The Artist Archive: Oihana Lasa
Updated: May 22, 2022
The Paris Mirror team sat down with four designers to discuss the topic of fashion and identity, gaining insight into contemporary fashion design in Paris. The below interview acts as an archival document, explaining and touring the ideas and inspiration of the Spanish designer Oihana Lasa.
Interviewer: For the beginning, can you just do a little introduction about yourself?
Oihana: Okay, so I was born in the north of Spain, but when I was two, I moved to Venezuela and I was there until I was eight and then I went back to Spain, and then London. I then came to Paris. I did the international baccalaureate in London, but most of my school years were in Spain, in San Sebastian.
Interviewer: In your design statement, you speak about a lot of the Basque Country and about your grandparents, is the Basque Country where your grandparents were born and raised?
Oihana: Yes, they actually still live there, in a very small village and it's also in the North of Spain. And yeah, they're still living there, which is great. It's beautiful!
Interviewer: Why did you choose to use their heritage as part of your collection?
Oihana: I think it's because I was sort of born there but then I moved around so much and for me, it's always fascinating how I kind of have a very distant perspective of this place, even though I lived there. It always fascinates me in terms of culture and specialty religion, how much it sort of differs from my perspective, now that I've lived in other places, so it just always fascinates me to go back to that. The Basque Country has such a rich history and it's fascinating actually. The place that they [Oihana's grandparents] live in now has many, you know, baserris, a baserri is like a farmhouse, in basque. It's sort of like a farmhouse, but it's passed from one generation to another and, so many things happened in this farmhouse, so for me, it was acting like a modern archaeologist where I was looking through so many pictures and objects that I found in this place. I think that's why I kind of based my collection on that because it was just so fascinating. There's so much to discover and culture-wise and history-wise, it's so different from how I grew up, that's why I kind of looked a lot into it.
Interviewer: Would you say that Basque is a Catholic culture? Do you think you've kind of manifested that in your fashion in a contemporary way?
Oihana: Yes. I'm always looking at priest wear and church wear because it's just so fascinating how different it is from what you would normally wear but it's also, distinctive so that's why I was trying to do a modern take on priest wear. For example, still keeping the shape and using jerseys and/or fabrics that we would normally use now.
Interviewer: I read that you introduced the sort of femininity into menswear, do you think you did that in this collection, especially with the Catholic identity?
Oihana: Yeah, I think that also comes from my father, who was a monaguillo (altar boy). When I was looking in my grandparent's house, I found all these huge archives of old pictures. I found so many of what my dad would wear when he was going to church, and I think it has always fascinated me. Especially since they're wearing a sort of like long gowns, which is something that you wouldn't sort of associate with the male identity. Everything regarding church wear is sort of very elegant and gown-like, and very pure. It's not really associated with any gender, it's just kind of stands on its own and this is why it’s very inspiring.
Interviewer: Would you say that you represent your own heritage within all of your garments? Do you feel you really portray your own identity in each garment you create, or are there other inspirations?
Oihana: I think I always have a set of themes that I like to start with, which are: Catholicism, religion, also, my Basque heritage. I think this is what I gravitate toward even when I'm creating something that's not a gown. I think I always look at my own identity and I think it kind of took over, I think it depends with every collection, but I always look at my Basque heritage or religion, painting, and Basque paintings as well.
Interviewer: When you decided to move to Paris, do you think it changed the way you create and design?
Oihana: I feel that's why I sort of started doing more androgynous looks. I think it's because I felt more free compared to where I was living, a smaller town in Spain. There are more rules as to what I was supposed to wear and what a man is supposed to wear, and how a man is supposed to look. But when I moved here [Paris], I I discovered that there are not as many rules that apply here, which for me, was sort of like more freeing as well. That's why I started doing menswear and I couldn't look back. I also think because when I think of women's wear, I always sort of think of my own image, and it's something that I don't think I would feel comfortable creating around. Especially when I see the mannequins that we've worked with, they have a size that is ridiculous. That is why I don't like working with size-fitting things, which are generally known as womenswear. That's why I like looking at androgenous things, it just feels like you have more freedom.
Interviewer: Do you think along with this freedom, Paris is a good space for multiple heritages, or do you think that it's still very much kind of enveloped in that kind of French heritage?
Oihana: I think it's very freeing. I mean, most of the people that I know here are not French, so I think I'm always surrounded by people that are from different nationalities. It's also great when you work in a school that has so many different nationalities because you're sort of never creating based on the same thing or based on the same background, so there's always a lot of differences from what one person creates to the others. You are always learning from everybody's cultural identity, like the identity of the signer, and it's always different. That's why for me Paris is a very nice starting point, where we can all meet and discuss, and it didn't feel like there was ever any comparison with each other's work, mainly because we were all very different and had very different experiences and backgrounds. I think that's also very nice about Paris.
Interviewer: Do you think that fashion, in general, can be a way to show your heritage or your identity, even in an everyday manner?
Oihana: I think for me, fashion made me start thinking about things that I wouldn't have thought about in the past, especially where I came from. I think I already explained that there's a very set of rules as to how you should behave and how you should be when you go out on the street. It's not like in Paris where you don't know anybody when you walk out the door. It's sort of like when you walk out the door, you know, you're gonna see the same people every day, so you have to behave in a very culturally appropriate way and for me like that, it just created a lot of anxiety and I wasn't feeling comfortable creating in that space.
Interviewer: Regarding your thesis lookbook, I wanted to know, how are the materials or fabrics used inspired by your heritage?
Oihana: The fabric that sort of started the collection is called Mahón, and originally it was called Mahón, because they used to name the fabrics after the city they were created in. This one [material] came from Bergara, which is also in the Basque Country, and it was originally made for workwear apparel. It's very distinctive to the Basque Country, as this sort of dyed cotton which originally came from China, not the Basque Country, but they reappropriated it, and it's like very stiff cotton. It's also really nice because it has a very peculiar color, it's a sort of like bluish-purple. It's very distinctive, and it's the fabric that they would use for all the workwear, all the workwear jackets, and pants. So that's for me, that was my starting point and then I sort of thought about what I would like also, because I ordered a lot of fabric, and I didn't want to create any waste so I created more accessories with the scraps of material that I had. And then I also found very nice cotton at la Reserve des Arts that I used for the shirts. I wanted something that was very distinctive for everything and then, just like jersey fabric like something that you would use every day. I think in terms of fabric, I used things that felt now like you could use them now as normal shirts or for tracksuits.
Interviewer: The blue color was it a choice that was conditioned by the fabric? Did you have this idea of making blue your dominant color?
Oihana: I knew that I wanted it to look like a monochrome kind of collection, like all the shirts would be like just one color and all the hats would be another color and the bags and everything. For me, there was a lot of inspiration from the sailors and Balenciaga’s father was also a sailor, and also ties to the idea of workwear in the Basque Country. I decided to go with colors like blues. I mean, you wouldn't obviously find them in the sea. I wanted a line with very nice tones, for me that would sort of lighten the mood up, but it came from this marine inspiration, from the sailors.
Interviewer: What were the weirdest and wildest sources of inspiration for your collection?
Oihana: I don't know if it's wild, most of it was from image archives that I found at my great grandma's house, like pictures that I had never seen before. It was so fascinating to me how the clothes that they wore to work were very nice. White shirts and I don't know why I think that really fascinates me. The fact that they will always have a very nice cotton shirt underneath their work gear, it was very important back then to always be elegant. So I think that was very unexpected, an unexpected discovery that sort of inspired the collection
That's why I sort of started doing workwear that was elegant and inspired by Balenciaga who was then the biggest couturier. For me it was sort of like, seeing how those two universes collided. It wasn't a wild discovery, but it was beautiful to see that they would always look elegant no matter if they were at the dinner table, just with their family or like working with metals and you know, you're gonna get dirty but they're still going to wear a pristine white shirt underneath. I think that it was beautiful to see, and I think those values are kind of getting lost.