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The power of experimentation and a fresh take on womenswear.

(April 01, 2022)

Marchioness magazine talks CLASHING PRINTS, DESIGN RULES and THE BERLIN FASHION SCENE with French/Danish designer, Anne Isabella.
Edited by Laura Wilcox and Jessica Ann Richardson, interview by Leana Esch

From Kenzo to Jil Sander to Courrèges, Anne Isabella Rasmussen has a pristine experience in the industry. But this young creative is fuelled by much more than her impressive brand history. The young womenswear designer honed her craft in these labels before launching her very own brand, Anne Isabella, at the beginning of 2020.

“It all happened really quickly and with time, I just wanted to work on my own”.

Pattern and balance is everything for this Fashion Print graduate. And whilst she acknowledges that taking a sustainable angle is a statement to the industry in itself, Rasmussen makes her clothes for one simple reason - “the people who want to wear it themselves”. Having grown up in Belgium before enrolling at Central Saint Martins in London and pursuing an MA in Fashion, adjustment has been inevitable. Was the switch from print to womenswear difficult? Sure, but no technique is too hard to grasp for this modest master of fashion. “The MA made me focus on shapes a lot more and I really developed my identity from there,” she says. Anne Isabella finished her business plan for her brand right before Covid hit last year, making it a rough debut in the industry. With so many questions unanswered at the start of the pandemic, she continued to develop her label regardless. “It’s really hard to say if it would be better or worse without Covid,” she admits. The perseverance is clear and her determination untarnished.


What drew you to fashion? 

I always loved drawing and took some classes in Belgium. I had a teacher who really believed in what I was doing; she was so encouraging. I wasn’t that great at school so it was really nice to find something I knew how to do well and that just really built up my confidence. She was really into fashion illustration and I kind of got hooked to it… I was genuinely interested in fashion but I think at that point I could have gone in any artistic direction. Some teachers wanted me to go into fine art, some jewelry, but eventually what I think attracted me to fashion is that it’s such a full package of work. You have the creativity of the garment, print, graphics, photography, imagery and product - which I also love – I can be quite nerdy with products. In some ways, it was just a package deal for me that I was really attracted to.


So what are you working on at the moment?

Right now, I’m in between collections which is always a little bit of a blur but I’m also waiting for sales to wrap up and it seems to be a bit longer this season. It’s a difficult point. I’m in research stages so I’m making a timetable, a budget, and I’ve been writing a lot of emails, doing the things that I normally don’t have time to.


What’s your creative process - your inspiration and how you transform it into a tangible object?

I like to have these pools of research that I’m always feeding into. It’s a process I started in my master’s… every time I start a new collection, I have these boxes or folders that have their own stories that I can just pick up. Sometimes I experiment with them and they don’t make it to the collection but then I pick them up again. It’s kind of an ongoing process. At the moment, it’s a bit difficult because I can’t go out and look for external research which I’m really missing. So, I’m relying on doing a lot of online research which is also great - you can find a lot of stuff. It’s nice to have both for sure.


So would you say your development process been impacted by Covid?

In terms of the process, yes, but not so much because of Covid, except for the fact that it’s much more online based. I actually really miss going to a library. It’s different sources, both good, but different. My design process has been more impacted. Being a brand, even though I think what I was making always had a certain commerciality, means I have to think about what things cost all the time and that can sometimes affect the outcome because I have to think “ok, can this be produced several times, even though I’m still making small quantities? Can it be produced? Can I allow myself to make all these intricate things and then make a product that is really inaccessible?”. I think that affects the process a lot, not just because of Covid, but trying to make a living in this industry in general.


Talk to me about your FW21 collection.

So I introduced new prints for this collection. I’ve been working around this flower print which was inspired by some of the bedsheets that I already looked at for spring/summer 21 but it was also inspired by this quote from my grandmother whom I really admired and had a great sense of style. She said that flowers and stripes don’t go together. I just think it’s such an interesting rule to have. I was constantly playing around with the two and it’s not an easy combination. It’s niche and problematic. It was very important to me in this collection to have much softer tones. It was about getting the right colors and the right feeling. So the collection was a lot to do with these kind of elements for this season, I really wanted softer tones to come through.


How would you describe your designs?

I like to think there’s a quirky element in there but it’s definitely subtle. It’s about a double-take, the idea of having something you think is quite standard but has a glitch or something unique that makes it different. There’s definitely a sense of nostalgia present in my work.


How do you find the fashion scene in Berlin compared to London?

I came to Berlin because I had the opportunity to start my project with my partner Max because we had the space to work on it here. I didn’t have so much time to dive into the city or the fashion scene because I moved when everything got locked down. That’s something that’s definitely taking time. I think if you compare Berlin to a place like London, there’s a lot of support systems there that are really great for new designers. You have BFC, New Gen and Fashion East and that’s not so present here, I think it’s a much smaller scene. There are some really interesting labels like Ottolinger and Bless. That said, I don’t think I’m your typical brilliant designer - my aesthetic is quite different and I have the space to do something new, which is exciting.


I noted some similarities between your work and Prada’s – is that a brand you look to for inspiration? What other creatives inspire your process?

It’s definitely a compliment to be compared to Prada, I don’t mind that! It’s definitely a strong female designer that I really admire and I think there are a lot of similarities in the way that I use archetype garments and rework those, as well as this kind of nostalgia which is very present. I hope that my work reflects my own style but it is very hard not to be influenced by anyone. I also really admire brands like Bless and Margiela, I think they’re probably important to every young designer. They have this approach of transforming everyday objects into something new and I find that super interesting. Obviously a brand like Courrèges is also a huge source of inspiration in terms of the time, the cuts and this optimism that the work brings. Other than that, I’m inspired by a lot of artists like Ted Noten who did a series with chewing-gum, Alice Prager who’s an American photographer and plays with nostalgia - using it as a tool to speak and a painter called Domenico Gnoli who did these blown-up images and paintings of clothing details. I really love zooming into details so I think those are always great inspirations for me. One particular piece of work by Erwin Wurm was a really big starting point for my master’s collection and in general with my designs. He did this piece which was a Renault and titled it; the whole thing was using something incredibly recognizable but tilting it and technically, it’s super complicated, but visually it just gives you a glitch and that is so linked to the way I’m working. To me that’s such a big source of inspiration.


What kind of materials and sourcing do you use?

I basically try to source as consciously as possible meaning I’m looking at either organic materials that are preferably certified, recycled materials like polyester or newer materials that are coming on the market like Tencel and Lyocell. I also work with some upcycling like making old things and into shirts. In terms of sourcing, it’s interesting because a lot of the mills that are working with these kind of materials are also quite new so they have a big online presence and it’s easier to buy smaller quantities.


What are you trying to say to the fashion industry and how are you saying it?

I’m not sure that I’m so concerned with speaking directly to the fashion industry. Obviously, taking a sustainable angle is probably a statement in itself. It’s actually really quite challenging because everything is more expensive and there aren’t many options. You have to keep the prices as everybody else. In that sense, it’s definitely taking a stand and asking mills to make more sustainable options. But in terms of my work itself, I’m not so much speaking to the fashion industry but more to the people who want to wear it themselves.


What advice would you give to new fashion students?

First of all, I think it’s super impressive that students are working the way they are right now. Everything is virtual and that’s really challenging. I can’t even imagine what it’s like. I think there’s definitely a lot that gets lost in that. If I had a piece of advice, it would definitely be to try to connect with other students despite the fact that everything is virtual because especially as a new student, it’s so much about exchange and making connections that are so valuable later. You really can’t get by without them so if you can’t meet physically, then make Zoom meetings that aren’t work related and give each other support. I spent so much time with my friends at uni bouncing ideas back and forth and it’s the number one thing I would recommend. It can be quite easy to isolate yourself... It’s sometimes easier not to have the noise of everybody else but it’s good to have a little bit of that.


Is there anything you would change in how the industry is run today?

I guess it’s linked to sustainability. Obviously, I think that anything that is luxury fashion or more niche already has a different approach but of course there’s overconsumption. It’s going in the right direction - it’s just being a little bit too slow.


What will your next collection be about?

Yes, Spring/Summer ‘22! It’s still very much in it’s early days but I think the last collection was a little softer and a little more intimate so I think that my last spring summer collection was a little bit louder and optimistic. So, some optimism is definitely what I want to bring in the next collection. Maybe it’s also just summer that helps that whilst also still keeping some of the delicate elements that I brought into the new collection. It’s going to be about trying to find a balance between these two things, which I think is not so straightforward. I’m quite excited about it, I have quite clear ideas of colors that I’m really seeing. I think when I start a collection, I have certain things in mind and sometimes they disappear when I make the collection but I definitely have a strong sense of colors and prints right now for this next collection.


What have been your biggest challenges as a recent graduate?

There are a few but one thing is definitely starting the brand. As a student, you only get taught the design part and that’s already a lot of work. Then when starting my own brand, I had to educate myself on so many things and the sustainability aspect wasn’t something that I was particularly familiar with before, so I really had to understand how that worked. There are lots of elements; the business part, the financial part, the press part… all of this was very new and balancing all these things together was hard. Also, striking the balance between making what you want to make and keeping it creative and at a price that you have to live from. Obviously, it takes time but it’s a different angle than the one you have as a student when it’s only about visuals, whereas, here, everything has to go together.


So what’s next for the future of your brand?

There are elements that I’m trying to incorporate, but it takes time. There’s knitwear that I really want to do and I’d like to expand into some accessories which is also a bit overtime. Then, I’m working on a project which is still in it’s really early stages - a little cartoon strip that will go with the collection. Small steps!


3 things that never fail to visually inspire you… a painting, photograph, film?

The Renault 25 by Erwin Wurm, Domenico Gnoli’s work in general with his paintings of clothing details and Alice Prager because of her approach to nostalgia.

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