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Oscar Olima: Gaga Couturier

We chat to the Los Angeles-based designer about ready-to-wear womenswear collections characterised by tailored, bold and pure lines and flamboyant stage costumes for Lady Gaga

Entitled 'Trecedim', Olima Atelier’s Autumn/Winter 2010 collection was a celebration of glamorous darkness, mainly including black designs in which sheer and opaque fabrics were employed to produce chiaroscuro contrasts. American designer Oscar Olima’s new S/S11 collection is instead a celebration of light and poetry, with tops, shorts, wide pants and tunics.

Using a neutral palette characterised by fine tailoring and precise and strong details, such as layers of fabric and ruffles, Olima has created architectural and sculptural motifs and bunched silhouettes. Yet Olima is not just about ready-to-wear: in the last two years he also designed some of the most outlandish and theatrical costumes for Lady Gaga’s performances and for her Monster Ball Tour.

Dazed Digital: Where did you grow up and where are you based?
Oscar Olima: I grew up in Echo Park surrounded by my family who was involved in tailoring and other craftsmanship works. I was never exposed to the fashion industry, but was always involved in the creation of it. At present I’m based out of downtown Los Angeles. I have a studio where I spend most of my time creating and exploring my passion. 

DD: Who has been the greatest influence on your career?
Oscar Olima: My grandmother. She has one of the strongest work ethics I’ve ever seen. At 75 she still has more energy and willpower than most people I know!

DD: Can you talk us through your creative process?
Oscar Olima: My process is unique through each collection. I tend to never plan out my vision, instead I let the fabric speak for itself. I am more concerned about the mood of my designs and allow freedom within my inspiration. My ideas come from one word that comes to me. In the case of the latest collection it was 'Paraiso', paradise. I then create a mood board and I drape as I go, then sketch and put a fabric selection together. Fabric is very important to me since it can make or break you. If you’re an amazing designer but you can’t pick out the right kind of fabric your whole design can suffer.

DD: What do you like most about fashion?
Oscar Olima: I love the whole process of turning fabric into wearable art. I constantly daydream about what to make next. I know I drive my atelier crazy with my ideas at times, but there’s little attention to beautiful details in many of the garments produced today. We’re living in a time when a T-shirt – and not a well-tailored jacket – is considered as a hot piece of wardrobe and I want to change this by producing beautiful designs.  

DD: What inspired your new collection?
Oscar Olima: My new collection, 'Paraiso', is inspired by the feeling of an oasis within what you wear. To me paradise is a feeling of weightlessness and I wanted my clothes to reflect that. I design for women who are fearless about what they want to wear, who are not afraid of wearing a bold creation and be the focus of people’s conversations. Ideally, I would like to see icons such as Chloë Sevigny, Cate Blanchett, Björk, Tilda Swinton and Marion Cotillard wearing my designs.

DD: How did you end up designing costumes for Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball Tour?
Oscar Olima: Designing for Lady Gaga started with a recommendation from a friend. At that time I was out of a job and decided it was time to pursue my dreams and seize any opportunity that came my way. I received a phone call the day before the American Music Awards to create a vinyl cape in one day for Lady Gaga. From that point on it was project after project that lead to several new design orders from her. I was very nervous when I first showed Lady Gaga the custom pieces I had made for her in just a few days. But, after she saw the designs, she took me to her dressing room and told me she loved what I had made for her. That was one of the most rewarding moments in my life!