The Modular Principle – the Designer Alexandra Kiesel
The designer Alexandra Kiesel has a powerful concept: she designs fashion on the basis of modules which, at some point in the future, anyone can put together to create his or her own, individual clothing.
The slogan that fashion designer Alexandra Kiesel wore at the event was both powerful and polarising in equal measure. “Marc loves me” was announced on the T-shirt she wore in July 2011 when she accepted the winner’s trophy at the at award ceremony for up-and-coming talent, Designer for Tomorrow by Peek & Cloppenburg Düsseldorf – from the hands of the internationally celebrated fashion designer Marc Jacobs himself. Kiesel asked the four other fashion contest finalists whether they found the stunt amusing. Their enthusiasm was somewhat muted. Nonetheless, she designed a colourful heart and printed it on her T-shirt in a copy shop, and spontaneously decided to wear it on the morning of the finale. “Some people thought I was trying to curry favour, others found it funny,” she says about the reactions. “But somehow it was a good idea. It made an incredible impression.”
Alexandra Kiesel, born in 1982 in Hausdorf near Leipzig, recognised early on how provocative fashion’s effects can be. Her mother and grandmother had taught her sewing. While in academic high school, she wore her head shaved together with “flower-power”pants she had made herself, challenging in this way the numerous right-wing radicals in her school and hometown. “I somehow confronted them with my clothing. They felt I was mocking them by the way I looked. Things became tense and very stressful. Even back then, it showed me how powerful fashion is. It’s really cool to be able to set oneself apart and express oneself in this way.”
Do it yourself
Fashion is about making a statement. But fashion is also a handicraft, and therefore Alexandra Kiesel first trained as a dressmaker to acquire basic skills before going on to Berlin to study fashion design. “That really paid off. I could free myself totally from those rules, but I was faster than the others at implementing ideas.” She studied at the Kunsthochschule Weissensee/Berlin, which has produced a whole series of outstanding fashion designers in recent years: c.neeon with her stunning geometric patterns, Michael Sontag with his asymmetrical dresses of draped cloth panels, schmidttakahashi with her concept of combining parts of old clothing with unusual cuts to create new pieces.
Another powerful concept is Alexandra Kiesel’s approach: for her diploma collection, Baukasten Individualisten 12/6/24, she invented a modular system for pieces of clothing. The dressmaker’s mannequin in her atelier demonstrates the principle. The mannequin is divided into individual surfaces with red adhesive tape: every 12 centimetres, a signal-red strip sections off a part of the body horizontally, 6 cm measures off the shoulder section, 24 cm the width of the front and rear side. Each section has a range of different colours and fabrics, enabling the customer to design his or her own piece.
During her diploma examinations, a criticism was voiced that she was overreaching herself with her idea and that it would have been better to eliminate an ugly piece. “Concepts are my strength. I wanted to demonstrate the range of possibilities this system makes possible,” she explains. In her revised version, which got her started at the Designer for Tomorrow contest, she presented jackets constructed with individual surfaces that stood out with their contrasting colours of green and red, and blue and yellow, a flowing dress with geometrically planar patterns, a long, wide skirt and a mini-dress, all in brilliant, contrasting colours, accessorised with necklaces with pendants made of little building blocks for children. All of the pieces were based on the same strict, but, as it turns out, surprisingly variable principle.
The customer as co-designer
The principle was convincing – a wonderful confirmation of her work that landed her an award purse with which she financed her new collection. She will present her new collection – it too a part of the award – in her own show at the next Berlin Fashion Week in January 2012. “I’ve wanted to work with artists for a long time, and the award now makes it possible for me to do so. I have the opportunity to try out everything,” she says. For her new collection, Support your Local Hero, she is cooperating with street artists and graphic artists from Grobgrafik and Golden Cosmos, who themselves are on the verge of gaining international recognition. Grobgrafik and Golden Cosmos design textiles that Alexandra Kiesel then integrates into her modular system with new cuts and modules.
She’s not going to make changes here. She disapproves of scrapping a collection every season, and instead relies on expansion of her basic pieces. She says that her system is so flexible that the new collection’s aesthetic impression will be completely different, but nonetheless still recognisable due to the strict divisions. And she continues to be convinced that customers should be co-designers. “I think it’s cool when people have the confidence to express themselves through fashion.” She has no fear of becoming superfluous as a fashion designer because of this. “Individuality is important, users should have a say in how their clothes look.”