The Intersection of Avant-garde and Russian Heritage.

Russian born fashion designer Irina Shaposhnikova discovered her aspiration for fashion at the age of 16 whilst working in her father’s atelier. While studying at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, her BA knitwear collection was published in Russian Vogue- featuring unique cable knits sewn onto almost invisible nylon mesh giving a knitted cabled cage effect. She graduated in 2009 with a collection that would cause waves of enthusiasm throughout the industry- and beyond.

Crystallographica features large sculptural geometric folds, fused with a variety of hich-tech and delicate fabrics to create a powerful female silhouette. Following Irina’s catwalk debut, her work was quickly discovered by a number of influential industry people. One of them is Nicola Formichetti, who chose to style Lady Gaga in a Crystallographica dress that was featured on the cover of Madame Figaro magazine. Kanye West published her entire collection on his then very popular blog kanyeuniversecity, (now replaced by kanyewest.com) in admiration of Irina’s work. Today you will find her in Moscow, where her studio and production team is based. Irina is on a short break and is on the move and I’m extremely grateful that she made time for our interview.

Your father is the one that got you in to Fashion. At what point did you realize that becoming a fashion designer is a real career path?

My first experience in fashion began at my father’s atelier. At that time he had just started to produce women’s outwear specializing in coats and I spend most of my time helping out the seamstresses and pattern makers. I quickly realised that I was mostly interested in the creative process and tried to learn more about how the garments were constructed. I started making my first fashion sketches and took part in the design development process and as a result some of the most successful ideas were realised and later produced. Although I learned a lot in the atelier, I felt that I wanted more experience in fashion design and that is why I decided to study further and make fashion my career path.

Not long after that your journey led you to study fashion design at one of Europe’s most prestigious academies: The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.

The main reason why I decided to study abroad was because there weren’t many good places to study fashion design in Russia. The fashion industry wasn’t very developed in Russia at that time. I went to London College of Fashion and finished a Foundation course. It was during my studies there that I heard about the Antwerp designers and the academy and decided to do the entrance exam. At my arrival in Antwerp I immediately fell in love with the city and the atmosphere of the academy. When my admission was confirmed, I had no doubt that I would stay here. There’s this indescribable creative vibe in the academy that I find very inspiring. The course is very intense and you have to work really hard if you want to succeed, that is probably one of the reasons why very few students make it to the final year in the academy.

Nicola Formichetti selected your Crystallographica collection to style Lady Gaga for the cover of Madame Figaro Magazine. That’s quite an awesome way to start your career!

I was very honored! I was contacted and asked to send in a few pieces of my graduation collection, so I did- but I didn’t know if the publication was definitive until the very last moment. It was a great surprise for me to see Lady Gaga wear my dress on the cover of Madame Figaro!

How has that affected you as a designer and your work today?

I found this to be of tremendous support! I didn’t think much about publicity or the media attention the collection could bring about. I wanted to experiment with silhouettes, proportions, materials and approach to pattern cutting- only focused on my idea and the designs. I got a lot of positive responses from the press when the collection was out. Ultimately the Gaga cover helped getting my work noticed even more.

Back to your heritage. How are your designs connected to your Russian heritage?

My background has certainly influenced me in many ways and I also try to refer to it in my work. For example, while working on Crystallographica, I was looking at Russian constructivists, taking inspiration from geometric patterns and designs (sketches and textiles) of Varvara Stepanova and the art of Alexander Rodchenko. Rodchenko has had a tremendous influence on avant-garde art and Russian design. His work fascinates me.

Next to this strong connection to your Russian heritage- what are the other sources of inspiration for your designs?

I find beauty in harmony. I love travelling, visiting new places, meeting new people and exploring their culture. In the past few years I have travelled to Asia, USA, Mexico, to name a few. I was very much impressed by my trip to Tokyo, the people and their traditions. I have few friends from the academy who now live there. I get inspired from my friends and their lifestyle as creative people. I was lucky to meet so many amazing and inspiring people in during my time in Antwerp at the Academy. We now all live in different places but it’s always a lot of fun when we meet and catch up.

What do you hope your audience takes away from your designs?

I would like the audience to obtain the uniqueness and authenticity of my designs.

Reflecting back on the years after graduation, do you feel like you have a pretty good idea of who you are at this point in your career?

I definitely feel more confident about who I am today than a few years ago. When I just graduated I had no idea where I was going to work or live, I couldn’t think of any city or direction. A lot has changed since then and I have a much better idea about who I am as a person and a designer- what I want to do and what I’m capable of.

What have you found to be the essence of your strength as a designer?

For me it’s all about personality. Confidence is important, but in my view- if you want to succeed in fashion you have to have your own vision and a strong personality. Knowing yourself, believing in your vision and being able to translate that in to your creations.

What are you up to and what can we expect from you in the near future?

At the moment I am established in Moscow where we have our production team and my studio. I also teach fashion design at the British Higher School of Art and Design, something I enjoy doing and I hope to concentrate on designing my next collection. I will keep you posted on that.