Representing the creative future

Daniela Benaim: “There is no single definition of home”

As we are all forced indoors, the stylist and creative director revisits her CSM final project, ‘La Casa’

As we are all forced indoors, the stylist and creative director revisits her CSM final project, ‘La Casa’

Creative director and stylist Daniela Benaim moved to London in 2018 to join CSM’s MA Fashion Image course. Having left behind family and friends in Venezuela, the concept of home weighed heavily on her mind, so much so that she dedicated her final project to exploring its complexities. ‘La Casa’ is a series of seven publications, connecting the dots between the home, the body, and the self: Body as Home, Home as a Metaphor of the Mind, Home as an Extension of the Self, Home as Prison, Home in the Exile, Homeland and Non Home

In light of coronavirus, Daniela is facing cancelled jobs and concerns over her income and immigration status, making the concept of home incredibly poignant. As we are all forced indoors for self-isolation, those of us who are fortunate enough to have stable homes are spending more time there than ever. Recent graduates may be returning to their parents’ homes, leaving their university city and questioning whether the place they grew up has a stronger pull than the place they carved out for themselves as adults. Here, Daniela looks back on her final project to find new meanings for an uncertain future.

How do you personally define ‘home’? 

I migrated to London the year before I started at CSM, and started to question where I considered home to be around that time — was it my flat in London or my house in Venezuela? I knew there was no single answer, because you can have multiple notions of home simultaneously. Sometimes home is a safe space, or your body, or your family. Sometimes, your home feels claustrophobic and not like a home at all. Ironically, when I started the course, I wanted to get away from the high fashion work I had been doing, so it felt right to create something more personal. It was refreshing to have so much creative freedom, and home seemed like the right topic to explore within that. This project shows how I define home.

Sometimes home is a safe space, or your body, or your family. Sometimes, your home feels claustrophobic and not like a home at all.”

What inspired the project and how are those references articulated in the final images?

Throughout history, women have been linked to nature and magic because of female biology and their role as nurturers — the womb is our first home. Meanwhile, men were seen as the representation of civilisation, culture and progress. I wanted to challenge that and discover female potential at every stage. Fabric has often been used to subvert the role of women in the home. Artists like Eileen Agar and Louise Bourgeois did this, as well as writers like Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper) and Barbara Creed (The Monstrous-Feminine), playing with the grotesque and the abject at the same time. I also fell in love with Dorothea Tanning, having seen her work at an exhibition in Madrid. So I took a course in soft sculpture and applied that to the project, using second-hand clothes to create masks. I also worked with Kimia Amini, an artist based in London who produced four masks for my project, representing the four archetypes of the stages of the female lifecycle: the maiden, the mother, the enchantress and the crone. 

I had this list of keywords that I kept coming back to: alienation, exile, identity, nostalgia and migration.”

Could you describe your creative process for ‘La Casa’? 

I knew that I wanted to do a few different publications instead of just one. I wanted to include collaborations with different creatives and photographers. Where possible, I stuck to second-hand clothes, but I also included handmade masks and work by students and local designers. I had this list of keywords that I kept coming back to: alienation, exile, identity, nostalgia and migration. Over the summer, I went to Venezuela and started exploring these words more; that formed the basis of my work once I came back to London. 

Why did you decide to use second-hand clothing and found objects for your project?

When I was doing my BA in Venezuela, I was worried that local designers were not working because there were no fabrics to work with. Alongside another student, I came up with a project called ‘Retazo, retazo’, which means ‘souvenir’ in Spanish. We collected second-hand clothes and gave them to different designers to create a small collection with. The resulting clothes were presented in a fashion show and the money raised was donated to the Uno Más Foundation, which works with people with Down’s syndrome. Through that project, I realised that there can still be creative opportunities even with a scarcity of new resources. 

“There can still be creative opportunities even with a scarcity of new resources.”

For the ‘Home as an Extension of Self’ publication (one of seven I produced for my final project), we created masks from second-hand clothes and fabrics with stains and holes. In one photo, we used a rocking chair we found. It actually belonged to the family of one of the creatives on our team — they had used it for generations to nurture all of their children. 

In the same way, I find old fashion collections more interesting, because the distance and hindsight you gain with time lets you see how the collection influenced culture. Stylists and magazines shouldn’t just work with the latest pieces and designs, they should include vintage pieces and second-hand clothing as well. 

I find old fashion collections more interesting, because the distance and hindsight you gain with time lets you see how the collection influenced culture.”

By featuring second-hand clothing, you are using objects with their own meanings and histories beyond this project. What role does nostalgia play in your work? 

Coming from Venezuela, I am used to seeing people leaving and buildings being forgotten, so nostalgia is part of my everyday life and often informs my work. Before coming to London, I did an editorial called ‘Saldare’, which means ‘nostalgia’ or ‘melancholia’ in Portuguese. We shot in an old apartment, focusing on what happened there before it was forlorn. Nostalgia is an effective tool in fashion, because people often feel that yesterday was better than today. It can be cliché, but it is part of who we are and what we love. 

Nostalgia is an effective tool in fashion, because people often feel that yesterday was better than today.”

Spending so much time at home during self-isolation, how has your understanding of home changed? 

Isolation has allowed me to reconnect with the domestic space. For the first time, I have found pleasure in crafts which are traditionally considered feminine as opportunities for creativity and self-expression. I have been cooking with my boyfriend, and sharing recipes with my family. Even though we are physically isolated, we are building a sense of community. 

I have been thinking about the idea of the home as our personal universe, as the lines between domestic and professional, private and public, are blurring.”

I have also been thinking about the idea of the home as our personal universe, as the lines between domestic and professional, private and public, are blurring. There have been moments when I felt trapped, but most of the time I have felt grateful to have a house and a space where I can do everything I need to. My home space is constantly under construction as an extension of myself. 

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your work? What have you done in response?

As all of my upcoming projects have been postponed, I have allowed myself to slow down. I’m trying to consume more substantial bodies of work, as well as updating my portfolio and website, networking and promoting my work.

With all the cancelled events and supply chain delays, the industry will have to rethink the way it works. I hope it will slow down and turn to local or virtual production and consumption.”

What issues has the pandemic raised for you? How can the fashion industry, press and public best support people in your situation?

The pandemic has made me question the fashion supply chain even more. I hope we can find new ways of creating and collaborating virtually. The industry should use this as an opportunity to reinvent itself and create new, remote job opportunities. With all the cancelled events and supply chain delays, the industry will have to rethink the way it works. I hope it will slow down and turn to local or virtual production and consumption. 

As an immigrant who recently graduated, I am really worried about finding a job and a steady income. Staying home and doing nothing has made me feel impotent.”

It feels like an odd and uncertain time to think about the future, but what are your plans? 

I’d like to explore more angles for ‘La Casa’ and collaborate on some moving-image content. I would also love to do a PhD if I could afford it, and I will keep working as a stylist and creative director. At the same time, that is difficult if you don’t have contacts or an agency. As an immigrant who recently graduated, I am really worried about finding a job and a steady income. Staying home and doing nothing has made me feel impotent. As an image maker, I need to find ways of creating content that raise awareness and spread information in these strange times. 

1 Granary

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