“I use fashion as a tool to tackle socio-political issues”, tells us the London-based fashion designer Teodora Mitrovska. Originally from Macedonia, which is a main inspiration behind the gender-bending garments she creates, Teodora founded her eponymous brand, T*Mitrovska, only a couple of years ago. Through it, the emerging designer presents us with a brand new identity of her home country: fresh, modern and unconventional. Merging streetwear with a more conceptual approach, we got a chance to sit with her at the latest edition of ModaLisboa, where we discuss fashion as communication, breaking the rules and queerness.
Teodora, you graduated from Middlesex University with a BA in Fashion Design and created her own brand, T*Mitrovska, right after that. How do you feel about your career as a designer so far? Has the process of starting your own brand been difficult?
There was no set point where I decided to start my brand. In fact, I’ve always been interested in fashion, I feel it’s something very organic. Something that I tell everyone when they ask me about what sparked my interest in this world is that in first grade, we had this assignment where we had to answer to the question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ So I wrote fashion designer and then I drew up myself with a sewing machine. I feel that kind of explains everything you need to know about how much I’m involved in fashion and how I’ve always been interested in it. I started university producing work for all my projects and people started to get in touch with me, so I just realized that I wanted to switch from being this young girl that makes clothes to an actual and real brand.
You come from North Macedonia, which is still marked by Yugoslavian culture and its former socialist system, and then you moved to London to study. How have these two cultures and experiences nurtured your creativity? How has London impacted your approach to fashion?
I guess as a person, I’m a mix of Macedonia and London. Macedonia, obviously, because that’s where I’ve spent most of my life. I like to mix things and I feel like everything I do in my life is a kind of mixture of opposites. Macedonian culture is so rich, and not a lot of people have heard of it, and the people who have, know it in a very kind of old-fashioned way. I’m trying to bring some coolness to it and create a different story.
I usually tend to be inspired by very dark subjects, and I feel like that’s partly to do with our history and our culture in all of our books, literature and history in general: in a weird way, I am able to call all these elements. And then, obviously, London is such an open, free-spirited, liberal space, it’s helping me to be free and also to let go of all the stigmas I had in Macedonia. It’s like a space that allows me to be the full potential of myself.
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So you’ve found a midpoint between these two identities.
I definitely have found a midpoint between these two cultures because I’m using the traditional stories and history of Macedonia and I’m wearing them more freely.
Would you say your personal style influences the identity of the brand?
I feel like, at least for myself, but maybe this is a common thing for a lot of designers, I design for the evolving and ideal version of myself. I would define my designs as high conceptual art pieces mixed with street style. I feel that I’m a mix of very feminine and very masculine elements; I’m merging those elements by intertwining gender aspects in my garments.
So that’s how you would describe the aesthetic of your brand.
Yes, gender-bending, evolving, conceptual and futuristic.
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It is very interesting to see how you intertwine many materials to create your garments, such as PVC or metal. Could you tell us more about your creative process? Is there any material you would like to explore?
In terms of materials, in my first attempt to create a fashion collection, which was in high school, everything was made out of my father’s shirts. I was looking into using existing garments that I could transform. I also remember this competition called Trash Fashion where you had to produce a full look basically made out of trash or unconventional materials, so that’s what sparked my interest in using them.
As for the creative process, I would say that I get more inspired by stories and concepts rather than shapes and colours. I’m very interested in researching certain socio-political issues or personal stories. It’s about getting into nasty things somehow, and then trying to create something beautiful out of it.
You play with gender a lot in your collections. What image of queerness do you want to convey? In which ways does your work reflect the millennial generation?
In terms of which image of queerness I would like to convey, I feel like when you say ‘queer’, a lot of people think about masculine figures that portray feminine elements, especially because we have all these shows about drag queens, for example. So, basically, I feel this aspect of queerness is more prevalent in popular culture. But I’m more interested in highlighting the contrary: the masculine aspect that a female character would have. As far as I’m concerned, I find super attractive females portraying themselves in a masculine way – for example, when they use more ‘manly’ clothes.
In the show, in my collection, you’ll see some guys wearing beautiful dresses. So here, that’s the feminine side of queerness that I take on as well, but I will always be more interested in the masculine side, so even if I design dresses for men, those dresses will be really masculine.
Let’s talk about your 20.18 collection, which you originally presented inside a train wagon, which was so original. What’s the collection’s starting point? What did you want to convey?
My last collection was very personal. It was inspired by my grandparents and, at the same time, it also has the purpose of shining a light on Macedonian culture. You could see all those hats: Titovka, Yugoslavian caps, and the Russian Pilotka as well. It was very interesting to take these elements from traditional Eastern European military uniforms and give them a new approach.
Also, the social comment was putting men in dresses and trying to make those garments appealing to a straight, cis-male audience. It was just to say skirts are cool and they can look masculine if you want them to! So I guess gender-bending was the message I wanted to convey and mix it with traditional Macedonian culture, as a lot of people in Macedonia would never accept a man in a skirt.
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Your clothes also tackle socio-political issues, from gender to the working conditions of workers in less developed countries. How do you manage using clothes as a political tool? Do you think fashion plays a political role?
Of course! I basically see clothes as a way of communicating. Everyone communicates with clothes whether they are aware of it or not. Fashion is a tool of communication and it conveys all kinds of messages, including political ones.
How do you feel related to the Awake edition of Modalisboa, especially on the sustainable side of this fashion week?
I feel like I’ve been awakened recently! I feel related to it especially since I can contribute to a responsible production by learning more about it as it’s way more than this kind of hippie trendy bohemian look related to sustainability. It’s about finding ways to minimize waste and impacts on the environment.
Where do you see your work going? Do you have projects for the upcoming months?
I see my work going very far. I know it’s a bold statement to make, but I remember three years before moving to London, I was telling people that I was going to study fashion and they were laughing at me. They were coming from Macedonia, which is such a poor country, and obviously, you need a visa to go to the UK. It seemed like an impossible mission, and now, I’m telling people that I do see myself as a successful emerging designer. After Lisbon, I’m really for looking forward to going back to London to start a new project. I think it’s going to be very interesting. Stay tuned!
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