With incredible fashion talent seemingly growing on trees these days—the work of the CFDA Fashion Incubator provides ample evidence—an aspiring designer may find it near impossible to create something original, something that stands out. But Melitta Baumeister has done just that.
Born into a family of tailors, the German designer was always surrounded by clothing and an “interest in making it.” She attended a fashion-oriented high school and then an art-related fashion program at Pforzheim University in Germany. During her last year there, she met Shelley Fox, the director of the MFA program at Parsons. “Fox’s way of approaching fashion convinced me to dive deeper into an exploration of my own design language,” says Baumeister.
Now a graduate of the Parsons MFA program, Baumeister has certainly found her own lexicon. Her designs are often structured, bold silhouettes made from a single piece of often-technical material. Her interest in sculpture and casting is evident when you look at her latest collection. Baumeister explains that it’s natural “to start off with something that is foreign to fashion but gives me an environment to develop ideas. I play with a shape or a technique to develop a surface that would leave a sculpture behind, as with the casting process. I was looking at sculptures, and I was fascinated by moments being held in place, by the soft fabrics and drapes of stone material. A trace of a movement is what I liked about it.”
Baumeister’s pieces are indeed reminiscent of sculptures: the fact that they are made from so few pieces of material gives the impression of something that has been carved. She says she was drawn as well to the theme of technology as a replacement for handicraft. “The brutality of mass production is, in a way, attractive to me,” she explains of her use of garment casts. “It was important to me to give off a feeling of purity, something that has the character of what could be tomorrow.”
When asked what inspired her Fall 2014 collection, Baumeister’s answer is simple and strange: “real-fake” rotten bananas. “I was looking for an object that we know, that changes its appearance over time, something which is in process, alive, in an ongoing state,” she adds. “Then I tried to capture a certain moment. It is the way I worked with casted garment pieces. I could describe a movement that I capture as a three-dimensional photograph or print.”
The flatness of many of the black and white pieces in this collec- tion do give off the impression of a three-dimensional object. The heaviness of most of the articles only allows the clothing to move in a stiff way—they are molded to a specific shape, not to the wearer. Baumeister explains that she chose silicone and padded pleather “for the qualities in their structure which I find interesting when I drape. To arrive at the final pieces requires a process akin to that of a sculptor.” She pushes the limits of fashion design, challenging why designers should be limited to the processes of a seamstress when there are so many other technologies available today.
“The element of surprise is very important,” Baumeister says of her fabric choices. “We are so used to things feeling a certain way when we see something, though it is when we confirm our beliefs through touch that the element of surprise brings some- thing new to the experience.”
Baumeister herself is bringing something new to the fashion world. But with high-profile fans, including CFDA Fashion Icon Award—winner Rihanna, there’s no doubt her designs will become mainstream before we know it.
Melitta Baumeister is available at Dover Street Market, New York. For more information, please visit MelittaBaumeister.com.
Emma Greenberg is a freelance culture writer based in New York. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English and creative writing.
Styling by Zara Zachrisson. Makeup by Susie Sobol. Hair by Joey George at ArtList using R+Co. Model: Ajak Deng at IMG Models. Digital artwork by Poppy Kural. Retouching by BLANK. Shot at Fast Ashleys Studios, Brooklyn.