New Waves: Paula Canovas del Vas
Applying a philosophy of embracing hazards and unexpected errors, Paula Canovas del Vas has come to master the technique of incorporating accidents and unforeseen blunders into her work. Rather than aiming for a specific outcome, she lets the result of her process shape the offspring of her ideas. After gaining learning experiences during her placement year at Ashish, Gucci and Margiela, she realised the true potential of good teamwork and the value of venturing your comfort zone. Developing a unique printing technique together with a construction worker at a Spanish factory she stumbled across in her hometown, and participating in printing courses whilst travelling in the north-west regions of India, these coincidental events literally transformed into practical elements that shaped the final outcome of her graduate collection.
“SINCE I WANTED TO INCORPORATE THE CONCEPT OF MISTAKES WITHIN THE COLLECTION, THERE WEREN’T REALLY THAT MANY THINGS THAT COULD GO WRONG.”
What was the conceptual starting point of your graduate collection?
From the beginning I knew I wanted to do tailored pieces, but I also knew I didn’t want them to have a rigid aesthetic. While thinking about the concept for my dissertation I stumbled upon Tanizaki’sanalysis of Japanese aesthetics, as well as Wabi Sabi, and I think that was really the starting point.The research was led by the acceptance of elements of hazard, of things that simply occur. I started looking at Lynda Benglis’ performances, David Hammons’ work and Claes Oldenburg’s sculptures.
How do you create a visual narrative out of an abstract concept?
When I start working on a project, I never really have the final outcome in mind. For me it’s all about the process of making, rather than achieving a certain goal, so I suppose the visual narrative comes as a result of testing a lot of different ideas. I never get too attached to a concept. If something doesn’t work, no matter how much time I spend on it, I move on and try out something else. This doesn’t mean I’m changing the concept, but rather that I’m trying different ways to get as close as possible to an outcome with the most powerful representation of my idea.
How did your collection develop during the course of the year? Did you face any serious challenges during the production process?
Since I wanted to incorporate the concept of mistakes within the collection, there weren’t really that many things that could go wrong. To me it was more important to make everything look cohesive and make sense as a whole. As a self-critic, though, I tended to experiment way too much within the final stages of making the collection. I was still trying out fabrics and design ideas a month before the show, and I ended up with way too many looks. Of course half of them were unnecessary, but I had to make them to see if they were working!
What does your development process usually look like?
I think I’m more of a hands on kind of person, I love toiling and working in real size. I don’t consider myself to be a great illustrator, and even though I like nice drawings, it’s not really my strength. And when it comes to surface prints, digital work is definitely a no-no. I really enjoy getting into dirty stuff, you know. For my prints I had the chance to collaborate with a construction worker from my hometown, Murcia. I was passing by one day and saw him using some machinery that I thought could be helpful for my work. I ended up spending a lot of time at the factory and we developed the technique together.
“WHAT REALLY MATTERS IS TO HAVE A GOOD FEELING ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING, AND TO REACT TO THE FEEDBACK YOU’LL GET. IT MIGHT SOUND PERVERSE, BUT I KIND OF ENJOY SOME GOOD CRITICISM. IT’S HOT!”
How does the conversation between 2D and 3D work for you?
It depends on the project, really. Sometimes I’ve forced myself to work merely in 2D just to try it out, but I would say most of the time I start in 3D right away.
When do you think your identity as a designer really took shape and a ‘concrete’ form? Is it important to have a specific ‘signature’ as a designer, or is it better to be flexible?
I personally don’t like to put labels on things, and the word ‘concrete’ sounds rather scary to me. I prefer to think of my designs as works in progress. Having a signature is essential, but it needs to come naturally, you can’t force it.
Being critiqued constantly, sometimes we can lose sight of who we are or what our work stands for. Where would you draw the line between growing from those feedbacks and conforming to give tutors what they want?
I believe questioning oneself and what you do is key to create work with integrity. Criticism is necessary, and you’ll become used to getting a lot of it at CSM. What really matters is to have a good feeling about what you’re doing, and to react to the feedback you’ll get. It might sound perverse, but I kind of enjoy some good criticism. It’s hot!
What did you do during your placement year?
During second year I started working for Ashish, which is something I’ve continued to this date. Shortly after summer I went to Rome where I spent five months doing an internship for Gucci, the team over there is awesome. They have, and continue to be, extremely supportive. They’ve sponsored most of my fabrics for the BA! It was a great opportunity to observe the operation of such a brand from the inside, and looking back I was extremely fortunate to have done part of my placement there. Right afterwards I went on a trip to Rajasthan. I spent a month traveling around Jaipur, and doing an indigo dying and mud printing course with Natalie Gibson. I also went to Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Delhi. It was a breathtaking experience, I slept in the desert and met lots of random people. But I also struggled a lot, being a woman and traveling around by myself in India wasn’t the smartest decisions I took that year. I finished my year out interning at Margiela, which I really enjoyed from a creative point of view.
“THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CREATING ONE GARMENT FOR A CRIT, AND GETTING HUNDREDS OR THOUSANDS OF THEM PRODUCED FOR COMMERCIAL PURPOSES. THERE IS SO MUCH WORK PUT INTO IT. MEETINGS WITH THE FACTORIES, SAMPLE MAKING, NEW TOILES, MORE MEETINGS. THE ONLY TIME YOU’LL HAVE A CHANCE OF GETTING A GLIMPSE OF THIS WORLD IS DURING YOUR PLACEMENT YEAR.”
Did your experience in the industry give you a better insight into how the business of fashion actually works?
Production was a big discovery for me. There is a difference between creating one garment for a crit, and getting hundreds or thousands of them produced for commercial purposes. There is so much work put into it. Meetings with the factories, sample making, new toiles, more meetings. The only time you’ll have a chance of getting a glimpse of this world is during your placement year. And of course, I also learned a lot about collaboration. There are a couple of group projects in 2nd year, but I only understood what teamwork actually means during my internships.
What advice would you give for students choosing their placements?
Go with the flow and try to have as many different experiences as possible. I would highly advise everyone to go abroad and get out of your comfort zone. But most of all, just do whatever feels right to you. Don’t go work for X or Y just cause everyone wants to be there. Do whatever works for you.
Do you think you will stay in fashion? If so, how would you like to be working professionally as a designer?
I enjoy doing this and I hope to be able to keep making clothes, but I’m also very flexible. The idea of change doesn’t bother me, and at the moment I don’t look too far in the future. At least for now.
Hair by Anthony Turner
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