The first thing I noticed was her smile: a little playful, a little amused. I thought immediatly that I would love to interview her and take her out of that comfort zone.
Through a contre-temps, I ended up in her apartment, a totally white space with two touches of black and magnolia – two cats which ensure movement as an extension of her playful thoughts. I am in her comfort zone – that was not my original idea, but it is how it happened.
Carmen is very careful when she’s receiving and it is a pleasure to let yourself be spoiled by her: the old transparent porcelain cups are waiting on the beautifully arranged table to caress you with home-made cappuccino. Carmen is skillfully preparing the milk foam. Fresh fruit arranged differently in separate dishes are cheering up the grey hues from outside giving a holiday tone to the flat.
One of the cats sticks to my legs, purring strongly and blinking repeatedly with golden eyes like sequins. “It isn’t the one who’s usually social, I do not know what you’ve done to her” Carmen say’s and wonders. The designer is tired of winter and is looking forward to start the next summer’s collection. The arrangement of Kiwi in the plates, the large white room, the sunlight that appeared unexpectedly make me totally agree with her.
“I have never done what I really wanted to do and still have not done anything to my taste. I had to summarize what was available, what I could afford, in terms of materials and situations. “
I notice a superb piece of fabric with english silk flowers – Carmen tells me that customers did not understood her this season and she regrets it, maybe later they will. An example, two winters ago she proposed fur and leather inserts in her designs which sold very well only this winter. Her creations have made an impression in London and Paris and Carmen is one of the few contemporary designers who really know how to present a structured collection from all points of view.
“You can’t change radically from one collection to another, this is a Romanian thing: if your style is recognizable, it does not mean that you repeat yourself. Tomorrow you can not reinvent yourself into a sequin.”
First time at an international fair? “In a country lacking in landmarks of fashion, if you are from Romania, you are from the black hole of today’s designer world” she tells me smiling. The first time she was in New York with Adelina Ivan “which was more lively and better organized.” She simply went there and realized on the spot what she had to do, how to behave.
Her “fair” neighbors were very different, which helped her realize her value and be aware of the do’s and don’t’s of both her products and organization. Then along came a Russian woman with a great fur coat, she bought a lot of merchandise. It was the starting point. ” Nobody tells you anything, you just learn on the job.”
1. Is the price paid to being an independent designer worth it?
I think any choice entails a price, the thing is to assume your choice. It may be difficult at times but ….
2. With your experience, what advice would you offer to today’s designer ethos?
A little modesty, moderation, politeness, an internship at a large brand, self-awareness, openness, all you generally need to be a whole person.
3. What does ‘Today’ mean for you?
A cloudless serene day, seems that spring is coming, and with hard work.
4. You’re very careful in choices regarding the fabric of your pieces of clothing – customer don’t always understand that this justifies the cost of the piece. Why?
I’m careful and respectful of the materials I use. Generally I use natural fabrics (wool, silk, cotton, linen) and technological materials such as neoprene or coated cotton for jackets. I don’t try to buy the cheapest materials, I think the price of clothes should reflect the quality.
What is misunderstood is that producing small quantities or unique pieces creates production costs much higher than ones for production in series. The price of designer clothes includes in addition, high quality materials and also the necessary labor needed to developed sophisticated cuts. The original design being important and the main part here. Thus at a price slightly higher than a series clothing range but lower than a foreign clothing brand, you can have a beautiful coat, sustainable and never out of style.
5. What is the piece of cloth defining ‘You’ in your collection and why?
What collection? One way or another all phases of me pertain to certain stages of my life. Maybe a red silk dress with Chamomile – it is unexpected, original and defining.
6. Don’t you think that the role of the designer is to educate and “inspire’ the customers, especially when you’re a pioneer designer?
Generally you should not compromise at the conceptual level and I firmly believe in people’s common sense. We educate each other, as a designer you must be careful also at what sells from what you create. Useless art is a meaningless concept especially in design, I cant create absolutely unwearable things and scream that I’m brilliant and everyone else is stupid.
On the other hand I do not believe in quartering, I would never try to convince someone to wear something in which he or she doesn’t feel comfortable, you can show them and let them reach their own conclusion. What seemed absolutely unwearable 8 years ago for everybody, became today’s must have desirable for a large majority.
7. You were not tempted to try a product such as knits, a product family important for designers you admire (Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto) and the forms you do?
It may seem hard to believe but I don’t study diligently the collections of other designers. I look from time to time to see the main lines and trends, to see if I’m well situated regarding the direction, but I have no wish to l be influenced by the others, I try to keep my originality.
I did and sold very well a few seasons ago jersey woolen clothes, I am making now cotton and jersey for the Berlin fair in January. It is somehow a vicious circle, small production doesn’t give you access to technology, factories generally produce large series and usually knitwear manufacturers sell such large quantities that opportunities are scare and usually appear through random meetings.
8. Mona Velciov’s jewelry submitted with your last collection made for a perfect match – how was your collaboration?
I have seen the Mona Velciov’s jewelry collection at Pasarela’s Competition, a contest she also won and I liked very much what she did. At my turn, I had ready the summer collection for the fair. When I was asked to make a presentation of the event Avantpremiere, I was reading a book about Frida Kahlo’s life, which contained many pictures of her and her work.
I realized that somehow my clothes with pleats were very much alike and in harmony with Frida’s clothes and I thought this would be a good style direction for the presentation of Mona’s jewellery. I talked to her, I showed her the collection and she agreed. We didn’t think of creating something together, I believe each should pursue one’s individual creative vein, but for sure if we have more happy coincidences, we will collaborate again.
9. How do you prepare for a fair like the one in Berlin in January?
I thought about it, I bought the fabrics and now I’m working on the collection. I pay the stand with my own money, it is far from being cheap. It is difficult to ‘self-produce’. You do not have a production if you don’t have pieces of cloth.
I decided to go with a down-to-earth collection, I mean my bestsellers and some new pieces. White and black color tone, cloth, cotton batiste, organza, cotton, jersey,gauze, woolen materials. I want lots of jackets because I like jackets, shirts, dresses, coats like those created by me two years ago because they are a very ‘in’ style. Again neoprene fabric, fur and skin are a must, waterproof fabric or liner of english embroidered silk, some pieces easy to wear as pants, shirts, cotton jersey dresses. Boots and handbags, only accessories that are essential. That’s about it. And the fur hat.
10. What is hidding your purse?
I always have a lipstick in my bag. What do I have today? Balm, sunglasses, rolling tobacco, Bali nature, YSL lipstick.
Carmen Secareanu is one of the most known romanian fashion designers as well as the only one to be sold next to Prada, Jil Sander or Stella McCartney. Winner of “Pasarela 2008” fashion festival from Bucharest, Romania. The French Fashion Institute of Fashion exposed her work in their parisian location. Presenting her collection at London Fashion Week in 2010 at “On/Off” section, Carmen Secareanu also presents her collection lately at Berlin fashion Week.