Fitting Pieces | deutsch

Petra Schwab talks to Regine Steenbock – the artist among Hamburg fashion makers – about connections between her fashion and art.

You studied film and were in the class “Film and Cooking as an Art Form” with Peter Kubelka at the Frankfurt Städelschule. Why and when did you become a fashion maker?
• • • I needed a break, time to think things over. This was around 1993. I was making films which you most likely would refer to as “fictive documentary”. From a quasi-ethnological point of view, I made, for example, a documentary film about love.

But what was it that made you turn towards fashion, of all things?
• • • It was actually a somewhat coincidental process. I had overexerted myself with my film work and just felt like doing something that would come to me more naturally. Ever since my childhood, I had designed my own clothing, which my mother then would sew for me. This means I was quite familiar with the matter. I had always felt that the classical women’s magazine fashion context along with the typical pattern booklets, were a form of ideological torture. Consequently, and since I did not know anything about professional pattern construction, I began early on to develop my own cuts in a strictly empirical manner.

So you never had an education in fashion and are truly an autodidact?
• • • Right – if after 20 years of professional experience you can still call it that. Autodidacts draw their information and inspiration precisely from the point they intend to apply it. And they work towards realizing just what they have in mind and develop their own individual techniques in the process. For me it was always very inspiring to try out many different things and to verify the result in real life – in other words, on the customer. This approach also represents a teaching method I would support.

Are you even interested in fashion?
• • • Fashion as a construct of conformity, relating to society as a whole has ceased to exist for quite some time now. Considering to which extent some passing fads will spread, they could rather be compared to an epidemic than a kind of pleasurable experimentation. I certainly avoid these kinds of epidemics. But luckily there are an infinite number of movements, scenes and cultural circles existing in parallel, propagating their own forms of expression. I enjoy observing this and amuse myself tracing these changing temporary psychograms: sagging pants, trimmed hair, bulging hats, tottering heels… And sometimes it’s fun to comment on one or the other form in my work.

What I reject is fashion that subtly demands followership or tries to set itself apart from others in some arrogant way. I have a strong sense of independence. This is why sovereignty in fashion ultimately is more important to me than beauty, which tends to fall from the sky anyhow.

Your clothes are in no way to be confining, is that right?
• • • Nobody likes to be restricted in their freedom of movement. In order to honor this, I have to consider many aspects that make things more complicated – but also more attractive. But with all due respect to pragmatic, life-facilitating solutions: The much-vaunted credo “form follows function” does not always apply to clothing. I believe that fashion has a highly Dadaist impulse –manifesting, at times, as an act of liberation. Many things appear to make no sense at all, but they are fun.

Is Haute Couture – which generally is show and not wearable – more like art?
• • • Is whatever you can’t wear supposed to be art? I think there must be some misunderstanding. Just because something eludes wearability and looks a bit crazy, does not necessarily mean that it generates a kind of higher meaning.

A dress must admit to everyday life. That is the decisive difference to the free arts, which require totally different conditions to unfold. In fashion there does, however, exist an immaterial, almost intangible semantic level; when I deal with this consciously, I automatically touch upon artistic issues.

What we consider as wearable or not is mainly based on social factors. We have had many unwearable styles, and they were worn all the same. One simply had to practice to get used to them. Nowadays we can observe a regression in representative clothing. Society altogether has become less formal, and mixes more. This also makes fashion less univocal. And besides, we may even have come to perceive a few “formal blemishes” as a blessing.

You surely benefit from this, since it allows you to work beyond conventions.
• • • I have no idea! I just don’t want to get bored.

Have you noticed that fashion means something to artists?
• • • Artists generally tend to handle fashion with more ease and even more affectively than their own métier. Which does not necessarily mean that producing fashion is less complex or less reflected. The conditions of existence for art and for fashion are, however, quite different – and here is where opinions may clash.

Is your fashion influenced by art or artists?
• • • Art is some kind of nutrition to me and we all know that existential matters influence the consciousness.

How do you transfer this onto a wearable garment?
• • • By focusing on the garment’s own vocabulary – and this is, at the outset, basically plain and simple: sleeves, neckline, seams, pleats, weight problems, or: How do I get into the dress and take it off again? When developing my cuts, I will play around with the shapes until they tell me something peculiar, something new. It is a bit like sculpting with the paper cut method. Except that a garment is only complete, once it is worn. Who this will be lies beyond my influence – and I find it very interesting to take this into account during the design process.

To illustrate more clearly the similarities but also the differences between art and fashion: The artist Franz West, whom I value very much, saw his “Passstücke” (Fitting Pieces) as a kind of score for gestures and said: “If one could perceive neuroses optically, they would look like the Fitting Pieces.”
With my fits , on the contrary, I try to make neuroses invisible and to cut a good figure for the person who will wear the piece in the future. I behave in a user-friendly manner. And besides, I think that fashion as a refuge for beauty is worthy of protection.

published in “O.T.”, June 2014
Translation: Barbara Lang