Dimitra Petsa’s performative collection looks closely at the deep female relationship with water, nudity and dress
Performative, sensual, erotic, and wet. These are the words that first spring to mind when considering Dimitra Petsa’s MA collection, Wetness.
Transitioning from a BA in Performance Art onto the MA Fashion at Central Saint Martins, everything from Dimitra’s concept and process, to her final show follow a performative and explorative nature – one embedded with what it means to be a natural, wet, empowered woman.
“We all got naked in the studio and ran around and laughed and cried and danced and screamed,” Petsa explains of her time at Central Saint Martins. “I’d put something on the women and one of them would say ‘Oh no I kind of like it like this, or I like it like that’ and you take feedback!”
This collaborative process in creating her MA collection likely harks back to her upbringing. Growing up in Athens, Petsa began pattern cutting at her grandmother’s tailoring school at just twelve years old. It was with her that Petsa was first exposed to what it means to be a woman: their secrets, their vulnerabilities, and the way they dressed their naked bodies. “I really associate the image of her sewing with her telling me stories while we were working – some of them sad, some of them happy,” says Petsa. “These women would come in for fittings and we’d all be laughing one minute and crying the next.”
According to the designer, there is a shared sense of intimacy between a woman and the seamstress she chooses to visit. “When you’re dressing someone, these is a unique bond,” she explains. “And when you’re being dressed, you’re letting someone into your world and making yourself vulnerable. There’s something unique that happens when one woman looks at another and tries to create something that makes her feel beautiful in herself.”
Petsa’s process from conceptualisation to the end result, when pieces are eventually donned by what she calls her ‘wearer-performers’ is entirely performance-based. While other MA Fashion students were pinning fabric on mannequins, Petsa could be found winding along the CSM corridors doing public performances. “That’s how the collection started,” she explains. “First I created and designed the performances and then the actual garments came. I imagined a part in a film where a woman is totally drenched in a white fabric – which someone performed for me walking down the street – and then I thought, ‘yes! I should develop a textile that when you walk around you look like you’re totally wet.’”
“The whole concept is based on my long-term research into how society really tries to sterilise female bodies and female existence in general” – Dimitra Petras
This manifested in an entirely ‘wet-look’ and translucent collection, which was made from a unique textile Petsa herself developed. There are white bras, which delicately drape over the breasts and look like they’ve been drenched during a late-night dip in the ocean, denim trousers with what appear to be piss stains around the crotch and down the leg, and one particularly suggestive water drop nipple piercing.
The entirety of Petras’ collection is suggestive, in fact, as the designer’s ‘wearer-performers’ are celebrated in their female form, rather than encased in any firm, block shape. Through the ‘wetness’ of her garments and their fluidity she looks to explore the policing and censorship of the female body by the patriarchy, and the trickle down effect this has on women themselves and their attitude towards their bodily fluids.
"The whole concept is based on my really long-term research into how society really tries to sterilise female bodies and female existence in general,” says Petsa. “It’s also about being a woman in general and how we relate to our surroundings – the idea of being wet in public.”
By being wet in public through Petsa’s collection, those who wear it are declaring that they accept their bodily fluids – period blood, sweat, breast milk, and all. The radically eco-feminist offering draws on the notion we all come from water: “We should treat our bodily fluids in the same way we treat water. Both are completely natural, and totally uncontrollable. If you even think of the term wetness in the context of being a woman, it’s only during sex that it’s deemed acceptable.”
Eroticism plays a big role in Petsa’s work, too, which brings into question the collection when placed in the line of the male gaze. “As women living the female experience you are constantly under this male gaze with everything that you do,” she says. “Essentially, everything you do, you are performing – in a deeper and more institutionalised way, women have been conditioned to act and behave in a certain way. But you can either succumb to that pressure or break free from it, and decide to cry in public, be naked in public, and just be wet.”