Just graduated from the University of Applied Sciences in Bielefeld, Germany, and with a nomination for this year’s ITS award, Leonie Barth’s future seems bright and promising. Her final collection, “I is an Other”, is composed of clean-cut minimalist garments that never compromise their wearability, perfectly conveying Barth’s original concept - Jacques Lacan’s “Mirror Stage”. In a time and age when one’s image seems to be of terrible importance, Barth’s choice feels more relevant than ever. Using mirrors to reflect the wearer and adding to missing parts, Barth plays with the idea of identity and how our own reflection can influence how we see ourselves.
What made you get interested in fashion and womenswear?
I have always been fascinated by designing and being creative. I like both, womenswear and menswear. Maybe I focused more on womenswear because I'm a woman, and I'm trying to convey my vision of the modern woman of my generation. I'm really interested in gender discussions, and I feel that both are changing into a more unisex fashion.
Moreover, I have been always interested in the human being, in philosophy and social sciences. I love to observe people, how they dress and how they behave. I chose to focus on fashion because we communicate identity and social position primarily by means of our clothing. We are visual and social entities so we need to communicate never only by voice but also by sight.
What is the driving concept behind your new collection “I is an Other”?
I was always fascinated by the phenomenon of personal identity and in which context the outer appearance matters for our identity. At the beginning of my research I dealt with Jean Paul Sartre's "Huis Clos" and with Jacques Lacan’s "Mirror Stage", that discuss the awareness of our ego as a subject as well as an object. After my research, my key assumption was that identity does not exist without a visible surface and its reflection. “Mirroring” ourselves is imperative to construct our own identity. When I talk about “mirroring” I do not only mean a surface that reflects one's image, I also want to convey that we need another person, our counterpart. We can only become socialised personalities by observing and imitating - this is ‘mirroring’.
The collection is inspired by Lacan's philosophic thought and the idea that our mirror image completes our identity.
You took a completely abstract idea and gave it a physical form. What challenges did you face in translating this into garments?
I wanted to boil this idea down to the essence. I did a long research and experimented a lot with materials and shapes. Simply spoken, ‘mirroring’ completes identity - why not just completing the garment by using a mirror? I started to split toiles in two, flapped and folded garments, developed prints which only appear in their own reflection and experimented with integrating mirrors into the garments. I think the biggest challenge was to integrate the mirrors in a simple, effective way. First, there is only a half lapel, a half leg of a pair of trousers, a half print... Skirts and coats with their asymmetrical clasp hide an object, which will make them symmetrical: the mirror. By opening the clothes the half elements are mirrored. The half lapel of the coat is doubled. The skirt is turned into a pair of trousers. The mirror completes the design and creates the whole image.
The collection follows the principles of symmetry and expresses the complementation of our egos. Clothes develop through the reflection of their own image. Missing parts are added and existing parts are reflected to create completeness.
Looking at all your collections, I got the sense that you like to play with the garment’s structure and shape. What other elements would you say define your approach to design?
My signature is minimalist and pure but with a twinkle in the eye. My work will always be a mixture of conceptual, experimental and wearable clothing. For me it is important not only to create a fashionable garment, but also to convey a message.
Germany is not a country you would normally think of when talking about fashion. In what way do you think this has shaped your work?
You're right, but I believe this will change in the next years. I hope Berlin will become more important - even if it's not London or Paris, Berlin is a really inspiring place to be. I studied in a small city that was not the most creative place to live, but I had a great time because my University was amazing. I had the chance to develop freely and my professor supported me in a very personal and intense way. This shaped and influenced my work as well as my time in Antwerp and my travels to Paris and London.
I think my core is really German: we are known to be accurate, always on time and organized... This matches my characteristics in the same way as my chaotic creative part... And it is important to be conscious about where you're from.
I know you are one of the finalists for this year’s ITS award - International Talent Support. Do you want to tell us how that came to happen and what this means to you?
After I finished in January, I designed a portfolio and sent my application to ITS. Although I knew the chance of being selected is really small, I thought, “why not try?” Then, a few weeks ago, I checked my email and there was this message – “..congratulations you are one of the finalists of ITS contest 2014!” To be one of the selected means a lot to me and I feel really honoured for having been chosen among hundreds of designers. The ITS team is amazing and they support the finalists in a very personal and special way. I'm excited and look forward to the contest in July!
You interned for Bruno Pieters for the Honest By project. Tell me about this experience and what you learned in the process.
My time at Honest By was amazing! I have always been fascinated by Bruno's designs and always wanted to intern there. I had the chance to receive a detailed insight from an independent label and felt that I was really part of the Honest By team. It was very familiar because we were a small team that worked in a very close and intense way.
Bruno and Honest By changed my way of looking at the fashion industry and made me a more conscious person. It was great to learn what it means to work in a transparent and sustainable way. I really think that this attitude is more and more important in fashion. We have to be aware of what is around us and be conscious about what we're consuming.
You have also just graduated and a whole new world of possibilities opens up. What are your plans for the future?
I'm dreaming of a nice little atelier where I can realise my ideas. But now it’s time to improve my practical knowledge into the processes of the fashion industry. I'd like to prove myself as a junior designer and to gain some more experience in a team. I feel ready for a new adventure somewhere in Europe - maybe London, Paris or Italy? Who knows?... There are several amazing labels I'd like to work for.