The MA Fashion at Central Saint Martins has a reputation for being cutthroat and utterly challenging even for some of the most talented or experienced students. The print girl and illustrator Masha Reva managed to push through with an unexpectedly print-free collection; and with a personal journey behind it. As she witnessed students and citizens in her own country fighting for their destinies, the revolution in Ukraine has given her both strengths and difficulties for her studies at Saint Martins. Inside where the magic happens — the MA Fashion studio — Masha explained the whole process of creating her collection, and how Pepsi gave her a free trip to Dubai.
How did you find the MA course?
It has been really tough for me. Louise was pushing me a lot, and I was terrified of her screaming at me. Fabio has a very different personality — he never shouts at anyone. The whole environment is still very new for me because I did my BA in Ukraine, so I basically need to learn everything from scratch: from research to presentation, to the making of garments.
Tell us about the starting point of your project.
It’s very personal and acts as a documentary. I collected a lot of first-hand material in Ukraine during my year out. The entire project reflects the revolution that happened in Ukraine, and the change of the entire generation of Ukrainian people, as well as the current state of war and insecurity in the East part of my country. I was going to protests; documented everything, and talked to my friends who were involved. When I was collecting these materials, I had no idea that I was going to use them for something specific. It was just a natural process for me as an artist. You just need to go there to see things with your own eyes, especially when your feelings are very similar to that of the protestors. Sometimes when scary things happen, you can find beauty in it. I could find it, for example, in the barricades and the posters on the streets, as well as the energy of all the people coming together, whose goals are aligned.
“I love seeing protestors make flags with tablecloths, and writing things on them. They were grabbing everything they had to make something that could carries a message, and that is powerful and creative, to me.”
With such an ambiguous theme, how did you transform your research into designs?
The starting point was indeed very abstract. I had, for example, an Ukrainian flag with the word ‘freedom’ painted on top of it, but I couldn’t translate these strong images directly into designs. I think the revolution definitely inspired me in the way I developed my designs. The city changed so much during the revolution… There were posters, barricades and interesting objects everywhere, which carried so much meaning within them. Therefore I was experimenting with the distortion of the classical shape; applying different layers, and twisting the original form of garments that once looked ordinary. That was kind of my logic (laughs).
I love seeing protestors make flags with tablecloths, and writing things on them. They were grabbing everything they had to make something that could carries a message, and that is powerful and creative, to me. I think they don’t understand that what they were making is art — it’s just a spontaneous way for them to show their thoughts.
I also saw this image of a terrorist being tied up by the protestors, with transparent tape all around him, before being handed to the police. It reminded me so much of an image by Guy Bourdin. That’s also one of the reasons why I played with ropes and tape in my development. I was looking at control and discomfort, and all I can say is that it was a difficult journey to translate my feelings into the garments.
“The project has been a psychological therapy for myself; it was difficult because I was so worried about my country the whole time.”
How do you feel about your collection, are you satisfied with what you have done?
I think the whole project was about me experiencing what is happening in my own country. I think of it as more of an experiment, as opposed to a project that was intended to make something very successful. The project has been a psychological therapy for myself; it was difficult because I was so worried about my country the whole time.
Do you know what you are going to do now after graduation?
That’s a difficult question. I don’t know. I think it would be easy for me to move into a more commercial direction, because I have some experience with it. But I’m not sure if I want to do that. I’m receiving support from Pepsi after having won their competition called ‘The Pulse of New Talent,’ by Pepsi and Vogue Italia. They actually sponsored my final collection as well. With their help, there is a possibility of starting my own brand. I think I want to travel a little bit, and then I will likely explore myself more as an illustrator before starting my own company — it’s a more natural thing to me, compared to fashion.
What is happening between you and Pepsi?
After showing my garments in a Paris-based showroom, I got an email from Vogue Italia’s Sara Maino, telling me that I was one of the chosen designers from the competition. I sent them the piece that I had made, and after that, they invited me to visit the project launch in Dubai. I was quite busy at the time, starting my course at CSM, but they finally convinced me to get there, and I found out that I was actually the winner of the contest. The whole visit was quite an experience for me. I was staying in a crazy huge hotel that was connected to a shopping mall; they even have cars inside the mall for people to commute: that’s how big it is. That was actually my birthday as well (laughs). We are also doing a project together for the upcoming Milan Design Week, and I might present this collection, or do something special for them.
Are we talking about Pepsi here?
Yes! They support young talent. When I was doing my collection, I just told them “it’s difficult for me to afford all of these expenses” and they just said “yes we can help.” I guess sometimes you just have to ask, and I must say I am very grateful for their help.
“It’s the worst thing to finish this course and still not believe in yourself.”
Do you want to work for someone before starting your own brand?
If someone really interesting approaches me, I would say yes. At the moment, I am more interested in avant-garde than something commercial. It was quite funny that a while ago, Roberto Cavalli contacted me after they saw the sweatshirts collection that I produced with Syndicate. Maybe they don’t really get the irony that’s implied in my designs. The collection was inspired by those super tacky women in my home city in Ukraine, who wear crazy makeup and they actually buy fake Roberto Cavalli, and I find this hilarious. So who knows what will happen in the future.
Why did you decide to do something more experimental?
I understand that fashion is a business, and I have done things just to earn money, but I now think that I want to use fashion as a medium to translate my thoughts. I think it’s a good time and place to challenge myself and to step out of my comfort zone. Maybe it’s because I haven’t done my BA here, and that’s why I just want to have fun with it. I think each time you try, you learn a tool, and in the end you’ll you have a palette of tools to make something more interesting.
What is the most important thing you learnt from the course?
I bet every one is saying this but really, you have to believe in yourself. In the end, nobody is going to make decisions for you. When Louise was here, she probably would have, but I think she was more about showing us the shortcuts of doing things, especially when she only had limited time to push us. It’s the worst thing to finish this course and still not believe in yourself.
Interview by Derek Cheng
Lookbook photography by Cate Underwood