Interview: Nadine Goepfert
Nadine Goepfert has one of the most brilliant minds in modern textile design. As we sit and chat via Skype I’m fascinated by her deeply analytical approach to fashion. Steeped in research and conceptual thinking her work aims to "Uncover our unconscious and unapparent habits in relation to clothing." No small feat… but the passion in her voice suggests there’s no better person for the job. Nadine creates carefully considered garments that resemble works of art yet are perfectly practical for everyday wear. Jackets that have slash cutouts to avoid the imprint of hanging on a chair or hanger, wire sweaters that memorise movement/methods of storage and my personal favourite, the Memory Foam Pullover. As Nadine speaks about the very specific way in which humans dress and undress I get the feeling that I’m conversing with some kind of textile designing unicorn. The incredibly perceptive and scientific mind she possesses perplexes me and makes me hopeful — hopeful that maybe one day in the future her thoughts and research may act as a catalyst for change — a positive new direction for the way clothing is created and consumed. I have a feeling it might…
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"Sometimes garments make us act in a special way, we behave differently when wearing a suit or when wearing jogging pants."
Hey! Oh, it's dark there already.
Yeah, it’s dinner time. How are you?
Good, just starting my day.
What are your plans?
I’m going to go to the screen print workshop today. I’m currently working with Martin Niklas Wieser who’s a fashion designer from Berlin. I’ll be doing some textile designs for his new collection and today we’re going to work on the finals so it’s quite exciting!
Yeah it’s really nice working with him. Martin and I have a different approach and aesthetic but I really enjoy seeing what happens when two people mix up their styles.
Do you remember the first time you had a profound experience with a textile or garment?
What I like to remember is my grandmother. She used to make home-made pasta on Monday mornings so when I came home from school she had this textile sheet on the table where she’d lay out all the pasta on the flour. I still have the sheet, which is really nice. I don’t make any pasta but I remember so well how the flour behaved on the textile, I really liked it. I also find it interesting how children behave with textiles. I have a little niece who’s four, but when she was about two she was always touching and feeling parts of her mothers clothes, which was quite nice to observe.
Where are you now? Is that your apartment?
Yeah this is my apartment.
Can you show me the ceiling? Till told me about your high ceilings.
(Nadine laughs and aims the camera upward)
In my studio the ceilings are even higher!
How did the shoot go with Patrick?
Really good. It was nice because Patrick is a friend of ours so we just talked, had a coffee and once in a while he took a picture and it was really relaxed. We had a nice day.
Great. So where did you grow up?
I grew up in the south of Germany in a village not far from Würzburg with one sister and my parents.
Your father owns a varnishing company right? Can you tell us about the impact your parents had on fostering your creativity?
Well my parents are not the kind of people who would force their children into anything. I was always free to decide what I wanted to do and we’d talk about if it was the right decision. When I was a child my mother really liked to do crafts. She’s really good at sewing, knitting, pottery, so when I was a kid we did a lot of that. I was never really interested in the work my father did though, not until recently. He's really good at what he does and enjoys experimenting. He doesn't just paint cars, he really wants to create something new. From new colours to making lacquer stick to interesting materials. The first thing I did with my dad was the spectral jacket from The Garments May Vary. We used car paint on a foil which is actually quite special because it’s hard to make it last on a flexible material.
Observation seems to be an inherent part of your creative process, analysing interactions between garments and their environment or usage. Where did that method of critical thought originate?
I’ve had an interest in garments and their connection to identity and personality for a while. I would say it had already started about 2011 and then I went to the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. One of our first projects was called "Where are the textiles?" We were asking questions about textiles and I asked something like: "Is there an essence of a textile? Or can a textile/garment influence our identity?" Within the project I started collecting used garments from people I know or from the flea market and then started a survey. I showed the garments to people and asked "What do you think? What kind of person wore this garment?" It was really funny what people came up with because sometimes I knew the person who owned the clothing and occasionally the response fit quite well but sometimes it was totally random. There was a moment when all the garments were laying on the floor and looked like sculptures so I decided to varnished them which made them really stiff and white. That project was really my starting point… I don't know if you know her, but there is a teacher at the Rietveld Academie named Joke Robaard, she’s a fashion researcher and artist. We had a project where we chose one section of a garment to research and observe. I decided to concentrate on the the closure of garments like tops and jackets. I started reading Roland Barthes Fashion System and when I read it the first time I was like "Oh god! What is this? I don’t understand anything." But at one point it changed and I was totally into him. I actually started working as neurotically as he does. Joke once said "You could have been an assistant of his in your neurotic way."
Do you find yourself making those types of observations and analysis in daily life?
Yeah, of course. I do it a lot. People are dealing with garments all the time in their daily lives. When people are sitting on a chair or a sofa and they take off their jacket there’s this moment when the person stands up and you see the garment left behind, laying on the sofa, really flat. It becomes something totally different to when they’re wearing it. I also notice the way people behave when they get nervous and they start touching or tickling their sleeves. I think it’s really interesting how body language is connected to garments.
Absolutely. So, you’re living in Berlin at the moment but you’ve mentioned that it’s not necessarily the city itself that informs your work but the people around you. That’s a beautiful sentiment. Can you tell us about a few of those people?
There’s a lot of people living here in Berlin who I love and who are inspiring me. I have this really strong connection to Till, we are supporting each other a lot. In his studio there are a lot of wonderful graphic designers and photographers who are also friends of mine, so we are all working together a lot and helping each other out. I’m sharing my studio with my close friend Lukas Hoffmann who is a wonderful artist and part of the great Kunstenaarsinitiatief Beyoncé from Amsterdam. The people I studied with in Berlin Weißensee are also quite important to me, they are really close friends of mine. We collaborate from time to time and share a lot of thoughts. It’s not only people living in Berlin though, a lot of my close friends from studying in Amsterdam are now all spread over Europe. Elisabeth Leeressen and Louella Haquette for example. Two super talented textile designers with interesting approaches in terms of craftsmanship and social ideologies.
Creativity kind of thrives off collaboration so it’s nice to hear schools are nurturing that.
Yeah, Rietveld really creates connections between the different departments. For example graphic designers create books for fashion designers, or fashion designers work with textile designers which I think is quite natural.
When I was at university graphic designers only worked with other graphic designers and photographers were in their own section and web designers lived in a dark basement.
I think it’s nice to create these collaborations in school because when you leave and have to do everything by yourself it’s just too hard. You need somebody photographing your collections or doing your graphic design.
Yeah I agree. So, with your work you attempt to "Reveal our unconscious and apparent habits in relation to clothing." Why is this important to you?
Well ever since standardised clothing sizes were created and we stopped going to tailors to create garments that fit our body we started changing our bodies to fit into our clothes. The relationship really changed and I think that we should change it back again, it’s why I make these observations. How could we make clothes more comfortable again so that we’re not trying to fit ourselves into skinny jeans? I like to make these observations and investigate peoples behaviour but maybe textile engineers could use this as a basis to actually change garments to make them more comfortable for daily life. I’m really inspired by Bruno Latour's writings about autonomous objects that make us act in a certain way. For example there is a special key that was invented in Berlin years ago, it’s called the Berlin key and it forces you to lock your door when you are inside (By sliding the key through the mechanism and retrieving it on the other side once it has been locked). There are objects that force us to do things and this thought is something that can be easily translated for clothing. Sometimes garments make us act in a special way, we behave differently when wearing a suit or when wearing jogging pants. The material, the cut of a garment, if you wear something loose or something tight. You walk differently, you will sit differently. If you wear a skirt you will cross your legs when sitting. There are a set of rules that come attached to the garment.
The psychological aspect of clothes is really interesting. It’s such a big area of exploration.
Yeah, I think I will work within this field for a few more years. I still have some ideas in mind.
A few more years? Where do you see it progressing in a few years?
I only graduated two years ago and I find it really interesting that the perception of my work changes almost every six months. Personally, I actually like that I’m not positioned in a particular field right now. I’m a textile designer, I’m an artist, I’m this, I’m that. For the moment I enjoy being everything. I just had my first exhibition in a museum and there will be a few more to come. It’s great that people can see my work and maybe think further. I really want to share these thoughts, I don’t want to keep them for myself. These ideas are what I would like to leave for others but I see myself more in the position of the researcher.
So you want to act as a bit of a spark in other peoples consciousness so that they can go on and take an idea further?
The research aspect must play a large role in a lot of your work. Can you explain the process?
Well most of the time I actually start by reading, I have a big interest in philosophy and sociology, or sometimes I just observe a special behaviour of people in the street and that inspires me. I am also fascinated by materials that don’t have any relation to textile design, for example the stretch dresses from Matters of Habit, they’re inspired by this conventional stretch foil you wrap around parcels when you send them. At the beginning of my studies I was obsessed with aggregate phases. I was really into melting things and observing the structures that emerge. Taking objects that are three dimensional and making them two dimensional.
In a fashion context, do you feel that too much emphasis is placed on discovering new trends as opposed to focusing on craftsmanship and the quality of materials?
Yes, I think so. Lidewij Edelkoort, who’s a trent forecaster in Paris and a woman who’s all about trends and new things, wrote a few weeks ago that things need to change. People don’t know how things are made anymore. When you go to fashion school you’re told to design something that is innovative and new but you don’t even know how it’s made, or how to knit, or weave.
Or how denim’s made.
Yeah. I actually feel the same way. I mean, I’m fascinated by fashion, I love to look at the new Celine and Prada collections and I really like what J.W Anderson does. I feel the collections are really important for showcasing new materials, new styles and the zeitgeist, but still… We don't need thousands of these designers.
It’s becoming saturated.
It’s too much, and nobody’s buying it. Who is really buying this stuff? They create fragrances and bags that people just buy for the prestige of having them. I think that’s really sad.
Yeah. Luckily though there are some designers who are doing quite interesting things. Working with traditional textiles and experimenting with different production methods. Do you know Faustine Steinmetz?
Yeah, she’s really wonderful. I think what she does is so so great.
In the coming years I hope people become more interested in how things are created.
That’s what I think. Faustine started a new way of thinking in fashion. We need to make sure these textile traditions don’t disappear and become lost. That is what I like about Dries Van Noten, he was actually the one designer that really brought me to textile design. He has always been the master at combining a patterned skirt with a patterned blouse, it looked better than any black dress that you could wear. Wearing black is super easy, you always look good when wearing black, but wearing a patterned skirt with a patterned blouse and having it look good is quite a challenge. He’s also still into traditional techniques and creating clothing you can wear forever, it has this really classic style.
Definitely. So, I always like to ask people about the notion of beauty. What do you consider beautiful?
I really love handmade ceramics created by amateurs, when I walk around a flea market I always look out for them. I think it’s so nice to see that somebody put a lot effort into something and maybe it didn't really work out but it’s still beautiful. Possibly even more beautiful than a perfectly produced cup or something.
So you find beauty in imperfection?
There's a Japanese philosophy (Wabi-sabi) based around finding beauty in imperfections.
It’s something that I consider as part of my work. I’ve never had a project that worked really well from the beginning, there’s always moments where you make a mistake, but sometimes you just decide to work with it. I remember when I was still working for Vladimir Karaleev and we started creating a coat. Vladimir has quite a free approach and generally starts working directly on the mannequin. This coat was almost ready and then Vladimir was like "Oh, this doesn't look good." So I asked "What can we do?" We tried to turn it into a dress but it was still not right so we ended up turning it into a jacket. It was like a painting that was painted over several times, you could really see that it may have been something different in between but I think that’s what makes his garment really special and beautiful.
What challenges you?
In terms of traditional textile design I find it challenging to make a really good print. There are so many prints out there these days, prints are everywhere. But making a really, really good print, like Dries Van Noten does is a challenge for me still. I enjoy challenging myself though, stepping out from ones comfort zone is really important. Using colours you actually don't like, working with somebody who doesn’t really suit your style… In my daily life, I don't know… every day can be a challenge no?
This story was originally published as part of our ongoing interview series exploring the work and lives of inspiring creatives.
Photography: Patrick Desbrosses
Words: Nick Smith