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Croatian creative Marija Kulusic has always known that she wanted to be a designer. Early inspired by designers such as Cristobal Balenciaga, Martin Margiela and Raf Simons, now she tries to reveal herself through her own garments. With a very personal style, she creates minimalistic and well-structured aesthetics and shapes often spotlighted by a surprising attention to details that is definitely making Zagreb fashion grow.
Marija, could you please introduce yourself?
Hello, I am a freelance fashion designer born and currently based in Zagreb (Croatia). Passionate traveller, art and animal lover.
How and when did you decide to become a designer?
As a little girl, I firmly decided I would go to high school for fashion design, and it all developed in that way naturally. I’ve always been interested in fashion. Very often I would go through my mother’s wardrobe and try on stuff, styling the clothes differently than they were meant to be worn. I was curious about what is under the lining.
You studied at the Faculty of Textile Technology in Zagreb, right? Tell us about your years in this school. What have they taught you? And why didn’t you choose to study fashion design in one of the typical fashion countries like France, England or Italy?
To be honest it wasn’t hard, and now I wish I was more challenged and pushed through college. It thrills me to see that some things are changing here and that there are some young, fresh people taking things over. During the early years in college I wasn’t thinking about studying abroad because it is not easy financially, but now I would probably challenge myself more than I did. The college whose approach to students and design I admire the most is The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.

Tell us about the fashion scene in Croatia, and more particularly in Zagreb. Is it well developed? And how’s your work perceived there? What’s your contribution to Croatian fashion?
It is stuck and it’s not easy for me to talk about it because I am a part of it too, but that’s how it is. If you do not expect to do a lot of compromises, you can forget about living in Croatia from your design. I started by wining a regional competition and my work was very well accepted. There are some changes happening now and young talented designers do exist, but they need help. Fashion is still considered as very easy-going here and the whole system is dangerously behind what it is trying to become.
Could you speak about what inspires you on a regular basis? Any designers that influence your work?
I am a really visual person, I notice and remember pictures. Daily life and interesting people I see on the street motivate me, but mostly it all comes from the inside. It’s not only about the clothes; every collection I do is very personal and triggered by my experience or interpretation of a vision. With every new work I reveal myself and learn more. Unusual things, like imperfections and what we hide underneath, intrigue me. That is far more interesting than the classic beauty ideal. I really appreciate Cristobal Balenciaga, whom I consider one of the greatest designers in history. The conceptual approach of Martin Margiela fascinates me, and I also follow the work of Phoebe Philo for Celine and Raf Simons with great interest.
Your website describes your garments as “complex minimalism”. How would you describe your designing style? According to you, what makes you different from other designers of your generation?
I don’t want to define my aesthetics, I’m still learning about it and I don’t consider myself exclusively minimalist. It is very interesting and close to me, but I do not wish to put myself into a specific frame. Garments that look minimal when observed from a certain distance but that when you approach them you realise there are many details – that excites me. I feel responsible as a young designer to seek for a fresh and honest vision, and I want reaction if there is one in which I succeed. It is not up to me to discuss what makes me different, I will let my work speak for me.

It also says that your “attention is especially focused on the details and the fabric techniques” and “new solutions and silhouettes”. Could you please speak more about this? Is there a fabric you haven’t worked with yet that you would love to use for your collections? And what are these new solutions and silhouettes that you are looking for?
Details are important. I prefer to do as much as I can by hand when making a collection. It is nostalgic for me to give your precious time to a detail made by hand – in that way I’m traditional, but at the same time when I buy the fabrics I want to do something more with them to get something more personal; I rip them, dye them and shape them in various ways. There are a lot of fabrics and techniques I would love to try, including the future ones like 3-D and the ones used in the past as well.
Tell us more about your collection called Human Concretion. Was it the first one you launched? How did you approach creating a full collection outside university for the first time?
It wasn’t the first one, I already had some capsule collections and one of them won the regional competition and helped me getting recognized by people in Croatia and further. It was very analytical, I was researching and sketching until I was comfortable with the result and then I went on to production. The collection was imagined to be reproduced on a small scale so it wasn’t that drastic change.
Your latest collection, called Layer On, is just amazing. It looks like each piece can be assembled with another one. How was the creative process? Where does the idea of superimpose several layers of different fabrics come from? What are the main meanings behind this collection?
The Layer On collection is the outcome of a much longer period of time, and with it I presented myself at the Fashionclash festival in Maastricht. It’s about human skin and sets skin changes – that often remain hidden under the layers of garments – to the surface. Textile is manipulated in different ways such as wrinkling, ruffling and dyeing by hand. Garments show different experiences – the appearance of various skin changes that are chronic or caused by time (skin rash, wrinkles, strokes, seams) but also changes caused by wearing tight clothing, which leaves a short-term trace on the body surface. Attention is particularly focused on vitiligo, a chronic condition characterized by depigmented areas of the skin.

Who wears Marija Kulusic’s garments?
Whoever feels good and special in them, someone who is not afraid to be noticed.
What are the stories hidden behind your collections? Is there a connecting thread between them?
They are very personal and they are all about something that moved and intrigued me in a way; art forms, life experiences, etc.
Where do you see yourself and your label in five years time?
Hopefully growing and being recognized for the right reasons.
What will be the next themes mentioned through your garments? In that sense, what can we expect from your next collection?
It is in a way again about the layers, but some other kind of layers. I won’t reveal too much because things often change.

Words
Erwan Filidori

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