Female model is posing in a subway

Interview with Natascha Ahl – GFF International Talent

Meet GFF International Talent: Natascha Ahl, from AMD Akademie Mode & Design. Natascha’s final year collection is called MNEME, inspired by memories, the mind, the past and the future. Read on to learn more about her work and plans for the future.

Tell us about you, where are you from, what lead you to fashion and choosing that course?

On a journey of many experiences I moved from the South to the north of Germany. I ended up in Hamburg were I’m currently living. “Clothes make people” – in every aspect of our lives wearing or not wearing certain clothes is decisive for the effect we have on our environment. What we wear can manipulate the way others see us. This is how we express ourselves daily, consciously or unconsciously. This has been an experience in my interactions with different subcultures: to be perceived in archetypes and to see how people form opinions based on what they see.

I made fashion a game for myself, with gender roles, social constructs and body shapes when befor it felt a condemnation. I had the opportunity to educate myself and still have enough freedom to develop artistically. The AMD Hamburg was the perfect place for me to do this. It is just as open and free as the Metropole Hamburg itself, withal it’s different cultures. Fashion for me is a medium to constantly discover and change myself – in creative and human ways. Above all my interests in history, ethnology and social interactions during my journey through subcultures influenced my creative path. Being different means to bring new perspectives.

Describe the inspiration and concept behind your work. Talk us through your final project and your research process. 

Before my bachelor’s degree, I found an exhibition book by Karen Hirano, Textile Memories, at the Textile Museum in Augsburg. The deconstruction of worn clothing in the context of individual memories touched me deeply and inspired me to deal with the topic of memory for my bachelor’s thesis. For this, I have dealt with psychological and philosophical texts and gained insights and clothing history. These interpretations of memory, although understandable, are subject to my subjective view of the past, present and future.

MNEME is an expression from Greek mythology, but it is also a widely used term for remembering in psychology. Our memory defines the meaning of things and events around us. Our motor skills are also subject to memory, forming further memories that are decisive for the formation of our personality. We would be nothing without these connections.

Every individual is capable of remembering situationally and subjectively. In considering psychological phenomena and the function of memory as inspiration, I also pay attention to what we leave behind in a textile technological context in the fast fashion industry. It is not only a matter of design and form, but also of dealing with the potential residue and the ecological footprint left behind by human beings in the most versatile and sustainable way possible.

Tell us about your design process. How do you work? How do you take your research and develop your own designs?

I find inspiration in different places and ways. It could be something that touches me in an emotional way or is important to me politically or socially. As I like to deal with the depth of things I usually start to research rationally and analytically. It has to be considered that responsibility towards others and our environment also has its importance in the textile technological context. For me, environmental protection, flexibility and individual expression are most important and I try to consider all these aspects in the execution of my inspirations.

To  revive the old into something new, it is necessary to repeat known patterns in fashion. Therefore I often start with the draping of used clothing as well the making of collages with images of modern and historic garments and intuitively and playfully try to find new forms and connect them with a modern interpretation of gender roles.

At the same time I research which materials I can use. I search for ecologically and socially harmless materials, materials which can be redesigned or recycled. My materials do not only contain ready-made fabrics, but can be alienated from their initial purpose. Suitable materials later also determine my colour palette. In the creation process, I use classic cut changes as well as spontaneous intuitive draping and apply treatment to my textiles such as dyeing, smoking, embroidering or in other ways. I usually leave no material in its original state.

Tell us about your Collection Development. 

As mentioned in my answer above, both techniques are important to me and each has its advantages. A mixture of precision through cut development and the free form finding through drapage allows to develop an exciting design. In my current collection „MNEME“ I have created the forms extra free-style, which can be adjusted to the body by drawstrings to have a more tailored look. Often I have a historical or classical cut that I re-drape and create something that you associate with existing forms, but at the same time you have the feeling to recognize new shapes. Aim is to create a simultaneous feeling of recognition and fascinating curiosity for the coming.

Talk us through your final collection and each outfit. Why where these the final designs?

Our memory plays a major role in all facets of life. From personality development to cultural formation, it is the most important basis for reflection and reinvention of humans. Our memories are formed into almost tangible images. Thus they have an influence not only on us, but on the entire environment, whether in a philosophical context or concrete traces in nature. I have dealt with what remains of us as a memory and how we can change future views and actions with our artistic work on several levels in my collection MNEME. My focus was on a sustainable solution for textiles. For that, I have cooperated with Ökotex and Neonyt.

Once this foundation had been laid, all the other aspects of memory also served me as inspiration for my form finding and use of materials. In the context of cultural memory and the memory ascribed to fashion, I drew inspiration for reinventing familiar silhouettes and translated epochal symbolic silhouettes into an interpretation that is relevant to the future and the present and plays with traditional gender roles.

Beneath them lies another layer that can be constantly changed by individual drawstrings, like our constantly changing memory, whose basic structure appears to be the same but is always subject to overlapping. I have also incorporated this overlapping and repeated overwriting of information in at least 4 layers per outfit, which can always be freely combined and yet are related to each other. I have interpreted the forgetting or the dissolving of memories through large embroideries. The embroideries depict different faces that I have personally remembered through a deep emotional connection. My script embroideries are also a mixture of texts from our cultural memory and personal memories from my childhood.

My finished outfits are not fixed constructs. The various parts are interchangeable and have no permanent allocation or combination. The combinations and silhouettes therefore form themselves always anew. They change and present themselves influenced by the physical characteristics of each person wearing the outfit and the given situation. These interpretations of memory, are subject to my subjective view of past, present and future.

What material have you used within the collection and how did you source it? Why was this the right material for the collection?

My focus in my collection was a sustainable context and my research was on the traces we leave in our nature. At first I tried to make plant-based bioplastics to be used as buttons. In the course of this bachelor thesis I came across a variety of possibilities to integrate sustainability into an every-day production chain. However, some experiments also showed that the desired functions could not be maintained.

I did my research on current possibilities on the textile market and found out that especially with natural fibres and recycled materials there is a positive development in sustainability and it allowed me to find material for my collection in the expected quality. I was supported and financed by Öko-Tex. All materials carried the “Oeko-Tex” seal with even higher standards, such as “GOTS” (Global Organic Textile Standard) or, in the case of synthetic fibres, were produced under the aspect of the “bluesign” system”.

Tell us about your illustration technics. Explain your final line up and what art materials and technics you use to showcase it.

My illustrations have a sketchy look, which I combine with manual and digital elements. Again, I usually start with the preparation of collages or randomly created shapes while painting and intuitively work my way closer and closer to the detailed level. Some of my figures remain demoulded, appearing distorted in their proportions. However, I do like to bring in almost technically exact details. Although the creation of collages and re-designing from old magazines is very stimulating, I design most of my first attempts to find forms for illustrations digitally to be able to try out variations faster. My illustrations are mainly about an interpretation of the mood I want to show rather than a reflection of realism and technical details.

What part of your final project have you enjoyed most and why? 

This is difficult to say as even from the failures in the process I was able to learn something and find new solutions, but mainly it is the craftsmanship which gives me a lot of fulfilment and even peace during the manufacturing process. I like it when something is created and constantly developed until the finished product is ready and you can be proud of what you have created with your own hands and strength. Even if I had sore muscles from turning the bands from time to time, creating and manufacturing is what fills me the most. But also the research on memory was a journey full of learning and personal development. Probably the most important and most enjoyable thing for me is, that in a creative work new things are explored, recognized and experienced, which always bring you a step forward on the professional and personal level and create new insights.

What’s an aspect of the fashion industry you’re passionate about fixing or having a positive impact on?

For me it is creating more sustainability. Along its supply chain, the fast fashion market has major problems with regard to its social and environmental compatibility. Sustainability is the basis for careful handling of what we leave behind for future generations. I believe it is the task of us, who are entering professional life now, to take on more responsibility to make the processes of the fashion industry more humane and sustainable – for a sustainable better future. My intention is to show that sustainability is not about a specific size, scope or fashion style, but that every product designer can and should take this as a general basis.

What is your plan once you finish your BA? Where do you wish to be in the future?

I would like to be engaged in projects which consider the concept of sustainability and envision myself in a role to design new concepts or collections as well as supporting the manufacturing of a new collection. As a next step I am planning to take up a master‘s degree course to enhance my knowledge on sustainability. Along this I am planning to offer some free- lance work as a designer.

Interview taken from the Graduate Fashion Foundation