For TRIM Projects’ second exploration into the intricacies of process, we dip our toes into the realm of fashion with Mickelli Orbe, Blanche Macdonald graduate and soon to be hardworking student of Ryerson University’s School of Fashion. He is designing, with Kriza’s input, a leather piece inspired by the clothing of ancient Japanese archers and the harnesses of New York designer Zana Bayne. Along with these influences, the classic kimono was also a source of inspiration for this piece: “Women wore these strings across their kimonos to hold them together. I really liked that idea, of clothing being bound into the body so it can function more.” The finished piece will be married with Kriza’s visions of architectural spaces when she photographs it inside a set they designed together, focussing on light and reflection.
Can you describe the piece for me?
It’s an accessory, and the idea behind it is to sit on top of a garment that already works. Its main function is to create a sort of asymmetry in the outfit. It looks really geometric. Initially it was supposed to be a true harness, with just these lines across, but then it kind of morphed into more of a garment accessory. So it’s definitely got more form to it, and negative space. Layering.
Is it like a vest, would you say?
It’s turning out to be more like a vest than a harness.
Does that happen to you a lot, where you’ll be working on a project, and sort of lose interest in it, and take it in a completely different direction?
I haven’t made enough things to be able to say that I have a pattern. The only thing that’s constant with my design process is that it’s very organic. The process informs the finished project more than the initial concept does. Because, you know, touching the material, or seeing the lines on paper is so much more powerful than thinking of a random idea.
Do you work from a set plan or does your design evolve as you work?
It evolves. Especially with this one; the concept changed in my head, or at least my approach to the concept changed…My goal was to show, this is what happens, it starts off with these four lines, then it turns into these curved lines, then you see the sleeve. Anyone who’s ever made clothing before and looks at the lines can immediately see, this is a bodice, or this is a pant leg, or this is a sleeve. That’s how I initially wanted it to be, but that’s not at all what ended up happening. Because one, it didn’t look good, and two, it didn’t interest me anymore.
Mickelli has worked with such diverse materials as candlewax, metal, Tyvek, and organza—his favorite material: “If washed, it has this crazy texture, it’s beautiful, it’s raw. People don’t know that. Organza’s always so finished; it’s added to the bustle of a dress and it’s hideous. But when it’s done properly—and so few people do it properly—it’s beautiful.”
However, this is his first attempt at designing and constructing with leather. Part of the challenge has been dealing with the grain, which he was not happy with, and the thickness; after experimenting with stiffeners, he solved the problem by using a thicker material. “I forget that it’s such an organic material. I’m so used to working with wovens, whereas leather was a living thing, you can’t avoid that. There’ll be pieces where the cow must have hit barbed wire, there’ll be this mark on the piece. It’s kind of sad, and I like that. It’s beautiful in a really weird way.”
What are you learning from this project?
I’m learning a lot about my own aesthetic. I always say simplify, and keep everything super minimal and clean, because that’s what I appreciate. But I never design minimal things. It’s always saturated, and then—asymmetry. That’s always how I do it. I feel like I’m understanding my voice a bit better. Which is why I’m going back to school, to really solidify that before I start my portfolio, before I start looking for real work. I want to have something to say, but I don’t know what it is yet.
Is there a feeling that you’re trying to convey with this piece?
Not really. People interpret things the way they want to, and how they do is out of my control. But I think that it has a vibe to it.
Why have you and Kriza chosen not to use a model?
The reason I didn’t want a model was that sometimes people in an image can really distract from a garment. That’s what people immediately look at, is how does this look on her? Or how does it look on him? You focus on him more than you do the clothing. Frankly I’m now a little bit worried because when you look at the actual piece itself, it’s probably easier for the eye to see, to understand what it actually is, if it’s on a body. But when me and Kriza were discussing it, and her inspirations for the image, playing with light and negative space, with the plexiglass and the mirrors and all the reflection, I think it really solidifies. It creates this really strong impression without a human body there, it really emphasizes the lines and the shadows.
Abandoning his studies in linguistics to enter the world of fashion, Mickelli got a quick foot in the door after his graduation from the Blanche Macdonald Centre in Vancouver: he and four other students were hired to work on Olympic costuming at Aritzia, and he was invited to stay on as a member of the fashion director’s team. Although the opportunity was an entry into the fashion world and the steady job he was hoping for, after a few months he realized that he had a lot more to learn, and higher ideals for his career.
“The only thing in my head that I know will give me fulfillment is to be able to sit in an atelier, small or big, and be able to just make things with my hands. That is how simple it is now, for me. Initially it sounded ridiculous, and now, it’s not probable, but it’s possible. And I’m going for it.” With his heroes Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo beckoning to him from the other side, Mickelli has decided on no less than the most rigorous training program for fashion in the country. He heads to Ryerson this fall, after completing this last project with Kriza.
How do you think this piece or project would have been different if you’d done it independently?
Totally different. It really is an amalgamation of me and Kriza’s aesthetics. It would be a dress by now, if I was making it by myself, you know what I mean? There’s a fear of disappointing her, is mostly what it is. It makes me work harder. It’s different when you work for yourself; if you fail you don’t disappoint anyone but yourself, which is tough, but when other people are counting on it, it’s totally different.
Do you like this experience of being documented while you’re working?
As much as I love process, it’s terrifying when it’s your own that’s being documented. Because she’s like, “okay, now we’re going to take photos of you doing this,” and I’m like, “nobody ever takes photos of me doing that!” It’s strange, it’s really strange. But you know, it’s part of the experience. It’s good for me, because you should be documenting your process, that’s how it’s supposed to work … We thought that this will be as much about the actual progression of the idea and the execution of it, as much as the finished product itself. Because people never really see the work that goes behind it, something seemingly so simple, like a photo of a piece of leather suspended in air. But there’s a lot of work behind it, especially for students, who still work full time in retail, you know what I mean?
And not just the work, but the inspiration, and the creativity that’s flowing, and the excitement surrounding it.
All of that becomes secondary. And you know what, that’s fine, that’s what I like most about art, you distance yourself from it after a while. And also, everyone interprets everything so differently.