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Interview: Gemma Anastasiou and her Deconstructed Blooms

Deconsctructed Blooms by Gemma Anastasiou

Today I’d like to welcome a newly graduated, up-and-coming fashion designer, Sydney-based Gemma Anastasiou. Yes, I know this is not strictly a fashion blog but it is about design innovation and Gemma has managed to use this in spades when designing her graduate collection called Deconstructed Blooms. What’s more it embodies a strong ethical and sustainable ethos that, as she says, is based around the values of the ‘slow fashion’ movement.

What Gemma has managed to achieve is a range of clothing made with not only natural low-impact materials such as hemp/organic cotton, silk/ hemp, silk organza and alpaca yarn but the real coup de grace is that she has infused them with flowers. Yes, real flowers.

The result is something ephemeral, beautiful, delicate and whimsical but still utterly wearable (although best kept for ‘better wear’ than walking the dog!).

Says Gemma: Garments are smashed and heated as a way of melding plant to cloth resulting in, not only the creation of natural colour and texture, but also eventual decay. The garments take on the natural life cycle of the bloom. While it is hoped the garment will become a valued piece of the wearer’s wardrobe, something which transcends seasonal styles and held on to, should the wearer choose to dispose of the garment, it can naturally decompose back into the earth at the end of its usefulness.

Tell us how you came to study fashion and textiles. Was it something you always wanted to do? 

I think, for me, going into a career in a creative industry was always going to happen. From a young age I was encouraged to draw and I learnt to sew in my early teens. The main drive to make my own clothes came from the frustration of not being able to find anything I wanted to wear, so I made it myself.

I started my tertiary studies at TAFE where I studied fashion production for two years. My main goal was always to do a degree, so in 2009 I started a Bachelor of Design in Fashion and Textiles at the University of Technology, Sydney which I graduated from earlier this year [2013].

Your graduate collection – Deconstructed Blooms – seems based on quite a challenging design concept. Tell us how you came up with the idea and then made it happen? Were you at any stage daunted by what you had embarked upon?

It definitely wasn’t what I had envisaged when I started the process, but it was just one of those things that naturally evolved. When I embarked on this project I knew I wanted to create something which would be a challenge for me and something which would really push the boundaries and question the viewer’s perception on fashion. I felt that my graduate collection was the perfect opportunity with which to attempt this. I had the freedom to be completely experimental and express raw creativity.

I started out doing a lot of research into sustainable design and new developments in the fashion industry, looking into alternative design and production methods which looked at a sustainable future for fashion. What I took away from this was the connection between fashion and nature. Fashion is so reliant on the natural world as a source of raw materials, inspiration and motifs, yet in today’s fashion industry there seems to be a disconnect.

From here I did my own photographic study looking at the juxtaposition of the natural world within the context of the urban environment. I photographed my own surroundings – at the time I lived in a very busy part of Sydney CBD – focusing on how nature has found a place in this environment. What I found most interesting was photographing a bunch of store-bought flowers, which I shot at different stages of its life cycle within the confines of a vase. From this point I developed the concept to combine nature and fashion, and set out to merge the natural cycle of the bloom with that of the garment.

The actual process of creating the garments started with experiments with natural dye methods. I used fresh flowers stamped onto the cloth as a way of staining the fabrics with colour and pattern. I used a metal hammer, and layered the fresh flowers between the fabric and simply pounded them onto the cloth. I moved on to finding a way of embedding fresh petals into the cloth and in the end achieved this through bonding them in-between layers of fabric and onto the surface of the cloth.

There were many times when I was completely apprehensive about completing the project. There was a lot of trial and error and failed attempts. Even now I am still working out better ways of creating the garments – it’s very much a continual process.

Explain, too, the process of attaining suitable fabric and sourcing the flowers. What challenges did you face along the way?

Sourcing was a very important part of the process. I challenged myself to use fabrics which had a lower impact on the environment. I looked into new fibres such as corn starch and coffee grinds, recycled, low-impact natural yarns including hemp and alpaca yarn. However I found very few suppliers in Australia who carried these products and even international suppliers I sourced often didn’t want to deal with such small quantities. In the end I did find a handful of suppliers who had what I needed.

What I choose to use were all plant- and animal-based fabrics, which had a reduced impact on the environment – they are all in an un-dyed state. The final garments have been made from hemp/organic cotton, silk/ hemp, silk organza and alpaca yarn.  These fabrics were selected as they worked with the textile applications of bonding and stamping and the natural textures of the cloth complimented that of the petals.

Once I decided to use actual flowers in my designs, I began using only flowers I had on hand from my own garden as well as acquiring any waste products from local florists. However, as the concept grew and I worked out which types of petals would actually work, I needed a steady supply and sourced everything for my final garments from the Sydney Flower Markets.

Are you planning on making more clothing in this collection or expanding on this concept?

I can definitely see myself expanding on this concept. I still have so many ideas and avenues I couldn’t explore during my initial design process that I just have to go back and revisit them at some stage. If an interesting opportunity came up to expand on what I’ve already done, then yes, definitely.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working as a freelance designer, which can be quite varied, and changes month to month. At the moment, I have commissions doing photo retouching and styling. I have also just been down in Melbourne for the launch of a new exhibition, in which I have a selection of my collection. The exhibition is titled ‘Ethics of Style’ and is on at the Light Factory Gallery until the end of July. I am also in the planning stages of a new venture, which should be launching at the end of the year.

What or who inspires you?

The fashion designers I always look to are Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Hussein Chalayan and Maison Martin Margiela. I always look to them for inspiration because of their avant-garde approach to design. Their work exists outside the constraints of trends, which makes what they do somewhat timeless.

Outside of fashion my inspiration comes from the simple things in the environment around me; I often find inspiration in the most mundane places. A common theme, which has started to run through my work, is the dynamic between beauty and decay.

Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?

All the time.  When I look back on what I have made and where my designs have taken me, I am always humbled that I am doing something I love.

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

My plans for the next few years are to travel overseas, preferably to Europe and work in the industry there, maybe somewhere in Italy, France or London and gain some experience in a new environment. I feel the designers working out of these areas, especially the smaller up- and-coming labels, have a much more adventurous spirit.

I also plan to do further study, probably something around sustainable fashion design. Wherever I end up I want to be doing something that challenges the conventions we currently have in place in regards to fibre production, manufacturing and the supply chain. I want to make a positive impact on the future fashion industry so that it is a fairer system for all involved; people and the environment.

Thanks so much, Gemma! What daring, commitment and perseverance and, of course talent! I’m sure we’ll hear more of Gemma in the future.

And if you’re in Melbourne, be sure to check out the Ethics of Style exhibition that explores the relationship between sustainability and wearable art now on at The Light Factory Gallery.

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