Welcome to the Dollhouse

Half conceptual art project, half avant-garde fashion, the newly formed “artisan fashion label” Theatre de la Mode presented its debut autumn/winter ’08 collection at London Fashion Week—but not in the way you’d expect. Instead of planning a costly runway show, Theatre de la Mode presented its designs via an installation of “nanoscaled” woodland creatures. We sat down with founders Chris Kelly and Sara Flamm to talk about their unorthodox miniature mannequins, the challenges of creating super-tiny fashion pieces and their post-WWII inspirations.

JC Report: What’s the significance of the name Theatre de la Mode?

Chris Kelly: The label name was chosen initially for its direct link with the WWII Paris trend of “Theatre de la Mode.” This movement inspired us to take on the “theatre of fashion” stance as our label’s concept. Our debut nanoscaled collection was only the beginning for the theatrical presentation of future ranges. Theatre de la Mode was the perfect fit.

JCR: Why present your debut collection, Willows, on nanoscale mannequins that resemble animals?

Sara Flamm: Our decision to present Willows as a scaled collection was one of fascination for the miniature. We love to take on a challenge and miniature was the perfect concept. With a miniature budget to work with this was the ideal way to present to the people.

CK: Both being kids from the countryside, for us it was an almost natural progression to take inspiration from British heritage animals. The woodland creatures we created each became the character and muses for the range. Each animal was deeply researched so as to develop a mood for each of the mannequins; an understanding of color, fabrication and embellishment was all established. Each animal was then in turn adorned in the outfit that best reflected its character.

JCR: Tell us about the specific inspirations of Willows.

Sara Flamm: Willows drew inspiration from orthodox Jewish costume and ’90s anti-fashion rule. With one half of Theatre de la Mode’s upbringing within the Jewish sect and the other with a respect for Jewish costume, it was a very natural route for our debut collection to draw inspiration from the Jewish order. We both adore outsized shapes that distract from temptation. A subtlety in sexuality that ’90s anti-fashion and Jewish costume uphold perfectly.

JCR: What eras do you draw inspiration from?

CK: Theatre de la Mode finds inspiration in the classics. Part of our design concept and inspiration will forever find beauty in the “timeless.” Works that transcend time and gender. The outsized shapes of the 1920s reflect the beauty and seductiveness that Theatre de la Mode will always draw inspiration from. Post WWII also inspires as genders draw ever closer. A unisex appeal to fashion will always inspire us.

JCR: What were the challenges of making pieces on such a small scale?

CK: Scaling the range found challenges in fabrication and mindset. Once we had created a perfectly scaled fit mannequin, it was a case of moving all thought processes to the miniscule. Centimeters became millimeters and lightweight fabrics became our heavyweights. Fabrication was the biggest challenge, as we wanted to reflect scale though all areas of the collection. We made all the buttons and finishings in house by developing molds and templates to create perfect tiny metal buttons and used blanket stitches as bindings. We referenced classic hand-finishing techniques and used them as decorative embellishments. Reflection on classic craftsmanship of post-war Paris became our bible.

JCR: How will the pieces translate into a life-sized, wearable collection?

SF: We constructed two outfits from the miniature range into life-size pieces to present an understanding of our real size abilities within the a/w range. The process was actually very easy. Although the original patterns were miniature the pattern-making process remained the same, so the understanding of the designs was established at the scaled pattern stage. For future ranges a new narrative will be drawn to present the collection, although we will always keep a touch of the mini in all of our collections.

JCR: Presenting collections on miniature mannequins is reminiscent of the cost-cutting method that designers used after WWII in Paris. With this venture, are you making a statement about the current gloomy economic state?

CK: As designers we are very aware of the economic difficulties of establishing a new label. When conceiving the idea of a miniature range, we did indeed reflect on the cost-cutting means the couturiers of post-war Paris used. The original movement of Theatre de la Mode captures perfectly our current economic climate. Understanding the financial implications of presenting a catwalk show, we wanted to take a new stance on contempary fashion. One that allowed us to enter the fashion world without compromise and in turn reach a broader audience of fashion and art connoisseurs alike.

This interview was conducted by Kyle Landman.




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