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 essay acts as an archival document, explaining and touring the ideas and inspiration of the Italian designer Elisabetta Bandolin.
Interviewer : Can you give us a brief introduction?
Elisabetta: So my name is Elizabeth Bandolin, I'm 25 years old and I'm Italian. I was born in the mountains in a little town called Schio. When I was 18 I moved to Venice and I stayed there for, let's say, three years and I always go back to Venice. My parents are pharmacists, and I have a big family. We are four sisters and one brother, and we all have done different stuff. I am the only one who is actually doing fashion design, but the good thing about my family is that they are really into art and into déco, so everything that is déco, in the house and for everything they really look for beauty.
I decided to choose something more artistic and at first, it was architecture, and I was about to go to the architecture school, but then I found fashion design and I found that making structures for bodies was really interesting. Because if you think about it, fashion design is like small houses for bodies, and this is why I decided to go for it and I had the really big opportunity to stay in Venice. The good thing about Venice is that it's a city that has the Biennale, which is like an exposition for architecture and design and art and the entire town is into the research of this kind of beauty, of these kinds of shapes. It's something that you can really smell when you are there.
My school was a really big thing for my studies because we had this kind of architectural heritage in it, and it's something that even today I think is kind of important for what I am doing right now. Another thing that was really important for me was Venice, the heritage, and one of the things that I loved the most, and that I even decided to bring to my final collection, was the glass. I don't know if you know but in Venice, we have a lot of manufacturers, and I was always really passionate about the colors, about the things, etc. A lot of designers pass by Venice to collaborate with artisans. They make artisanal stuff, and sometimes they combine these artisanal things with designer things to really bring something stronger to the story, the color, and everything. Then I moved to Paris and I had a pretty nice work experience. I worked at YSL and it was a big thing for me. I stayed there for two years and I was a design engineer. YSL was where I fell in love with tailoring because I'm doing a lot of tailoring. In ysl, they are really into perfection and the fact that they're always searching for the perfection and beauty inside the garments really, it was something I was really passionate about. It's something that I always try to find, even nowadays.
After that, I decided to join a master's program and this is why I decided to create this collection, which is a mix of my experience here in Paris, a lot of design research, and a lot of tailoring in a really deep way.
I was really into construction, something that is really important here in Paris. And on the other side, I tried to mix it up with my Venetian culture and the research of color and the research of glass. When you work with glass everything is aleatory, it's not defined, and this is why I tried to put the two together, to put something more soft, more colorful, and something more structured.
Interviewer: Can you explain the meaning behind the name of your collection?
Elisabetta: The name is Panta Rei, which is Latin, well it’s actually Greek and it was a philosopher that said “Panta Rei” and the Panta rei means everything is like water inside the river, everything is changing and nothing is going to stay the same. I love this concept for the fact that it's true, that everything is modifying at the time, nothing is going to say the same, and we can even say that even the interpretation of things could change the things in itself. When I decided to start the collection, as I said I was really into the construction so I wanted to try to do some garments that were supposed to be interpreted differently from the person that was using them. And they could actually be used in different situations, for instance, a trench could be a skirt, a trench could be a jacket, and/or a collar could be used in different ways. It was really interesting having multiple pieces inside one clean piece. This is why I have the name of the things that are always changing, that were never the same, and even like the garments, they change because of the person that we are.
Interviewer: How does your own identity as a young Italian woman translate into your fashion?
Elisabetta: It's really funny because I think that Italian designers are kind of crucified right now because, when we think about Italian design, we think about Gucci, a lot of Dolce Gabbana and there are so so many other things. For instance, when they talk about me it’s like: oh my god, Italian design "it's too much". From what I have experienced, we are lucky that we have these huge archives of fashion. Being a designer, like an Italian designer, of course, gives you an identity and I'm really proud of it. I'm proud of the fact that we love working with our roots, I'm proud of the fact that we're always searching for perfection. Italians are really perfectionists. I'm proud of the fact that we develop a lot of garments, for other brands, and we hide ourselves behind the curtain by being a seamstress. For me, it's a kind of a huge identity, but it's something more. When I think about myself as an Italian designer, I think about the fact that we are strong somehow and we never say no, we always say okay and we can try it. And I don't think about the fact of "oh my god, this is so Versace", I actually love the fact that it's dramatic. I'm thinking more about the fact that we work hard, and I think that it's kind of a thing that we learn.
I was working in the mountains and a lot of people were seamstresses, in my hometown because we have a lot of places where they do the confection for other houses. When I think about how much we work somehow, I don't think about all the glitter and all the 'wow' things. I'm thinking about the research of beauty that we are lucky to see every day. Our purpose as a designer, as an Italian designer, is to give others a little bit of our archives, you know, a little bit of our own, like our roots.
Interviewer: Did anything in your upbringing influence your creative process, of becoming a designer? Was there anything that really stood out?
Elisabetta: I had no one in my family that was doing fashion, just my grandfather. We used to have a factory and we used to manufacture for some brands in Italy. And of course, it was really inspiring, but I was really young so I think that I could not really understand it. I'm sure that the things that I know, that are important to me, come from my family. We're searching for quality and I know that this came from a kind of respect for the garment that we used to have, like a long time ago that we maybe don't have anymore.
My parents were from another generation of course and they were really more into quality than quantity, unfortunately, like fortunately for them, unfortunately for us. I know that all the time that they were like, "oh, this is really nice", know that it was something that would stay with them for a long time.
For instance, we still have all the pants that my grandfather used to make, in his atelier and it's something that I still use. Every time that I see them, and every time I think that they are 30 years old, I think "wow, this is beautiful because it's still there".
My grandma was really a woman from the 1950s, and she had the chance to make everything with a seamstress, she had almost like a personal seamstress. Today, of course, she passed away but the thing is that we still have her vestiaire. I always use her stuff and I even sometimes bring them to work, even to study the kind of finish that we don't have anymore because everything is different. It's nice because they're things that I feel that they're still alive, versus when you feel something that you buy from like Zara, and everything you feel like it’s dead. The garments from my grandma, are still alive, I feel them and this is maybe why I decided to go more into luxury because I think there is a kind of eternal thing.
Interviewer: Is your collection all women's wear?
Elisabetta: It is women’s wear, but the funny thing is that at the end of the collection I had some guys that asked me for some garments to use during a concert and other events. They were the first that were asking, which was really nice because I see that when you're a designer, maybe you're really into what you're doing and you cannot think another way around, so it was nice to me.
Interviewer: When I saw the garments, I thought there was quite a masculine feeling to them, in a very gentle way. When you see that straight-line suit, typically you assume it's a kind of menswear. Do you think that in your designs, you kind of push the boundaries between tradition and contemporary fashion?
Elisabetta: A big part of the research was researching some really iconic garments that everybody has, for instance: a trench coat. When I started, I decided to take a lot of iconic pictures that you actually have inside your wardrobe for instance: there was this tailored jacket with the Italian colors, the trench, a lot of pants, etc. I decided to find a way to renovate them, and I questioned "if a contemporary woman was trying to make a new wardrobe, what kind of pieces would she like to have?" Which is the switch that she wants, instead of having something that everybody owns? This was a big idea and a big part of my research. When I was creating, I used to go to a lot of vintage shops and I was taking, for instance, some trenches, some jackets, and I was just shopping and trying to put them in other ways, to always have the vibe of the tailoring jacket, for instance. That for me was the statement, tailoring was the focus of all the collection but it was trying to make, for instance, something on the other way around, like to make something new but be iconic.
Interviewer: Were there any specific areas that you focused on?
Elisabetta: I was focused on tailoring and on the source of tailoring. In tailoring, everything is kind of constructed and in a really minimalistic way, somehow I love fewer things. I went for what I felt was natural for me, I didn't force it in any way.
Interviewer: When you moved to Paris did you feel like your aesthetic changed?
Elisabetta: Yeah, it changed a lot and honestly, it's nice what happened here, Because I arrived and I had kind of an Italian version of fashion, everything was two-dimensional. The nice thing about being in a fashion house is that they always put themselves from another point of view, and they always try to push the research really far away. I find it really inspiring the fact that you start from a point A and you push it, you push it, you change it and you go really far away from where you start. What I learned here is that you don't have to be afraid to try, you don't have to be afraid that something is going to be maybe less acceptable, because somehow it can turn in other ways.
Interviewer: Why did you choose to do a women’s collection or was it kind of a natural decision?
Elisabetta: When I decided to go to women's wear it was pretty natural because one of the things that I asked myself, as if I would have the possibility to start a wardrobe for myself right now, with some pieces I wanted, what should I do? Of course, it was something that reflected on me. I thought of the women today, I thought of the people nearby like my family or my sisters. I was more thinking about the normal people that I have nearby and it's like playing around and saying, "Oh, what should I wear? To go somewhere?" It was maybe a sort of game, to say to myself, like just to myself, "what would I like her to wear?"
Interviewer: One of my final questions, we've had very varied opinions from our designers. Do you think that Paris is a space accepting of different cultures, or does the long heritage interfere with change? What are your opinions? Do you think there is a new space for multicultural designers?
Elisabetta: I think that Paris has this great story about fashion design, and it's something really incredible to think about what happened here; how many people have passed. Actually, haute couture was born here and it's a huge thing, we have a lot of houses like Givenchy, YSL, and many others here [in Paris].
I think that it would be nice to happen, and I'm sure that it would be a positive way to see this. It would be a kind of a follow-up of Parisian culture about fashion design, from an external point, a mixed match. Some designers from outside and this huge thing that is the Parisian culture. I think it's a huge thing and Paris is important somehow for some reason. You can learn a lot and it could be kind of a waste to forget about it.
Interviewer: I think you talked first about how you've got your inspiration from other sources which are not specifically fashion-related. Could you tell us a bit more about your influences outside the fashion world? What are your main sources of inspiration?
Elisabetta: There are a lot that I'm using now, and it is true that I always like to know what I'm searching for. Le Corbusier was one of the bigger things in my inspiration because he is really working with many shapes and what he did was really minimalistic and pure. And then I think maybe even the Bauhaus was a really huge inspiration when I was in school. I know that it's nearly nothing to do with my job but I know that for instance, how they worked, how they started from inspiration, etc. Another one of the biggest influences I had was Superstudio, a collective of architects that were working during the 60s. They really were imagining things, like new shapes, and they were working a lot with collage, which is something that I really like right now because I think that you can push things together visually. I think that they were one of the biggest inspirations. And plus they were Italian and they were working during one of the most important periods, during the 1960s, so they pushed the definition of design and they made it modern, and I think that they were really maybe the first ones to make design modern.
Interviewer: When talking about the stereotype of Italian fashion, do you have any specific Italian references, a piece of clothing that is very, you know, emblematic of Italian culture?
Elisabetta: One of my big references is Prada. During the end of the 90s and the beginning of 2000, they started making these garments with simple materials. What I really like about them is that they are so pure and that they're still doing it.
They're still doing the same skirts, the same tops and they do so in their own way. Even Armani, at the time, was one of the biggest tailors that started working on the construction of jackets during the 80s. He was the first one to put a men's jacket on a woman and everybody exploded. In Italy, he was one of the first ones to make this kind of statement, women can wear men's garments because she is in the workplace.
I also love Valentino because I think that what he's doing is really poetic, full of art and full of volumes, and is dramatic. But then I know that it's not my aesthetic, but I think that he's kind of a genius. Other references were Helmut Lang, Margiela, and Jil Sander.
Jil Sander, she was making something so beautiful with nothing, she was making something so pure, like the thing about the pure garment is that it requires a lot of work because you need to work on every line to make it perfect. You need to simplify and simplification sometimes it's really more difficult. Mies van der Rohe was saying that less is more and it's true, you need to do more research, and to make your full clean shape, you need to know how to put everything that is not useful away. I think that one of the most beautiful things about creating a garment is to know, how much they thought about it because we are all able to make a dress, we all have the pattern, we have the sewing machine but it's, in my opinion, so strong to see how much you think about it, how much you need to think about it and how much you work on it before doing it.
For instance, one of the biggest parts for me was pattern making, and I was spending my days on one pattern and but at the end, I was like okay, now it's perfect, and now I know that it's going to work.
Interviewer: We were talking about the parallels between design and architecture, and its relation to crossing the boundary between art and fashion. Do you kind of push that boundary?
Elisabetta: For me, fashion is not art. Doing design, it's like you're solving a problem. You know where you want to go, you know what you had to do and we have a kind of mindset which is really practical. Art for art's sake, let's say it has stayed in a kind of untouchable field that is still there, of course, fashion brings discussion within people but art is a kind of like another level of discussion.
Let's say, I never tried to say like, oh, what I'm doing, it's art because it's not. I have a lot of influences that I'm using and I'm really proud of being inside my job, but then I know that what we're doing it's really related to the here and now and the moment. I think that art is kind of a holy sphere and the thing for me it’s when we're doing fashion design, like for instance for me, Rei Kawakubo does something that could be similar to art, but then when you decide to commercialize something you cannot say that this is art is because you're compromising. Somehow when you're in fashion design, unfortunately, you need to compromise with society, with the fact that you need to sell, with the fact that you actually have a body, so you have to relate with it. This is why I think that design is kind of like the daughter of art but it's not the same.