Kat Marks Interview
Two weeks ago, we posted Kat Marks’ SHOWStudio collaboration with Nick Knight. For those who are curious to know a bit more about the latest Canadian shining star, we bring you an exclusive interview by Jen Tse for ThinkCONTRA.
Kat Marks is a young, up-and-coming fashion designer, a Canadian expat and recent masters graduate from the London College of Fashion. Her work is avant-garde, strange and conceptual, stuff in the lineage of Victor & Rolf, Alexander McQueen and Comme des GarÃ§ons.Â Like her predecessors, the aesthetic challenges our preconceptions of what fashion should be. Itâ€™s not just accessories, itâ€™s wearable art.Â Her collection, The Karass, is made up of twelve tuxedo plastic bibs with detachable bow ties: tribal ornamental talisman for the fashion forward. I imagine robots wearing her pieces while drinking tea and smoking cigars in a chilly sci-fi private club. In some ways, itâ€™s the future meeting the past, encapsulated in plastic yet evoking a dressier, more formal time.
The Karass has caught the eye of the fashion elite and has been showcased in a video installation directed by famed photographer Nick Knight for ShowSTUDIO, an avant-garde fixture for fashion and art. I spoke with Kat over Skype and asked her about her design process, life in London and most importantly, her fixation with shoulder pads.
It seems that these days fashion is more of a business rather than the creation of art. What kind of ideas are you trying to say with your pieces?
Well, there is art and there’s fashion [and the] limbo in between. I don’t think one is greater than the other. At this time, my chosen medium is to work in this fusion between the two. Art and fashion go hand in hand, especially through film. Using [it] as a medium to showcase my work is an art form in itself, a sort of visual representation of it. I’m just trying to put out there the creative expression that any designer does with their work.
How would you describe your design process?
The first word that comes to mind would be intuitive. There’s not a prescribed way of doing it. I often times follow my instincts. It usually starts with a Vonnegut novel, which has been the case for many years now. There’s something inside his novel, either a phrase or a book or a statement about humanity that affects me in a different way.Â There’s something inside me that has to use that as a motivation in my work. So, that’s how it starts. From there I begin by referencing material, visual research.
I develop a muse, a woman I’m making this collection for, the person behind it. In this case, I was looking at the photographer, Jan Saudek. I was looking at his work and comparing that toÂ â€œLe Smokingâ€ by YSL in the 1970s, comparing those two to create a muse. So, this begins the process, the concept, the visual reference…Â The design process starts with free form, sketching. But then, I start working with material, it becomes intuitive and the design starts to take form on its own. It’s never pre prescribed. I don’t have a set designed and make it. I have an idea of what I like to accomplish and I let the material guide me.Â I make choices as I go along.
What was the phrase that inspired you in your current collection?
It was how we describe The Karass, the title of the collection and the film. It’s not the exact phrase, but I’ll sum it for you what he described it as, â€œit’s a group of disparate people who are linked together unknowingly doing God’s will.â€ From there, I started to connect the quote to a theory called emergence. Parts of the emergence connects [it] to The Karass, in more of a scientific term.Â They talk about systems and how they are interconnected without knowing the function of the system. The disparate parts are called agents. Within a system [they] are interconnected and by exchanging within a group they create different aesthetics. So, that idea forms the mechanical function of this collection in that all the bow ties can be dislocated form the bib and can be switched around, therefore creating different aesthetics.
Tell me about London.
[There are] lots of people. I’m not used it, the first time I moved here I couldn’t believe the number of people. That was so different from me because I grew up in Calgary, which is a lot smaller than Toronto, where I lived before I moved here. Just the sheer amount of people is outstanding. That’s what makes London such a successful place for young artists to start. There’s more of a market, there are more people and more people interested in your work. It’s a more acceptable place to do something avant-garde, to push the boundaries. It supports you. It’s like collective here, there’s a really young and fresh vibe about London that I like.
The Selfridgesâ€™ window promotion for Bright Young Things was amazing.
Yeah, there’s ton of support for fashion off of London Fashion Week and Topshop… [There are] lots of opportunities for young designers to start and aÂ big platform for exposure.
Is there someone you would like to dress?
I wouldn’t put it on a particular person. Chloe Sevigny, but I mean, who wouldn’t want to dress her. But really, when I say a muse, it’s more Iâ€™m creating this woman.Â In a way, it’s an alter ego – this women who maybe doesn’t exist, but is an aesthetic. It’s not just the way she looks; it’s her character, her energy, the atmosphere she brings – everything that surrounds her. I think what we captured in film was that character I wanted to put out there.
And, it was just coming together. I made her, I made the woman. I couldn’t imagine it on anyone other than Edita, who wore [the collection] in the film.Â It was so fitting. She is an amazing model, a top model. I was so impressed by her. She’s stunning, gorgeous in every kind of way, her personality is so outstanding as well, so charismatic, spirited soul, you could see it shining through in her.Â It’s really rare to meet people like that.
Favorite fashion era?
Instantly, my gut tells me the 1980s. Recently, I’m going to say the nineties. Not only because I grew up in the nineties but recently I’ve been evolving my look around the early nineties, 1994/1995. My own personal aesthetic has been starting to influence me in the way that I dress and in what I want [to] create next. I’m going to say the early nineties if that counts as a decade. It’s not even grunge. It’s sort of that mini skirt, belly top. [Itâ€™s] going to be an interesting aesthetic.
The Prada backpack?
Yeah, I just want to say it influences me now. I love historical fashion. Well, for this collection particularly, I looked at the Edwardian period, which I also enjoy. Who knows what the next one will be.
I thought you might say eighties… In your Ryerson 2009 graduate collection, there was a lot of eighties in the stiff, menacingly sexualized plastic corsets, braces and big shoulders.
That whole collection was all about the shoulders. It was so funny. I wanted to do that collection for a number of years before I actually produced it at my time at Ryerson. One of my profs gave me a bag of shoulder pads one year and said, â€œI think you’re really going to enjoy these.â€ She cut them out of all her shirts and jackets; she grew up in the eighties. She gave it to me as a gift. I will always remember that. There’s something about it that I love.
Photography:Â Paul Hine
Millinery:Â Niamh Flanagan