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Designer Dialogues: Lisa Konno

The creatives of Sectie-C, an Eindhoven based design hub, initiated BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE, a magazine that portrays different creative makers in their workplaces while interviewed by colleagues. What fascinates, inspires and drives them to do what they do? Especially for ddw.nl, BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE edited the interviews into interesting short stories. This week, Dewi Kruijk talks with fashion designer Lisa Konno.
Lisa Konno
© Ronald Smit
Tell me about your path towards fashion design...

My grandmother was a seamstress from Eindhoven. Spending time with her helped me develop a love for textiles and clothing from quite a young age. At one point I thought about applying for the Bachelor in Fashion Design at ArtEZ, which was quite an irresponsible thought as I did not have a plan B at all. I just really wanted to do this. I went to Arnhem on a random day to peek through the windows of the school to get an idea of what it would be like to study there.

You got accepted, but was studying easy for you?

No, not at all.

Why not?

In high school you are just that creative person in class. But applying for ArtEZ, I actually barely made the cut. A teacher literally told me this—kind and constructively though. I was just quite young, and everyone around me was so terribly good at what they were doing. In the end, I’m very happy I made it until graduation, because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on the knowledge, but the whole period was fraught with difficulties. There were many moments I thought of leaving. 

© Ronald Smit
How come?

My interest in fashion was rooted in a typical childlike dream; a love for dressing up and expressing yourself through clothing. Though at that moment you’re still missing the mature idea of what it means to actually practice fashion. At the academy, learning about the impact of fashion and the hierarchy of the system, I uncovered more and more that this was an industry I didn’t want to mingle with at all.

But apparently there was still something that kept you going. What helped you overcome this initial feeling?

In the third year I had a kind of breakthrough when going on internship in New York at Alexander Wang. As I said—I didn’t like the industry, and I wasn’t doing great according to the programme’s competencies, which was overall very demotivating. But during that period, I finally worked together with someone who’s put a lot of faith in my skills and knowledge. That, at once, put some lightness and perspective in what I was doing. There was also a lot of humour in the process, which I’ve missed a lot. This was also the period that I started to think in opportunities instead of limitations. But just to be clear—the internship itself turned out to be pretty shady as well. I mean, it’s a luxurious and expensive fashion brand, but even they were burning their clothes. So, I learned yet another lesson: not even the big fish were ethically responsible. 

Oh man.

The real turning point though, came when I started letting go of the idea that I needed to live from selling clothes and participating in the conventional system. Selling clothes is something I always thought that I had to do but didn’t like doing at all. What I did like was putting together fashion shows which would express something about the fashion industry itself. So, it was quite peculiar, trying to cut off from an industry that I somehow still wanted to be a part of. I followed the conventional lines of the industry for quite a while, and in the end, it was actually necessary to understand what my work was really about, and still is. 

Which is?

Telling stories. And creating films in which clothes have a narrative and central role. 

In what way do you then differ from, say, a costume designer? 

In film, I think it is often the case that the clothes are merely a supportive element in a story that has already been written. Sarah Blok (director) and I really create the ideas, and eventually the film, together. Thus, the meaning of the clothes and the process of making the clothes is much more interwoven in the filmmaking process. 

I like the literalness of your work. While some designers put the meaning that they are going for through a mill of abstraction, you make such literal, visual references. However, I wouldn’t necessarily say that you have a consistent visual style. Is it s

Actually it’s something that I deliberately try to let go off and not be distracted by. Of course, I think about it at times, but having a style is also something I associate with commercialisation; a marketing strategy, something that fits a fashion house. I associate it with creating recognisability and making people identify with a brand to eventually turn them into customers. Thinking about it now, I am pretty much against the idea that as a designer you have to be consistent in your visual style. There is the danger of turning into the production machine of an idea you once had. I believe the idea from which you departed should be relevant and that can morph into how something looks. Nevertheless, as a designer there is always a certain signature which you wouldn’t be able to erase, even if you wanted to. But I don’t believe in trying to repeat what you’ve already done. The repetition will reveal itself anyway, without you focusing on it. 

© Ronald Smit
How do you know that your work has an impact?

How do you ever? Why I do what I do is because I like to make things that are interesting and beautiful. But it is true that the reason I think my profession is interesting is because it can be societally relevant. The only noticeable impact is how people that have never even thought about the subjects that I address would pass the thought they acquired on to people, which would hopefully spark a change in behaviour. But that is the most direct, visible impact I would ever be able to observe. It is definitely not measurable, but I also don’t know if that is a relevant question here. If you work in a large company where everything is calculated, you could say: let’s swap this yarn for this more sustainable yarn, which, according to this calculation, would lead to this and this decrease in CO2 emissions. But I think there are already so many newspapers and articles out there that are trying to build this consciousness through numbers. I’m still primarily a designer and not an activist. I don’t aim for sitting at an important table to rap people’s knuckles. I truly believe in the value and power of humour and a stimulating aesthetic because it opens people up. And when they are open, they are much more susceptible to ideas that are novel to them. 

The full interview with Lisa Konno can be found in the third edition of Blank Space Magazine. You can follow Blank Space Magazine here.

Interview: Dewi Kruijk / Photography: Ronald Smit