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Interview: Ada Zanditon

Friday 08 June 2012
Words Spindle

Myself and Ada had known each other for a while…online on Twitter of course, as the socialising these days go. Considering that my questions for the designer involved all things nature and stripped back, it seemed only fitting that we escaped the inbox walls and had a herbal tea at hers. After being introduced to a delightful DIY cardboard bat that hung above me, it was time to grill Ada by asking what her favourite things in life are.

“I like flowers, rose flavoured tea, spiders and snakes and all things creepy crawly. Two extremes make me happy. I love Disney movies, but also horror. Disney horror is my ideal world.”

Considering I dress like Aladdin in the summer season, this response almost made me want to break out into Disney song. Now that the ice had broken and the cardboard pet bat trusted I wasn’t a threat, the interesting background to Ada was on the agenda. How did someone with strong eco views and ideas find her way into fashion?

“It was an odd combination… From the age of 5 I was hooked on reading Vogue, so I’d wash the car, do the dishes, anything really, so long as I could buy it.  But at the same time I loved The National Geographic. These two reading worlds were kept separate until I was about 20 and then a friend of mine, Clare Farrell, was writing a dissertation about eco fashion. It inspired me to read about the impact of growing cotton in a non economical way and the devastating impact that this has. And I was like, I can’t do this! Already at this point I’d done my placement at McQueen and worked in Paris, so while I loved what I was doing, I couldn’t love this conflict! But I thought, it must be possible to change!”

In a Gaga shaped world, it would be easy for the ‘P.C.’ designer starting up to be looked upon with confusion. There are those making a point for the sake of making a point; so how was Ada’s world received?

“Somehow P.C. is more controversial! It’s taken a long time to beat down the door on the assumption that eco fashion just means bohemian clothes. In the realm of sustainable clothing, there are some conservationists who want to create a t shirt so that people won’t wear a different fabric. But they didn’t come from a design background; they just got involved with the fashion realm. That’s fine and there’s an audience for that style. But for my own taste I wanted to create desirable fashion that just happens to be made sustainably.”

Ada even mentioned to me how the international runway brands are even slowly starting to respond to this sort of eco backbone. Gucci have done a line of recycled plastic shoes that are bio degradable. If you have Gucci involved, it means it’s not just a trend, it’s here to stay!”

As a professional journalist, I disclosed how I’m addicted to daytime TV on my days off with ‘fashion advice’ columns. My jaw dropped recently when there was a 15 minute Q&A on ‘how to wear yellow’ however. Something about the high street, and the public that panic over it has lost the plot somewhere, and I wondered if Ada had something to say on this from an eco path…

“Fast fashion is interesting, because one thing that’s good is that it’s democratised fashion, making it possible for those not rich to afford a style they aspire to. This has to be recognised as a good thing. But these days fashion is a business model that’s based on profit for the sake of profit. That’s understandable, as business is what it is; but applying that model in fashion only go’s so far before you’re straining the earth and human resources who are making the product! How do you persuade people we’re part of an eco system, and that it’s a fascinating magical place that we should be engaged with…”

Well, like an excitable quiz show contestant, I correctly guessed that imaginative fashion was the answer. I won a caravan*

“When designing a collection, I want to make something fresh, contemporary and of the moment, but at the same time an evolution of my signature. The interpretation of femininity is important.  Often there’s a 2d approach to ‘what women are about.’ However most women I know are extremely complex. They can be the sweetest girl and a horrible bitch in the same half an hour. People are full of contradictions, and I love to play with things that are camp and contradictory. Life is more complicated than ‘how to wear yellow’! With women, you don’t have to put a pair of pinstriped trousers on to be a powerful woman. If you want to wear pink, wear it! For me I like to incorporate something sculptural and empowering, such as a pronounced shoulder and empire line for a goddess feel.”

“With my animal inspiration, I wanted to link back to the things in life that inspire me, and to put it simply, I’ve always been inspired by animals! It was never a  case of ‘Oh, I really like zebra print”, but more of a geeky thing, understanding how the world works.”

“The SS collection was inspired by seahorses. I heard they were living in the Thames! You think of them being in an exotic ocean, but we have them here, and they’re so weird! They look like mini horses, the boys have the babies, and they dance together in the morning. Then if one of them changes colour, they all follow suit and tone. They’re The Most Sustainable Fashion Ever!”

So how does a designer take a seahorse and make it stunning?

“I love an animals form and their colour.  This idea of taking something so complex and taking it from a 3 dimensional sense into a stripped back low resolution beauty.”

One of Ada’s recent collaborations that continues to evolve her eclectic impression on the industry was a video for the collection with Thomas Knight. It’s a horror delight, and tickled the Buffy The Vampire Slayer side of my taste.

“I really wanted to make a horror film. The last video was a beautiful story of a goddess who dances in a carnival. But I thought, “this is what people expect from eco fashion, dancing down the street in a caftan with flowers, where it’s all too nice.” For autumn winter we should make a horror film, as after all there’s so many things happening in life that are frightening!” So a beautiful Jane Austin character eats a cupcake, falls asleep, wakes up in a dystopia, where lightning shrieks and the sky is a boiling graphic red cloud. Some people say this is the horror of what happens when a drag queen go’s to bed without taking her make-up off!

But what makes this video AND designer a magic fusion of modern fashion with a meaningful backbone, is that it’s not a message based around forcing, but more about inspiring. Who wants to be criticised when you can be inspired and introduced to a creative side of life. Ada is the antidote, where her gorgeous collections are powerful and fairytale in equal measure, and the meaning behind them are just as engaging.

*I didn’t win a caravan…

Words: Charles Matthews