Otilia Vlad captured the attention in 2015 when she was invited to the EXPO Milan by the Bavarian State Ministry for Economic Affairs and Media, Energy and Technology with her wooden dress for one of the best objects in "Smart Innovation - Design from Bavaria". Her statement: Fashion can also be sustainable, individual and morally justifiable. With this appel, the haute couture designer sets a signal and criticizes the still insignificant interest of the textile industry as well as the consumers for environmental protection and sustainability. In their designs, traditional technologies meet her own creation of novel materials and patterns. With an ascending talent the boundaries-breaker wants to individualize the fashion world.
A.D.: The globalized world is experiencing a fast fashion boom. More and more clothes are requested and old things are quickly replaced by new ones. The fast fashion business is at a peak level. Why did you choose haute couture as a fashion designer?
O.V.: There are several reasons for this. First, because standard design is much more limited than haute couture. It is a big wide world that wants to be explored. I have the instruments ready for it. In haute couture you can express yourself much more artistically. Here the designer has the chance to produce his own materials. I do not like to make a design that can be duplicated. That's why my works are always unique. On the other hand, I find the textile industry chain today too destructive and insufficiently controllable. That was the reason for my decision not to participate in mass production.
A.D.: What do you mean by the fact that the textile industry chain has become too destructive?
O.V.: Technology has developed a lot in recent decades. But it is not fully used in sustainable manners yet. That should be a priority. It is our responsibility to minimize the environmental impact of the fashion industry. I want to join this movement.
A.D.: What was your most extraordinary idea that you implemented?
O.V.: With the wooden dress, for example, I was supposed to design the costume for the main role of the film „Maleficent". It was a fantastic project between Disneyland Paris, AMD Munich and Theater Academy Munich. I associated the character with the spine as the most prominent body part. That's why I designed the dress in a way that obliges its wearer to lift her back nicely. This should make her personality strong and superior to others.
A.D.: Is this design made of wood only?
O.V.: It is a special wooden fibre. I like to work with materials associated with nature. After a long experience with interior design, I knew that there was a thin wooden veneer, that was both stable and malleable. It went totally crazy, but after almost two intensive weeks, I could see the result.
A.D.: What does challenge you in particular?
O.V.: Of course, for the moment, I get strange, apparently impossible ideas. I immediately write or sketch them on paper without thinking too much. After that, I have to find the technical ways for the execution. This is an enormous challenge for me. I never get bored…
A.D.: Your wooden dress participated at EXPO Milan in 2015. How did that happen?
O.V.: One day the Bavarian Ministry of Culture called me and invited me to the EXPO Milan. I exhibited my wooden dress as one of the best „Smart Innovation - Design from Bavaria“ in the German Pavilion.
A.D.: Are all your designs exceptional?
O.V.: I assure in my work research that my ideas and concepts are 100% original and belong to me alone. There are no repetitions in my work, not even partially, which had already been thought and done by other designers. I always portray stories in my projects, that capture the viewer's attention.
A.D.: That means that you do not design anything classical?
O.V.: I prefer to avoid designing classic fashion. My manufacturing techniques and patterns are never classic. I always did things differently. For example, I put the closure of a Trench Coat, which stays classically on the front, exactly backwards. The details with which you usually identify a coat have been placed completely unusual in my construction. Since the Trench Coat closes on the back side, I had a whole free line at the front, where I did a double gun flap. Quite unusual. I also arranged the pockets at different heights so that you had to cross your arms for holding them naturally. I wanted to do the original features of the clothing questionable.
A.D.: Are you not satisfied with something ordinary?
O.V.: I prefer what is creative. Once I designed a dress with an oversized shoulder. I didn’t want to use seams for its oversize. So I impregnated a piece of fabric with plaster and made of it a "negative form" to manipulate the material on it until I got the right shoulder design. I love to use fabrics/materials to create new structures. Actually, it always gets complicated, even if I had the opportunity to do standard designs.
A.D.: Whom could the quote "I'm gonna take you on journeys you've never dreamed possible" come from?
O.V.: That's Alexander McQueen!
A.D.: Right. Are there parallels between you?
O.V.: I find our principles and thoughts very similar. I would be happy if another one could make it so far like McQueen. Most of his collections were really brave and showed morality.
A.D.: What do you mean by morality exactly?
O.V.: We must be able to distinguish "good" from "bad". The effects of our actions should be evaluated fairly. There should be nothing destructive for the environment just because it has been driven by a trend.
A.D.: Which designers do inspire you?
O.V.: From Alexander McQueen of our generation I go back to Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel. A few years more back I would definitely call Paul Poiret, Elsa Schiaparelli and Jean Patou. They revolutionized fashion. For me, they are true role models.
A.D.: What techniques do you use from your designer role models?
O.V.: I always like to use some of them. Techniques like draping for example or bringing different meanings to the classic features of clothing. Elsa Schiaparelli produced her own fabrics or modified the fabrics of others. Both she and Yves Saint Laurent transposed art into fashion design. Poiret, YSL and Chanel gave high attention to the need for a free movement of the body through their modern, elegant patterns.
A.D.: You decided to become a fashion designer only in your early 40s. What did you do before that?
O.V.: Even if I studied Textile Technology, I’ve never practised the profession in fashion or textile industry. While I was still a student, I got married. Soon after, my two children were born. After my diploma in Iasi, Romania, we moved directly at the seaside, to Constanza, in the Romanian hometown of my husband, where we worked in interior design and where I led the production department. I developed with that a feeling for a wide variety of materials. This knowledge helps me today in the design of my works.
A.D.: What ultimately did bring you to fashion design?
O.V.: Shortly after we moved to Munich, my husband passed away. My children took the initiative to offer me something that could make me happy again. I signed up for a fashion design course at AMD. The Assistants and the Dean of the Academy found my performance remarkable during this course, and I was recommended to continue to visit the AMD for a degree in fashion design.
A.D.: Wasn’t it difficult to start completely over again at your age?
O.V.: I did get the basic knowledge early in my childhood. I grew up in the south of Romania. Traditions were very important for my grandparents. My grandmother weaved carpets with a manual loom with pedals at home. I've always watched her. Although I was only four years old, I had a great interest in understanding things, also technically. It was not enough for me to know that my grandma now weaves a carpet. I wanted to understand how things are done and why the threads are put in that way and why certain colours were used in a moment. This manufacturing process probably unconsciously opened my eyes back then and built my huge interest in creative things. Besides, I drew and painted a lot at that age and even produced my own pigments.
A.D.: How could someone manufacture pigments alone at that time?
O.V.: The people independently won the pigments for the colour production mainly from plants. In huge pots with warm water and vinegar, the colours were made at home. At that time, each family tried to produce as much as possible at home, so to buy less. Both women and men learned domestic work and practised with friends. There were, for example, many weavers in my grandmother’s circle of friends. They regularly visited us. Once a week, they met at each member’s home.
A.D.: That sounds like a social principle, to help each other, to co-produce for others without having to think about overproduction or sales. A real consumer society as it existed in Western Europe, does not seem to have been existed in your home country?
O.V.: We lived in times of the dictator Ceausescu and under communism. People weren't in contact with excessive consumption and „western“ life tendencies. That certainly influenced us. Instead, I could learn a lot about tradition and I really loved it. It was the simplicity of the people who were open, honest and always helpful, which positively influenced me. So I had an uncomplicated life as a child. But very beautiful and happy. As I painted, drew and created a lot, our family's friends and acquaintances felt proud of my skills. That has always motivated me to be active in the creative world. I am still grateful to all the people who believed from so early on in my talent.
A.D.: Your graduation collection "Frozen" in Fashion Design at AMD is your last accomplished work. What do you focus on?
O.V.: I’m bringing a lot of handwork and processing of environmentally friendly materials. With my designs, I’m trying to show how you can create modern things even with old methods, that are not so bad for the environment. By doing this, I also bring my contribution to the preservation of the tradition. This is our treasure and we have to protect it. In that sense, the collection is an appel for more individuality, sustainability and environmental protection. I have an obsession with this idea, but it probably comes from my education and my principles.
A.D.: What development have you seen over the last decades in the fashion industry?
O.V.: Although there are so many instruments of inspiration today, the designers use them too little. The possibilities to work with different methods and techniques are far from being used at their capacity. The industry has generally developed strongly and you could actually produce fairly everything now. Instead, the fast fashion tendency worsened their behaviour in the fashion and textile industry and the trends are now wrong understood.
A.D.: Is that necessarily bad?
O.V.: A trend should play an important signalling role in economic, political and ecological as well as social and psychological environments. Under the pressure of the economic aspects, the designers have no longer time to focus on the negative impact of mass production. It is also very important to see how the designers can further convey the newly developed properties of the materials three-dimensionally to their designs.
For me, it is hard to accept the same, almost military orientation of certain masses, who can hardly find a choice on the market. Consumers have little information on the textile industry and trend history. This mechanism causes people to live at risk of losing their own identity. They are victims of an unfounded manipulation because they usually can not have knowledge of these industries. At the same time, the fashion industry certainly has the capacity to increase our diversity and individuality.
A.D.: Clothing is sold today as a product of use. There are more and more pre-collections besides the F/S and H/W collections. Do customers of high fashion brands need intermediate collections?
O.V.: This product segment is less about design and more about economic targets. But first, you have to be aware that this trend generates huge amounts of products that are never sold and can not be recycled.
A.D.: When over 50 years ago, Prêt-à-Porter fashion pushed Haute Couture out of the market, for economic reasons, designers decided to create wearable, easier-to-sell fashion. Why do you think that Haute Couture deserves a chance today?
O.V.: Haute Couture strengthens our identity, makes us unique. As well as our education, certain experiences of our lives. This defines our character, shows our strengths and weaknesses and indirectly influences our actions.
Haute Couture is multi-dimensional and this remains universal.
A.D.: What does define your work as a future designer?
O.V.: I will not overshadow my principles. It sounds somehow idealistic, but I just do not focus on profit. I also consider important the artistic side and the uniqueness of my work.
A.D.: Alexander McQueen once said, "I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists". Can you identify with it?
O.V.: Every artist wants to cross his borders and see how he can play with them, whether he can do it or not. I have succeeded so far.