Talking Talent, Fashion, Womanity and Alexander McQueen with Miriam Laubscher

Photography: Ronald Stoops

It’s a beautiful day as I arrive in Antwerp to meet up with Swiss born Miriam Laubscher who just recently graduated at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of fine Arts. In 2013 she stunned the runway with Nightingale, a collection inspired by the night, with the Nightingale as a metaphor for human nightlife. Her graduation collection Yellow, Red and Blue captivated the viewers with emotional silhouettes translated into colorful geometrical shapes that appear differently depending on the angle they’re observed. Inspired by Brazilian constructivist Lygia Clark, who wanted her viewers not to remain neutral but to manipulate the artwork displayed.

Not only did Miriam win the academy award, she received the prestigious Maison Anna Heylen award granted to the student with an eye for craftsmanship and handcraft, interesting details and coupe. She was also granted the Graanmarkt13 award for the most inspiring collection, giving her an opportunity to present her work with an installation in collaboration with Bob Verhelst, the creative director of Graanmarkt13. Her graduation collection was by far my favorite of this year’s fashion show of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of fine Arts, sparking an interest to meet the woman behind the massive creative vision. We met up at a picturesque bakery in one of the cities artistic areas, not far from Antwerp’s Fashion Museum. As I walk in I notice the fashion show poster gracefully displayed, featuring one of Miriam’s dresses. It’s her favorite bakery in Antwerp, and I’m honored to meet her here. Miriam is everything I expected; intelligent, kind, elegant- packed with a good sense of humor. We had a heart to heart about graduation, her vision, life and her time working at Alexander McQueen.

How are you doing Miriam? How do you feel now after the big graduation show?

I’m very happy! We didn’t sleep for a few days towards the show so we were all really tired. We worked day and night until the show was over. We had to do the exhibitions in between, you are constantly on the move, then there was the show and then there was the jury and yet another exhibition- in between you are moving your collection around. After graduation I finally had some sleep and now I am enjoying a little break. Not too long though, you have to keep moving.

I am curious to know what inspired you to get in to fashion in the first place?

It started at art school – I noticed I loved doing graphic and 3D art- I always loved an art form that allowed you to do all kinds of things, go all kinds of directions with it. Fashion embodies that for me, it’s not flat but rather multi-facetted. You are drawing, storytelling and bringing a design to life with all kinds of materials, there’s film and photography involved- it’s diverse and deep.

How did you come up with this concept?

I first had a different concept, but then I started new. It’s a process really. Lygia’s work is very geometric, it’s about attitude and manipulation of artwork by the perception of the spectator. She challenges the viewers and the concept of art. That appeals to me very much.

And what would you say-was the most challenging part of the collection- graduation and the show?

The challenge for me was the organization and logistics. It is a lot of organization- you have to organize a gallery, you have to find someone to make your movie, the models, Make up artists, and people to help you backstage. That was really challenging. It’s all part of it but very stressful.

Looking back at your time at RAFA- how would you describe your evolution through the years?

I really learned a lot through the years, it has been a big step. The academy provides you a lot of freedom to discover yourself and pushes you to do your best. We are taught to be an individual and not to look at trends- to develop our own style- so that we don’t copy a certain style or idea. When I look back I see that I’m a lot freer in my creative process than I was when I started. I feel like I’m growing older whereas my work is growing younger. Does that make sense?

This is the second time you won the Maison Anna Heylingen award for excellent craftsmanship- Looking at your collections Nightingale (2013)- one I absolutely adore!- and Yellow, Red and Blue – you have always been good at those little details- where do you think this comes from?

I would hope it comes from my creativity (smiles). For me it’s important that everything is translated correctly in to the design–quality is very important to me. I think the craftsmanship comes as a result of storytelling. It’s important for me that the design tells a story- I start with the big shapes and gradually work through to the details. It’s a process; first creativity and then the rest follows automatically as part of the process and the story.

Your designs are very feminine and strong and have a certain mystery to them- is that a reflection of yourself?

I base my designs on strength & fragility. I think that every woman possesses these two sides. I like to play with this concept in my designs, the balance between strength and fragility.

You are part of a new generation of designers- what would you like to change as the designer of tomorrow.

There are a many things I’d like to help change. Today everyone dresses the same- I would like to see people embracing their individuality. I would like people to feel comfortable in their clothes and be an individual.

You’ve worked for influential designers: Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. How was your time at Alexander McQueen, what did you learn from that experience?

Yes I did a trainee there. I had to send in my portfolio and did an interview, I also had to do an assignment – based on that I was offered a place in the team. I learned so much over there. First of all I had the best boss that you can imagine- he always believed in me. We had a very good team, very nice and down to earth people, in a super creative environment. They gave me opportunities and quite some responsibilities and I was allowed to design the final dresses for the show. The working hours were very intense- but this is not uncommon in the industry. In return you learn a lot of every facet of the work and take such an experience with you.

Is there a distinct moment that reminds of that time?

Yes, I will never forget this one show in Paris, we had worked so hard and none of us had really slept. Nonetheless we still had our humor and one of my colleagues looked at me with a funny expression and said; “Miriam- you should just go and get a nap under the table.” (Laughs). I remember my time there as being part of a family- cause that is really what the team at McQueen is. I was very lucky to be part of it.

Would you consider going back to McQueen?

I am currently freelancing for McQueen- for this year. I love doing that and I would love to continue freelancing for them.

And how about the future-where would you like to be in five or ten years from now?

I am still wondering about that myself (smiles) – I would like to obtain more experience in lots of different houses- I think it’s important to see different houses and to be at different places. I learned so much at McQueen and every house has a different strength and unique fingerprint to it- it’s important to experience and learn from them. I would like to have my own brand someday- but that is really something in the far future- right now I am focused on applying and making sure to get the experience I need.

What is in your opinion the most important asset to have or to develop as a designer?

In every aspect of the arts – whether you’re in graphic design or fashion design- it’s important that you know your style and to be confident about it; style-confidence. People will believe in you, when you know your style. If you know what you like, you can organize the rest; it helps you with decision-making and consistency. Take Raf Simons as an example, he’s so strong in his world. The people who work with him know exactly how that world looks like – they are able to deliver in his vision and that is why- I believe- he continues to succeed.

Credits photography

Photography: Ronald Stoops
Makeup : Inge Grognard
Model: Luka van der Veken
Assistant: Jorre Janssens & Sander Muylaert