Gala Marija Vrbanic is keeping sustainability in the family
Founded by Gala Marija Vrbanic, PRICE ON REQUEST is the subversive, genderfluid label rising out of Zagreb, Croatia – and though the country isn’t exactly known for being a big player on the world’s fashion stage, if Vrbanic has anything to do with it, that might be set to change.
Making her debut at London Fashion Week during the SS19 shows, the young designer put forward a collection almost entirely constructed from recycled and reimagined surplus stock taken from the archives Xenia Design, her mum’s 30 year-old fashion label.
“I felt frustrated that all these clothes were just sitting there in the warehouse unsold and not being utilised, especially when there was a family relation to it,” she explains of her motives for starting up PRICE ON REQUEST. “So much new stuff is being made, and even worse, some brands are even burning and destroying clothes and materials. I would've felt guilty if I didn't do something about that in my own work.”
To create the new clothing, the designer and her team take items from the Xenia Design’s and update them in new, imaginative ways: warping their intention, changing their silhouettes, and adding unique embellishments and prints. The main objective when it comes to PRICE ON REQUEST is to improve the functionality of her mum’s designs, and elongate the life cycle of the garments. In Vrbanic’s mind, one of the most important things to consider when entering the fashion industry is how to make your work sustainable and ecologically conscious – which she definitely has covered, given the label has reduced the use of new materials by around 80 per cent.
“So much new stuff is being made, and even worse, some brands are even burning and destroying clothes and materials. I would've felt guilty if I didn't do something about that in my own work” – Gala Marija Vrbanic
Describing the brand’s aesthetic as ‘dynamic’, Vrbanic explains that each item utilises materials that aren’t usually used in conjunction with one another. As part of her SS19 collection, a black blazer and matching trousers were updated with the addition of cut-outs layered over with transparent white silk, while a chiffon, rainbow-striped shirt features a contrasting floral panel, which, when a drawcord is pulled, disrupts the linear lines of garment and creates and new outline. “There are a lot of shifts in construction and many possibilities to wear these items in different ways, but comfort is never compromised,” she says.
Ultimately, Vrbanic hopes that her customers see these clothes as opportunities to play and interact with fashion in a way that is mindful. “Every time we do something, we try to explore feelings of fear and play with conventions and irony, but it's all positive, and I really want people to feel that.”
Here, we speak to the her about growing up with designer mum, fighting back against consumerism, and Croatia’s undocumented fashion scene.
What was your experience growing up in Croatia?
Gala Marija Vrbanic: I actually had a nice upbringing. I was born in 1994, and the Croatian War of Independence ended in 1995, so I was raised in a kind of post-war environment. Luckily, I come from the northern part of Croatia, which was not as affected by the war. My mum had her design studio and my dad was running a nightclub, so I became independent quite early. I was always painting, building things, and playing with Lego bricks growing up. But also, I was into chemistry and biology.
What was it like having a mum as a designer? Is that where your interest in fashion stems from?
Gala Marija Vrbanic: Well, I learned a lot of things I would have otherwise had to go to fashion school for, but on the other hand it pushed me away from fashion a bit to start with too, because I never liked the system surrounding it. It wasn’t until recently that I started pursuing fashion, just as I was finishing my MA in Visual Communication. At that point, I realised I have so many resources available that few designers have when they get their start, so why not use them?
What led you to launch PRICE ON REQUEST?
Gala Marija Vrbanic: The brand itself was never planned. At the time, I was still in college and I was curious to see if I would be any good at fashion design, so I applied to a competition held by a design college here in Zagreb, and I won, with the first thing I’d ever made! Afterwards, I was invited to showcase at Croatian Fashion Week, which was when things started really developing.
What’s the fashion scene in Croatia like?
Gala Marija Vrbanic: The fashion system as a whole is quite frustrating, but it’s especially so in Croatia. It doesn’t matter if you have a good concept or collection, only a few people will support you. Here, it's important to have fake celebrities sitting in the front row, and it doesn't matter if all you did was badly copy a D&G collection from 2012. There are no real critics. In the end I was like, fuck them! I’m going to start doing something good to try to educate and inspire people.
Tell us a little about the latest collection. What was your aim with it?
Gala Marija Vrbanic: I’ve just come to realise there’s no need, especially nowadays, to produce new clothes, and that there was a bunch of unused potential right in front of us in the form of my mother’s 35 year-old archive.
“PRICE ON REQUEST has never been just about the clothes, it is about criticising and changing the system in a satirical way” – Gala Marija Vrbanic
What was your process for creating it?
Gala Marija Vrbanic: It was a challenging task since the aesthetics of the two brands are total opposites, and each is so personal. When we first entered the warehouse we started collecting clothes, particularly ones that were in larger quantities (so we could multiply them later), and then we divided the process into three phases. In the first phase, we changed the given intention of the piece by turning it into a garment with a different function. In the second phase, we changed the silhouette of the piece, and in the third phase, we embellished the garment with prints.
You work with a series of collaborators to bring the brand to life ?
Gala Marija Vrbanic: Well, there's me and Filip Vajda that are doing things together, but I am the creative director of the brand. We also have contributors from the spheres of graphic, motion, and 3D design and all the photography and production is completely made at the same place here in Croatia. PRICE ON REQUEST has never been just about the clothes, it is about criticising and changing the system, but in a satirical way.
You’re vocal when it comes to calling out fast fashion and its practices. Can you tell us a bit about the time you protested against H&M?
Gala Marija Vrbanic: When all of the H&M brand collaborations started I was amazed. People were fighting for overpriced high street clothes made by underpaid workers in third world countries just because they had a certain label attached to them. I couldn't understand how didn't they realise that the company was just selling the dream, not the actual high fashion designer’s products. When the H&M x Kenzo collaboration occurred in October 2016 I decided to make a tool called LETVA, which was a self-defence tool that would help you move through the crowds at the launch. Ironically, it was a piece of wood coloured in the H&M x Kenzo pattern.
What happened after that?
Gala Marija Vrbanic: The day before the collection launch, we met with the photographer Matej Jurcevic and we decided to show up to the VIP launch event with models wearing our first collection. As the people were fighting for the H&M x Kenzo clothes we started to shoot our campaign amidst the crowd. At one point the press photographers thought the PRICE ON REQUEST models were the models from H&M and started taking photos. Their PR team noticed and told us to leave. Those photos were not published in most of the press reports except one, which luckily didn’t realise. They published them saying: “Look at the best sellers from the H&M x Kenzo launch.” But it was our models in our clothes.
Afterwards, we received the images from our photographer and sent them as a press release for our new collection. But none of the Croatian media published them. It was banned. I asked the editor-in-chief of the then leading Croatian fashion portal: “Why is this happening?” And she said: “This is great, but H&M is our largest advertiser, we can't publish this.”
What is coming up next for you and the brand?
Gala Marija Vrbanic: We will be continuing to produce clothes that are either upcycled (from archived materials and clothes) or if something has to be new, we’re making it from renewable sources. But I think the most interesting thing we have coming up is the software we started developing last summer. I can't talk much about it since it's now in a prototype phase, but imagine one garment that could multiply and go anywhere. It's quite tricky since it has never been done before. But I really believe it has the potential to change the way we communicate through fashion.