion scene. Camille and Marlene rather see a spirit of self-confidence in designers, a loyalty to their own style, their own statement. Superated perfectly represents this energetic, motivated, progressive and innovative crowd that’s more interested in exploring niches than pushing themselves to the fore. “Maybe Austrian fashion is not loud or begging for attention. But there are many interesting, highly artistic, independent characters on the scene,” says Marlene, looking at Camille, who’s smiling. And has nothing more to add.
Their fashion tip for Milan? Look out for Austrian labels like Arthur Arbesser, „definitely one of our rising stars“ or Carol Christian Poell. „And, of course, don’t forget about the team outfits in the Austrian pavilion!“ adds Marlene.