In the realm of womenswear, ‘nowness’ is the word of the day. Collections need to be appealing, fresh and innovative whilst pushing the boundaries of design. Silhouettes are crafted not to simply adorn, no, they must feel empowering too. A lot of this comes down to the curation of collections; e.g. what to edit out, subtract and finally present. Together with ‘nowness’ that other overwhelming contemporary notion of ‘fastness’ must be mentioned. Consumerism seeks to just consume and purchases are solely made for accumulation. How wonderfully refreshing it is to find voices that ignore both of these phenomena.
Lena Lumelsky, originally hailing from the Crimea, now a long-term resident of Antwerp, is one of these shining beacons. Lena’s work is part of an ongoing explorative dialogue. Her collections are notably rich in research, detailing and appear freed from any subversive contexts; the mark of sincere craftsmanship. These confident eclectic garments speak for themselves and many cunning buyers are quickly catching onto this. Lena is not one for many words. When she does speak, the sentences she composes are short and straight from the heart. After perusing her latest offering in Paris, we wanted to catch up with her. What better way then through a quick ‘no frills’ fire round of questions. Lena agreed.
Heritage. Lena, tell me how you first got creatively triggered?
As a youngster, I was raised in a post-communist country. In the conditions of constant deficit, almost every girl could stitch or eventually would learn how to do so. This was part of the practical stance we took to life. During these days, we could hardly get ahold of anything like Vogue, but Burda magazine was our Bible. Ever since I can remember, I was always busy drawing and sketching dresses. So this process of creativity started quite early.
Fastening. When you realised you wanted to design garments, do you remember the first steps you took and what challenged you particularly?
Well, in the beginning, the technical part was a challenge. At a certain point, I realised I needed help of a tailor and strong pattern maker. The aforementioned Burda patterns were not satisfying any more! More importantly, it lies in my nature to strive to do everything myself. The first step I took was to turn towards customising the old dresses of my Mom and this was not always done upon her approval.
Belgium. An important foundation must also have been laid when you studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. How do you look back at this time?
This was the best time of my life so far. I met many of my lifetime friends there. At the academy I felt connected and real, like I was in the right place surrounded by the right people, doing the right thing for the first time in my life. It all simply came together.
Sense of Place. As mentioned, you grew up in Sevastopol, in the Crimea and we so know much has happened here historically. Where are you based now?
After all this time, I am still based in Antwerp. I came here to study and still feel inspired by this city 13 years after. In many ways it has become my creative home. However, I do miss my creative friends, who have left already. The characters of sincere people can inspire me very much as well.
Thematic. The collections are so rich in texture, control and fabric research. Could you tell me about how you begin each collection?
There is a constant cycle of visual inspiration and fabric research being conducted in parallel dimensions. I have an image bank, kind of a virtual working book, which I fill with new input all the time. For me, this is like putting different ingredients on their shelves. By the time we are about to start a new collection, the topic often just appears. It can contain both visual and verbal inspiration. Most of the time, I feel inspired by clothes and their technical dimensions. But the story is also important for me. It makes the creative process more exciting and well-rounded.
Stories. Lets stick with these. Your work on S/S16 was so rich in narrative as the pieces have individual names and characters. Could you explain this further?
My S/S16 collection is called ‘Regicide’, the deliberate killing of a monarch. This summer collection is made in the memory of six queens and princesses from different times in history, who were either murdered, executed or assassinated. The ones I chose were: Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Mary Stuart, Marie Antoinette, Sissi Elisabeth of Austria and Anastasia Romanova. I explored the stories of their lives leading to their eventual deaths and the legends that were created afterwards. There are six gowns in the collection dedicated to and named after each one of the queens.
Connect. After some time, your work was picked up by Dover Street Market (DSM), a dream for many new graduates. How did this make you feel?
It was indeed a great feeling but this came with a big responsibility as well. I had to sign terms and conditions, deliver on time and maintain constant quality controls. Things simply sped up very much. Since we have started to work together I can really feel the support that DSM provides me. Besides the annual collections I sell in London, Tokyo and NY. We also made two installations in London last year and recently another one in NY. This way of working together allows me to present more than the garments, expressing my universe in a meaningful and three-dimensional way.
Atelier. Your work has a very rich and almost atelier-like quality. Tell us more.
You are right, all the clothes are made in the atelier production. I need to touch every fabric and simply must check every pattern. This is part of our process, as many of the pieces are hand-made and quite delicate. Next to this, we put major emphasis on the interior design of the garments and its construction.
Lena. What defines you as a person?
As a creator, I am in search for ‘Le Grande Bellezza’. The beauty of nature, of masterminds or men, this kind of creation truly inspires me.
Future. If you could communicate to new young graduates out there, what would you say to them?
I feel it must be very exciting to be at the beginning of the road today in 2015. I would very much like to welcome them.
Transition. Fashion is also about change, with your former co-pilot Demna Gvasalia now spearheading a large luxury house. How do you see this particular industry of ours?
I see what you mean. One of the main ideas of fashion is this thing we call change. Everything is happening at the moment is good. We just have to be aware of this non-stop growing consumerism. I am more in favour of thoughtful consumption.