When was the last time you went out without a video of it appearing on someone’s stories? Read the news without watching some accompanying film footage? Scrolled on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, only paying half a mind to the gifs and clips? Film is the new frontier of the image revolution and to be in front of the camera, you no longer have to be a celebrity: we are all the stars in the narrative of our daily lives. Venice Wanakornkul made direct use of this strange new habit in her design practice. She began to film everything while studying video art during her undergraduate degree, and carried on during her MFA in Fashion at the Parsons School of Design. Her films are raw and uncut: she’s interested in recording, less so in manipulating.
Throughout the interview in a Japanese bakery in New York, she plays footage of her assembling and wearing paper prototypes of what eventually became her graduate collection. She was interested in paper for its everyday functionality as well as the way it quickly and irrevocably records whatever has been done to it. “You can wrinkle fabric then steam it and it will go back to how it was. Paper is a good way to record actions – similarly to how I film everything.” What she captured in the fabric of the paper was her everyday life: on her film footage, she sits on the floor in one of her paper creations late at night in an empty studio. Later she’s sleeping wrapped in another one, then going straight to class, and later, a party. She wore one in the shower too, trying to recreate the effect of rain.
Venice arrived at Parsons straight from a BA in Fine Art in London’s Chelsea College with limited fashion experience. She learnt pattern cutting through internships at Ashley Williams and Yang Li in London, then Telfar and Eckhaus Latta in New York. She jokingly refers to herself as a ‘lazy designer’ (“you wear the material, you live in it, and the clothes design themselves”), but making the paper blueprints required minute manual labour. She used a mix of pattern paper and lighter tissue fabric, hand stitching simple, everyday garments like an overcoat and a knee-length skirt.
Moreso than laziness, Venice’s method displays an interest in working as quickly and efficiently as possible, a process that was partly inspired by her internship at Telfar. “They don’t work like a regular fashion house, but more like a team with ideas – they come up with the concept and make the product. They save so much time because they don’t make ten toiles before production. The studio at the time had no stock of wasted fabric. They just come to work with a pencil and their brain – it’s a clever way of using resources.”
Once the paper models were completed, Venice set about recreating them in fabric – linen for the most part, with accents in jersey and fake leather. Where she lacked skills as a dressmaker, she made up for it in drawing, observing the geometric shapes of every fold and crinkle on her paper models, then incorporating it into the pattern for the linen version. “It was almost like life drawing,’ she says. ‘I tried to think about which area should be stiffer or softer, to be able to fold like paper.”
She chose linen for its historic, almost mundane connotations as well as its timelessness. “I used traditional methods of clothes making: drawing, pattern cutting and sewing. So I wanted to use a fabric that’s traditional as well.” She liked the contrast it created to her paper toiles, too. Linen, a fibrous fabric that can last several centuries without breaking down is the opposite of paper which can be destroyed in an instant. Creating lasting garments, in style as well as material, is a key concern of Venice’s work. Throwing out her paper models, she says, was an emotional process as she came to think of them as garments, perfecting them until she was satisfied before moving onto the linen replica.
She intends her clothes to be wearable, functional, everyday objects, incorporating design elements to help the wearer in their everyday life. A coat folds into a skirt, so that its wearer doesn’t have to hang it on the back of their chair in a crowded restaurant, a wedding dress (a garment most people like to keep even if it is rarely worn again) can be folded into a neat box so it doesn’t take up space in a small city flat.
Living and working in a big city is integral to Venice’s design practice, though she is mindful of the pressures it can place on young designers. “New York is so busy, everyone is moving, working. Now that I’m out of college I should feel great, but I’ve started to feel lonely, because everyone else around me keeps such a fast pace and I’m kind of stopped, watching.” But for now, the relentless pace of the fashion cycle doesn’t bother her, though she’s unsure if she wants to fully participate in it. While she likes the idea of a runway show, she prefers to present her collection as an installation. “I like my clothes next to objects, their relationship – a mundane, everyday situation.”
Venice is attuned to the significance of time, and the effect New York’s sleepless tempo has on her design process. ‘If I lived somewhere like Hawaii, I would be making very different clothes,’ she says. “Maybe make one collection every two years. Time would feel slower.” Her clothes occupy an intriguing position in fashion, one perhaps symptomatic of the way we think about clothes now: somewhere between artisanal quality and an urge for simpler processes and faster turnaround. Clothes that reflect back to the wearer something honest and ordinary. An everyday kind of luxury.
Words Zsófia Paulikovics