There are uncanny connections between medicine, architecture and fetishism in the designs created by Kat Marks.
The 24-year-old Canadian designer currently based in London, mainly focuses on creating body pieces in rigid materials such as plastic, that, inspired by her own experiences of wearing a scoliosis brace, are also characterised by sculpturally sensual forms. Marks’ pieces transform the body, exaggerating shapes, creating robotic extensions to the natural silhouette and playing with the masculine and feminine dichotomy.
The latter was also featured in an eponymous film directed by Daniel Shipp, produced by Goran Boskovic and showcased at Nuit Blanche 2009. Marks is at present developing her third collection that, inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle, will feature ten designs in plastic, leather and textiles.
In the meantime, she has just completed a new film, “The Granfaloon”, shot with a team of artists comprising self-taught videographer from East London Paul Bates, Canadian sound designer Goran Boskovic, Ukraine Fashion Week make-up artist veteran Julia Wilson, hair stylist Shinya Fukami, stylist Kalina Pulit and model Ashleigh Halliburton. Conceived as an experimental study in fashion presentation that erases the boundaries between photography and film, “The Granfalloon” evokes in its title, eerie atmospheres and futuristic body pieces featured, the dystopic world of Vonnegut’s 1963 novel.
Where did you study fashion design?
I moved to Toronto, Canada, when I was 19 years old to follow the BA in Fashion Design at Ryerson University. There I learnt everything I know about producing high quality designs since the courses at Ryerson are very focused on technical subjects such as pattern cutting. At the same time, my course allowed me to explore the more creative aspects of this profession. This meant that, when I finished my studies, I had already produced a high standard collection that was later on showcased at Toronto Fashion Week. The collection featured three thermoplastic braces – or corsets – that got very positive feedback. After Ryerson I moved to the London College of Fashion to pursue an MA in Fashion Artefact. The MA used to be a jewellery course, but now it focuses on creating innovative fashion pieces such as body corsets and luggage and, in my case, plastic girdles.
Who has been the greatest influence on your career?
When I began my education in fashion at Ryerson, I wasn’t too sure about my creative potential. In my second year I tried to explore it in depth also thanks to a very special professor, Sandra Tullio-Pow who completely supported me in my journey of discovery. At the time, I was studying formal wear and decided to take it to the extreme starting to use foam to create exaggerated shoulders. Sandra followed my experiments and pushed them further, helping me to become even more confident in what I was doing. At the moment my colleagues from my course and from the MA in Footwear Design, as well as Professor Dai Rees at London College of Fashion, are inspiring me. Last but not least, my family has also been incredibly supportive, turning into a great inspiration.
Which is the most interesting and stimulating stage of your creative process?
I think that the research stage is very important since it is quite broad and touches upon many different aspects. I tend to avoid looking at trend forecasts or historical fashion when I create. Instead I often use as a starting point medical or scientific theories. My research also involves exploring visual references, like art and photography. For example, I’m currently looking at the Impressionists and at Jan Saudek’s photography. I usually try to surround myself with images that may trigger that special ‘feeling’ or ‘emotion’ that I want to embody in my work. From there I start sketching and sourcing materials and create my pieces.
Which aspects of Kurt Vonnegut’s work inspire you the most?
I often start designing after reading a novel, as one sentence or word may catapult my mind into creative mode. I am inspired by Vonnegut’s fearless use of fantasy and of extreme scenarios and fictional worlds. I use them as a motivating force to explore fashion with reckless abandon. My current work is, for example, influenced by his book Cat’s Cradle and by the “karass”, a group of different people who, unknowingly, work together to do God’s will.
In your previous designs you employed plastic, polyurethane rubber and resin: what fascinates you about such materials?
My experiments with plastic began in my final year at Ryerson. I was interested in connecting medical back braces for scoliosis and fashion. I wore a brace when I was young for two years and this experience had an impact in my life, influencing also my career. A Toronto-based craftsman produced my designs in ABS thermoplastic. At present I’m producing my own plastic artefacts as well as working alongside the talented Stephen Diaper. I’m mainly employing Perspex, though I’ve broadened my vision introducing also leather in some pieces. I never explored this material before and I find it rather interesting. I am combining the two to create fantastically beautiful fashion accessories such as the harness and pelvic girdle featured in my new film.
How did you come up with the collaboration with Daniel Shipp?
I wanted to explore film as a method of presenting my designs that could have been considered an alternative to photography. Daniel has been a great influence on me and I am so proud to have worked with him since I learnt everything I know about producing a film from his professional approach.
In which ways does the new project differ from your previous one?
My first film was based on my interest in developing a narrative, a story line, while understanding at the same time the importance of scenography. The film was all in stop motion; we had roughly 15,000 photographs that we edited down into a 4-minute clip. I guess my first foray into fashion and film was more based on artistic expression and on coming up with a beautiful representation. My current project, “The Granfalloon”, is much shorter and it could be defined as an avant-garde fashion film. It features a colour palette that includes beige, muted grey and murky dusty rose, muted shades compared to the previous project. For this project we worked with HD cameras along with post-production techniques to create interesting visuals, but I think that the best thing about this new venture is that it has allowed me to build a team of professionals interested in discovering how to create fashion visuals that can move an audience.
How would you describe the body piece that appears in the new film?
As you can see from the film there are two thigh flaps that brace the inner thigh. These flaps have activated some controversial conversation for what regards their purpose and their statement as some people said they had a sort of phallic shape. The Perspex, leather and resin harness and pelvic girdle weren’t actually meant to represent this, but I realised they sparked an interesting dialogue and some people called the design ‘cod piece’, ‘chastity belt’ or ‘fashion diaper’. I found such descriptions amazing and I hope I’ll be able to come up with more thought provoking pieces in future.
Many designers are expressing themselves through videos and shortcuts nowadays: do you feel that there is a renewed interest in fashion and film?
Films are an obvious next step in fashion representation: many designers are using films as an alternative to catwalk or in conjunction with a catwalk show, developing relationships with film professionals – directors, cinematographers, composers, makeup and hair artists – to create personal films that fit their brand, creative expression and story. I do feel that fashion and film complement each other a lot because they present us with a story in motion that cannot be recreated through photography. Besides, with the rising popularity of online fashion magazines and blogs, this is the perfect media to present fashion.
What’s your favourite film genre?
I’m really influenced by the work of David Lynch and David Cronenberg and would like to be able to collaborate with them one day. I’m continually searching for story lines and visual references that surprise and shock me. Cronenberg’s 1996 Crash depicts some powerful strong, sensual and beguiling female characters. These women are my muses, they populate my fantasy world, they are the sort of women who should be wearing my designs. Among the actresses I would love to see wearing my creations there are Deborah Kara Unger and Tilda Swinton.
How many fashion films will you be shooting for your MA thesis collection and will they be linked one to the other?
I will be producing a triptych that will be shown at a gallery exhibition. The three different films will be produced by the same team behind my current project and will all tie in together, though they will be visually different from my current film. In fact they will be more feminine, dramatic and alluring.
Do you see yourself more as a conceptual fashion designer or as an artist who is pushing the boundaries between art, fashion and film?
I am first and foremost an idea person. I want to design fashion that is influential, innovative, well crafted and pioneering. I think my ideal customers will be people who are into pushing the boundaries of fashion design. As a designer, I am interested in using all mediums – from film to photography, gallery exhibitions and catwalk shows – to display my work. Each serves a different purpose and a different customer and each is useful to spark a new dialogue.
What would you like to do in future? Would you like to open your own studio and maybe work as a costume designer for films?
As a fashion designer, I would like to see my work on the catwalk, in film and on influential persons. Yet I also want to broaden my audience through different media, from film to photography passing through catwalk shows, and work with other artists who may help me conjuring up my visions. This is why I want to use my final year collection on three different levels: in film, in a gallery environment and in a catwalk show. After that I will be looking into different possibilities, from working for a high profile fashion house to creating bespoke fashion artefacts and starting my own label.
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