Katie Gementera: What did you draw as a seven-year-old?
Do you have fun drawing, writing, or working? Or is that a luxury only children are afforded? When faced with impeding deadlines and external critique from faculty and peers, it is likely that the activities previously done for pleasure have now become a burden. So for her graduate collection, Katie Gementera decided to look at her first, authentic drawings for inspiration - from when she was seven - back when she created things for the fun of it, not for an arbitrary deadline. Recently we spoke to Katie Gementera, the designer educated at Parsons in both NYC and Paris and now the founder of her eponymous label, to speak about her graduate collection.
You studied in both New York and Paris, what are the main differences in terms of the fashion industry?
There’s quite a noticeable difference between the two cities. On the one hand you have NYC, where fashion tends to be quite fast-paced and focused toward ready-to-wear. Hence sportswear and streetwear is quite popular. Then on the other hand, you have Paris, the home of couture. In Paris fashion is much more about quality and artistic flair. Even studying in the two cities and being on the different campuses, you can tell straight away the difference in their mindset to fashion. It’s the same course in both cities, but with two very different atmospheres.
Which city would you say you enjoyed more?
I preferred the course in Paris, you were afforded more creative control over what you were doing there than in NYC. Having said that, I loved living in NYC, there’s no city really quite like it - the energy, the culture, the people - it’s really quite unique! The academic experience is also different. In New York you’ve got a huge campus and there are so many students, it’s easy to get filtered in with everyone else. But that definitely helps when you want to access to people in different disciplines and fields. What you also get is the experience of the fast-paced commercial world. What I found was that it in Paris, where I had more creative discretion, I was to able to understand who I was a designer, which elements I preferred and was good at. In NYC it was more about commercial feedback and so there was naturally parameters on what you could produce in the studio. Paris had a lot more freedom in that regard.
You mention how ‘The clothes are about creating a feeling in people that they can resonate with instantly’, what would you say this feeling was and what type of person would be wearing a Katie Gementera design?
The collection was based on my childhood experiences. But I didn’t want to focus on just me and so I actually ended up doing a lot of research because I wanted to it to truly resonate with people. This allowed me to really identify and understand the relationship people have with the memories of their childhood. The collection itself is based on childhood experiences and in order to truly capture this I took a survey on people’s childhood experiences, this way it wouldn’t just be based on me. So it’s actually based on the response of 80 people’s childhood experiences! I gathered information such as whether people played outside, what kind of toys they played with, where did they grew up, etc. What I found in the survey was that people were basically saying that my experience was the same with regards to being outdoors and being free, about playing with tangible objects, and this digital generation has kind of changed that. So i wanted to capture and create that fun energy that I was getting back in these forms. Ultimately children playing mainly revolved around being in the moment and having freedom and I wanted to project that feeling in the collection. With regards to the feeling, I wanted to have it so you got the feeling, the energy, the theme from the collection by just seeing it.
In your ‘Growing up now’ collection you talk about the preservation of childhood innocence and playfulness, how does the collection capture this for you?
Playfulness-wise, it was about me making my own choices as to what I wore - what I styled with what - just putting things together that I thought looked good in the moment. Accessory-wise, I bought some bucket stilts and stuck them to the shoes.
Where do you find inspiration for you work?
In terms of this collection, the inspiration came from sheer frustration! I was a senior and that's the year where everyone starts to freak out because the end is in sight, it’s the one year in which you have to do design a whole collection rather than a few pieces. But to come up with a concept that really inspires you is quite difficult, especially with a tight deadline. I actually ended up going back to my designs from when I was younger, my mum sent me sketch books from when I was seven - I’ve always wanted to do fashion design. It’s then that I realised I actually liked the work I was designing back then compared to what I was designing at university. A lot of my designs at university were missing that element of fun which my younger self definitely included! What made my designs fun back then was that I didn’t care what people thought, I was just designing things I thought were cool and going with it! So i ended sketching what my hand wanted to sketch - without the constraint of outside opinion, and it was great!
If you could choose, which celebrity would you want wearing your designs?
That’s quite difficult to say, but right now I'd say the hot culture trends are kicking in, and there’s a new generation to be looking at for celebrities - the guys from Stranger Things and Riverdale. But i’d love to see someone like Blake Lively or Zendaya. I think Zendaya, for one, would really like the collection, she’d really suit it.