DESIGNING WEARABLE ART AT THE CZECH EMBASSY

A Revolution in Sustainable Fashion

BY MARY E. FETZK0

 

Czech designer Iva Pfeiffer held an exclusive fashion show at the residence of Czech Ambassador Hynek Kmonitek and his wife Indira Gumarova on September 12 in Washington, previewing her newest collection TRANSLATIONS: Design Moving Between Cultures, which will he featured at Milan Fashion Week later this month.

"I want to create wearable art," says tva Pfeiffer, who graduated last year from Raffles College of Design and Commerce in Sydney Australia.
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Already, she has made a name for herself at New York Fashion Week and as one of only fifteen designers throughout the world chosen for a Master Class at the Arts of Fashion Foundation in Paris in 2014.

At the residence, fifteen multicultural models strutted down the grand staircase showcasing 20 garments in indigo blue, white and silver, ranging from jumpsuits, to cocktail and evening wear, in the spring/ summer 1018 collection.

When asked about the collection, Iva stated, “I was looking into a line between haute couture and ready-to-wear: garments that are handcrafted, hand-dyed and hand-embroidered — so luxurious in that sense for me in this contemporary world and the textile industry."

Iva's label, Iva Pfeiffer Creations, is renowned for luxe fabrics, small runs, intricate designs and the ethical supply chain at the forefront of an emerging new trend. Her collection is targeted for “confident women, who are not brand-oriented, who like the individual look and appreciate the craftsmanship behind  it.”

Originally, Iva wanted to be a nurse, while her parents hoped she would take over their tailoring shop in the Czech Republic. Although well-disciplined in custom made tailoring, she saw no creativity in the profession earlier; revealing, "I didn't want to return to the village and take over my parents' business, so I worked in multiple jobs in hospitality, as an assistant nurse, in a convalescent home, cleaning, babysitting, anything which gave me an income."

I met my husband while studying English in Australia. He had a contract to work for a year in Japan, so I followed him there and studied kimono making and sewing, and that is what changed my life..." she added.

Her newest collection roots this influence in evening dresses and suits, which have kimono features to them.

Exploring the creative part of the textile industry in Japan and Fashion in general was important to me. The art and craft there just blew my mind and that is why using influences of Orientalism from a [Western] point of view was imperative — the kimono, obi belt and Mandarin colors. I would like to believe that I will have the 'kimono signature' in my work," she declared.

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Each piece maintains an authentic uniqueness. "All my garments are originals. After this runway, most likely I will place a production of this range using the same patterns but differentiate features of each garment using a different print, embroidery and color.”

In addition to making wearable art, Iva strives to create sustainable, environmentally friendly designs. She studied sustainability at the university, completing a semester abroad in Shanghai, China. While in China, she visited a variety of factories to address her concern about some of the production there. “I wanted to prove to myself and gain the strength to stand up for environmentally friendly design practices and be socially responsible. While there, I was crying every time I left a factory.”

After visiting these warehouses and seeing the conditions, she decided to focus on small scale rather than mass production of her work.

"Each garment will be original and ecologically friendly. Having that knowledge of where the fabrics come from and how they are made is critical because, at the end of the day, I really need to be personally satisfied with my work."

Furthermore, concerning textiles, Iva said, “I always like to work with natural fibers not just in view of being a sustainable designer, but also because I love the protein fibers as they drape beautifully: silk, wool, linen..." In Translations, she primary uses silk, which accentuates the pigment of the dye.

The collection itself highlights block printing and textile designs of Czech artist Pella Valentová, who Iva happened to meet while doing an exhibition in New York. Petra invited her to the Indian village of Bagru, where she immersed herself in the traditional techniques of hand dying and woodblock printing, inspired by the rich histories in India and the Czech Republic.

“We collaborated on the fabrics and natural dyes and the block print in India...and I´ve seen how much she has helped sustain local communities. It was essential to support her by purchasing her fabrics and moreover, promoting them."

Iva hails from a region in the Czech Republic called Moravia, known for its indigo, blue print modrotisk used in the traditional folk outfit called kroj. Instead of letting the tradition of these patterns die, she wanted to see the craft taken even further.

“I think that Petra is trying to make sure that there will be new block prints which would have maybe similar aesthetics but are a little more contemporary" the indigo dyes of the Czech and Indian block printing ate similar, but the Czech pigment is darker and finer. 'And yet," Iva said, "I like both...I really like both. It's more about supporting the local artisans so that they can still maintain their creative art and craft from one generation to another - to preserve its culture and history."

Iva pays keen attention to every aspect of the process to make sure that the art is being featured and employees are not exploited. Most likely I know that I will have production in India because I have found a factory there that I can trust and I've seen the workers.  I've actually worked with them.”

Originally, Iva hoped all production could possibly be in Australia where she currently resides, but the cost proved to be too much. "Customizing will be in Australia and production will most likely be in India because otherwise it would be very hard to compete in the market.”

Iva believes in supporting the local communities of artisans, utilizing old and new techniques, and having high standards for working conditions. She hopes to keep jobs for artisans alive.

“To me it's like experiencing another industrial revolution," she said.

The fashion show was a prelude to the Mutual Inspirations  Festival 2017- Gregor Mendel, focusing on the inspirations between Czech and American Cultures. For upcoming festival events, please visit vonv.mutualinspirations.org

CZECH REPUBLIC FASHION DESIGNER FINDS INSPIRATION FOR LATEST COLLECTION IN INDIA

By Carrie Snurr

On Tuesday September 12, Czech Republic born designer Iva Pfeiffer previewed her latest collection at the residence of the Czech ambassador H.E. Hynek Kmonícek and his wife Indira Gumarova. 

The collection, titled TRANSLATIONS, fuses Indian block printing and a blue print design that is distinctive of the of the Czech region of Moravia. TRANSLATIONS will make its full debut at the 2017 Milan Fashion Week. 

“With this collection, I tried to make it wearable,” She said. “I was very happy that after [the show] the audience said, ‘oh, that’s very great, it’s so wearable, I can imagine myself wearing this,’”

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Czech Republic ambassador H.E. Hynek Kmoníček and Czech designer Iva Pfeiffer at a fashion show previewing Pieffer's latest collection, Translations, on Sept. 12. (Photo: Embassy of the Czech Republic)

 

Pfeiffer said the best comments she got after the fashion show were from people who praised the pieces for their wearability, which she focused on when designing the collection.

She collaborated with fellow Czech designer, Petra Valentova, on this collection. She met Valentova while she was displaying her work in New York. The two had similar aesthetic styles, Pfeiffer said.

“I’m very much inspired by travelling,” She said, describing what inspired the Translations collection. “This time, I was inspired by India, the block print and [the color] indigo. We have the indigo dye in the Czech Republic as well. I find it sort of intuitive in a way because I grew up with the blue print.”

Each of Pfeiffer’s pieces are unique. They are all made by hand and in small runs which she said allows her to have more control on the creative side even though it is not the easier approach to making fashion. She never makes the same garment twice.

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Iva Pfieffer's latest collection is made with fabrics hand-printed and hand-dyed in India. The designer travelled to India to meet her suppliers personally. (Photo: Embassy of the Czech Republic)

 

“I really like haute couture,” She said. “But I really like to find the balance between haute couture and ready to wear. The wearable art can be worn in everyday life so we can have the luxury of a hand-embroidered top and it can be worn as a cocktail dress or as a shirt to wear to the office.”

The pieces she displayed at the fashion show were still haute couture, she said. Each of the pieces were all hand-stitched, hand-embroidered and hand-dyed, but were all designed to still be wearable.

Pfeiffer’s designs have been featured in British Vogue and the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in 2016. Her collection titled Revolution, Adaptation, Resolution focused on the plight of refugees. It was followed by her Resort Collection which was inspired by 1920’s Orientalism and Korean traditional patchwork. 

“The textile industry is very competitive,” She said. “So I feel that I’ve been given a big honor and it’s a great way for me to display my portfolio and my profile. I appreciate it very much so.”

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(From left) Ambassador's wife Indira Gumarova, Cultural Attaché Šárka Ponroy Vamberová, Ambassador Hynek Kmoníček, Czech Fashion Designer Iva Pfeiffer and her Assistant Brand Manager Sheena Rochiramani at a fashion show previewing Pfeiffer's latest collection. (Photo: Embassy of the Czech Republic)

 

She started her career by studying tailoring in the Czech Republic because her parents owned a textile business they wanted her to take over. Her mother was a tailor. Pfeiffer said she originally did not want to go into her parent’s business and instead wanted to be a nurse.

She went to Australia to study English and practiced as a nurse while she was there. Pfeiffer moved to Japan with her husband and While in Japan, she studied the art of kimono making with a sensei. She learned about traditions of hand-stitching and arts. This led her to decide she wanted to become a fashion designer.

“That was the eye-opening moment for me,” She said. “That’s when I decided to study design after I moved to Australia.” 

She graduated from the Raffles College of Design in Sydney, Australia and was one of 15 designers who were choses to attend a Master Class at the Arts of Fashion Foundation in Paris in 2014.

Pfeiffer is the youngest member of the Lace Guild in Sydney, Australia and is a member of the Victorian Felt Makers Guild. Pfeiffer’s label, Iva Pfeiffer Creations, is based out of Melbourne, Australia and focuses on making customized, special event womenswear. 

She said she only uses natural fibers in her designs and works to make sure they are as environmentally friendly and socially responsible as possible. She spent time in the Bagru region of India meeting people along her supply chain.

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Czech Republic ambassador Hynek Kmonícek and his wife host the fashion preview at their private residence on Sept. 12. (Photo: Embassy of the Czech Republic)

 

Her summer fabrics come from India and her winter fabrics have been sourced from Italy. She does her own research into the places her fabrics come from.

The Moravian blueprint design, which influenced Pfeiffer’s fall collection, was submitted for possible inscription into the United Nation’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2018.

The private fashion show was a prelude to the Mutual Inspirations Festival 2017 – Gregor Mendel. The festival is an initiative led by the Embassy of the Czech Republic and focuses on inspirations between Czech and American cultures.

Each year the festival recognizes the inspirational work of a Czech who has influenced or inspired others. This year’s focus will be on Gregor Mendel who was posthumously named the founder of the modern study of genetics. His experiments with pea plants established many of the rules of hereditary.

 © The Washington Diplomat-Diplomatic Pouch. Carrie Snurr is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.

CZECHMATE

New York, April 2017.
My world is about to change.

I’m in this city for the first time in my life, and the air is tingling. My exhibition in the Czech Centre is about to open, and while I definitely don’t have time to wander through Central Park or spend the hours I want to in the Met and MOMA, the excitement of being in New York is coursing through my blood. Does everyone who arrives in New York for the first time feel the same way? That something momentous is about to happen?

Before and during the exhibition, I meet many people who have helped me pull this together, or have come to see what a young Czech-Australian fashion designer can say about refugees and fashion. Of the many encounters and conversations I have, there is one that stands out.

It is the conversation I have with Czech-American artist Petra (Gupta) Valentova who has come to view my exhibition. She is extraordinary, and within minutes, we both know that we are experiencing a meeting of the minds, that there is a shared aesthetic.

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Petra’s philosophy and ethics align with mine. She is fascinated with traditional artisan crafts that are being abandoned and forgotten in the onslaught of high volume and digital production, and wants to preserve and promote the arts and crafts that respect culture and time. She wants equality and egalitarianism, and a planet that is revered and protected, not ravaged and plundered in a race for material wealth. She uses her art to challenge and provoke as well as bring aesthetic pleasure and curiosity.

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We quickly agree to collaborate. And before the exhibition is over, we are planning to go together to Jaipur, India. Petra has already worked there with artisan craftspeople who design and produce stunning hand-dyed fabrics using ancient woodblocks and natural dyes. She shows me photos, and I am moved by the images of the artisans and their work. The woodblocks are quirky and intricate, the colours of the fabrics are beyond vibrant, the designs enticing and calling out to be made into garments. I am excited. Petra is excited. We will create clothes made from these fabrics…and our ethics will underpin the work. There will be no exploitation of workers, no middleman. We will collaborate with each other and with these artisans to produce slow fashion that benefits the artisans and preserves their techniques. My face is sore from smiling so much.

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Petra tells me that she has completing a doctorate exploring these concepts we have discussed. The title of her thesis is Slow Fashion, ethical design and contemporary tendencies in traditional Indian block printing. I am in awe, but equally feel confirmed that my instincts were right. Here is an artist who knows what she is doing – and why.

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Melbourne, June 2017.
I am learning Hindi! It is exhilarating. I am completing an intensive course because I do not have a year to become proficient in a traveller’s version of the language that lets me do little more than greet people, find toilets, and order food. I want to converse intelligently with the artisans I will be working with. I am surprised to find that learning Hindi is not as difficult as it was for me to learn English. Sometimes people argue that culture and languages are proof that we are different…but for me, they highlight the beauty and inventiveness of all humanity and our common need to socialise and communicate and share. So each day I learn more, I understand more, I prepare myself for India.

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Jaipur, August 2017.
I am here, in Jaipur with Petra, and our collaboration is underway. We are both learning ancient wood-blocking and fabric-making techniques. It is a long way from Melbourne and New York – and I am not talking about miles. There are no neon lights, but there is art in the making. There are no air-conditioned cafés open 24/7, but there is warmth spreading between humans of different cultures. There are no mod-cons, but there is fun and hard work and an incredible sense of accomplishment. I am watching these extraordinary artisans at work and I am feeling, absorbing, the warp and weft of the fabrics and understanding how they could be cut and shaped to showcase the artisans’ skills and celebrate the human body. My brain is playing with ideas, and my hands are starting to sketch possible designs. One evening, I realise I want to give back more than I am being given, so I begin designing looks for the village that they will own, that will become their own design and production line. And Petra and I are keen to do whatever we can to promote the wonderful women who live in the village of Bagru here in Rajahstan.

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Petra and I explore and share and evolve our ideas. We have known each another only for minutes if you consider our whole lives, and I muse on how we met, and how both of us enthusiastically dived into the unknown together. Our conversations are intense and light, frenetic and calm. We discuss possibilities that individually we might never have envisaged, and it seems the only thing I cannot imagine is a stronger collaboration.

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I am in India, I am improving my Hindi, I am working with an extraordinary artist, I am discovering how little and how much I know of people, life, our planet. I am a long way from my home…but I am home.

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