Masha Ma

The Chinese-born CSM graduate showed her second LFW collection in February and talks to us about working with Nike, Frank Gehry's deconstructivist work and having Erin O'Connor as an ideal muse

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Central Saint Martins student Ma once again showed during London Fashion Week this season, hammering home her status as one of the city's up-and-coming design talents. Moving on from the Chinese-born designer's ice cold and minimal S/S11 collection, her latest outing was characterised by warmer colours like red, fierce black elements and a more flowing and layered approach to the Masha Ma wardrobe. Dividing her time between Beijing and London, Ma describes her look as "Erin O'Connor meets riot girl", which - I'm sure you'll all agree - is an unstoppable aesthetic and winning combination. When the dust had settled after her LFW show, Dazed took Masha Ma's pulse...

Dazed Digital: You are semi-based in China - how does it differ from working in the UK?
Masha Ma
: In the UK, a lot of us are working on a past legacy of radical or avant-gardist creativity. Though a legacy can be an important constraint in pushing creative boundaries, there is something to be said about a creative tabula rasa and that's what China has right now. If the avant-garde present is found between the past and the future, China is posses an ultra avant-garde present because it's the oldest and it's the newest. The UK has a history of looking for the old and possessing the old using the newest of technologies and creating radical tensions that way. But China is older and China is newer so we'll see what happens.

DD: You studied at CSM but did you train in fashion in China before that?
Masha Ma:
Not in fashion but in fine art. I was a promising painter as a young person and ultimately I love drawing. But I've always been very observant of cultural waves and human behavior. Fine art was too limited, my curiosity in people and the way they expressed themselves combined with my love for drawing is probably what drew me to fashion. In many ways I see my  work as trying to capture a certain cultural zeitgeist. When I think of what I'm making I don't so much think about what my audience want than what the audience represent. I'm painting them through fabrics I suppose.

DD: What was the main inspiration behind your A/W11 collection?
Masha Ma:
It was actually inspired by Frank Gehry's deconstructivist work. As per reconstructing femininity after post-gender politics, the A/W 11 collection closes in on the tension between deconstruction that suggests a lack of form and an actual product. So exploring the space between deconstruction and reconstruction.

DD: Compare it to the previous S/S11 one!
Masha Ma:
Simply put, when it's cold the question of functionality should be an important aspect of fashion. But nihilist postmodernism has almost forgotten this fact. With reconstruction comes coherence and with coherence comes functionality. The fact that not many people do coats in London is part of this nihilism that seems a bit old now. With the S/S work its much easier to fall to this nihilism. In the A/W season my reconstructive vision really comes to life.

DD: What's your favourite piece from the A/W collection?
Masha Ma:
The dusty pink double cashmere jacket with folded collar and zip on the front. All seams and edges are cut open in the middle and fold back facing each other with hand finishing completely. it takes at least eight hours just for the hand work of the jacket.

DD: How would you sum up the Masha Ma design aesthetic?
Masha Ma:
I think its time to bring the woman back. Feminism is and has been a very important thing from the Suffragettes, Beauvoir, to Butler. But the question is what happens after the post-gender. I just don't think that feminine empowerment and liberation has to come through the neutralization of gender or basically the woman becoming a man. My silhouettes embrace the female form like the Parisians like it but allow for the empowerment of the London or New York woman. It is time that
we leave our feminine resentments behind and reconstruct a femininity that is elegant yet empowered. Erin O'Connor meets riot girl.

DD: Your collections are often sparse in the choice of colours but very rich in details - how do you find the balance?
Masha Ma:
When you look at a fabric from a two-dimensional perspective colour is what jumps to your eyes first. I make an effort to emphasize the dynamic character of fashion. I want people to look at the details and not be distracted by the single colour. You might say that having the same colour brings the collection together and people are less distracted but I don't think so. I want my audience to look past the seeming distraction that is presented by mixing up the colours. I don't want people to leave and say she chose a nice color. I want people to leave wondering how the different textures came together thematically.
Fashion is at least three dimensional.

DD: Your style is very femininely high end fashion but you also work on projects for sports brands like Nike - do you find the tension between the two inspirational?
Masha Ma:
It's an interesting challenge. I think sometimes it works and other times it doesn't. If what we're trying to do in fashion is to present an elegance that is effortless, a tracksuit seems to be the uttermost antithesis to such a thing! Can we make running on a treadmill fashionable? I wonder if the better question is, do fashionable people go to the gym and the answer is that they do. Couture is definitely the gold standard of fashion but there is more to fashion than just couture.

Fashion to me is about finding an aesthetic solution to any given situation. And as long as we live there is an aesthetic solution to be uncovered. That's the way I see my craft and what better challenge than to have to visualize what people want to wear as they reveal their aesthetic insecurities coated in a layer of sweat. But of course I'm not looking to be chief designer at the house of nike, let's just say.

DD: What's next for you?
Masha Ma:
I will continue to work towards showing my work at LFW, while interests about cutting edge femininity continue to persist. There is a London feminine like there is a Paris feminine and a New York feminine. These different femininities have been
developed through many different social and cultural contexts. So what are the contexts that dominate the world we live in now and dictate the feminine bodies that we occupy today? Whether there is a Shanghai feminine or not is not really the question. There's a place and there's people, somewhere amongst that is femininity, I'm just someone who likes playing with that idea.


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