An explosion of prints and colours, ceramics and tapestry give shape to the optimistic and vibrant tribute designer Elena Martin pays to Africa
Martin Lamothe is Elena Martin’s brainchild, a Spanish designer based in Barcelona that after studying in Central Saint Martins in London decided to come back to her hometown to start her own personal project. Having previously shown her collections during 080 Barcelona Fashion and London Fashion Week we recently met her in the previous hours to her latest show in Cibeles Madrid Fashion Week to talk about Pop Up the Volume! her vibrant collection for next summer.
Far from falling in easy stereotypes, Elena’s collection is a deep and conceptual exercise in which she meticulously crumbles all her sources of inspiration to later put them back together in the shape of a fresh breeze that floods with light and colour the idea of the most lively Africa.
Dazed Digital: How do you start each new collection? Which are the basic steps you always take?
Elena Martin: I first think about colours, prints –which I also design myself- and then develop the rest, because if you do it the other way round and add the prints by the end, they change the whole collection and you have to re-do everything again.
DD: Tell us about Pop Up the Volume!, what is it about?
Elena Martin: The whole collection is about Africa, I was there last Spring, somehow encouraged after seeing in the news all the uprisings they were going through, I wanted to discover by myself what was going on. I traveled across the North area, across the Atlas, and then started my way down. To me, it was such a great impact, you know all this image we may have about dry and arid landscapes, when I was there I only saw bright and almost neon colours. Since this monochrome environment surrounds people in their daily life, they wear colours all the time.
DD: How did you build up the colour palette and why its role in here seems so important to give this fresh image about Africa?
Elena Martin: The collection is divided in two blocks; a more colourful one with bright -close to neon- shades in pink, green or violet and another block mainly in black and white with bold prints and a more graphic mood. I avoided, on purpose, the earthiest shades like red or yellow, and took instead for the summery palette the colours from the flowers, trying to achieve this way the contemporary mood I was aiming to insufflate the whole collection.
DD: That explains you have come up with a collection that is quite different from what people might expect when you mention your inspiration…
Elena Martin: Yes! I know, that was the idea. When traveling down the Atlas I discovered tribes, like the Nubas, in which everything is black and white, red and blue, always radical contrasts. So rhythmical. I wanted to reproduce a little bit what happened with Primitivism at that time, these people went mad when they discovered Africa and how they used colour in there, but I wanted to do it in a more vibrant way.
DD: Is this idea, then, what made you choose the figure of Keith Haring as a reference, too?
Elena Martin: Exactly, I have always loved the fact that what he took from Africa was mainly the rhythm, with his organic, simple and handmade strokes. The collection is based on this, mostly. The idea of Keith Haring brings the subtle 90s’ feeling to the collection, also represented in the silhouettes and shapes of a series that still manages to keep the organic feeling through the use of treated raffia.
Actually, this combination of natural materials with the most optimistic retro vibe from the last decade of the 20th century is present throughout the whole collection where silk crepes can be found next to thick plastic zips or cotton traditional jacquards are paired with stripes and blocks of colour in silk patchwork shirts.
DD: How strong would you say the influence of traditional African craftwork has been for you in these collection?
Elena Martin: Handicrafts in there are also insane, very figurative and expressionist. As I traveled from one place to another I was more and more sure I wanted to do this collection about Africa but with a very fresh and up-to-date feeling.
Laura Lauseras is an artist, also based in Barcelona, who works mainly with ceramics and that has contributed to this collection giving shape to little pieces that, sewn to the garments, give a 3D feeling to the prints; symbolic shapes like little vases, horns or tears are attached to chiffon dresses and shirts with a thick cord for a tribal look. In the more colourful series I have also contributed with Georgina Cuadros to develop some garments using the traditional tapestry technique with silk strips, drawing landscapes with them in skirts and dresses.