Representing the creative future

Laura and Deanna Fanning on navigating the politics of the fashion industry

The creative directors of womenswear at Kiko Kostadinov speak with fashion design student Luma Guarconi Louzada

How do you channel the boundless creative licence of fashion school into your design work once you’re enlisted to run the new womenswear division at one of London’s most exciting brands? This was the challenge facing Laura and Deanna Fanning when they were appointed to head up womenswear at Kiko Kostadinov’s eponymous label having only graduated from the Central Saint Martins MA fashion programme in 2018.

The identical twins, born in Melbourne and now based in London, are sharply aware that through designing womenswear they are commenting on womanhood and its past. The sisters argue that the key to designing clothes is taking the dense history of womenswear and subtly twisting its feminine tropes. With a background in the humanities – including philosophy, psychology, and anthropology – the duo approaches their collections cerebrally, injecting social and political awareness into their process to create a strong aesthetic language with solid conceptual foundations.

Laura and Deanna make it clear that at Kiko Kostadinov, womenswear is a separate estate to the men’s line; the sisters work independently with a small team of interns and one other designer. Nearly three years into the job, the pair have collaborated with the likes of Camper, Asics and released a collection of bags with Medea’s Giulia and Camilla Venturi – yes, also twins.

Some days before the digital release of their AW 2021 collection, Luma Guarconi Louzada, a final year student on CSM’s BA Fashion course, checked in with Laura and Deanna Fanning and discussed the changes in their collective design process since graduating, and their hopes for a more inclusive fashion industry.

Deanna Fanning: Where are you?

Luma Guarconi Louzada: I’m in Brazil, and it’s raining, so that’s kind of nice. My hometown is an island, so it’s always really hot. Are you both in London right now?

Laura Fanning: We’re in the studio at the moment, we normally wear masks, but we were like, let’s just, you know, look nice.

Luma:  It’s a good opportunity to put on lipstick. I feel like we’ve all given up on that this year.

Deanna: Are you in your final year?

Luma: It’s been a long ride, but yes, I’m in my final year. Because of the pandemic I ended up just deciding to do it from here. And it’s been a pretty good decision for the lockdowns! Your collaboration with Kiko seems like a dream job. You graduated and got a job as creative directors, a position which in theory has a lot of freedom. On top of that, you are at a young brand, which is fun and offers space for more risks. Is that actually how it is, or is that just wishful thinking?

Laura: Because it was such a young brand, it took a while for the audience to understand that it wasn’t the same with Kiko men’s line, as it is not very common for a young brand to have someone in charge of menswear and someone else in charge of womenswear. The system is very regimented, so that was our biggest challenge. When you are independent and do something on your own, people don’t question your aesthetic as much, or ask questions like: ‘Why did you pick that fabric or why do you like colour? Is it because Kiko doesn’t like colour?’

But it’s indeed great because everyone’s super young in the studio, and everyone’s from different parts of the world. We’ve done a lot of collaborations and we’ve met a lot of people. So in that respect, it’s been really good because we do our own thing without the pressures of running a business.

Deanna: We don’t have a brief, we make the briefs. From a creative point of view, it’s definitely been really good.

Luma: That makes sense. And especially because, like you guys said, it’s a different view, it doesn’t feel just like Kiko putting clothes on women. How big is your team?

Laura: The team is very tiny. It is us, and then we have one other designer and, at the moment, we have two interns. In total, including us, Kiko, and his team, sales, the production manager, and the menswear and womenswear interns, there are about 13 people in the studio.

“We wanted to do our own thing, but we came up with a few roadblocks as we didn’t have any investment. We didn’t know anyone who wanted to invest in us.”  – Laura Fanning

Luma: What were you thinking to do after graduation?

Laura: We wanted to do our own thing, but we came up with a few roadblocks as we didn’t have any investment. We didn’t know anyone who wanted to invest in us. And actually, a very famous journalist wasn’t so fond of our work. That was a little bit challenging because if you get that woman on your side, then she can really open doors for you.

Deanna: But if she’s not fond of you, she can definitely close them.

Laura: Not having any investment led us to explore other alternatives of how we can have our own world and create our own woman together. Consulting is a really good way of doing that, as well as creative direction for another brand. We wanted to work on projects because we don’t only love clothes, but also objects and shoes. We love having our own take on all these different things that build female identities. What we are doing now has been a good alternative to having a brand under our own name. In many ways, we get to do the same things we’d be doing if we did have our own brand. Apart from the challenges that we’ve described to you before, people are always relating our work to what they think Kiko would do.

Luma: It seems that you have enough freedom to actually do what you want versus having to adapt too much.

Laura: Yes. I also feel like in a way it, of course, isn’t actually our company. We are working under a company structure.

Process, Kiko Kostadinov AW21

Luma: That makes a lot of sense. You guys got that job right after the MA, right?

Laura: Yes, we actually met with a couple of stores because we were thinking of doing our own thing. And a couple of the stores that we met with already stocked Kiko men’s collection. We already knew Kiko and thought it could be a perfect opportunity. Kiko wanted to expand on a womenswear segment. At that point, he’d only done, I think, one collection of five looks, which was very connected to men’s. It was great timing because we wanted to continue our work from the MA and explore that language we had developed. Seeing the interest from some of the buyers and Kiko plans to expand women’s, it just made sense

“The tough part of working, in comparison to studying, is the politics of the industry, and being a lot more realistic with the way you design. Womenswear designs have to hit certain price points for the stores to be able to sell them.” – Laura Fanning

Luma: Was there anything you weren’t prepared for coming straight out of the MA?

Laura: Well, designing and making is always a pleasure. The tough part of working, in comparison to studying, is the politics of the industry, and being a lot more realistic with the way you design. Womenswear designs have to hit certain price points for the stores to be able to sell them. That was the biggest realisation.

“If it takes a knitter a week to program something, that’s not realistic because a small brand doesn’t have £5,000 to develop that one style of knitwear.” – Deanna Fanning

Deanna: I come from a knitwear background, where you’re really encouraged to be very well versed in technique. But in the real world, you have to put a lid on that because you only have so many hands and so much time and budget for sampling. If it takes a knitter a week to program something, that’s not realistic because a small brand doesn’t have £5,000 to develop that one style of knitwear.

Laura: I look at some of the first season’s pieces and think that a few things could have been simplified – it would have taken less time to make, but resulting in the same outcome.

Deanna: That was a bit of a wake-up call because you realize that you only have six months to design, sample, shoot the collection, present it, and do production. You only really have three to four months to develop a collection, which is actually a long time compared to big brands that do pre-, resort, and capsule collections, or celebrity looks. You just don’t have as much time as you think you do, and you really have to capitalize on the time that you do have.

Laura: The season ends and then you start a new one, and people expect new stuff. You could go out of your mind, not sleeping day in day out. And then someone will just forget it in twelve months.

Deanna: But I guess you have to find joy in what you do and pace yourself because when you’re a student, you’re always thinking about the finish line – but there’s no finish line here.

Luma: How do you balance between the creative and the commercial?

Laura: Because the teams are small, you have to put on a few hats. There is the joy of making and designing and then you think: “Does this have to be there? Can it stay the same thing and exist without this detail or this element or this fabric?” Because it probably can.

Deanna: Problem-solving is one of the most important parts of being a designer. That’s where your intelligence comes in and you consider how to deliver the same message, quality, or appearance, but in different ways.

“For it to feel fresh, you kind of need to push yourself and try something that maybe you hadn’t tried a season before” – Deanna Fanning

Kiko Kostadinov Womens AW21, photography by Haydon Perrior (Thomas De Cruz Media)

Luma: You’re going to your sixth season. How does that feel? Are you still just as excited or are you adapted to the pace?

Deanna: For it to feel fresh, you kind of need to push yourself and try something that maybe you hadn’t tried a season before – whether that be a type of shoe or a style of bag, or prints, because we have never done that before. And how do we do prints? We chose to collaborate with a different brand because we wanted to experience that and work with a different team.

Luma: You have done a few collaborations at Kiko, with Camper and Asics, were there more?

Deanna: Oh, we’ve also done bag collaboration with Medea. And then we collaborated with the artist Rosie Grace Ward on a set for our SS20 show.

Laura: We also work with a few freelancers that aren’t based in the studio, so it’s always really fun to work with new people. Fashion is a lot about communication.

Luma: It’s a team sport. How do the collaborations work? How much control do you have? How much do you bring to the table and how much is it a mutual thing?

Deanna: It very much depends on what type of collaboration it is. When we collaborate with the photographer, we would like to show them the collection and let them know what we were thinking about when we were doing it. But it is their creative process, so we leave them to it. With Asics it’s definitely a lot more hands-on. There is a lot of communication with the team because it’s very material-based and there’ll be lots of references that are exchanged between us; a lot of design work on our end and then a lot of development work on their end. Camper was really, really creative. That was an amazing experience.

Laura: They have a designer who’s dedicated to it, and she worked with us – it was very open. The last shoe that we did was a Silicon flower-heeled sandal, a strapless mule. We wanted the foot to feel like it’s floating and there are pieces of nature stuck between your toes. Generally, if you have time, companies are open to trying new things, because they come to designers and brands for different perspectives on what they’re doing. So I find they’re quite open to trying new stuff.

“Any of the designers that work here have to be able to work on the stand and do patterns as well. The fittings are very important in order to see the physical garment.” – Deanna Fanning

Luma: What’s the process of developing a collection? That’s something I always think about at CSM, we get taught in a very hands-on way. And I don’t know how feasible that is when you’re making collections full-time.

Deanna: We weave in and out at different moments. We had different specialisms so we lean towards different parts of the collection that we develop independently. Our studio is a 3D studio. Any of the designers that work here have to be able to work on the stand and do patterns as well. The fittings are very important in order to see the physical garment. It is the designers and us, and we have quite a hand in how the garments are constructed.

Laura: It is really hands-on because we don’t have a product developer. We don’t give them a toile with post-its, you know what I mean?

Luma: Are you thinking about garments as objects and then incorporating them into the styling and so on?

Deanna: I feel like that’s one of the most exciting things about fashion – when you can be impressed by a piece of clothing. We still believe that there is value to the craft, especially from a knitwear perspective. Having that kind of integrity is really important to me. I still want to be able to say…

Laura: …it had a point of view on colour, it had a point of view on silhouette, or it had a point of view on stitch. It was a story that had to be there for the collection to function.

“At a BA level, there are many women enrolled in fashion courses; this number is notably reduced at an industry level. ” – Laura Fanning

Kiko Kostadinov AW21

Luma: Your work is conceptually linked to womanhood and you reference a lot of mythical and spiritual inspiration points. It seems deeper than a visual allegory. Could you talk a bit about that?

Laura: We come from a family of strong female figures, for example, our mom runs her own business. We spent a lot of time with our grandmother and our aunties, our cousins, and other girls growing up. At a BA level, there are many women enrolled in fashion courses; this number is notably reduced at an industry level.

Deanna:  On the BA at CSM, it was predominantly girls but then all of a sudden you get into employment and it changes.

Luma: There’s also a dynamic where most of them do womenswear. There’s an interesting power play with mostly gay men designing for the female body. It’s something that I think about a lot, especially when I see the majority of womenswear students being male.

Deanna: We both had different academic backgrounds before fashion as well, with both having degrees in humanities.

Laura: I was doing philosophy, psychology, and anthropology.

Luma: Do you think that influences your work a lot?

Laura: It does make you stop and think a bit more about what clothes mean and how they communicate yourself as a being. I am definitely so glad I did something else before fashion. I always wanted to do fashion, but we’re from Australia and it’s such a ‘dream’. It’s like saying: “I want to go to Hollywood.” When we went back to Australia Border Force found our landing cards humorous, as our declared profession was fashion designer.

“If it doesn’t gel with our sentiments toward the presentation of the woman at that time, then we don’t put it out there. Rewriting or refragmenting a narrative is really important to us because the linear narrative is predominantly male.” – Laura Fanning

Luma: You guys have a really interesting portrayal of feminine energy. It makes me think a lot about the female gaze. The idea that we are so used to ‘sexy’ being what a man considers sexy, or what is imposed upon the female body as being sexy, but a lot of your clothes exude comfort and sensuality. That’s not necessarily by showing skin, or having the cutouts that we’re used to associating with sensuality. How does that play a part in your design work?

Laura: We’re very critical and honest in that sense. If it doesn’t gel with our sentiments toward the presentation of the woman at that time, then we don’t put it out there. Rewriting or refragmenting a narrative is really important to us because the linear narrative is predominantly male. And if you go back into Western ontology, it essentially goes back to religion. It’s really important to break those binaries because they don’t serve anyone well. We’re not being political, but we’re just trying to…

Deanna: …push the conversation and aesthetics in a more progressive way, even if it’s very minimal like a sleeve, a collar, or a finish – just something very small. Hopefully all of these small things can move the conversation forward, and create something that’s more a direct dialogue between women. It is really important for us that someone takes a piece and interprets it the way they like. We’ve seen some boys starting to wear it, and it’s a very different customer to the kind of boys that would buy Kiko’s menswear. We love that.

“When you are at university you’re not really pushed to make clothes that please the person buying them. You don’t ask questions like: “Is that comfortable or not? Is this trim easy to wash? Is it going to be easy to produce 50 of these?” That’s probably the biggest jump.” – Laura Fanning

Luma: Do you guys think your creative process has changed a lot since the MA?

Laura: I think we’ve just gotten a lot faster. As we started straight out of uni there’s just been so many learning curves. The first time you learn, the second time you understand it, the third time you’re like: “I like it, I am fast at it.” There was always a considerable workload on the MA. By now we’ve got to a certain level of efficiency that maybe we didn’t have back then. When you are at university you’re not really pushed to make clothes that please the person buying them. You don’t ask questions like: “Is that comfortable or not? Is this trim easy to wash? Is it going to be easy to produce 50 of these?” That’s probably the biggest jump.

Details, Kiko Kostadinov SS21, Photography by Esther Theaker

Luma: Is there anything you guys wish you had learned in school?

Laura: I got to say computer skills. Computer training is non-existent at university and then all of a sudden I had to get up to a product development computer efficiency, and I had three weeks to do it!

Deanna: I also wish I learned French.

Laura: Like all the international students that know several languages.

“I once spoke to a designer who’s now a big creative director who told me: “Oh, I’m just doing this to make money. To look after my family. I could bring this to another industry that wasn’t fashion.” That just stuck with me. I can’t even imagine thinking about it like that because I’m just so connected to it and thinking about it all the time.” – Deanna Fanning

Luma: It definitely makes a difference. During my internship year, I could tell that people would trust me ten times more because I could speak French when I was in France. Both of my internships were with really nice people. We’ve all heard like the dark tales of the fashion industry, people throwing things at you and people screaming. None of my internships had that. I got very lucky.

Deanna: That’s really good. I think we need that faith in the community. I had a really good experience interning in London, but then Laura had not such a good experience.

Laura: I was also in London, but the creative director used to tease the interns. It was really mean.

Luma: Work is not going to be the best that it can be if everyone is just dreading being there.

Laura: Work is such a big part of your life – you sleep a third, you work a third.

Deanna: Maybe in fashion it’s more than a third…

Luma: That’s the danger of professionalizing your passion. You end up spending so much more time on it. When you love what you do, the lines get very blurred. Even your self-worth is so linked to your work sometimes.

Deanna: I once spoke to a designer who’s now a big creative director who told me: “Oh, I’m just doing this to make money. To look after my family. I could bring this to another industry that wasn’t fashion.” That just stuck with me. I can’t even imagine thinking about it like that because I’m just so connected to it and thinking about it all the time.

Luma: How are you guys doing with the pandemic?

Deanna: The studio has surprisingly coped quite well. We have on and off days with different teams. Some factories had COVID outbreaks so they had to shut down their sampling departments. In the industry everyone’s been quite understanding of each other. Personally, I think it’s been a bit difficult. I haven’t seen my family since 2018. I just want to get back home at some point.

Luma: When is the next collection coming out?

Deanna: Soon, early March.

Laura:  I think it’s about maybe 10 days later than usual.

“Fashion can be more representative and inclusive in the way that brands present their collections.” – Laura Fanning

Luma: Where do you guys see the future of fashion going? Especially after the whole COVID thing, in terms of both styles or as a system?

Deanna: I think we have produced quite different collections during the pandemic. Hopefully people will be a bit more inclusive. I mean, what’s been going on in the US and Black Lives Matter. That sparked a movement globally, and I hope that can infiltrate the industry as well. It’s been two really pivotal moments for the industry.

Laura: Fashion can be more representative and inclusive in the way that brands present their collections. I think that would be a start. COVID and the lockdown have been positive because it’s allowed people to go back. It may not be positive for everyone, but, you know, it’s nice to go back to the environment you’re from and appreciate the creative networks that are local to you.

Luma: It was so nice to talk to you guys. Thank you. Good luck with the collection, I’m excited to see it.

Deanna: Hopefully we’ll meet in person at some point, that’d be great, somewhere in the world!

1 Granary

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