Many a wanderer. Few reach their destination. These treacherous lands. Alas, they take so many. Their razor-sharp cliffs, mesmerising drops, hounding winds and roaring seas. These are no plains for the faint hearted. Amidst the wilderness, a notion of aesthetic liberation has arisen. Barbara I Gongini, a constant gardener, resilient to such barren circumstances, finds beauty here. Constructing her eponymous universe tactically and without hesitation. Barbara is as sincere as the garments her hands have meticulously yielded. She is a true artisan, an observer of our times. We caught up with her, after her latest presentation in Copenhagen, to explore her profound take on contemporary wardrobes, that unique connection to dance and the resonance of soundscapes.
Ground. Barbara, could you tell me about the Faroe Islands, your home, and what these islands mean to you?
They represent my heritage and the islands diverse elements of nature have served as a form of direction in my underlying design DNA. The Faroe Islands represent a rather clustered and intimate community, where focus has been placed to make the most use of the natural raw resources that the lands entail. Growing up with those values, of making the most out of what is given and these limitation, shaped logic towards creating designs that are rich in multi-functional elements, not trend-based as such, but part of a broader concept.
Clock. Over a decade you have been working steadily. Do you recall that first ever collection and what it was like?
We are indeed travelling back in time. I get a little nostalgic thinking about it actually. My first collection was actually created out of fabric residue. I studied various abstract, cut out, fabric fragments, their shape and texture, and modulated them later into a new, cohesive design and what became a full collection. This was back in the year 2000, when I was part of the Kønrøg movement. Working towards zero wastage was an important factor to me, a principle I still adhere to today, as I apply this in my collection build-up by embracing a sustainable take on clothing creation.
Reach. Your work is most rich, but what strikes me, is that you have found time for interesting collaborations. Could you tell me about the dance performance with Olympus?
I was invited by Olympus, in collaboration with Revs magazine, to create an installation with focus on movement as one fragment of that particular event. I like to fiddle around with what is perceived as convention and pushing its limits – whether in garment creation or other such as dance and sound. For this event, I entered a fusion with a highly trained and skilled, principal ballet dancer and long-standing friends, The Magnetic Eagles, creating the most alluring soundscape in the most unconventional ways. The dancer was interacting with our designs in a sequential matter, then backwards and then again in interruptive frequencies. The sound fed the movement and vice versa. Our mission was to experiment. The ‘unexpected’ creation in such a constellation was spectacular… and it was all done on an improvisational basis, which was a truly enriching experience – not only professionally but also on a personal level.
Move. Speaking of Dance, this also shaped the backdrop to the beautiful collection that you showed in CPH some weeks ago. What was your thinking here and what triggered you to using this medium to present your work?
Our core brand principle centres on sustainability and its sub-genres are up- and re-cycling. First and foremost, I like to explain that the showpieces seen in ‘The Modular Human’ installation where hand-crafted from an old white carpet. On this occasion, I worked with ballet dancers from the Royal Danish Ballet, as I am very fascinated by its long-standing heritage. The showpieces functioned in this setting as an object of inspiration and interpretation, for the dancers to create a story paved out in a dance sequence: the meeting between classical ballet expression, a refined and highly respected history, moving from concrete to abstract, becoming a niche form by itself in that very moment. The juxtaposition between heritage and novelty was the end result and an optical beauty I definitely want to indulge in again in the future.
Image. The Gongini universe definitely is one that likes to play with image, often choosing characters over models and working with a signature style. Last year you did a special project with Cooper and Gorfer – could you tell me about these images?
I met with the very talented duo Sarah Cooper and Nina Gorfer a few years ago in relation to the Weather Diaries expo, and we instantly found a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s expressive language. In contrast to traditional anthropologists, who use the camera to document people and cultures scientifically, the artists transform what they observe into poetic narratives. The challenge was to work in a darkened monochromatic palette in contrast to their normal rather intense colour schemes. We created our the previous seasons Spring Summer 2016 collection’s campaign images. The result was great and there is just as many streaks of DNA from both forums manifested in the imagery.
Garment. Back to the core of today, what did you want to express with this Autumn / Winter 2016 collection and in what way does it differ from previous collections?
There is a subtle evolution in my collections, always rooted in its core design DNA and that is to create timeless garments in a sustainable matter. I wanted to explore an even broader range in my collection build-up for Autumn / Winter 2016, where I have been moved by various movements in urban as well as street culture, music and art, but also in poetry and couture. All impressions later fused, funnelled and compounded into a finished look.
Texture. You have also been keen on morphing surfaces and playing with contrast. How do you observe fabric research and development?
As sustainability is an underlying theme to our infrastructure, it is most important to allocate room for eco-friendly fabrics by developing production solutions that have the least pollutive footprint on our planet. What we do in praxis is that we strive to work with a broader range of organic and re-cycled fabrics, up-cycled designs that are moulded into new silhouettes, working with leather and fur that are a direct bi-product from the food industry as well as applying vegetable dye procedures. These are the core, fundamental basis setting the grounds for my fabric research.
Sustain. Your garments are meant to exist as season-less entities that we can utilise in different ways in our wardrobes. Care to elaborate?
Our products represent this ‘Wardrobing Concept’’, which is based on longevity and multi-functional elements of the garment. We aim to contribute to local and global responsibility by pushing the boundaries of sustainable and ethical fashion. That is why our collections entail a numerical order and are part of a continuous story. Individual garments may be rekindled years to come as they not only fit into your existing wardrobe, but also have a connection with the past, present and future Barbara I Gongini designs to come. You can for instance discover our latest interactive online campaign: #barbaraigongini X #multiways showcasing how certain individual designs can be worn in x amount of ways, and thus granting the user a broader range of expression. This hopefully gives each design a longer life cycle due to its innate versatile dynamism.
Wording. Over the past few seasons, I noticed you started to use wording on some garments. What were your thinking here and what were the key phrases you used?
It is a play on words in their most simple terminology. At times, it is rooted in rather abstract poetry I like to coin as an open source for individual interpretation. On other occasions, the printed statements may be rooted in more politically oriented matters to push towards a specific mind-set; e.g. gender oriented questions such as equality. Any wearer of those designs then becomes an ambassador of that ‘message’ and helps us to manifest it further. That is cool!
Future. If you look ahead, what do you wish for your designs to become?
Everlasting! Designs that you can on continuously use despite orientation of time. A timeless design with the strength of the individual at its core. Next to this, I enjoy working with individuals from other creative strands, or other branches too, as I respect the challenge, the journey it takes you on. I believe that as a creator, once you have found balance and internal consensus in your creative work, you are ready to invite other novel minds to interpret it. This can be self-enlightening, educational and challenging but still always will be the most stimulating ride you can get
Pictures: Adam Katz Sinding