Laura Šilinska in Amsterdam

“You have to start early in the fashion industry” 0

Agnese Čivle,

In a hurry to get an education in fashion design, Laura Šilinska (26) headed off to France before she had even finished high school; in order to receive her diploma in industrial fashion design and textile technology, she spent her first year attending the Lycée de la Mode. The next three years were spent studying fashion and textile design at Paris' L'Institut Superieur des art appliqués (LISAA). Laura defended all of her work presentations in front of a jury of active professionals from the Parisian fashion houses, which led to meeting people from Lacoste, Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga.

Laura interned with the stylists at the magazine So', as well as at the underground label, Andrea Crews – in the studios of which she also completed parts of her final student project. This cooperation continued with Laura bringing mini-collections from Andrea Crews and other young designer-friends to Riga, and setting up a concept shop, Made In West, for two months in Riga's Old Town.

During her study years, the young designer participated in all of the events associated with the fashion world – shows, parties and openings. Upon finishing school, she got a taste of haute couture by working on the couture and ready-to-wear collections at the fashion house of Alexis Mabille

Laura remembers the job at the fashion label as being “hard as hell”; it made her want to set her own schedule, so she spent some time trying to develop a concept for her own label. The concept turned out to be too complex, and given the difficulty of entering the market right now, it's been set aside for the time being.

For almost a year now, Laura has been living in Amsterdam and working on the atelier team for the Dutch label, Viktor&Rolf. Having been called fashion neo-surrealists, dreamers, representatives of conceptual glamor, illusionists and experts at the art of performance, Viktor&Rolf are one of the most extravagant duets in today's fashion scene. They are often compared to the popular British artistic duo of Gilbert&George, who also resemble Siamese twins in their daily lives – and then use this image as another accent in their creative workings. It happens that the fashion house, founded by Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Laura Šilinska readily agreed to share with the mood backstage – in the workshop. 

How did you come to work for the Viktor&Rolf fashion house?

In moving from Paris to Holland, the number of fashion houses decreased about a million-fold. It was easy to decide where to apply for an interview. Such big labels usually don't advertise available positions, so when I went to interview, I didn't even now if the time was right. And it wasn't. It all started with an unpaid internship. I a couple of months, I had proven how hugely motivated I was and how interested I was in investing my ideas and skills into the atelier of Viktor&Rolf.

How did your Paris experiences help you at Victor&Rolf?

My previous experience and contacts definitely helped me stay on the team. Viktor&Rolf have shown in Paris for years now, and they work with a French stylist, so it's actually hard to even call them a “Dutch” fashion house. In terms of their identity, aesthetics and quality of clothing, they are just as spoiled as the haute couture labels in Paris. The workings and standards of the atelier adhere to the spirit of traditional high fashion, which is something that I value highly and I am very used to.

What is your workday at a fashion house like?

In work in the atelier in which we transcribe Viktor's and Rolf's sketches into three-dimensional models. We offer up our vision for form, detailing and textile experiments. At first, I make a model from regular cotton fabric – it's like putting a spatial sketch onto a mannequin, which can then be modified, drawn upon and cut, as necessary. The next step is cleaning up the form for a pattern, and already working on the details of the model, which is now made from the final (or similar to the final) material. The head of the atelier, who has worked with Viktor and Rolf for nineteen years now, is one of my main authorities. Every day, I listen to him and I learn how to come up with the Viktor&Rolf magic touch, which is in every detail that we select.

How would you personally describe the Viktor&Rolf label?

Personally, I'm more interested how the kitchen of a fashion house works – the core of the design, the inner, confidential processes. I often forget to think about how the things that we create look from the sidelines – with an objective eye. The label changes with every season, but it seems that Viktor&Rolf is still about playing with the obvious, which is a very Dutch approach. Any collection can have just one element that has been made brighter, bigger and exaggerated. I like to compare them with children or students who have been given one assignment, which they then complete in a myriad of ways, but in the framework of a collection.

How would you describe the way Viktor&Rolf approach the working process?

Working at Viktor&Rolf differs from my previous experiences in terms of the noticeable Northern mentality of the team; which is also the true reason that I decided to leave Paris for something closer to the Latvian mentality. I work with Dutch, Germans and Brits whose approach to work could be called very organized and productive. I found out that it is possible to work at a big label and finish the workday at a reasonable hour, as well as relax on the weekend.

Viktor & Rolf in the garden of their atelier

What's the mood, or atmosphere, like at Viktor&Rolf?

Viktor&Rolf's four-story building has a very homey mood. Viktor and Rolf come to work every day with their dogs in tow. Besides their dogs, there are also dogs that belong to three other employees, and they all run around the place. The courtyard is like a Versailles-type garden, in which you can play with the dogs, or go out to have a cup of coffee. There's a fantastic tradition before the shows in Paris – the whole company travels to Paris by train, to work in the Paris office for several days. It's a very emotionally saturated time – in which we work, cry, laugh, eat and sleep together.

How does the label manage to keep everything that goes on in the team to focus on one, unified creative tone and idea?

The unified idea is kept up by the many mood-boards that are up in every room of the department. We don't spare the copy machine, and ensure that everybody has the necessary material for inspiration – tests and samples that travel on the mood-boards from room to room.

Can you reveal what we can expect from V&R's next collection?

V&R is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. There will be many surprises!

How would you describe the Netherlands as a player on the field of global fashion?

The Netherlands play a very big role in the denim industry. Thanks to the tax system, Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld, Adidas and Nike have located their European headquarters here. V&R, in my opinion, is the only big company where it's possible to get creative and good quality work experience; that's because the companies that I just mentioned don't always bring their design departments to Amsterdam.

How much does Amsterdam, itself, inspire your work?

I've been here for almost a year. I couldn't say that I've found my favorite spots where to go see an exhibition or a concert. The same goes for concept stores and fashion boutiques. I do, however, get to plan weekends in Paris – for going to museums, galleries, and magazine and clothing shops. And I like the anticipation of waiting for [these trips]. It's like – when people decide that they want to move to the seaside, but when their house is finally built, they can't find the time to go to the beach anymore. Whereas the people who live in the city – they specially prepare for, and then try to fully enjoy, every single time they get a chance to go to the seaside.

How much did your fashion design studies prepare you for actually working in the fashion industry?

In school, the presentations of my work were held in front of not just instructors, but also invited professionals – who were interested in finding people to work on their projects. That was the biggest gain, and it's not offered by every school. In creative fields, the skills of the trade itself, I think, can be completely self-taught. That's why I like the fact that France's educational system also has shorter programs (two- and three-year) for professions in applied design. I believe that you have to start out in the fashion industry as early as possible – because the industry is practically grounded on good contacts, creative cooperation, and on-the-job experience !

What is it, in fashion, that appeals to you as a medium?

I work with clothing because I believe that our own personal style is the most active and intuitive of the mediums that we use. Silhouette, color and texture can say so much. I'm very sensitive to touch, and I usually pay a lot of attention to the interaction between a textile and the skin. Even without touching it, the structure of a fabric can indicate how a person feels, how he wants the fabric to envelop him. I like to make use of this dialog, and even more – to create a new language with the most unimaginable means, for instance, by working at such a conceptual label as V&R.

What do you see in the future, in terms of personal projects?

I think and fantasize a lot about textile technologies of the future. You don't always get to work on those kinds of ideas while working for a label, because research demands much more time than you can come up with during the time between collections (of which there are, at least, six in a year). In contrast to what I can do at a company – individually, I'd like to work on design products and clothing that is based on innovative materials, high-quality textiles, and green thinking. Alongside design, I occasionally work on fashion illustrations. At the beginning of this year, I took part in illustrating the book of trends for Galleries Lafayette. Hopefully, such projects will continue into the future!