Beyond Seeing
More Than Meets the Eye

Feeling instead of seeing.
Feeling instead of seeing. | Photo: Goldfasanblog

Sonja Köllinger and Lydia Zoubek both write blogs about fashion, lifestyle and their everyday lives. What they don’t have in common is that Sonja is sighted and Lydia is blind. For BEYOND SEEING they both took part in a Franco-German event for bloggers organised for the Woche des Sehens (Week of Sight) by the Goethe-Institut Paris in cooperation with the German Federation of the Blind and Partially Sighted (DBSV).

Fashion is primarily a visual phenomenon and hardly imaginable without the sense of sight. But how do blind and partially sighted people experience materials and surfaces? What does their concept of beauty consist of? And how can it be experienced with the other senses beyond vision? The research and exhibition project Beyond Seeing revolves around these and other questions. In cooperation with the German Federation of the Blind and Partially Sighted (DBSV), the Goethe-Institut Paris invited German and French-speaking bloggers with and without visual impairments to Berlin to experience the cultural programme during the Week of Seeing. The German participants were bloggers Sonja Köllinger and Lydia Zoubek.

While the colours and appearance of garments are relevant for Sonja, who is sighted, Lydia feels fashion. She says, “I can’t perceive anything having to do with colours. When I touch a fabric, what’s important to me is how it feels. I like soft fabrics. And I like certain cuts. Colour is important when I want to wear an item in public.”

Fashion beyond the appearance

In a workshop held in the building of Berlin’s ESMOD fashion school, Lydia and Sonja team up to sew a handbag out of three fabric triangles. It is the first time that Lydia has used a sewing machine. “I had a corresponding respect for it,” she says, “A helper gave me instructions how to operate it. She showed me where I had to lay the fabric and which buttons I had to press to move the fabric and needle, and how to hold the fabric properly.”

Sonja has often sewed before, but has no idea how a sightless person could transform a sewing pattern into a garment. “It takes a lot of motivation, a good guide, the right tools and sometimes a few helping hands,” she says, “for example, if you have never sat at a sewing machine before. Special tracks used to clamp the fabric for cutting or yardsticks marked with dots simplify the work at least a little.”

Sonja and Lydia master the task as a team and return, satisfied, to the hotel with their handbag.


Blogger Lydia and her helper at the sewing table. Blogger Lydia and her helper at the sewing table. | Photo: Goldfasanblog Blogger Sonja feels a picture. Blogger Sonja feels a picture. | Photo: Goldfasanblog

Buying clothes blind

How do you buy clothes when you cannot see? Following their museum visit, the bloggers stop at a second hand shop together. Lydia’s experience of clothes shopping is quite different from Sonja’s.
“In unfamiliar shops, I lack the orientation to get an idea of the layout. My only option for finding my way around is to move systematically through the ranks of the clothes racks and shelves. ... Shopping is usually a necessity for me. I rarely enjoy it.”

Second-Hand-Laden in Berlin Foto: Goldfasanblog Together, the bloggers feel the fabrics and cuts while Sonja describes the colours to Lydia. Finally, they each purchase a new item for their wardrobes. This made Sonja realise, “How good a piece of clothing feels is particularly important for blind people. Where, for me, the first visual impression is important and I pay attention to the fabric later.”

For the two bloggers, the event has been unforgettable. The change in perspective has taught them a great deal and they are looking forward to the upcoming event for bloggers.

The blogging event was held in the run-up to the exhibition Beyond Seeing, which will be on display at the Parc de la Villette in Paris on 18 January 2018. The exhibition will show creations, artefacts and participatory elements that make fashion and design tangible by means of form and sound, identity and smell as well as material and haptics.