In a time where the act of presenting new collections is deeply questioned, designers need to find alternative and attractive ways to introduce their work. For her Fall/Winter 2021 collection, Florentina Leitner creates a powerful narrative inspired by her home and family. Juxtaposed to this, this collection is truly influenced by Wes Anderson’s aesthetic. The Royal Leitners is an invitation to Leitner's universe where playfulness and challenging perspectives meet.
After working with Dries Van Noten, Leitner focused on her label and since then she’s been creating unique projects able to speak for themselves. Searching into old movies, this hint of nostalgia explored by Leitner brings at the same time a familiar and fascinating eeriness. Distancing herself from the outside world, The Royal Leitners is a reflective exploration of the notion of home and the sense of family.
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Since not everyone is familiar with your work, could you introduce yourself and guide us through your vision?
I am Florentina Leitner, an Austrian fashion designer who graduated last year in Antwerp from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. During my time at the Academy, I discovered my passion for prints, bright colours and big shapes. My collections are often inspired by the movies I watch and the things I see in my daily life. Since I graduated I worked on my fashion brand, with a short pit stop at the fashion house Dries Van Noten, where I was working at the womenswear design team. Now I am selling my brand in London at Shyness and on my website.
For some designers, fashion has always been part of their lives. For others, it was a late introduction. How did you get first introduced to fashion? And what makes pursue you a career in this industry?
I started studying fashion design at the age of 14 in Vienna and from then I focused and discovered my style. It was an early passion of mine and I always wanted to start my brand. During the last years, I got a lot of great opportunities, like selling my brand to international stores and winning fashion competitions.
You recently released a new collection at the digital CFDA Runway 360 inspired by your own family. This video is truly bucolic and puts us into an entirely different world: your house and your story. Why did you decide to focus on your history/background for this last collection?
We are all stuck in our own houses during this pandemic and most of us are realising again how important family. This is why I wanted to tell the story of my family and give it a surreal twist for the video. My plant-loving grandma, my newspaper reading dad and his wiener dogs and many more characters which you can discover in my AW21 presentation video.
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Although the topic of this new collection is very well explained and easy to understand, could you go deeper and explain how you came to this final result?
I was also inspired by Wes Anderson’s movie – The Royal Tenenbaums – I always loved it and the Wes Anderson aesthetic is one I admire. I also wanted to create links between my new collection and my previous one Midnight Vertigo, that is why I used some similar shapes and optical prints to still make it my own aesthetic and vibe, and build this bridge.
Through this digital presentation, we can feel a certain nostalgia through the aesthetic of the imagery and the clothes. Is it an emotion that you wanted to explore through this new collection?
I love old movies. I wanted to shoot the lookbook in analogue to give it a nostalgic feel, so yes. I love to give old things a new life but I am still admiring historical shapes, jewellery and past fashion trends. I need to put them in a new light.
From the beginning, you are exploring a vast range of patterns through your clothes. What in your environment inspires you to create such motifs?
I love nature and in Austria, where I grew up, we had a lot of beautiful nature surrounding us. My mum took us very often to a park in Baden, Lower Austria which was filled with beautiful roses, it was called Rosarium and it was one of the childhood places I use to love going to. I have so many nice memories there and in this collection, I explored it again and created a lot of prints with rose patterns. The more geometrical prints are still stuck in my head from my past collection which was inspired by an exhibition I saw about Vertigo.
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Volumes and forms have also a central role in your approach overall. Puffy dresses, hats made out of fluffy fabrics, you are playing a lot with perceptions and textures. According to you, why is it important to stimulate the senses through fashion practice?
I love to mix different textures like fake fur and more flat fabrics such as cotton and Lycra together in one look. It gives this very haptic aspect to the outfit and you just want to feel and touch the different surfaces and wear them on your body.
You have presented already two collections during Fashion Week. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, how did you experience studying at the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Art? What did you learn and what do you feel you are lacking?
The Academy was a great place for me to learn and discover my style. It is a very experimental study and the only thing that I was lacking sometimes is a course that would prepare me more towards the business side of starting a fashion brand. But it is all learning by doing I think. Also, business skills will come with time. Sometimes you would love more tutoring though as when you start your brand it is a lot coming towards you all at once.
We have been put through a lot of challenges and transformations lately. That must have had impacts on your vision and practice as well. As a designer, you experienced physical and digital fashion shows. What is your opinion on both forms?
I think it is great that everything went digital so fast. In the beginning, it was a big change but now after a few seasons, it is getting better and better. I always want to see my clothes in movement so I made a movie, other brands focused on only still images.
However, I think it is a pity to not see garments in movement. A runway show is something great and I am curious to see if they will come back, but for now digital is the way brands should focus on.
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For you, fashion should bring joy to people. The culture of this industry is quite the opposite of your statement. Do you feel fashion has been taking too seriously by promoting an exclusive imaginary? And why do you need to approach it more playfully?
I also take my work and creations seriously it is my job of course, but making something too exclusive and for only one type of person will exclude a lot of people. Inclusivity is something I have in mind when creating my collections. I also make costume pieces on request so everyone can get their perfect fit. In my video, you see different age groups and genders wearing my pieces which I love.
Also, fashion is still a fantasy you sell and people defiantly should have fun when dressing up.
The environmental emergency has forced the fashion industry to question its habits and adapt to survive. A lot of creatives from the field are claiming the pace is too high and prevent from really taking the time to appreciate the labour. What is your opinion on that matter?
Yes, there are too many collections within a year, I always recommend concentrating on two good ones. For small brands like mine, it is also very difficult to keep up with the pace – involving many pre-collections and special drops. Less is more. If you have good products people will anyway stay loyal to your brand and come back.
For some emerging designers, getting hired by more established brands is something they are aspiring to. Is it something you would like to do? Or is developing your label is more thrilling for now?
After my Master I got hired at Dries van Noten, I learned so much there and it was a great team. Working with Dries was amazing but, I knew that only doing it 100% on my own would fulfil me. I am always open to freelance jobs and small projects with other brands but I want to keep going with my little brand for now and see what the future holds.
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