You may think that the practices of knitwear design and scent creation are worlds apart, however, Katharina Dubbick proves to us they are not. Having graduated from the Royal College of Arts in London in 2019, the young designer has since created bodily-informed knitwear alongside dynamic installations which use sculpture and scent to evoke indescribable feeling. This disciplinary unification through a bodily consciousness is precisely what makes Dubbick’s studio and concepts so unique.
Katharina, before we delve into the world of your work, can you tell us more about the life of a multidisciplinary artist? How did you come to have knitwear and scent as your two main practices?
I have always had a passion for scent and a sensitive nose. During my Masters in womenswear/knitwear at RCA, I had the opportunity to work on a scent project with the International Fragrances and Flavours (IFF). The project was a competition on our course, and I won the first prize with my concept, Soi-même: An Olfactory Self-Portrait.
IFF gave me the opportunity to work with perfumer Meabh McCurtin, who created my first olfactory self-portrait. We have a great connection and have been working together since. I love to work with knit, scent and sculptural elements. Smells are something so powerful and intangible, that enables me to tell my story full of memories and emotions.
Beginning with your knitwear, you use partial busts in conjunction with almost veil-like fabric – framing and drawing attention to specific parts of the human form. What inspired this interest and focus on the body?
I look at how the body shapes a garment and how the two interrelate. With scent, I try to reveal the body rather than cover it up. The first scent I created with IFF was the starting point of my collection Soi-même: An Olfactory Self-Portrait. Your body odour is as unique as your fingerprints, but often people mask themselves with commercial fragrance – perfume or deodorant – which makes us smell the same. Soi-même’s idea was to enhance your own body odour, and that was the starting point for my collection. Just as the scent amplifies your natural odour, parts of the body are enhanced by leather fragments, moulded to the individual wearer, like a second skin. They inform the knitwear structures with their transparent sections revealing areas of the body beneath.
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Soi-même perfume bottle in collaboration with Meabh Mc Curtin from IFF.
This focus is heightened where sheer fabric is used to show parts of the body which are typically covered in everyday life. Was it your intention to have body parts work with your garments to fulfill a broader artistic vision?
In the way I reveal parts of the body, I give the parts a frame and look at the body parts as sculptural elements. These pieces are key items that tell my artistic vision and inform my knitwear structures.
Your knitwear, for me, evoked a raw sort of vulnerability through its consciousness of the body. Is this raw/human aspect what led you to the exploration of natural bodily odours?
Yes, I guess this is where it all started. My graduate collection started with a scent that would enhance your natural odour rather than cover it up with a commercial fragrance. It was also a great chance for me to materialise how I felt about the fragrance industry, so I was happy when I got the chance to create something more honest and true to myself. I have the same approach to knitwear.
Your installation Timecapsule 7:32am is a prime example of your scent work. What ‘notes,’ if you will, did you create to evoke the atmosphere of a post-climax or post-rave space?
Timecapsule 7:32am is the second scent work I’ve done in collaboration with IFF. The idea of the installation was to capture a moment in a scent. Humans have an amazing smell memory which enables us to relive a moment – for example, when we smell a certain smell from our childhood. The idea of the installation is to evoke the sensations of a rave. It’s a mix of emotions that can’t quite be put into words. Scent is the best way to express it. The scent is formed in two parts, Latex and Human. The notes include sweat, saliva, sex, gin and tonic, cigarette smoke, latex, smoke machine, sticky skin and cleaning products.
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TIMECAPSULE 7:32am, exhibition with Pervilion. Photo: Olivia Thompson, courtesy Dorothy Feaver.
I understand you collaborated with a perfumer to create the scents. Can you describe this process to us?
Yes, I am working with perfumer Meabh McCurtin, who is working for IFF and is based at the office in New York at the moment. Meabh is a very talented perfumer. We have a beautiful connection when we're working together. When we start creating a scent, we do Facetime calls and discuss our ideas regarding the atmosphere, emotions, feelings, etc. for the scent. Then Meabh goes into the lab and selects different molecules that translate our ideas into a scent. She often sends me samples, and we discuss them over the phone while smelling them. This is a process that takes a few weeks or even months until we come to a scent that describes and translates the right feeling and vision we have.
What are your thoughts of commercial perfumes? Do you wear them yourself?
To be honest, I am not a big fan of commercial perfumes. They are often overpowering and totally mask our real smell identity. I like to wear subtle perfumes that harmonize with your natural odour. I am still fascinated by the molecule iso-e-super, which is in the series Escentric Molecule by Geza Schoen. It is a fascinating molecule that enhances your natural odour in a very addictive way. People even run after you on the street asking for your perfume when you wear it.
Partial, sculptural busts – like those used with your knitwear – are seen suspended in Timecapsule 7:32am. What is the purpose of these fragmented torsos?
The suspended body parts are moulded leather skins. They are a symbol of all the dancing bodies at a rave where thumping beats push our bodies to dance, break into a sweat and releasing their bodily liquids.
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TIMECAPSULE 7:32am, exhibition with Pervilion. Photo: Ottilie Landmark, courtesy Dorothy Feaver.
Do you plan on creating more scent installations in the future? If so, do you have any idea of the feelings or atmospheres you would wish to capture?
Yes, there is a plan to create a new scent installation soon. It is still in its early stages and can’t talk too much about it yet.
Finally, speaking of your future artworks, would you ever wish to create an artwork/exhibition which combines your knitwear and scent work? If so, what would this fusion look like?
Yes, the plan is to create a scent installation in combination with a knitwear collection. A scented space in combination with a knitted collection will enable me to tell the story in a much more powerful way. The combination with scent enables me to extend a feeling and give a multi-sensorial experience to the audience. And I hope I can evoke something in peoples’ memories.
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DREAMSTATE, editorial/collaboration with Cissel Dubbick. Photos: Andrés Sanjuan.
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Graduation collection RCA. Photos: Shea Cameron, stylist: Sophie Danie, model: Neema Kayitesi.
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Graduation collection RCA. Photos: Pablo di Prima, Model: Katharina Dubbick.