“Garments as homes” : Interview with Katarzyna Cichy

The finalist of the next Fashion Festival in Hyères looks back on her journey and tells us about her relationship to clothing

13 min read
in brief

At the occasion of her selection for the 35th International Fashion Festival in Hyères, we met Katarzyna Cichy, a young graduate of ENSAD. She tells us about her inspirations, her relationship to migrations and the concept of home.

Large volumes and wide shoulders, small hidden and deep pockets; for her graduation collection, the young designer Katarzyna Cichy was inspired by the first female explorer, French botanist Jeanne Baret. At the time, as Katarzyna reminds us, women were prohibited from sailing. The explorer therefore dressed up as a man to successfully board the La Boudeuse and Étoile ships from 1766 to 1769. Inspired by her story, the Polish designer imagines clothing-as-tools to adorn oneself in an environment in constant evolution. Sorts of material artifacts, for Katarzyna they represent “capsules for intangible thoughts and emotions“, transcending their simple material properties to become refuges, sorts of transformative homes, capable of protecting their carriers through their multiple lives.

Her collection, “In Between Here and Elsewhere” takes its source in her graduation work at ENSAD “Forever Changing Odyssey” presented in  July 2019, and has been enriched with new shapes, silhouettes and materials at the occasion of her selection for the 35th International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories of Fashion in Hyères (postponed to next October). Encounter.

Katarzyna Cichy, photographed by Paul Mouginot.

Paul Mouginot: Katarzyna, at only 27 years old, you have already lived a thousand lives and explored many territories: what path led you to become a designer?

“Clothing has always been essential in my life. Many times, being young, I had to emigrate to new countries, restart my life, find new landmarks. It certainly allowed me to develop a strong spirit of adaptation and to learn to surround myself with good friends, but only the clothes were really fixed points.

“In this sense, I now see them as capsules, receptacles of our personality, which evolve through time and space. My Polish mom always told me many stories from my family – with which I unfortunately had little contact – and at the same time she showed me some of their accessories: it transported and amazed me perpetually.”

Photo: Léa Guintrand.

“After high school, I traveled for two years, notably to India, to explore in detail the possibilities offered by textiles and embroidery. Through this, I got a quick glimpse of the power of myths and symbols. When I returned to Canada (where I lived a large part of my youth), I pursued this passion by taking courses in philosophy and anthropology, before embarking on studies in textile design at the Concordia University in Montreal. There, textile studies are not only technical, but also cover all fields of artistic experimentation: performance, installations, sculptures

After this crucial step, I wanted to go even further in my understanding of the form and I was able to join the National School of Decorative Arts (ENSAD) in Paris in 2015. I came out graduated in 2019: these studies only reinforced my passion and my determination to invest myself in clothing design.

PM: How would you describe your creative process, your approach to imagine and build a piece of garment?

“I am very curious and I spend my time exploring many new environments to collect fragments of nature, feelings, memories… Everything happens as if I was constantly building a “material library” in my mind, a set of inspirations that I use later.”

Photo: Paul Mouginot.

Film photography is also a very important medium for me: I started photographing and developing from a very young age, across my travels, or the time spent with my friends, and this also feeds my creative work a lot. My first reflex is often to go directly into reality, into the tangible. Thus, I feel the very personal need for a gesture, a work on textiles, a three-dimensional sculpture of my desires, a synthesis of accumulated inspirations.”

PM: You are one of the 10 finalists of the 35th edition of the Hyères festival. Your graduation collection at ENSAD “Forever Changing Odyssey”, with deep and rich inspirations, had already aroused great interest during its presentation in July 2019. What does this festival represent to you and how do you approach it ?

“The collection of my graduation was a departure from a theme that has fascinated me for a long time: the notion of home and the complex relationship to migration.”

Photo: Paul Mouginot.

“The selection by the Hyères festival allows me to deepen this reflection. It is the ideal setting, because during the week of the festival, we are a little out of time: spirits are open, conversations are rich, the glance is soothed. In addition, I really aspire to meet the most participants in this festival – whether selected designers, the jury or the public – to enrich my vision and why not, launch new adventures.”

PM: What is the story of this collection and, if I may say, its intellectual foundations?

“When I think about clothing, I feel systematically brought back to the notion of home.”

“Indeed, I have the strong and constant will to craft garments that truly serve as tools for the body, in a constantly changing environment. These pieces of clothing must accompany us throughout our adventures and excursions and provide us with exactly what we need, at the time we choose. They must be material artefacts, capsules for the intangible thoughts and emotions that we hold dear. These pieces thus transcend their simple material properties: whether it is a garment, a jewelry accessory, a scarf tight around the neck, an oversized jacket – which protects us from the violence of the outside world – or a trusty backpack on a long trip.

Photo: Paul Mouginot.

“These garments are no longer just ephemeral items to consume, they are objects that have a foundation, hold memories, a future, even in wear, because they keep traces of our movements and our life experiences, our history. They evolve with the body and serve as vessels to help build our identity.

“In a way, garments become faithful companions, somehow embodying their wearer, and becoming their home.”

“For this collection, I was very inspired by the adventures and the life of Jeanne Baret, the first woman to sail around the world with Bougainville on the ships La Boudeuse and Étoile from 1766 to 1769. She was a botanist, and in order to participate in this expedition, to be able to keep her freedom and continue her work, she dressed as a man for this three-year trip. At that time, women were denied access to French navy ships. Thus, in large oversized menswear jackets and pants tied around her waist, she sailed through the seas of the globe and explored multiple territories, collecting thousands of botanical specimens throughout her journey. Her story fascinated me for its relation to the masculine and the feminine, for the phenomena that she could see at sea and the organic forms that she could meet on land, as well as for the clothes and tools that she would have have needed throughout the trip.”

Photo: Léa Guintrand.

Her clothes allowed her to be free and powerful, to take control of her destiny. They have been an essential tool throughout her journey.

I imagined clothes she could have worn today, a jacket with wide shoulders and deep pockets to store her specimens, small pockets to hide her most intimate objects. High gloves to protect her hands and a large hat to keep her away from direct sunlight. Boots to protect her from high tides.

This collection is a meeting point for the many contradictory aspects of the history of Jeanne, and perhaps also of mine, that of women in general.

PM: The collection you are presenting for the festival calls on many skills, what are they and how are they integrated into your practice?

“It is true that craft and gesture have occupied a preponderant place in my work, since the beginning of my studies in textile. So textiles, jewelry and ceramic accessories, hats, gloves can be found in my collection, but also new proposals of shoes and for each of them, I took care to make everything fully by hand.

I admit to being a little obsessed with details, I find it hard to be satisfied with “prefabricated” objects and I therefore find myself making my own belt buckles, my own closure systems…

PM: What woman did you think of when you built this collection? What is her life, her attitude, what are her dreams?

“My collection is aimed, I believe, at a free woman, a contemporary explorer who is interested in the world around her, who takes responsibility for herself, and who takes power de facto.”

Photo: Paul Mouginot.

“For her, I would like to make my garments go beyond the usefulness of the fashion object and become tools, which give her strength, an additional welcomed presence – a bit like a little talisman that we sometimes wear in a pocket, and that we feel will give us courage.”

PM: What is your relation to new technologies, do they have a place in your practice? How do you envisage, from a more general point of view, their use in fashion design?

“Technology is another way of doing things. It is a tool, like a brush or a loom. We must not reject it, especially when technology acts in tandem with a craftsman, amplifies his gesture or, conversely, helps him to be more precise. On several occasions, I was amazed at the new paths offered by the possibility of harmony between man and machine.”

PM: Currently, what are the major changes at work in the field of fashion according to you? More generally, how do you anticipate the future of the luxury industry?

“Even if we are living through many transformations at the moment, I remain optimistic because I feel in my friends a strong desire to return to the gesture of the hand, to neat materials, to respect, to tailor-made and to slowness. This is what genuine luxury is, and I believe that we are all ready for this change. We want to be better informed and involved – in particular of our impact on nature, people and animals – and this is now a foundation of our activity.”

Photo: Paul Mouginot.

“Everything is to be done and it reminds me of these words from 1927 by Henry de Montherlant: « One day will come when, by the banality of speed, and the ease of the escalation as far as it is concerned, slowness will appear as the most natural mode to express a certain delicacy ».”

PM: How do you envision your future?

“I intend to remain curious, it is essential and embodies somehow the instinct for survival.”

Photo: Léa Guintrand.

“I try to surround myself with people who are also in exploration, with whom I could collaborate. Finally, I hope to find my place in the formidable yet contradictory fashion industry, without betraying my deep convictions.”

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