When Marta Jakubowski’s models walked out on the Royal College of Art’s runway in June, Olya and I immediately started to applaud and cheer (sorry for muting the music, guys, but we couldn’t help our intense excitement). Meters of fabric connected the models to one another with metal headpieces, which immediately brought the words ‘fashion centipede’ to mind. We sat down with the German designer at Shoreditch-based Albion, to find out more about her extraordinary collection.

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Here’s a quick breakdown: before Marta studied fashion design in Germany, she did an internship with a theater company. She worked for the movie Closer, with Julia Roberts, followed by an opera, which involved designing ‘massive costumes’. During her fashion design studies, she took a year out to work with Bruno Pieters in Antwerp, followed by a short menswear stint at Central Saint Martins; then she went on to briefly work for Jonathan Saunders before returning to Germany. She worked for Chalayan in London, Alexander Wang in New York, and after graduating in Germany, decided to apply for the MA at Royal College of Art, from which she has just graduated.

Marta’s been studying for the past eight years. “I would love to stay in education. I was talking to the head of menswear. If I would have the money I would just go do an MA in menswear now. I think it’s the greatest.”

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Reminiscing her teenage years, she says that she wasn’t really planning to be a fashion designer, but had set her eye on studying psychology after high school. “I actually thought it was something different than it actually was. It’s more biology and behaviour. It’s really different. And then I wanted to be a social worker, because I thought that was maybe more cool. After high school, I started a drawing course, just for fun in the beginning,” she says. That’s when she started to do still life drawing; suddenly drawing bags, shoes, and yarns, which eventually became a fashion portfolio.

 

Studying fashion design in Germany, apparently, costs next to nothing. “I feel like they were really tolerant at my school. You could do whatever you wanted, really, and to be honest, I didn’t spend that much time there. It was good that it was for free. I think it’s changing now, but it’s not going to be more than 500 pounds per semester, which is every six months. In the city where I was studying, it was still for free and the rent was so cheap, 120 or 160 Euros a month. Germany is really good for education just because of the funding as well. You don’t have to worry about things.”

 

Ha, London, you’re such a sweet place with your 9000 pound tuition fees and 500 pounds per month for zone 4 ‘double rooms’.

“My boss wanted to organize this hen night, where we would be pretending I’d get married to get money to fund my MA.”

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Chalayan

 Marta worked at Chalayan until, and during, her MA. Between moving from New York to London, and working for Chalayan, her mum passed away, making her unsure about her future decisions. “I sat at home for a bit and then just decided: come on, do it now, let’s see what happens. I didn’t have any money; I was still working for Chalayan. I was still working there actually when my MA already started, like two or three days a week.”

 

Chalayan has always been one of Marta’s favourites. “We don’t have that anymore in fashion, that we work with such an incredible personality every day,” she says. After working there for months, they became a bit like her family. “They were really helpful, especially after what happened with my mother. The people I worked with at the time were a really big support. And they were actually pushing me “okay, you have to do this MA” and my boss wanted to organize this hen night, where we would be pretending I’d get married, to get money to fund my MA. That’s so cute isn’t it? My other colleague was like “Okay, we have to sell songs and we’re gonna get you in this MA”.”

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The MA at Royal College of Art

 Marta tells me about Julie Verhoeven, who “kind of pushes you to do things you wouldn’t do. ‘Forget about your taste level…’ is a thing that Julie would say.”

We discuss the passing of Louise Wilson and the retirement of Wendy Dagworthy and agree that many students seemed to apply for an MA, because of the name and tutorship that was attached to the course. Many recent graduates are hesitant to apply for an MA, because they fear that it’s not going to be ‘the same’.  “It’s not about the teacher. Really, it’s about you and it’s your MA,” she says, “you need to be in control of it, rather than depending on someone you know.”

I ask her why she applied for Royal College of Art. “I don’t know… back then, I was living in New York and was applying for the MA. The deadline was in February or something, and I knew I wanted to go back to London at some point. I really loved New York, but I knew it wasn’t going to be forever. And there are so many papers you’ve got to have…”

Where would your girl spend her Saturdays?

“Probably still at a party.”

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Personality projects

 Throughout the two years of the MA course, the students first work on a personality project, where they start building an identity for a particular ‘girl’  they design for. Then, they move into adding more substance to their work.

 

“For example, Alexander Wang knows what his girl is like: what kind of music she wants to listen to, how she’s styled, what her attitude is, and he tries to show it in the six or seven minutes of the show. I think it’s really important.”

Does she have something like that in mind as well? “Oh yes,that’s what they pushed us to do in RCA. In the end, it was really important to have this girl in mind. You kind of create mood boards around her. Where would she live, what would she eat, what kind of music would she listen to. It’s really helpful, because in the end, when you’re in womenswear, you always look at yourself. It makes things easier if you create this profile, and just collect images from girls. What pet would she have, and where would she spend her Saturdays.”

 

Where would your girl spend her Saturdays?

“Probably still at a party.”

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Money talks

When we talk about money (cos in London, money really talks) she says, “I didn’t have any money to go to Berwick Street and buy expensive fabrics. So, you just have to work with what you have. I think out of all my fabrics, the most expensive ones were like 8 pounds a meter. It was a lot in the end, because everything was so long!” she says. One of her looks is made out of 17 metres of fabrics. “But it’s kind of the same shit they sell at Shepherds Bush. You need just go and do your research. What I always did: I went looking for fabrics in Berwick Street and I got samples. Then, I would go to Shepherds Bush and say “Oh, I bought this fabric here!” and they would look for you and get something similar. It’s the same quality, really.”

“Making a decision is what shows who’s a good, and who’s a bad designer. Because a good designer can make a decision and pretend it’s amazing and just live with it, even if it’s not.”

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Decision time

“Designers spend most of their time struggling making decisions. Sometimes it can be black next to black, but those are the most frustrating things. The best advice my tutor gave me in the end was: making a decision is what shows who’s a good, and who’s a bad designer. Because a good designer can make a decision and pretend that it’s amazing and just live with it, even if it’s not.”

 

What was the most difficult decision for you to make?

 

“To be confident and just believe in what you do, and also not thinking that your work is great. No one tells you your work is good. You can always do better, but you just need to sell your ideas. If you don’t believe in them, no one else will.

 

They always say ‘would you actually wear it?’ Obviously some of my pieces I couldn’t wear, with the metal and stuff, but I can say that if everything is disconnected, I would actually wear everything. You’re designing it, why would you design something you wouldn’t wear yourself?

I mean, of course you can be funny with things, and do amazing installations and sculptures and stuff. But, in the end, they try to teach us to make things that we would really want to wear ourselves. And, I think that’s where your own personality comes in a lot, cause it’s just things you want yourself.”

“I had a really good helper, my friend Paula (a first year student), who lost her finger while she was sewing.”

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We head outside for a smoke. She rolls a cigarette, which I light with my cheesy Union Jack lighter. She’s got all of her portfolios with her and they’re spread out on the small round table, almost knocking off the salt and pepper mills.

 

According to Marta, her collection is much darker than, for example, her BA collection. “It was so bright and colourful. It was inspired by the movie Edward Scissorhands actually. My favourite movie. And it was all really ‘pastel-y’, but it’s actually dark as well. I mean, the movie is quite sad in the end. What I tried to do during the MA this year, is to not try and find inspiration in other people’s images or movies. I tried to create my own mood. I was making a short movie, to create the whole inspiration myself. I find that the best thing.

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“In the beginning, I was looking at artists like Marina Abramovic and Francesca Woodman, who killed herself at a very young age. She was a photographer, and often made self-portraits about her feelings. Marina’s work in the beginning was also very focused on expressing her feelings.”

Marta wondered how she could best express herself and deal with her feelings. She said that she couldn’t really write about it, nor could she draw it. She wondered how she could show her sadness to others, and started to experiment with making short movies, which weren’t intended to become a part of her fashion design work, but rather a personal way to deal with her emotions. So, she started filming herself in different parts of her house.

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Tons of little movies she mad focused on exploring what she felt at a particular moment. After a while, she would involve materials, and she started to make silhouettes, which looked like clothing. Marta tried to demonstrate “when your brains are such a mess and your thoughts are really weird and not sorted”. She tried to write down the most important words that she had in mind, and printed them out. She tells me about a certain emptiness that she tried to portray, like having a hole in your head.

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Did you have a lot of helpers, or did you do everything by yourself?

“I had a really good helper, my friend Paula (a first year student), who lost her finger while she was sewing.”

She lost her finger?! How much of it?

 

“Oh my god, it was so bad. So, I was doing the metal pieces, right? We had to cut everything, and there was some silicone in the back, which we had to sand. Paula’s finger got under the sanding machine, and it got cut off… It was really bad. She had to go to a hospital straight away, and she called me from the hospital to give me instructions for making the metal pieces.

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Our conversations ends on my proclaiming, “When I saw your collection, I said “Oh my god, this is a human centipede in clothes,” and she responds that she’s never seen the movie. Well, I hadn’t either, but for those who don’t quite know what I’m talking about: the movie is about a surgeon who’s gone mental. Three people get trapped in his house and he wants to connect them, anus-mouth-style.

 

When I ask Marta if she wants to start her own label, she tells me her concerns. “I’m always so scared to say that. When I mention it, there are always people saying “when you don’t have money, you can’t have your own brand”. They tell you everything bad about having your own label.”

 

Funding is a fundamental problem in the current education- and fashion system. Which, is not to say that Marta hasn’t been very successful in making ends meet, by being financially creative. To be honest, I’d love to see her persist, and prove them all wrong.

 

Interview by Jorinde Croese

Real-life collage by Charles Jeffrey

Backstage images by Sasa Stucin

Photography by Bror Ivefeldt

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