Representing the creative future

Masha Popova on her London Fashion Week debut

The Central Saint Martins graduate shares the realities of doing her first show from home

Following London’s second digital Fashion Week, it is safe to say that the industry has proved its resilience and creative capacity despite being faced with adversity. A generation of recent fashion graduates has faced the strife of breaking down industry barriers with the added stress of national lockdowns and social distancing. Central Saint Martins’ Graduate Masha Popova was one of those designers. Having completed her London Fashion Week debut with the unveiling of her You Make Me Dizzy digital display, the Ukraine-born talent brought us wearable high-fashion denim in a video that fused fantasy with her Ukrainian roots. Popova sat down with us to discuss everything, from navigating the industry as a postgraduate fashion student to completing her London Fashion Week debut remotely.

MASHA POPOVA AW21 LOOKBOOK

Congratulations on the debut of your AW21 womenswear collection at London Fashion Week! Can you tell us what that experience has been like? 

Thank you! It is very strange because I live in Ukraine right now and I came to London for a couple of weeks so I literally had to do the whole collection here. I am staying at my parents’ house and the whole experience is far away from how I expected it to be. I saw things happening very differently in terms of being in the studio, having interns, having a show presentation… Normally, you are with lots of people the moment before a show, and all of that wasn’t happening, obviously. It was literally the opposite of what I imagined. It was so very unusual to go to bed at a normal time the day before the presentation and not having anything to do. It felt like I had forgotten something or that the collection was not ready! It was obviously very stressful before filming and this was an annoying part as well. We had to have things ready way earlier than if having a physical presentation- almost two weeks in advance. I also needed one more week for the lookbook, so the time before that was full of very late nights and lots of work and stress. The actual day of the “show” though, was weirdly relaxing.

“To the students right now, I would suggest not to be hungry for press attention or Instagram attention. It is important to have work that is solid and pure and expresses what you want to say, instead of just being noticed. A moment is not everything. Longevity, that’s what’s important. ” – Masha Popova

It is safe to say that being a graduate who is entering into the world of fashion is tough enough. How have you navigated this transition during the pandemic?

Of course, it is tough to enter into the industry. It is tough to enter any industry, not just fashion, as a graduate and especially during the pandemic. But, to be honest, I feel like in a way it was better in terms of pressure. Surely, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, by September everyone would be expected to have something lined up. To have debuted a collection or have a job and something sorted. We weren’t able to do anything during the first lockdown so a few months were “erased” in terms of what we could have done. It was a valuable time and experience in terms of figuring out what I wanted to do and reset my mind. It was quite helpful to not have this pressure of sorting things out straight after graduation. The stress of having answers, the stress to start your life and to succeed… To be honest, I don’t know how things would have worked out for me if it wasn’t for the pandemic. I have nothing to compare it to, it is the only experience I had and I don’t mind it.

Looking back, what advice would you give to yourself as a student? Would you do anything differently? 

I would probably work a bit harder. Maybe explore more techniques while I was studying. I would make more use of what CSM could give me in terms of facilities. Some of the resources I didn’t even know existed or I never used them until the very last year. To the students right now, I would suggest not to be hungry for press attention or Instagram attention. I see quite a lot of first and second-year students’ sponsored ads and Instagram pop-ups. My advice is to try and find yourself and your voice, just figure out what you are and what you want to say before you put yourself out there. It is important to have work that is solid and pure and expresses what you want to say, instead of just being noticed. A moment is not everything. Longevity, that’s what’s important.

How did you decide to work on your own brand? What were the main difficulties of this decision? 

Well, I didn’t suddenly decide to have a brand one day. I knew that this was the ideal scenario but I always considered getting a job. I didn’t want to push anything that wasn’t naturally progressing. I never really did anything to start the brand, everything kind of happened by itself. As for DiscoveryLab, I received an email asking me to apply and it was a very easy process. I wrote want I wanted to do in a few words and I got an email saying that I got in. I don’t even have any PR or a showroom or anything really… Now that things are getting a little bit more intense, I may not have the time to do everything by myself, like my own website, handling the press requests, and things like that. I might need to think more about building a brand because right now it is just me and few other people along the way that are helping me. Although there are a lot of difficulties; Sometimes, things were hard financially, and when it came to production, not everything went smoothly. There were delays, lots of stress and some malfunctions. Yeah, there were points that I said: “Fuck that, why am I doing this?” and thought that maybe I should just stop while I can and try to get a job and just have a normal, relaxed life. These are moments though, and most of the time it is actually very rewarding, at least for now. Let’s see what happens!

“I know that others draw all of their designs and then just make them, but that’s not how I work. It is a very organic process for me and, from my experience, it is always way more exciting to suddenly come up with something new.” – Masha Popova

What was the inspiration behind this particular collection? And what are your inspirations for your work in general?

This collection is a sort of continuation of my graduate work, it kind of merges with it. The general ideas are still the same, but it is a new era, a new chapter of the same book, the same story in the same world. This project emerges from another one like the metamorphose of a butterfly… I guess that is where it came from. The childhood memories in the suburban town where I grew up, a very industrial area near the railway depot where my father worked. I merged my memories of rusty, old trains and constructions with a fantasy. The idea of beauty and the sensual creature of the butterfly represents the opposite of my roots.

Can you explain a bit about your design process? How do you start, how do you choose your techniques and materials and how do you decide your final lineup?

I didn’t start with a team. I did have a couple of interns before doing this collection. Then, unfortunately, the lockdown came and I went to Ukraine where it was really hard to do any work. It was only me and a couple of seamstresses here. My boyfriend came from London and he helped me out as well. To be honest, it is all very chaotic. I do usually start with research to set the whole vibe. When I work on new pieces I start from draping and work with a mannequin while simultaneously I experiment on fabrics and textiles. I do endless lineups so every new drape or new textiles is pinned on a mannequin. I always pin any new reference to the lineup as well. In this way, I get to see how the whole thing looks and note what works and what doesn’t in the context. I know that others draw all of their designs and then just make them, but that’s not how I work. It is a very organic process for me and, from my experience, it is always way more exciting to suddenly come up with something new. I like those pieces way more than a piece that was thought through from the beginning.

“Everyone keeps asking me if I am disappointed that my first presentation was digital. Absolutely not.” – Masha Popova

Since the emergence of the global pandemic, fashion week has transitioned from an event full of catwalks and social events to an online affair. What was like to navigate this change?

My only personal experience with the catwalk was with Central Saint Martins. The only way I know is digital. I found that I quite enjoyed thinking of the way I wanted to present the narrative. I just wish I had a little bit more time for that. I had around one month to do the whole collection and prepare the presentation, and filming does take time. It is not like you can work right up until the last moment as you could do with a show, where you can finish up some pieces up in the morning (not always the best thing to do – but you can.) I found out that I was doing a presentation quite late, so my time was restricted. I am already very excited to start a new collection and make things that I wasn’t able to in such a short period.

Ultimately do you prefer debuting a collection on the runway or in a digital format? Do you think it is “better” or “worse” for fashion?

I am alright with it. Everyone keeps asking me if I am disappointed that my first presentation was digital. Absolutely not. First of all, it is not just me, it is the whole world that is changing and evolving. I think it is great for the industry as it is teaching everyone to look for new ways of presenting, there is more of a narrative as opposed to a show. On top of this, another huge plus of what is happening right now is that before, for a show to be impactful you’d have to produce 30 to 40 looks at least for it to be long enough and impactful. I find this wasteful and unnecessary. With digital presentations, you don’t have to do that anymore. You can create an impact not with the number of your looks but with your story. If I had to choose between a static presentation and a digital one I really think that the latter one is way better.

“I want everyday clothes to be very special, instead of garments that are nice to look at in pictures but will never get the chance to be worn because they are not comfortable or are a bit too much. ” – Masha Popova

How was the production of your film? Did you have collaborators? Was it stressful to produce on top of your collection?

The DiscoveryLab was in partnership with Toni&Guy, offering studio space and someone to film the presentation. I was in Ukraine, unable to come back, so I decided to stay in Ukraine. I had a chat with Olya Kuryshchuk [1 Granary Founder] and realised that it was amazing that I was there and I just used the opportunity. She introduced me to this girl Sonya [Kvasha], who does production in Ukraine. The whole thing happened thanks to her. We met, we discussed the concept, what I wanted to do for the film, and they literally took it from there and produced the whole thing. I am incredibly grateful, I don’t think I would have been able to do it on my own in such a short time-frame. Thanks to them I could actually focus on making a collection instead of trying to figure out where and how to do the film. It is great that I could do everything in Ukraine, having a Ukrainian team and casting because my work is rooted in my upbringing and experiences. I worked with stylist Celestine Cooney- she was so amazing. She really understood what I was trying to say and she felt the vibe. She was based in the UK so we weren’t in the same place but we made it work online. The music was done by my really good friend Ivo, a really talented musician. The team is very important and I was lucky enough to have a great one.

What does your brand stand for and where do you want it to go? What part of the industry do you think you fit in?

It stands for sexy clothes but on their own terms. I want to create some sort of irreverent elegance. I want to make pieces that you can wear every day, with materials for daily use. For example, denim is very comfortable but in a very romantic and dreamy way. I want everyday clothes to be very special, instead of garments that are nice to look at in pictures but will never get the chance to be worn because they are not comfortable or are a bit too much.

What is the hardest part of starting your brand? Are there any elements that you particularly struggle with? 

The hardest part was that I had absolutely no clue about anything- the boring stuff. How to calculate costs, what was a minimum order. Not knowing anything and also just trying to do all of those things as well as dealing with press requests, replying to emails, and having the energy and time to actually design new things. I guess the hardest part is managing all of these tasks at the same time.

What would be your advice for a young graduate trying to break into the fashion industry? 

Try to stick to your own DNA and to what you stand for and just make sure that you love the product that you make. Be very selective with who you work with, what you are looking for, and make sure that everything that you do is very coherent with your vision and with what you want to achieve.

Do you have any other projects coming up or are there any that you are keen to start working on soon?

Something I would like to do in the near future is to collaborate with a denim brand with a heritage, a very classic denim company.

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

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