Zooming in on Reality StudioOur extended conversation with fashion designer Svenja Specht

Whether she’s sending models through the city on bikes or organizing a guerilla presentation on some stretch of wasteland, Svenja Specht makes reality her fashion studio. This season she surprises us once again: with no presentation. In her Prenzlauer Berg studio, she talked to DERZEIT about moods and moves.

What values and principles does your label stand for?
For quality and durability: creating something that reflects the zeitgeist, but doesn’t have a seasonal expiration date.

How important is it to you to intentionally make a statement through your collection?
Earlier in my career, I still had doubts. I thought fashion was superficial and that I should instead do some type of social work, but when you buy something on purpose, then you also do something good for yourself. If you like wearing something, if you hear you look good in it, then you also feel better. Then you impart something positive to others. You could call that a flow – a good flow.

Did you ever design anything that was politically inspired?
I wouldn’t say definitely political, but for the 2012/13 Fall/Winter Collection the message was integration – not as messages written in capital letters on T-shirts, which is actually something I could see myself doing at the moment. The way Kathrin Hamnet has been doing it since the 1980s.

What do you personally stand up for or what would take you to the streets?
I’m not extremely involved in politics, but I’m also not unpolitical. After Fukushima, I attended the anti-nuclear demonstration at “Straße des 17. Juni”. Here, in Germany, you always have the feeling that you don’t need to do it, but I actually asked myself why we do it so rarely – hold demos for human rights or for political situations elsewhere in the world.

Which item of clothing in your closet has the strongest message for you?
For me personally, it’s my overalls, because they stand for something strong. In a way they are masculine, but could also be feminine. There’s nothing subservient about them. They have attitude.

Which item of clothing you first had to mature more as a person before you could wear it?
There’s nothing I’ve ever been afraid of wearing. I’ve always had my favorite items, where I didn’t care what others thought. That also sometimes meant putting up with what people said. Or someone would make of fun of me and then I’d smack them. (laughs) For example, when I was a kid I had a cap from Lapland that I had to fight for.

How do people comport themselves in your new collection?
Casually, relaxed. If possible, with a positive attitude. Think positive!

What’s the collection about?
It has to do with Portugal. I did production research there, because I don’t just want to manufacture pieces of my collection there. I want to develop a personal relationship with the country and the people. I couldn’t imagine anonymously manufacturing something in another country – cheap production and that's it. I have a problem with that. I collaborated with a small graphic design firm in Porto, which designed a fabric print for me. We also have some type of lace in the collection and for my first shoe collection, I worked with cork – both very typical for Portugal. The collection is called Souvenir – like the small mementos you bring back home with you.

Has there ever been a situation where someone publicly wore one of your designs whose image you didn't want to be associated with your work? How did you react?
There are very few things that I give directly to celebrities.

…but would it be important to you?
If it were someone with whom I couldn’t at all identify politically, such as Marine Le Pen – then I’d have a problem. Then I’d have to distance myself from it.

Whose stance do you admire at the moment?
Aung San Suu Kyi. I’ve always been interested in strong women.

A year ago you started focusing more on the issue of sustainability. What has happened since?
When I started researching I thought I was going to go crazy, because you hit on problems everywhere: the materials, the dyeing and what about the prints? You can’t even use organic cotton with a good conscience, since it uses so much water. I came to the conclusion that a lot is beyond your control. You can buy eco-fabrics, but then the prices are so high that you don’t know how to sell the end product at a reasonable price. At some point you feel distressed and disillusioned – but then you also have to say to yourself: If this is the line of business I want to be in, then I have to come to terms with the fact that I can’t be a “100 percent green label.” At the moment, all I can do is try to optimize everything that’s within my reach.

What in particular makes it hard for you to run your label as a sustainable one?
If you focus on being sustainable from the very start, it’s easier than if you’ve already been in the business for a long time and would then like to change. But it’s definitely hard to do as a small label. The selection of sustainable fabrics is so far very limited and we already pay surcharges everywhere for small quantities. Even if I use the same fabric as COS, I pay more for it. That makes me less competitive. And if I then take it in an “eco” direction, it gets even harder. Your efforts will impress the consumers, but what ultimately counts is the price.

To what extent are you prepared to subordinate your approach as a designer to a sustainable one?
That’s the next question: How rigorous do I want to be about it? I don’t see myself as an artist, but design is my form of expression and I think that a sustainable approach would involve minimizing my ideas. Restrictions are sometimes good for creativity, but if I were to completely change my designs, I would surely lose a lot of customers and would have to start from scratch. I don’t have the capital for that – I unfortunately don’t have an inheritance to blow or an investor.

What could you perhaps change about your designs?
I could, for example, imagine no longer using such extremely intense colors. But in the end, it’s really hard to be rigorous about it. We’re all too stuck in the system – everyone wants to save energy, but has a thousand electrical devices and still buys more. It’s always easier to point the finger at others, but the first, best and hardest thing to do is to try it yourself.

This is strictly theoretical: At what turning point in your life would your biography start?
Perhaps my stay in China, which was very formative for me. Or the little Dior jacket with red fur, which my father gave me when I was five – for whatever reason. (gets a photo)

I’ll bet you definitely grabbed attention with a Dior jacket at age five around Stuttgart!
Yes, that’s a statement. My father traveled a lot for work and always brought special things home with him. Fashion is your signal to the outside world, your means of communication, and if you wear something special as a child and experience the reactions – weird or good ones – I think it influences you. You register the meaning of clothing. I certainly never forgot the jacket.

Speaking of shopping, what do you think of it?
Simply buy less. Although it would, of course, be good for me to have twice as many customers, since the whole fashion system is built around sales figures. But for me, the biggest and best compliment is seeing friends who’ve had my things since the first season and still wear them. That's worth something: that my things aren’t one-day wonders or disposable products.

What do you think of fashion week in Berlin?
The deadline is annoying, as always. This time because we’re making so many new things – we’re working on a webshop, a small shoe collection, the transition to Portugal. That’s why I decided against an off-show this season.

Would you at all be excited about showing at the tent?
Yes – you reach a broad public there. It’s harder to attract the attention of certain people if you do an independent presentation. That I won’t get “Vogue’s” chief editor at my off-site show is something I have to live with. On the other hand, I think it’s really exciting that I can do exactly what I want to do.

Will you do another presentation for the coming season?
I hope so. I would like to.


Reality Studio's S/S 13 collection is on show at Collect Showroom at capsule Berlin
Postbahnhof, Straße der Pariser Kommune 8 / 10243 Berlin-Friedrichshain / Thu-Fri / 10-19h
www.realitystudio.de
www.arneeberle.de/collect/
www.capsuleshow.com/berlin

 –

Text by > Nina Trippel

Photo by > Chrirstoph Mack

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