She doesn’t like that some people are sceptical about thinking of fashion illustration – or anything related to fashion, really – as a contemporary art discipline. But with her arduous and indefatigable work, she’s proving them wrong. Alina Zamanova is an artist, and she’ll remain like that forever. But her curiosity has made her move from paper and canvases to clothing and even human bodies. Experimentation and self-expression are at the core of her DNA.
It’s easy to recognize a strong personality just by seeing what an artist does; but after reading what she has to say, we’d never dare to get along her way. The Ukraine creative is determined, focused and keeps an open mind that allows her to see artistic possibilities wherever she goes, whatever she does. Her strength is a quality that many lack, but also her kindness and her ability to know that she’s constantly changing make her an empathic human being who worries for others.
You started your career as a designer first exploring art and fashion illustration, and since then, you have developed your work by experimenting with patterns, prints and also fashion design. How did it all start? Tell us about your beginnings.
I started my art career early during university, and decided to keep working towards this area of art and fashion since the beginning. I like to combine and intertwine things together like art and fashion, or the concepts of ugliness and beauty. Experimenting in mediums and developing ideas as they came up in my head gave me this opportunity to develop my own personal style, which can be applied now to anything I create, basically. I feel that the style is evolving and changing throughout my career, and I love this process a lot. It is very exciting to think about how will my work look like in ten years, for example.
How would you define your work? And also, how do you describe yourself as a designer?
I would describe myself as an artist. I must say that people usually do not think of fashion illustration – or anything ‘fashion’ – as a pure contemporary art discipline, but to me it’s become a challenge to go against these stereotypes and work in my own medium and style – which is very fashion related, but I call it art. I think this must be a new movement and I am working hard to make this happen. Working in fashion does not mean we are not artists. My work can be described in two words: stay ugly.
Your work consists of paintings that normally represent “colourful and ugly” illustrations of women. How would you describe your style? And what messages hide behind your illustrations?
My style is constantly developing. There is a slogan, Stay Ugly, that describes my brand and myself. It appeared naturally during my work on dissertation two years ago. I visualise a woman as I feel her uniqueness and not stereotypical beauty. I try to send a weird and emotional vibe to my viewer through my artworks which will let them think of beauty as a synonym to ugliness. There should not be a gap between ugliness and beauty. Can beauty and ugliness co-exist? Yes.
What do you want to convey or achieve by defining your illustrations as “ugly”? What role does ugliness play in you way of seeing/creating art and fashion (two worlds usually associated with beauty)?
This definition kind of came naturally and it just describes personally who I am and what I do. Seeing things from a different angle or point of view was always rebellious to me, and to act differently was intriguing. That’s why I started to research this amazing field of non-beauty and to break visual stereotypes.
You worked at Alexander McQueen in 2014. What was your role there, and how did this experience influence your creativity? What’s the most important thing you learnt in that fashion house?
I was an intern at the Print department for six month and was mostly painting by hand prints and textiles for the show and collections. I basically learned everything related to the textile design and print making during my time at Alexander McQueen. It was of course a life-changing experience, and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity given to me. I met amazing people and friends there, and learned so much from them. The most important lesson is to work hard and be yourself in every situation, help people around you and share your knowledge.
Your first debut as a fashion designer was in 2016, with a womenswear capsule collection for Spring/Summer. Before that, you worked in the fashion and art fields, but never as a designer. Why did you decide to change your role? How did you approach creating an entire collection for the first time?
I am not a fashion designer, and never will become one. I prefer just the concept of being an artist and painting on whatever I want in that moment. At that time I decided I wanted to paint on virgin-looking coats and shirts, and present my brand with an art performance during fashion week. My work will always be related to fashion, so I decided to take advantage of this and use it in my own way. I paint on clothing, bags, shoes, model’s faces, and create fashion/art performances and different other stuff. And I feel there is still no limit in expressing your creativity.
Also about your first collection, tell us about your referents, your inspirations and all the work behind it. And by the way, is it possible that the collection had a strong reference to the power of women in society?
I think my work was always influenced unconsciously by female power, and from the first collection it was all about women’s personalities and non-stereotypical beauty. The references were, well… there were no references to be honest. I wanted to recreate my fashion illustrations in a different way, which is why they appeared as hand painted prints on clothing. I like to change my canvas all the time. I first had this idea when was art directing (for the first time) a fashion shoot with model Teale Coco and fashion photographer Anna Radchenko, back in London in 2015. I wanted to give the image some artsy taste by painting large-scale fashion illustrations that were placed in the composition behind a model on a location. The images just came out so extraordinary, weird and sick, that I continued to experiment with this idea.
You first ‘were discovered’ by Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio, but then became even more famous after Vogue USA put you in the global fashion world map. How did this event affect to you as an artist?
That time Nick Knight reached out to me to become a guest fashion illustrator at SHOWstudio just blew my mind, as I just graduated from London College of Fashion and was almost on my way back to Ukraine. But I believe that hard work always pays off, and the universe will help you build any of your dreams. It was my dream to work with Nick and his team, and this came true one day. I continue to work very, very hard, and develop my ideas and style even more intensely in order to continue this exciting journey as an artist. All the events effected me in every way possible, but I feel more confident in what I am creating now and believe that I will never get bored of meeting amazing creative people around the world.
Do you have more interests besides design, fashion and illustration that may affect your career?
Anytime, anything can affect me. I can’t see why not. I like to try new things; for example, I want to experiment more with body painting this year perhaps.
In your Instagram account we can already see works about body painting, recreating your artwork over people’s skins. Do you describe yourself as a multidisciplinary artist? How do you approach human body when illustrating it or painting over it?
Definitely, a weird multidisciplinary artist that does everything that comes up in my head. At first I thought that I should choose something and focus on it, but then my hands do not listen to me, they just make things. When I create there is this moment with myself, nothing else matters. Today I can paint a huge painting and tomorrow I will go and shoot a fashion editorial. And I just love this variety in my working process. Without it I would not be myself. Every human body is perfect and amazing, and I would love to paint on as many people as I could in my life. It is just one of this projects where you interact so intimately with people that you almost feel them and read their thoughts. It is a priceless experience.
What are your plans for the future? What projects are you currently working on?
Work and enjoy my life mostly. I work on a series of painting at the moment that I would like to exhibit maybe in New York or London, we’ll see. Every day I write down ideas for my next projects, so there is always a lot of work to do actually.