Probably this year’s most coolest CSM graduate is Natalija Mencej from Ukraine. She showed a fabulous ‘bling-bling’ collection inspired by the hip hop subculture, choosing an epic gangster song to go with her designs – “The Next Episode” by Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dog.

 As her handsome models came out to the runway, the audiences were blinded by the ‘bling’ of the knitted tracksuits and their hearts melted in adoration of the pugs, which were lovingly carried by every model. We do not know the names of the models (Sorry!), but we do know the names of the ‘ghetto’ pugs – Queeny, Mr. Presley, Pugsy, Lucy, Ella and Bella!

 They were definitely the stars of the show, but 1Granary would like to thank the real star – Natalija Mencej for a great interview and congratulate her with a ‘BANGING’ collection and successful completion of the fashion knitwear course at Central Saint Martins.

What is your background?

I was born in Ukraine, but now I have a Slovenian passport. I am a patriot of both countries. But, I would like to think that my country is the whole universe because I do not know where I will be living in two years time…and I do not want to know.

How did you get into CSM?

I was doing a lot of things, not related to fashion at all. But knitting was always my hobby, and I even made some money with it, small amount, but still. (Laughs)

Before I did not have enough of financial opportunity to live and study in London, and after doing lots of different things, I’ve earned enough to live in London and to finally study what I really wanted – fashion design.

How would you describe these past three years at CSM?

It was amazing. The first year, it was really intense and we had a lot of small projects, which I really enjoyed. The second year was a bit boring for me because we had few projects, but very long ones… and I personally prefer the short and intense projects.

What I’ve learned from these years is that you actually learn from students all around you rather than from tutors. Tutors are there to help you out and lead you to the right, sometimes wrong, directions, but you always bring your idea forward first. Yes, the most important thing I’ve learned is that you learn from other students, who happen to be from all around the world, very talented and all ambitious.

Looking back to yourself on the first year, what would you advice to yourself?

Maybe not to be afraid. Do not think how to impress the tutors, but try everything, explore various techniques and have fun with it.

The first year, I thought I was doing shit. I did womenswear. Every project was different, but I knew one thing – I do not like body conscious, sexy dresses. That I knew for sure. But it has been quite a journey, I was looking and searching for myself… and hopefully, in the third year, I found myself.

You mean gangster wear?

(Laughs) Yes! I mean sportswear, menswear…clothes for guys!

In fact, I found it so much easier to work with guys, I really enjoy it. During the summer of the second year, we had a team project and we did menswear then, I discovered that men are much easier to work with. You know, when you work with people in fashion and if everyone gets well with each other, then everything is going to be great. Design wise, relationship wise and everything… I prefer to work with men.

Tell us about your collection.

My final menswear collection is inspired by hip hop. My initial inspiration was old school hip hop, which derived from the Bronx, New York in the end of the 60‘s. The break dancers, graffiti artists and gangsters also were in my initial research.

My muse is a guy from a very poor family, without a job, without parents… basically an orphan, who has only his attitude and a desire to be someone in life. He wants to be real cool, visible, memorable and unique. That is why I used all these sparkles and pastel colors, which at times can be viewed as feminine. Some fabrics used reminds me of fabrics for babies, children wear or Juicy Couture (Laughs)…I hate Juicy Couture, but anyway, I used velour. I also created my own fabric by using the diamante ribbons as a canvas for my knitting and that is what gave my fabrics that desired glamourous shine.  And I used a lot of punch needle, hand and domestic machine knitting and embroidery techniques…not to mention a lot of sparkle glueing. (Laughs)

Hip hop started during the summer project before the school began. I did womenswear. The first story started from a nun, who was a lesbian, and then as a punishment, she was being sent to a hip hop gang in New York. Somehow, this hip hop theme just stayed with me and then, on the first crit in October, my tutors Louis and Sarah suggested me to do menswear, which has really excited me. On the third year, tutors’ advice and guidance was very important and crucial for me. It is very good to have different opinions and points of view, but it is also very important to have your own vision.

Also, my message through my collection is to be and always stay positive!

So, what’s up with the idea of pugs?

Actually, it was an idea of my tutors to use dogs. It wasn’t my idea and I was hesitating because I was thinking that dogs would take too much attention from the clothes. I was arguing with my tutors all the time, but  then, they have persuaded me with the idea of sending the whole collection as a package, and I agreed with them. Once, we were just discussing dogs and different possibilities how I could get them for the show. I did not have the resources and time to get the trained dogs from the special agency that provides such service, and while my tutors and I were talking, a friend of mine from menswear was passing by, she heard us and said, “Oh, my classmate has two pugs and his mom is a member of the London Pug Society”. That is how we found six pugs! (Laughs) So, his mom has two pugs named “Queeny” (the only black one) and “Mr. Presley”.  And Mr. Presley has a dad “Pugsy” and three sisters called “Lucy”, “Ella” and “Bella” from another family, so all six pugs come from two families. The biggest one is the dad pug, and he has only one eye because he had an accident…oh my god, poor thing! They were so nice and had the best of manners on the day of the show. 

What went wrong?

I remember that the first week when we started to make the collection, it was the week of everyday shock. Then I realized that my plans are absolutely unrealistic. In knitwear, first you do an A4 size swatch, but when you are doing a big piece like my oversized hip hop menswear, sometimes it doesn’t work. At one point, I had to redo everything from scratch.

Also, it takes a lot of time to order yarn, send swatches, if you are doing some pieces abroad, receive ordered materials and stuff…it all takes a lot of organizational skills and discipline.

What would your advice be for the future final years?

I would say that my final year was not very stressful. Of coarse, it was stressful sometimes, but not to the point when I had to work all night and not sleep.

Spend a lot of time researching. Don’t underestimate the time that was given for research, it plays a vital role. Organize yourself well. The whole process of making, toiling, constructing the patterns… everything is only about organizing yourself.

It is very important to sort out your priorities. They can change on daily basis, but you have to figure out them, choose and do the most important one and forget all about the other stuff.  And have fun! That is actually the most important…have a lot of fun!

What was the final show like?

The whole day was like a blur. I did so many things in that one day that I can not remember anything! (Laughs) It was good! I had my own models, maybe it played some role in the whole experience because I was not so stressed out like other students were. I didn’t need make up or hair to be done for guys (Laughs), and they were so relaxed. The only thing that I had to do was to run back and forth between boys and dogs and photo shoot. But the first show was a lot of fun!

How would you describe all your experience in three words?

Freedom. Fun. Stress.

What is for the future?

I am open for any offers. We shall see.


Interview and writing by Altynai Osmoeva.


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