An interview with Stephanie Müller On Rags, Treasures and Wounds as Jewellery

Amigoaffäre, Stephanie Müller
Amigoaffäre, Stephanie Müller | Photo (detail): Klaus Dietl

Fashion, art, performance, music, sociology – the playground of Stephanie Müller’s creativity unfolds in the interfaces of these areas. In her laboratory, both the good, old practice of concealed seams as well as hierarchies and dominions of fashion and society are investigated. Stephanie Müller in an interview with Goethe.de about break-lines, deconstructions and new clothes out of old stories.

Self-portrait, Stephanie Müller Self-portrait, Stephanie Müller | Photo: Florian Betz Ms Müller found objects, uniforms, bandages – you work all of them into new themes or new clothes. What does making clothes mean to you, and what is the message contained in your concept of “rag-treasure”?

These old things, i.e. “rags” and “treasure”; this is what gets me going. I’m really glad when these old clothes aren’t just tossed out right away. It’s like a palimpsest, a literary motif: there’s always a story written into the materials, and it continues writing itself, so there’s always something there that you can have come to life again. Or I break with it and give the things a totally new reading.

But you also make unconventional clothes that sell. How do you go about it?

From an economic point of view, probably anybody who has really studied business would think “what on earth is she doing?” I make only unique pieces, and there aren’t any cutting patterns either, because it all arises from gut feelings: I make something and then maybe I’ll cut into it differently, and then I try it on, and then the dress emerges.

The motto “radical crafting” suggests that there is an element of social criticism in your work, along the lines of “I buck being handed preset guidelines” – right?

Surfsalingdress Surfsalingdress | Photo: Christina Sofie John I think the slogan DIY, “prefab is unsexy,” is really exciting although “do it yourself” has recently deteriorated into a kind of construction-set philosophy. I’m presented with a sheet of instructions, and I’m allowed to be creative within these preset measurements. That doesn’t interest me personally in the least. For me, “do it yourself” is more about “making” and communication. It’s about an exchange of knowledge, thoughts and ideas, and daring to foray into fields without expertise, where perhaps a classical education is lacking or hierarchies with boundaries would place limits on me. It’s about emancipation, daring to advance into those areas even if everybody would say, “But you didn’t train in that, did you?” Or “That’s actually done in such-and-such a way, that’s how it’s always been done, here, you can see for yourself in the manual…” Breaking out of these limitations – I think those are the moments when a lot of new things can emerge.

What’s your take on the links between society and fashion?

Fashion is an industry. Everybody participates somehow, no matter what your social class. On the other hand, everybody knows that production is somehow lousy, and none of us wants that, but nobody has any real insight into it because it’s all so diversified. If I’m interested in something like that, and if I’m interested in feminism, then I cannot avoid conceiving of fashion and society as interdependent, and that in turn makes me want to investigate more deeply: what’s behind all of this? What are the mechanisms of exploitation, who is affected, who is involved in the discourse of fashion to begin with.

ThreadTherapy ThreadTherapy | Photo: Florian Betz Stephanie Müller Stephanie Müller | Photo: Klaus Dietl With projects like “the Fabric” or my workshops I aim to convey a playful quality: “Hey, this is something I can take part in, nobody’s telling me what’s the right way to do it, but instead that there’s still something to be done.” I’m happy when the story can continue to be written.

In addition to fashion, workshops and art projects such as “the Fabric,” you have also done object series: Kreuzbandriss_am_Stück (i.e. cruciate_rupture_in_one_piece) and Anleitung_zu_Selbstgeißelung (i.e. Instructions for self-flagellation) ...

OK, the Kreuzbandriss_am_Stück or this Hirnband_von_der_Socke (i.e. brain-band_from_a_sock) or the Handschuhpastete (i.e. glove_pasty), or a Hüftsteak_vom_Schlüpfer (i.e. rumpsteak_from_a_pair_of_knickers) are small objects that I pack as though they really were fresh meat from the meat counter, but are in fact sewn together from textiles. They do not stigmatise the part of the body that has broken down, but instead adorn it like an oversized piece of jewellery.

The objects are part of the Blutgrätsche (i.e. dangerous_sliding_tackle) collection that I had started with this soccer theme in the background. I was interested in this pleasure people take in the performance principle, and I thought: “What is it that motivates people to watch others struggling and to use this for themselves like a collective catharsis, as if they themselves were the ones making these achievements by cheering along?”

Ragtreasure, Blue Collar Worker Ragtreasure, Blue Collar Worker | Photo: Marco Merten These objects are break-lines that point up the monkey wrench in the works here, open wounds and fracture sites – sport injuries were the driving force here. For me, the interesting thing was to position the mistake or performance failure as what is in fact desirable, in a society in which more or less everybody is caught up in the rat race.

What do you yourself like to wear most of all?

I like it when the silhouettes get a bit blurred, a slightly sloppy look, I think it’s cool if gender images get broken up a little. But then maybe have the look get punctured in turn by the hairstyle or makeup.

Your core theme is break-lines as such, right?

Well, yes, a slight edge like that can be there, too.