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Gender neutral swim-suiting from hybrid designer Cornelia Ferm

Context skewed fusion dressing; where swimwear and suiting meet

One wouldn’t wear a suit to swim, or a swimsuit to corporate, and yet Swedish School of Textiles graduate Cornelia Ferm finds a comfortable fusion between opposing worlds. Her graduate collection “SWIMSUIT/SUIT” presents a hybrid between functional swimwear and business attire. Inspired by the work of David Hockney and the theory of Ingrid Loschek and Joanne Entwistle’s, Ferm intellectually forms silhouettes that appear informed and playful, devoid of caricaturesque tropes. From her base interest in sustainability, the collection is mainly formed of up-cycled pre-existing garments, with a subtle balance of gender markers establishing an unconsciously gender-neutral approach to her silhouette. Ferm shares her process post-graduation in an ever-evolving world.

Check Cornelia Ferm’s portfolio on Pinterest

Cornelia Ferm, Lookbook
Cornelia Ferm, Lookbook
Cornelia Ferm, Lookbook and Design Development
Cornelia Ferm, Lookbook

“I enjoy working at speed, as every tested idea generates a new one.”

Working to find new possibilities in existing garments, Ferm explains how she “clashed” garments in different ways in order to find new expressions. “I enjoy working at speed, as every tested idea generates a new one. Also, when working with existing garments you are able to create a large amount of full-scale 3D sketches, which can then be evaluated and developed further. This gives me a heads start in the creative process.”

Her most recent collection presented a hybrid between two opposing aesthetics; corporate suiting and functional swimwear. Talking of her design process, she explains how her second-year pre-study informed her current way of working. “We were asked to work with activewear pattern construction, and the only way for me to find that intriguing was to add the pyjamas to skiwear. It was playful juxtaposition and informed a good framework for my current design process.” It is this clothing context blend that adds depth and perspective to Ferm’s work. Passionately, the designer illustrates how she balanced the active and inactive in earlier work, which later evolved into a balance of the serious and powerful, and the unserious and playful, for her most recent body of work. “I think fusion works well for me because suiting and swimwear are two extremes. The suit is by far the most powerful dress code we have in western society, it’s heavily assertive. Swimwear, on the other hand, showcases everything. In my clothes, there is the comfort of big shoulders, but at the same time, the garment tricks you and reveals other parts of your body.”

Despite having entrenched sustainable methods of upcycling into her work, Ferm admits that she’s not sure how important sustainability is to brand identity. “I personally feel sustainability can be a jungle. I have no idea how to keep up. You try to reduce plastic, but then a study might state that the alternative has a greater negative impact.” In this, she talks with a strong desire to do more, yet highlights the ever confusing world of sustainable design. “Something stated as being better cotton”, she explains, “might only mean that 5% of the cotton is ecological, and then you read more and you understand that ecological not always is the most sustainable either. Overall I think it’s important to try and recycle as much as you can. It’s important to address current issues and try to do your most. I would hope that things improve in the near future.”

“The hardest thing was to work from home and to not have my classmates around me.”

While admitting how this current period of flux has influenced her and her work, she emphasises how this past year has proved to be her biggest lesson. “The hardest thing was to work from home and to not have my classmates around me. You become very close. We were used to being involved in each other’s projects and supporting one another. I found a strength to continue pushing and working.”

Cornelia Ferm, Design Development

Her work appears gender neutral in a subtle and unconscious manner, something of which Ferm describes as a last moment decision, but a natural and logical presentation. “I thought my supervisors would consider it too confusing to present on both male and female. But after the second to last presentation, I realised it didn’t make sense to present on only men, since I had done fittings on myself.” She then continues to discuss how she sees all of her silhouettes working on both male and female body forms, but eloquently notes how the menswear sector “is far more conservative than womenswear”.

“Should you tell a friend that you saw someone in a swimsuit at the opera, the friend would probably be less interested in what it looked like than if it was presented in its intended context.”

Having previously noted that Ingrid Loschek and Joanne Entwistle’s theory texts catalysed her most recent project SWIMSUIT/SUIT, Ferm remarks upon her unusual source of inspiration. “As I have dyslexia, reading text is not what I do to get inspiration. But with these texts, it was different.” Talking of fashion’s vulnerability, the young designer expands upon the importance of context, or lack of, in the design process. “Take that look out of its context, and it no longer matters how it looks. It might seem inappropriate and wrong in a different space. Should you tell a friend that you saw someone in a swimsuit at the opera, the friend would probably be less interested in what it looked like than if it was presented in its intended context.” Ferm shows a passionate interest in the ‘dressed body’, contemplating of the importance of context when forming in a look, she remarks how it’s “interesting to analyse what context does to the look after it is created. Instead of letting the context form the look, you analyse what the context contributes.”

Reflecting on her post-graduation life in the present pandemic world, Ferm shows resilience, with her current position as an assistant for the textile artist Ulla-Stina Wikander in Gothenburg, asserting her a sense of stability. She shows a keen passion to continue to expand upon her graduate work, showing an unwavering desire to improve pieces she admits she wasn’t completely satisfied with. “I have some ideas that I didn’t have the time to fully explore before, so I think I am going to squeeze out what’s left of this concept before continuing to a new project.”