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Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”

The Swedish designer is using her graduate collection to discuss the importance of body language and recognising the effects on mental health in the fashion industry

“It started with a concern about mental health. Looking at the stress, the anxiety and the work overload of a young woman’s early career,” explains Sofia Mollberg about the genesis of her MA collection. “I wanted to tell a story that communicated the emotion behind our body language; constructing gestures that say we mustn’t shame vulnerability. It’s too easy to think that we’re alone in it.” Joining The Swedish School of Textiles graduate Class of 2020, Mollberg’s collection speaks to the tone of the times, with frankness in discussing the state of our emotional wellbeing.

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Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg, Lookbook
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”

Born and raised in Helsingborg in the south of Sweden, the conscientious designer established her interests in fashion under the influence of her parents – her father a firefighter and mother a hairdresser – who took up painting alongside their practical vocations. Encouraged by her parents’ endeavours, Mollberg joined Polimoda, the fashion school in Florence. While defining her entrance into the school as a naive one, with an appreciation rather than an awareness of the fashion industry, Mollberg grasped the reins with firm hands, revelling in the freedom it provided her. “At Polimoda, you work on a project for a year and you don’t have to write about it,” she recalls. “You create your project and name it at the end, almost working backwards.”

“It was two intense years of growing up. I had to know how and why I did everything.”

Following the common pathway from Bachelor’s to Master’s, the freedom Mollberg experienced through her foundational years at Polimoda tapered into a more concentrated approach during her tenure at The Swedish School of Textiles. “It was two intense years of growing up. I had to know how and why I did everything. I found myself a lot during my Master’s, because everything that you do has to have an answer, so my work became so much richer.” But the process of finding oneself didn’t surface so immediately as she transitioned from her tenure in Italy to the new beginnings in Sweden. “After my BA, I was still confused about who I was as a designer. I started looking at fast-fashion and the mass production of garments, which made me want to go as far away from that as possible, and propose another way of approaching garments. It was about creating something wearable, but something people feel a close relationship to.”

Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg, Design Development
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”

“They make us feel like ourselves, they experience us, the individual. I want the relationship with these garments to be communicative, cared for, and emotional.”

In lieu of these intentions, Mollberg’s final collection, Constructing Gestures, considers how garments are a reflection of us. “They make us feel like ourselves, they experience us, the individual. I want the relationship with these garments to be communicative, cared for, and emotional,” she shares. Bestowing her clothes with a conscience, Mollberg sought references from Rei Kawakubo’s seminal Spring 1997 collection, Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body – where Kawakubo submerged garment and body into one complete silhouette – alongside the works of Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész, renowned for his distorted compositions of the body.

Fascinated by the nuanced relationship between posture and gesture, Mollberg considers the flexibility of the body, and the contrasting scope of the shapes it conveys. It began as a photo series between herself and friends, documenting various bodily positions which Mollberg later translated in her pattern cutting and draping. “I wanted to turn these shapes into recognisable garments such as pencil skirts, blazers or double-breasted coats.” By doing so, and with such ceremonial garments, she hoped to alter the perspective by which people approach traditional pieces and twist what they already know, speaking to the collection’s overarching discussion around perspective, a waning trait in fashion’s mental health epidemic.

Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg, Design Development
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”

“The older generation needs to take responsibility too because, realistically, we can’t do it alone.”

From ebony trench coats with excessively draped shoulders to tapered white suits that swirl neatly around limbs, Mollberg questions: “How can clothing comfort us in difficult times and express something with us? For instance, wearing a coat, there is no tension standing in that position, rather a release.” What governs her collection so neatly is the psychological intent. “I didn’t know the effect stress could have on the body and I think body language communicates so much more than words.” As a self-professed nerd when it comes to garment construction, Sofia Mollberg’s emotive collection celebrates a slow kind of craftsmanship. It is a means to pinpoint the problems that come from within the fashion industry and its attitudes towards over-consumption. She asks herself: “How can we be better at communicating the value and experience of what we’re wearing?” But she appreciates that it won’t happen overnight. “I feel like we’re going into a revolution. But the older generation needs to take responsibility too because, realistically, we can’t do it alone.”

Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg, Design Development
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”

With seven years of training under her belt, Mollberg feels motivated by her entrance into the industry. “I would love another creative education,” she laughs, excited by the thought of embracing it all again were she a new student starting out. “I always really liked that fashion education is not like working in the industry. It’s so much broader.” Contemplative in her postgraduate life, she pauses. “I’ve been thinking a lot about my place and I’ve always felt like I want to work for myself so that I can make the decisions. Whereas I feel in the industry, you can get so consumed. I don’t want to sacrifice all of my creativity for the stress because then fashion becomes more like a job and you lose the creative freedom.” But despite her ruminations on her place in the industry, Sofia Mollberg is unyielding in her position to lead a future generation of designers who want to talk about mental health, and want to talk about it now.

Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg, Lookbook
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”
Sofia Mollberg: “We musn’t shame vulnerability”