Bringing her grandmother’s extraordinary life to life through designs is the Swiss- Russian fashion designer Manya Kullmann. The graduate collection from Central Saint Martin inspired by the “Russian Mata Hari” is full of bold colours, life and femininity. In light of her most recent feature as part of our Global Young Talent in the October issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK, we had the pleasure of speaking to the Global Young Talent 2020 about her intention of creating the new woman of the 2020’s
What made you want to designs prints as well as be a garment designer?
I always loved painting, and sort of just fell into fashion subconsciously. As a child, I admired how my mum dressed and how clothes make our identity and our character real. During my placement year, I realized how rapidly screen-printing is dying. I had the amazing opportunity to intern with Zandra Rhodes, where they used a screen-printing table. I then went on to work for Marc Jacobs in New York where all the prints were done digitally, which is a completely different approach. You cannot compare the two techniques of printing since the outcomes are very different. During my graduate collection, I came to the realization that I prefer screen-printing, although it is laborious it is very awarding.
"As a child, I admired how my mum dressed and how clothes make our identity and our character real"
Where do you find your inspiration for your collections?
The inspiration for my graduate collection came from my grandmother, who lives in Moscow. She has always played a massive role in my life and will forever be my inspiration and muse. Although I will never find out for sure, I can assume that she worked for the KGB as a spy. She was sent to Cuba where she liaised with Fidel Castro, and to Washington where she dabbled with the likes of the Kennedy brothers and Kissinger. Doing more research into this I ended up finding articles about her being named the Russian Mata Hari, by day she dressed in a two-piece suit and by night a lavish bejewelled dress. Alas, this “glamorous” life comes to an end and she returns back to the reality of the USSR, where all is black. I liked this idea of having a double identity, which I ended up playing with.
What made you want to include such bold and vibrant components within your collection?
My main objective with this collection was to make it fun. Since many students forget to have fun with their work in final year as we are stressed about not finishing in time and the constant pressure to create something original, so for me it was important for my collection to really represent my character.
"The inspiration for my graduate collection came from my grandmother, who lives in Moscow. She has always played a massive role in my life and will forever be my inspiration and muse"
How has sexuality, femininity and beauty inspired your collection and why?
My grandmother, who was the main muse of the collection, was branded to be the Russian Mata Hari. Mata Hari was a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan who was also convicted of being a spy. She is the epitome of sexuality, femininity and beauty. These three words really made me question the topic of beauty standards in today’s society, how everybody is starting to look the same. I was inspired by Cindy Sherman who recreated the Selfie, she exaggerates all of her imperfections to get the “perfect” selfie. Today we are again rebelling against the parameters set for us by the patriarchy, just as we did in the 20s with the flapper dress and the Suffragettes. As women, we have gone through a renaissance, hauling ourselves out of the traditional roles of solely mother and housewife, and this is never more so relevant than now, 100 years later in the 2020’s. But even with all this change, are we still conditioned into thinking that we need to look and act a certain way? I wanted to create the new woman of the 2020’s
What will you take forward from this collection and use in your future designs or garments?
I am currently working on a few personal projects and trying to set up a fun brand selling fabulous crotchet hair accessories and brooches. Although I have taken a step back from clothes, I really want to focus on creating a brand that is collaborative and celebrating different talents. I am currently collaborating with my godmother’s housekeeper who is working with me on the crotchet flowers and berry accessories so hopefully, soon I will launch!
"She is the epitome of sexuality, femininity and beauty. These three words really made me question the topic of beauty standards in today’s society, how everybody is starting to look the same"
See Manya Kullmann's full collection
Words by Reka Dala