nafsika skourti makes politically charged clothing for the internet generation
Half Jordanian, half Greek, Skourti is fusing her heritage together in her third collection entitled 'Temporary Security.'
Half Greek, half Jordanian, Central Saint Martins alumnus Nafsika Skourti is the young designer fusing together her dual heritage and her love of old-school embroidery and tailoring techniques to incredible effect. Set up with her sister and business partner, the 28-year-old's third collection, entitled "Temporary Security," -- which was shown at the BFC showspace as well Fashion Forward Dubai -- took direct influence from the conflict that surrounded the borders of her native Jordan. Messages such as 'self-destruct,' 'waiting is forbidden,' 'borders,' and 'television' are stitched onto the sleeves of jackets and legs of jeans, in both Arabic and English; a nod to her bilingual upbringing, society's love of pop culture, the volatile landscape around her as well as dedication to the often misconstrued conversation between the Middle East and the West. The collection has been worn by everyone from the likes of M.I.A, Saiorse Ronan, Alunageorge, and Susie Bubble. It's also helped her become one of the finalists of Style.com/Arabia's DDFC Fashion Prize, the Arab world's first fashion fund. With her star in the ascendent, Nafsika's is a name you need to know.
What peaked your interest in fashion?
I was at Central Saint Martins, and I graduated in 2012 from the BA in fashion print. I actually applied to CSM wanting to do sculpture because I didn't ever think of fashion as a career but I think it was secretly what I wanted to do and my heart definitely wasn't in sculpture. I had a teacher who saw my illustrations and really liked what I was doing and encouraged me to do fashion print. It wasn't a traditional path because I feel like life has a funny way of introducing you to things and putting you in places.
What do you love about being a designer?
What I love is that you're really speaking to yourself, it's very much deciphering what your thoughts are and what you want to do and what the message is that you're giving. It really is a big problem solving task, you often have to think where and when. Sometimes you have to be practical, ask yourself 'is this a good product or not', 'how am I going to communicate?' 'How am i going to make the person I'm thinking of like it?' I also feel like as young people, we are really good at making the best out of nothing. So I try and apply that into my business. If I want to have an embroidered cashmere coat, instead of having 100% cashmere, I will try to do it 30% cashmere and 70% wool. That way we can have the embroidery on it as something on top and then it is a more reasonable price point you know?
When did you establish the brand?
Yet in a short time, you've got garnered a lot of attention and stockists.
It's been really, really good. We've been really lucky. I really just believe that if you're doing something you really believe in, it speaks to people.
Who and what are some of your design inspirations?
I think that if I wasn't a fashion designer I think I might have been in graphic design and communication or my dream is to do some kind of publication; I love the combination of text and imagery. I collect really rare editions of magazines and zines and even when a page is beautifully laid out I notice. In terms of fashion designers, I love Raf Simons. It's typical to say that, but I've been following him for a really long time and he really has that integrity that I always looking for. I do look at a lot of photographers, too. I just love the process of making images.
And as a fashion designer, you are an image maker -- you are curating and are shaping what someone will look like. You're constantly thinking about the end product just like the way a photographer thinks about what someone will feel when they look at a photograph and what they will be able to take away from it. I think the two are linked in a way.
100%. How people feel in my clothes is paramount. There are some things that I own that I will live and die in yet they're so boring and comfortable. But I am not some guy who's imagining this imaginary woman and creating impractical clothes for her. I am a woman. I love Isabel Marant because of the way she speaks about her business and her attitudes towards clothes. She's really pragmatic and really mindful about situations that women are in and has a real honesty in her approach towards design and clothes. I try and do the same and inject personality into my clothes. One of my dresses, it's a strapless dress, and in the studio we nicknamed it the 'ex-boyfriend' dress and all the women got exactly what that meant. We have a patchwork dress, and we called it the 'sweaty dress' because in the summer you have days where you don't want anything to touch your body because you're so hot! Buyers love it, it makes them able to relate to the clothes!
You and your brand are based out in Jordan. Is this strategic and what is the creative community like there?
To be honest, I am based here mostly because I couldn't afford to be based in London. My nerves couldn't handle trying to build my brand in somewhere so expensive. So I've found myself in Jordan, and it is interesting because first of all, it's really beautiful even though everyone around us is going through turbulent times to put it lightly. In Jordan, because of our alliance with the States, we're OK but sadly there's always something going on in the region. First there was Iraq and the whole ISIS thing and it's just crazy, you can feel, even amongst my friends there's a bit of a divide. In London it's very easy to find amazing pattern cutters and in Jordan that's harder, but while things would take a while in London, people in Jordan can get done in two weeks -- so it's give and take. I just feel like we may not have a fashion week but everyone's traveling anyway so I might as well just do it from here.
You studied embroidery at Ecole Lesage. Why was it important for you learn such an old school technique? There aren't many people who know the art of embroidery anymore.
Before I began my brand, I was offered an internship at Marchesa and Alexander Wang. As soon I saw all of the amazing embroideries Marchesa had, I knew they were right for me I got really into it. Then I was like 'you know I need to go to India and I need to go to Ecole Lesage' and study both sides of my embroidery. To be honest, anyone who has an interest in a craft or wants to learn about the art of patience and perseverance should go to Lesage. It is one of the most organized institutions and it's crazy what you do there. After six months I was just doing it, and it was such a good feeling to learn something new.
What struck me about your line were the colors, the unique prints, and the what you had embroidered on the clothes -- words such as 'self-destruct' and 'waiting is forbidden.' Tell us a bit more about your thinking behind the spring/summer 16 collection?
It's all about this mixing of energy. On one hand, you have all these parties but on the other hand there is this fighting and conflict; things aren't calm around us. Everything is just heightened here. It's like what I was saying about image-making and the things you can say. With this collection I didn't want anybody to read between the lines, I wanted it all to be very clear. I was thinking about Facebook and how on my Timeline, you'll have an article that's political, the next is about Kim Kardashian, the next is about a fluffy cat. Everybody has their own agenda but we aren't out saying anything or doing anything. When you're silent, you're contributing to the inaction. So we have these jeans, the black ones, and on the front on one leg in Arabic it says 'borders' and on the back it says 'television.' I just feel like with our generation, we care but literally entertainment always is just around the corner and we have to be careful.
I started looking at these military jackets from Vietnam, they had all this embroidery, so they were definitely an inspiration. Another thing is every time I travel people are like, 'Ooh Jordan, what's that like?' There is a stigma in the West where people think all Islamic nations merge into each other. The older I get and the more I speak to people and have real conversations, the more I realize that we're all saying the same thing and we're just lost in translation. A lot of people and buyers advised me not to do Arabic embroidery and Arabic text because they said it was risky and was told 'people don't want politically charged clothes' and I refused to change my vision. But in the end it sold really well, so it was fine. But I just found it really important to have the same message in English and in Arabic because they are the same. It's just a different language.
How much does your lineage play out in your clothes?
To be completely honest, I don't feel like I'm from Jordan and I don't feel like I'm from Greece. I don't feel like I'm from London, I really feel like I'm from the internet. Everybody knows about Britney's breakdown, or YouTube video jokes more than what is actually going on. This collection is very political and has its own voice but it may not be our direction forever. Things change all the time but you cannot wear something without making a statement. It is impossible. The resistance of fashion is in in itself fashion, embracing fashion is fashion. The cyclical repetition of fashion is a trend too. So you are saying things whether you like it or not.
What does the future look like for the brand?
I want to keep things really exciting. To be honest, I'm really concentrating on the business of it. We're trying to increase our profile and trying to get people to know about what we're doing. I'm personally working really hard and perfecting that price point because I feel like if we're not at the right price point, it's all irrelevant. For me there are too many luxury small brands and there's a reason why a lot of them haven't been able to go to the next level. I just want my clothes to provide stimulation and conversation, that's my deepest desire.
Photography Kirill Kuletski
Styling Pam Nasr