Representing the creative future

Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design

From childhood modelling for Celine to designing during the pandemic, Serbian designer Isidora Durovic digs into the Working Girl handbag for her graduate collection

Some students have taken a new direction while COVID-19 continued to decimate the fashion industry. For her graduate collection, instead of waiting for materials and scaling down because of the pandemic, BA CSM Design student Isidora Durovic rolled up her sleeves, taking a leaf out of the do-it-yourself adhocism art movement and Richard Wentworth’s 1984 photographic series Making Do and Getting By – showing that you can use everything around you if you just transform an object’s purpose.

Her first dip into fashion was a short-lived modelling career at Phoebe Philo’s Céline when she was 16. “In Serbia, the creative industry doesn’t really exist. So even though I always had creative tendencies, I never really thought this could be a serious profession.” Although she initially enrolled onto an interior design course after high school, she quickly realized it was not hands-on enough and transferred to design. She has now been at Central Saint Martins for five years and undertook a placement year where she helped out with haute couture and pre-collections at Givenchy in preparation for her graduate collection.

Talking about her creative process, Isidora says that she trained herself to keep her eyes open at all times and notice things that she sees in everyday life and online, like how people are using objects or styling the garments in weird ways. “I let things come naturally to me,” Durovic says. “I’m always drawn to tailoring. I’m very hands-on in my process – I go straight into making and I don’t need that much inspiration to get started. I would say my process is really trial-based, as it’s based on experimental pattern cutting. I always start from the shape and then develop everything else around it.”

Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic, Lookbook
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic, Design development and Research
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic, Lookbook
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design

“I saw my collection as a conclusion of my five years at CSM, and I tried to push myself creatively as much as I could, focusing on my strength: shape. I didn’t really think about what’s coming next, and I didn’t even know how the collection would turn out until the very last moment.” She looked into power-dressing of the eighties and how working women adapted menswear wardrobes to gain authority or respect through exaggerated shapes and demure colours. “My starting point is always with jackets – it’s about desexualizing the female body, but making it sophisticated and feminine at the same time.” Her inspiration also came from handbags and their capacity for versatility. “I didn’t even notice this before, but I don’t leave the house without my bag in which I carry so many things because I am out all day and everything I carry has to have a function.”

As a 3-D designer, she doesn’t draw out her ideas before she makes them, preferring to work on the toile instead. “I was constantly making, upgrading from toile to toile until the finished garment, resolving things as I go. I mostly used the imagery of Richard Wentworth as an inspiration for the colours and textures like the grey waxed cotton. Some of the pieces look like they’re windblown – I would wax them even though they had already been pre-waxed and then fold them and bond these layers together. I was trying to recreate the qualities of the newspapers flying across the street. I used objects that I found at home or that I got from charity shops or vintage markets. Some of the fabrics came from the Italian textile company Manteco that does sustainable wools, and the other part is just paper that I had at home because I couldn’t source anything else.” Adhocism feels like an especially current concept as standard supply chains have been interrupted. Using unrelated materials can have a surprising effect, considering that multi-functional accessories seem like the only ones that make sense now. Durovic acknowledges that growing up in the scarcity caused by the war and airstrikes in Belgrade has influenced her design. “I’m used to this mentality of Serbian people using everything they have and improvising because they can’t afford to buy something new. So many forgotten things in charity shops can be recycled and made into something desirable.”

Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design

The pandemic and resulting lockdown have made the student design process more turbulent, with no physical BA graduate show which would typically culminate the years of work at CSM. “I can’t even imagine what my collection would look like in normal circumstances – I was fortunate that I had Manteco as my fabric sponsor  – they sent to me their fabrics when we were in the middle of the worst of the lockdown. Obviously it took a bit of work and organisation from their side, but everything else was quite normal. Initially, I also had people for accessories, others for shoes, a photographer, a stylist. I had to cancel all of that. In the end, it was just myself modelling and designing, my family and my roommate helping put together all six looks.”

During the lockdown, social media and online promotion have come out as clear winners as the fashion scene moved online. “All these digital platforms are just ways for me to communicate my work and who I am as a designer. Even if we did have a show or an exhibition in normal circumstances, I feel like the digital would still be one of the most effective ways of promoting your work. So even though we are shifting towards digital presentations, I don’t think that’s so bad. On the other hand, we are constantly consuming so much and, in a way, fed up with everything. It makes it really hard to find a unique way to catch people’s attention. Nowadays, you can do the most amazing thing in your room and if you don’t have a single digital presentation or copy of what you did, people will not know about it.”

Thinking back about her five years spent at Central Saint Martins in London, she says, “It gave me opportunities and resources which really pushed me – creatively, professionally and personally. I don’t think that I would be able to do that anywhere else. My highlights from my five years at CSM are the people. Nobody teaches you in school what to do when you’re out. So I think that would be my advice: make valuable friendships. But also do the most that you can using the resources available, ask for feedback and try to constantly challenge yourself.” Being in lockdown has also made her more reflective on the value of a designer to the industry. “You really have to put things into perspective and see what makes sense and not be a slave of the system. Know what you’re worth and what you are good at and how you can use that to your advantage to get where you want to be.”

Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design

The industry has come under fire for overproduction, lack of job security and discrimination in the last few months as the pandemic puts pressure on its production and resources. “It’s really confusing. The industry is not in the best place after the whole situation with the coronavirus. Fashion is based on a system which really favours privileged people – it’s really hard for people who don’t have financial stability to make it in fashion, because most of the people working in this industry are woefully underpaid on all levels. I’ve been fortunate enough to keep working on a few projects. Then there is the sustainability aspect as well. In some places where I worked, they didn’t even have recycling bins. It’s the small things that many people do that makes a change. After my degree, I need to get real-life experience, not just as a designer in the industry. I don’t want to rush it. I want to have a purpose and do something that’s not done before. I’d also like to keep working on personal projects like shoots and making my own website where I am planning to start selling some of the accessories.”

Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic, Design Development
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design
Isidora Durovic: The case for improvisation in design

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