Normcore – is the latest trend being trendless?

Finally we have come to a point where it is now possible to be in fashion even without being particularly interested in the subject. An old pair of trainers and a simple T-shirt have never been the central pieces of a stylish wardrobe – but the rules of fashion have now changed. Individuality has for a long time played an important role in fashion, with an endless fascination with personal and unique styles. The definition of fashionable has for a long time been almost the same as being individual, but we might have to redefine that definition.

The growing “normcore” trend was first spotted by the New York based trend-forecasting agency K-Hole, which wrote a report on the catchy concept of sameness. They stated that “normcore” leads to belonging and that the idea of conformity is taking precedence over the aspiration of individuality. The trend has grown fast since then, and it exploded on the fashion weeks this spring, with Céline’s launch of the furry ‘furkenstock‘ and Marc Jacobs’ patagonia fleeces.

The point with of “normcore” is to wear clothes for comfort rather than style, and the latest trend is therefore summed up as being trundles. The British writer and philosopher Alain de Botton defines “normcore” as the search for the perfect ideal, an ideal which does not have to be upgraded constantly. Therefore, “normcore” might be a reaction to the fast moving fashion and it might also be the result of a desire to let other values, rather than the cloths alone, define who you are. The London based designer, Richard Nicoll is of the same opinion and thinks that “normcore” shows the wearer has other talents and is unique in his or her own way, without needing to show it off.

The trend has a lot in common with other subculture-based trends, like the grunge in the 90s, which started as an anti-fashion movement, before it became mainstream following its debut on the catwalks. “Normcore” follows the same pattern. Once it becomes mainstream – everyone will start carefully choosing their clothes with the aim of looking like they do not care, where a simple T-shirt becomes a statement piece, overcoming its original purpose. That is the irony of the anti-fashion: as soon as it spreads it becomes in-fashion. And as every other trend, it will come to an end. But even if it does, “normcore’s” original message offers a case for reflection: giving value to other qualities rather than focussing on who is wearing what.

Hanna Cronsjö 
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The Talented: SUNO

Origins and background story: Max Osterweis created SUNO, a New York based womenswear label, in 2008 after witnessing post-election violence in Kenya. Utilizing the vast collection of Kenyan Kangas that he had been collecting for years, Max joined forces with designer Erin Beatty to launch a high-end collection.

Trademark: SUNO utilizes the local talent of Kenya, India, Peru and New York to create a collection of unique prints, textures and embroideries.

Collections: SUNO was also a 2011 and 2012 finalist in the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund, and a 2012 Nominee and 2013 Winner of the CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear. Max Osterweis and Erin Beatty mentioned that their F/W 14 collection was inspired by the true story of Roman people who struck gold by selling scrap metal in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The resulting silhouettes were both beautiful and melancholic. The clothes recall the classic silhouettes of SUNO: long hemlines and boxy dresses with a completely muted color palette. Jewel tones dominated, next to dark, but at the same time striking metallic fabrics lit up the runway.

Chiara Tiso 
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Through the Lens of Andrew Miksys

Andrew Miksys is a US photographer from Seattle, who has decided to discover his Lithuanian roots through a series of bold and raw photographs, published last year in a book titled “Disko”. In the last few years, Andrew has shown his work at Seattle Art Museum, Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre and De Appel Contemporary Arts Centre, as well as worked with publications like The New Yorker, Harper’s or VICE. We met Andrew to discuss his work, past and future projects, inspiration and ideas.

How, when and why have you decided to work as a photographer?
I had an interest in photography from an early age. My father, who was a very good amateur photographer, probably influenced me a lot. He was constantly photographing when I was a kid with his Nikon F camera. We had his photographs all over our house. My favorite photograph was an image of Elvis he took backstage at a concert in Seattle in 1973. Later I studied photography with Jerome Liebling, a great documentary photographer who was part of the NY Photo League in the 40s and 50s. Jerome was a great mentor and helped me find my own voice and how to investigate subjects from every angle.

How you would describe your work and what early influences you think you had?
I photograph to satisfy my own curiosity. When I found the village discos, gypsies in Lithuania or bingo halls in the US, I basically just wanted to see what they were all about and show people the unique things I’ve found. My work isn’t exactly autobiographical, but I think you can see some of the process in my photography and the experiences I had. If you look at the “Disko” portraits, there is tension between the people I’m photographing and me. We’re trying to figure each other out. But I also have an interest in the places I’m photographing and their history. Village discos aren’t just village discos. All the places I photographed in were Soviet-era cultural centers and reflect the complicated and even tragic history of the 20th century in Lithuania. It’s important to me that some of this context comes through in the project even if I don’t reference it directly.

Could you tell us more about the book “Disko”, what inspired you to work on this subject?
I first went to Lithuania in 1995 to visit some of my relatives there. My father and grandparents were from Lithuania, but left at the end of WWII and immigrated to the US. This was the first chance I had to meet my Lithuanian relatives since the fall of the USSR. I hadn’t thought much about photographing in Lithuania, but as soon as I got there I knew I wanted to come back and photograph more. It was so different from where I grew up in Seattle and the remnants of the Soviet Union were everywhere. In 1998 I got a Fulbright scholarship and spent a year in Lithuania. One weekend I was in a village and followed some kids into a disco. It was an incredible space with a disco ball and a Lenin head on the wall. I started photographing there and then in the next weeks I discovered that there were disco in most villages. I worked on the project on and off for the next 10 years, traveling to villages all over Lithuania.

How do you approach your work – how and why do you choose your subjects?
My projects usually develop slowly and sometimes feel like an accident or completely unplanned. I photograph a bunch of different things and then find one subject to focus on.

Many photographers today choose to communicate their work through a book format. Why do you think this happens today and what is important to you when making a book from your projects?
Photo books allow you to present your project the way you want it to be seen. Through design, sequencing, editing, and choice of materials you can a unique experience for the viewer. In reality photographers have been doing this throughout the history of photography.

What kind of project would you be interested in working on next?
For the last 5 years, I’ve been working on a project in Belarus called Tulips. Right now I’m in the process of editing these images for a book that I hope to publish later this year.

Interview and photos by Agota Lukyte 
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Haute Papier – Bea Szenfeld’s Fashionable Paper Trail

Mark Twain once said “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” But does it mean that the clothes made of paper make for a flat man? For Swedish fashion designer Bea Szenfeld they certainly don’t. Szenfled’s creations, which were crowned with accolades and awards as well as chosen by pop-icon Lady Gaga for her dramatic looks, are more likely of another dimension.

Creating fashion with paper has been branded Haute Papier and Szenfeld has become one of the most established “Papieriers”. Her Haute Papier collections bring a playfulness and excitement to an otherwise grown-up and serious fashion world. The notion that paper can be turned into fashion, however, is nothing new. The process has been around for centuries and we have all certainly seen paper creations disguised as clothes.

The novelty of Szenfeld’s creations lies in revealing the structure of the material rather than trying to make it into something it’s not. Often influenced by the written word, Bea Szenfeld’s inspiration process is unique and, in a way, expresses her quirkiness and flair. According to the designer, the texts she reads instigate a feeling which she then tries to mimic through her creations, awakening the mind to see shapes in unorthodox ways, inspiring, in turn, innovative creations and lines. While the inspirational process is somewhat guided by a gut feeling, the actual designing is particularly long and intricate. She keeps a silent dialogue with her material of choice – the paper speaks its own language and guides a process of interpretation and creation.

Working with paper, however, doesn’t come without its challenges as desired shapes and colours are somewhat difficult to obtain. The material generates a structure that cannot be recreated with fabric; it has its own will and expressiveness. For Bea Szenfeld, working with paper is particularly fascinating as it can be moulded through numerous techniques, each of them specific to a precise cultural context and location. Different types of paper and production and folding techniques can, in a sense, be viewed as a cultural and temporal statement, adding a further dimension for the wearer.

Victoria Edman 
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Runways in Full Bloom

There are certain trends that never disappear, and one of those is certainly the floral prints obsession. Even though we have seen plenty of flower gowns, both throughout the history of fashion as well as on the catwalk, the latest runway shows have managed to surprise us with the introduction of 3D floral patterns.

It’s easy to find the link between newest trends and the traditional embellishment techniques, such as embroidery or appliqué, which see their origins long before the Middle Ages. At that time, its purpose was twofold: firstly, it was used as an aesthetic device in order to make clothes look more expensive and precious than they really were, secondly, it was applied to cover the underlying structure. Even though this use is now long forgotten, the lavish effect still provokes a surprising feeling.

Looking deeper into the trends proposed for Spring-Summer 2014 collections, the upcoming Greek fashion designer, Mary Katrantzou, opted for volumes obtained through the use of structured silk decorated with intricate 3D embellishments. Dolce&Gabbana followed the same line of thought, though in a more classical manner. The show’s atmosphere was particularly delicate and the floral detailing contributed in underlining the romantic mood of the runway.

The real revelation this time was Marni. Designer Consuelo Castiglioni, known for her witty and edgy view of fashion, created tridimensional skirts and dresses that appeared almost like actual blooming bushes. Paired with sporty accessories – slippers at the models’ feet and visors on their heads – this romantic look was given a contemporary and unexpected flair.

Francesca Crippa 
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Munari Politecnico at Museo del Novecento in Milan

“The designer of today re-establishes the long-lost contact between art and the public, between living people and art as a living thing. […] There should be no such thing as art divorced from life, with beautiful things to look at and hideous things to use. If what we use every day is made with art, and not thrown together by chance or caprice, then we shall have nothing to hide.”, wrote Bruno Munari in the preface of his quintessential 1966 masterpiece “Design as Art”, delivering one of the most honest and significant guides for generations of designers, as well as a key reading of his rich work.

Bruno Munari (Milan, 24 October 1907 – Milan, 30 September 1998) was the preeminent protagonist of the 20th century art, design and graphic production in Italy, as well as an eclectic member of the Futurist movement and one of the founders of Movimento Arte Concreta, the Italian movement for concrete art. The variety of his work – ranging from the initial mobiles named “macchine inutili” to his playful games, speaking forks, books, objects, portable paper sculptures, toys, furniture or cinematographic experiments, to name only a few – has often been the subject of exhibitions and events, but a new show at the Museo del Novecento in Milan sheds light on his artistic inclination.

Titled “Munari Politecnico”, curated by Marco Sammicheli with Giovanni Rubino, the exhibition, divided into different sections, is devoted to the earliest artistic orientations of Munari as seen through drawing, collage and a visual approach related to historical avant-garde practices; his relation to scientific research as an aid to insights into plastic relationships, linguistic responses and as an activating element of creative functions; art as a generator of new disciplines; the production of art during the succession of different Twentieth century movements.

In particular, the exhibition aims at exploring Munari’s relationship with the artistic production of the 20th century by revealing correspondences and influences with creative minds like Mary Vieira, Victor Vasarely, Enzo Mari, Max Bill, Franco Grignani or Max Huber, bringing to life his aesthetic imagination, rebellious spirit and tireless mind.

Accompanied by a special section titled “Chi s’è visto s’è visto (And that is that)”, dedicated exclusively to the photographs of Ada Ardessi and Atto, authors who for decades worked closely with Munari and witnessed the main events in the life of the man and artist, “Munari Politecnico” will run until July 31st 2014 at Museo del Novecento in Milan.

Rujana Rebernjak 
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Style Suggestions: Transparency

Transparency is a big trend this spring, but it is definitely not the easiest one to translate from runway to the street. So how should you wear it? It’s all about balance. Sheer panels and cut-outs are a great way to pull off the trend, matched with opaque fabric to keep the look less revealing. Or go all the way and find some great figure hugging undergarments to match.

Clutch: Charlotte Olympia, Blouse: Burberry, Sunglasses: Céline, Shoes: 3.1 Phillip Lim

Styling by Vanessa Cocchiaro 

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Markus Schinwald | Il Dissoluto Punito

This is not the first time that we talk about the work of Markus Schinwald (b. 1973, Salzburg) and, you bet, it won’t be the last one. The pretext to write, once again, about the brilliant Austrian artist is “Il Dissoluto Punito”, his solo show that just opened at Triennale di Milano, which borrows the title from the well-known grand opera by Mozart (Il dissoluto punito ossia il Don Giovanni).

With a continuous cross reference between art and play, the exhibition set-up presents a selection of stage designs produced by La Scala Opera House for the performance of the same name, conducted by Daniel Barenboim and directed by Robert Carsen in 2011-2012. Walking around the path, punctuated by wings reproducing the curtain of the Milanese theatre, the viewers can admire paintings, sculpture and videos of the versatile artist, masterfully arranged to create puzzling spaces.

The Culbutos, a new group of sculptures made of resin and carbon fibre, occupy the centre of the scene. They call to mind the oscillating children’s toys of the same name and vaguely similar shapes, to which Schinwald adds impressions of body parts. The representation of the human body and its relationship with the surroundings, along with the concept of instability is one of the artist’s main issues that reveal both perturbing and playful approach.

Here and there, hung on the walls or placed behind the doors of the wings, 19th century paintings manipulated by the artist can be found. The depicted men and women are distanced from their original contexts and the atmospheres become undefined: their faces are wrapped with tapestries and scarves; their eyes, noses, mouth, ears, shoulders or hands are tricked up with chains, metal clamps, stripes and bandages that look like weird prostheses or fetish objects, but the characters nevertheless don’t lose their composure from bygone days. Among the portraits there is a gem, which attracted our attention. It is a small work, almost completely covered by a coat of dove-grey with a hole in the centre that allows a half-view of man’s face, who appears to peephole the room.

At the end of the exhibition path, you can find a huge installation, which once again recalls a theatre stage, made with numerous paintings representing clouds hung by threads and bearing the evocative title Skyes (2012) and two representative videos of Schinwald’s poetics. The former, 1st part Conditional (2004), is a three-minute film showing a woman wearing a classic suit, seated in a 19th-century apartment, who unexpectedly begins to move her body in a convulsive and disordered way. She seems to be possessed by a mysterious inner or external force that causes her contortions, while a sweating bearded man seated in an armchair is watching the scene from a corner. But we don’t know if he is the cause of the woman’s agitation or just a witness. The video ends with an act of disorienting and sympathetic self-destruction: the heavy furniture of the room falls down and crashes to the ground in the very same moment when the woman jumps in the wardrobe.

The latter film, Children’s Crusade (2004), takes inspiration from the folk tale Pied Piper of Hamelin: in a contemporary city with graffiti on the walls, a man-sized marionette with a window on his face flipping from open to close attracts children dressed in old-fashioned garments, who follow him, passing through cities, plains, forests, before finally reaching the sea following Benjamin Britten’s Opus 82 (Children’s Crusade) tune sung by a melancholic children’s choir. Macabre and, at the same time, extremely touchy, Markus Schinwald’s works always have a strong psychic effect that intrigues the audience, raising questions and combining intellectual research with art devices.

The exhibition will run until 15th June 2014.

Monica Lombardi 
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Upcoming Artists | Warias

How and why did the Warias project come about?
Warias was born after our last year’s summer tour, where we collected ides, recorded samples, percussion loops, vocal melodies and other stuff that has been looming in our minds during those long hours in our tour van. Other than those random ideas, Warias was born out of my specific need to give space to a parallel project that would be coherent with what I’ve been hearing lately.

Why have you decided to create a brand new band, completely different from your previous experiences?
It all happened quite naturally. For quite some time now, Giulio has been venturing into electronic music and I have been collecting new ideas and experimenting with different things during the last summer. We have been widely influenced by the places visited on tour, which have largely influenced our ideas. After the tour, when I proposed a new project to Giulio, he immediately got on board, without even thinking twice.

Warias has been defined in many different ways – dark, new wave, post punk – how would you categorize it?
If we have to characterize it, I would surely say it has a strong, dark component deriving from new wave and post punk, with a bold experimental and psychedelic side. Even if it may sound as a cliché, I must say that I am not really fond of labelling a band’s work with precise definition. Much of what has been said about Warias is surely right, but, for us, it is first and foremost an experience.

Which bands have influenced your sound during the recording of Wools EP?
While Warias was still taking shape as a project, we were listening to a lot of African music, Tuareg and electronic. As far as the EP is concerned, it was certainly influenced by our passion for analogue instruments, synths, guitars, drum machines – we have used and recorded all those instruments in our studio.

During your live concert, the visual part seems to be meticulously articulated. Who is in charge of your visuals?
Yes, we believe the visuals are a fundamental part of a live experience. There are many artists that put a lot of attention into this aspect and we believe it adds a lot of value to the performance. Our visuals in particular are developed by Mirco Cotugno, a dear friend of ours.

One of you also plays with The Soft Moon. How much has Luis Vasquez influenced Warias?
Well, Luis has certainly influenced a lot of our work since we respect him greatly. It is sort of a natural process when you play with someone and hang out with them in your everyday life.

Do you have a tour in mind for 2014?
Yes, we will be playing around Italy this Summer. We have received a few offers for a European tour this Autumn, but we will still need to figure it out.

Are you working on an album?
Yes, we are working on it right now and we already have a few pieces ready. It is a work in progress since it will be quite different from the EP, as the whole writing process is a lot more deeper, less conventional, with a much more emotional and visionary approach.

Enrico Chinellato 
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Charles James: Beyond Fashion, Behind Clothes

Being a designer means setting up questions, problems, and trying to solve them with creativity and wit (or, better, finding other problems and raising other questions related to the first: which is how we get to progress). Charles James, an individual with a pure designer mentality, decided to commit himself and his life to an object he considered ‘intrinsically wrong’. To improve it, shape it, transform it. The ‘object’ in question was the feminine body.

Charles James, raised in England but living and working in Chicago, his mother’s hometown, decided to become a fashion designer as a prank to his serious father. What was initially seen as a pure act of disrespect is now praised as one of the most notable achievements in the history of american fashion; Charles James is remembered as the greatest American couturier, praised by Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga. His clothes are now seen as symbols of a certain kind of society, well fixed in time and space, surrounded by a nearly forgotten ideal of glamour and luxury. The eye James used to watch the female figure was not that of the estimator, but that of the scientist; at the basis of his creative process stands a clinical analysis of what was wrong in the body, what was inconsistent with proportional parameters and what could be artificially fixed.

The exhibition now on stage at the Metropolitan Museum of New York tries to give a reading of James’ creations beyond than the essence of a gown, proposing two levels of interpretation: the wonderfully made clothes, which speak for themselves, and their construction, their ‘secrets’, revealed by preliminary sketches, materials and 3D video animations. Charles James: Beyond Fashion gathers more than sixty of the designer’s most iconic creations, produced between the 40s and the 50s, giving great importance at the nearly scientific process that brought those pieces to life. By definition, going beyond implies crossing the limits, be it of a physical space or a discipline, passing through the boundaries of something else. Mathematics applied to fashion design, science paired with the ephemeral, interwoven in the seams of ball gowns, apparently made to become ‘mere’ poetry (as Monsieur Dior defined James’ work).

The decision to put the design process on stage permits to retrace a portrait of James as a designer and technician, purged by various reports of his disposition and manners (bad, very bad, indeed). The will of the curatorial team, with Harold Koda and Jan Glier Reeder at its head, to present James as an engineer more than a couturier pays respect to his personal story and also to his nature and ideas: the body as a perfectible structure, the cloth as a medium. It also permits to reread his work inscribing it into new categories, inspected and experienced by some of today’s most interesting curatorial practices, able to build a conversation and a discourse between superficially opposite objects.

Charles James: Beyond Fashion will run until August 10th 2014 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Marta Franceschini 
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