Applying for an MA at Central Saint Martins because it’s mental and drives people insane? It’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but Anita Hirlekar liked the taste of it. Hirlekar applied, got in, and graduated this year. We spoke with the Icelandic designer -who calls her collection oddly seductive – about being ‘playfully intelligent’.
Thinking back about why she applied for the MA, Anita says that she remembered hearing people say how hard the experience was, how intense the workload is and how you can ‘go mental’. “In the end, I thought the standard was so high; it must bring something out of you, beside tears.”
Anita wanted to see how far she could push herself on the MA, “There’s so much going through your head when you’re finishing your BA; thinking about what to do next. I just remember wanting to be really good at what I loved doing,” she says, and notes the importance of being ‘professional’ and making a good presentation. “Poor presentation can make good work look really bad.”
When I ask her what she’s learnt during her 6 years at Central Saint Martins, she tells me how you get to know how to defend- and present yourself, and discover your strengths and weaknesses. “I think studying in St. Martins [means that] you have to face up to your identity and get to know who you are, and what you can offer. Don’t waste time thinking about what others are doing, just nurture your creativity and be as good as you can be.”
“I was charmed by this fashion fantasy world, and how clothes can make you feel, but I never followed fashion.”
While Rothko and Richter inspired her final BA collection, she’s mainly drawn references from Gert and Uwe Tobias for her MA collection. Anita’s eyes are drawn to colour and texture, so she doesn’t just look at art, but also includes photography and film in her design process, which she says gives her ‘a quite unexpected angle on her direction.’
She calls her collection ‘oddly seductive’, mainly because she was looking at lots of Guy Bourdin photographs that carried a seductive attitude which she liked. “To have a powerful presence is something I wanted to explore. And, of course, using color. In my case, it’s the colour which I try to clash; using odd combinations – colours you wouldn’t think of matching, and different textures together in an irregular motif. People always think that the collection is really heavy, but in fact it’s super light and flows really elegantly.”
“Poor presentation can make good work look really bad.”
When she did her BA, she thought that felting techniques had a bad reputation of being really uncool and dated. “It was like this old women technique which I thought was really strange. I wanted to embrace it, and use it really artistically, with modern colours and fabrics like lace and knit,” she says. The felting technique ended up being the main concept of her BA collection. Her MA collection, on the other hand, was all hand embroidered, which shows how much she admires intrinsic handcraft. “I love to raise the question of how the textile work is created, I think that once people start asking how you did it, it feels like the mission is accomplished.”
Her fondness of handcrafts can certainly be explained if one looks at her background. She grew up in Iceland, where she was practically born into a history of craft. “There are so many techniques that were developed by older generations – some of which you cannot find anywhere in books; you just have to see it for yourself. I feel that we need to maintain these traditions, so they won’t get lost. Just modernizing them and make them look fresh and new.”
During her placement year on the BA, she want to Jaipur in India and took a block printing course with [print pathway leader] Natalie Gibson. “We were in an old factory, printing with wooden blocks and mud, something that was really amazing to experience,” she says.
“I love to raise the question of how the textile work is created, I think that once people start asking how you did it, it feels like the mission is accomplished.”
She continues to talk about Iceland, which has got a big DIY culture, “you learn from a really young age to knit, crochet, felt, woodwork, ceramics. All these craft skills are among everyone. I was always making things when I was younger, but there wasn’t a big fashion scene – there wasn’t a big access to fashion magazines. If people wanted to look different, they would make their own clothes or rework them.”
Her grandmother was ‘a real lady and very stylish’, and always spoke about Dior and Louis Vuitton. “In my memory, all her clothes were from these labels, but later when I saw they weren’t, I knew it was a fantasy. I was charmed by this fashion fantasy world, and how clothes can make you feel, but I never followed fashion.”
“Bad taste is something that is connected to my gut. It’s a reaction and the feeling when something just doesn’t look right, is awkward and makes your tummy spin.”
When Anita was younger, she travelled abroad quite a lot, and thus had access to fashion, but only bought her first Vogue when she was 18. “That’s when I started thinking about fashion designers a lot. After being in London for some time, just reading about designers and CSM, I was convinced that this was something for me. When I got back to Iceland, I finished my social studies at college, and moved to London.”
She says that nowadays, there’s a lot more interest in fashion and design in Iceland. There’s a festival in Reykjvik in March every year – Design March, “where a lot of designers from different fields come together and celebrate design. Iceland is a great place to go to escape, to just get lost in nature with no Wi-Fi or technology, and just be by yourself…and of course with elves and hidden people.”
What does the view look like from your parents’ house in Iceland?
It’s mainly covered in trees…
Do you paint in your spare time, or do you have any odd hobbies?
I definitely don’t paint in my spare time. If I’m not making things in my spare time, I like to just be in nature, with no phone, no internet and picking blueberries.
Miuccia Prada has always been a source of inspiration for Anita, mostly in the way that she can make ‘playful seem intelligent’. However, some people call Prada bad taste, from time to time. When I ask Anita what she thinks is bad taste, she finds it impossible to define. “To me, bad taste is something that is connected to my gut. It’s a reaction and the feeling when something just doesn’t look right, is awkward and makes your tummy spin. It’s hard to define. For me, it’s something that feels forced, almost as if you’re wearing another person’s knickers – just wrong.”
While wearing someone else’s knickers is something you won’t see Anita doing anytime soon, she does have another ritual: ‘never go without lipstick’. I wonder if that’s true even after days of sleep deprivation. “Yes! I highly recommend adding some colour to your face after an all-nighter when you look like a ghost. And it takes about two seconds to put on! I’m not one of those people who say ‘I feel shit, so I’ll dress shit.’ The more shitty and tried I feel, the more I need to glam up. My Monday mornings were like ‘the new Saturday nights’; after a weekend of full-on embroidery, I needed to dress-up.”
Anita’s oddly seductive collection has been shot by Nick Knight for our second print issue, which is for sale as of today! You can buy a copy here, or tomorrow from the SHOWStudio shop (and worldwide from Monday).