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Florentina Leitner

How has it all started for you? 

I was always spending a lot of time drawing and doodling. The high school that I was attending in Vienna was a fashion focused one. When I was 14 I had a chance to get a specialisation, already in the school we were able to get specialised and I decided to go for knitwear. Education program in there was really technical, that was the reason why we had to work a lot with the machines and computer programming. 

Do you think that it had any influence on you and your work throughout the time?

Yes, of course it had. I’m still working with knits, even though I haven’t used a lot of them in my last collection. But it was actually also one of the main reasons why I came to Antwerp, because I didn’t want to work just with knitwear, I wanted to work with all kinds of different techniques and materials. Most of the time, in other schools you need to get specialised and choose between - menswear or womenswear, textile or knitwear. Since I have already had a certain experience with knitwear I wanted to experiment with all the other things as well, although in Vienna I have already tried to do some headpieces or fabric-made garments.

Would you think that being narrow-focused is better in this case? 

As for me I think that it wouldn’t really help because I want to explore everything. Collection consists not only from garment pieces, but also from accessories, footwear etc. I think it’s good to focus, especially when you are studying something as creative as fashion, but what our Academy does here makes a lot of sense as well.

I don’t think that restrictions are bad in general, but I think that in our age, especially now when we are still students we need to have an ability to work without restrictions, because they are coming anyway once you get your contract in a big company. It is important to build up your own identity.

What is your opinion on the location? 

I think that Antwerp is a great city for studying. It is not big, so you can actually focus on your studies. I think it’s good that the school is located in here. Department is not that big, everyone knows each other well and when you need something, everyone is just a walk away. People support each other and that is really important. It is also never getting boring, because of the local art scene. So small is not equal to boring in this case.

Are you planing to stay in Antwerp after you graduate? 

There are some labels here in Antwerp where you can work at. 

I actually imagine myself working anywhere in the world, but it always really depends on where will you get hired.

Would you rather work in a big company or start up your own thing?

I would say that first I would gain some experience working in the company, because it seems to me really risky to start up my own label now. I am young and I need to have an experience working in the industry. I think in the beginning, right after you graduate it makes sense to move to the place where everything is vibrating. Getting contacts, meeting people and seeing places.

Can you highlight some of the aspects in production or creative process that you really dislike?

I am always trying to work already with garments while I am designing, trying to see in person what can I do with it. Nowadays most of the brands are not designing in a way we make our designs in  the Academy. They mostly work directly with patterns, draping on the spot. Of course ones I start mass producing  I would definitely have people to stitch for me. Toiles I am usually trying to do myself and once I have the toile done I would give it to someone else. I think it is also really interesting to see how people that you collaborate with translating your ideas. Taking a look from a different perspective is always a useful act that leads you to the positive outcome.

Can you walk me through the whole collection creation process, the way you usually do it.

I am a movie addict, so most of the time my story starts from there. The first question I ask myself before I start making it is - for whom am I making this? Then I start my research, go to the library, looking for whoever or whatever is related to the topic. I think that the mood of your collection is being created on the way, throughout the time, while you work on it. All the pieces are eventually coming together. I am also trying to talk with people about it, share some thoughts and get some opinions. It is important to talk about your project with teachers because when I am explaining my thoughts I am always getting a lot of ideas and realise stuff, sorting things out. Then I am always staring quite early to toile things. Buying second hand clothes, look at the way it is constructed, cutting it in pieces and creating silhouettes. So basically I am making something like collages but with the real life garments. Draping always helps a lot with the 3 dimensional view, because when you work only with drawings, pictures or image collages are always coming out flat. 

Have you ever had a situation when you had something in your mind or on the paper but you couldn’t really execute it in the way you wanted?

Of course, or what is even more likely - I have an idea, but I just can’t get it on paper. You know sometimes you draw something, but it doesn’t really look the way you imagined it. I have that really often. I think that if I would give my sketches to the professional stitchers and pattern makers that would definitely do crazy shit out of it. But of course, I am not a tailor so there is always a moment when you can not execute all the crazy designs you draw. You need to soberly understand what you are capable of and what not. In the beginning of the year one of our teachers once said that - designer’s job is to solve problems. You always work with people, sometimes the delivery is not there or something is not working out you need to have plan A, B, C, D.

What do you think about experiments and what would you highlight in your work and name experimental? 

I think it really depends on the person. But that is what I am also a bit missing freedom or better say the time to experiment. The Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp definitely puts a lot of pressure on the students and they don’t have that much time to build things in this way. I know that in CSM masters have two years for making their final collection and this is good from the student’s perspective, but I don’t think that it is realistic. Nowadays the actual tempo of the industry is completely opposite to this.   

But isn’t it hard to keep your work contemporary if it takes two years to finish it? 

That is exactly the thing that they are being thought - it is not about being contemporary, it is about being yourself and bringing your personality into your work. Nowadays a lot of companies just copying from each other and we are always being told that we need to be in the trend and so on… but I think that all this stuff makes the work way much weaker and transitional. 

Isn’t it also bad when the thing that you do is too personal, so people that look at your work can not really associate themselves with it? Who do you make your clothes for? 

I think that I make it for my friends or the people I met. When you are around people you are getting their vibes and translating it into something. It is for people that are interested and would dare to wear this stuff. 

What is this collaboration that you are working on now with Benny?

So basically I found Benny’s work on social media, we met up and went to his exhibition. Once I was in his studio where he was working with his friend and I was really fascinated by the process. So I thought that it would be cool if we could do something like this together. We talked about it, met again after and now i kind of now better what do I want to do. He is helping me designing details for clothing like buttons and also we are going to do accessories, bags and jewelery.

Tell me a little about your dreams that came true here, when you moved to Antwerp. Something that you were dreaming about when you were in Austria. 

I think that recently the coolest experience for me was an exhibition that I had in New York when I was like 17 years old. It was definitely a dream. At that time I was working for one brand in Berlin, doing an internship. So one time I was alone in the museum and all of the sudden I have noticed a creepy old guy following me across the museum. Of course I was like - wtf is going on? Suddenly he was next to me and then he went - hey, do you work in art? I replied - no, I am actually studying design. He gave me a card and said that I should contact him. I found it really weird, thought it was a kind of a creepy pick up thing or something like that. When I came home, I was researching about this person and apparently it came out that he has a page in wikipedia. I looked at his work and thought for my self that his stuff actually looks good. Then my friend and I met up with him. He asked me if I want to work on the project for his next exhibition in New-York and I have immediately agreed to participate. The work I have done for this exhibition was mainly related to communism and especially to Karl Marx, a lot of symbolism and so on.

\ Is there any material that doesn’t exist yet, or impossible for you to get, but you would love to have or create it.

I really often see materials that I would love to work with, but fabric is super expensive most of the time. It would be really cool to experiment more, create or weaving your own materials, but I am just not focused on it that much yet. I really like to do prints, but it’s also really expensive.

Which role does social media play in your life?

I mostly use it for fun and don’t really take it serious. I think it is a cool platform for reaching out people. Of course I get some shooting requests etc., but in my opinion it is more important to have your portfolio done. It is weird that people really getting jobs via social media, because I feel like you need to meet first in person and kind of do it in an old-school interview way. It is easy to make mistakes on social media. 

Would you call yourself Dora the Explorer? 

Totally. I was actually thinking after my high school graduation to volunteer for a year, teaching kids english or something like that. I think it is super cool if you are exploring a new territory, culture, meet new people and at the same time being busy with your business. For me a natural experience is to go somewhere without all the fancy, glamorous conditions.

Tell me a bit about your obsession with eurotrash and schlager music from the early 2000s.

My sister and my father they were always listening to Italo techno and Italo disco. It is a really hard and funny type of music if you can say that. Basically I grew up with it. My sister is 6 years older then me, so she has been guiding me through all that bubble gum techno. I am a huge Gigi Dagostino fan and saw him already live 2 times.

Also in Austria this kind of music style is becoming more and more popular again.

Why are you so bad at krochen? 

I skipped my Krocha classes when I was in elementary school. 

Krochen is international.