Interview: Karla Spetic

Karla Spetic interview, Catalogue Magazine Summer 2014

This Croatian-born designer finds that many aspects of her personal life inevitably find their way into her work, from religion and spirituality to her deep love of colour. Karla Spetic chats to Chloe Sargeant about work processes, stained glass and being daggy.

How do you feel about your personal growth as a designer since your first show in 2008?
I feel I am more in tune with my own aesthetic, more comfortable and less afraid. Not less afraid of having a show, though… this will always frighten me!  

And now in 2013, you have just released your SS 13/14 collection, Faith. Where did the inspiration for this collection come from?
I was thinking about occasion wear, the special outfits we choose to wear to special occasions such as weddings, christenings etc. We put such emphasis on what we wear to these kinds of events as they are an important part of our lives. We all experience this at some point. I was also thinking a lot about tradition, religion and the church, and wanted to have my own take on this by approaching the collection in a non-traditional way. I wanted it to be about the body, transparency and revealing the truth in general. I wanted simple clean lines with lean, feminine – and at times exaggerated –silhouettes. Traditional elements mixed with the more daring…

Does the religious element to this collection come from any particular personal experience or relationship with religion?
Growing up in Croatia I was raised Roman Catholic so religion played an important role in my upbringing. It was just there but never taken too seriously. So, yes, there are personal reflections in this collection like with most of my work I guess. 

The stained glass window print is something I’m very much lusting over from the ‘Faith’ collection. I’ve always found stained glass windows in churches to be one of the most strangely beautiful art forms. Out of all the religious art, why did you choose stained glass?
Just love of colour. It wasn’t my intention to begin with. It’s not supposed to be that literal, there’s a lot more to the collection than just saying ‘oh y’know, this is about religion’ or anything. I just loved the colours, I’ve always loved stained glass, I just thought what the hell, I’ll use the angel image and the Jesus image, only because of the colours, and it’s so graphic. I think having the be current and modern, with the age we live in now, the stained glass with the clean lines and everything, really applied to the lines of the collection. It all just made sense together, I thought it worked quite well.

So it came very organically?
Yes, it was very organic. I wasn’t searching for religious iconography or anything. It just kind of worked!

Normally in a look book, the model is standing straight up and down, with no movement. In 'Faith', the models are dancing around. Is there a particular reason for that?
I wanted something really different for this look book, something more exciting. James Nelson had this great idea of referencing Robert Longo’s work as it was something he always wanted to do.
I loved the idea and it was just one of those things that worked. The way [model] Juliette moved really captured a sense of freedom and trying to break away from something holding you down. This was the missing piece to the puzzle; it completed my collection and the story as a whole.

Some designers are highly reflective when creating, some aren’t. Do you find that there is always an emotional connection or some kind of past reflection in each collection?
I was actually thinking about that really recently, I was up at my Mum’s in Queensland for a week and I had a bit of time to think about my work. So it’s really funny that you’re asking that. I realised that yes, it’s very strange but all of my collections – everything that I do – they’re all very personal. It always comes back to something in my life. It’s never a conscious thing though. I only realised it the other day. It’s so weird that you asked that!

What is your own personal style like? Do you find that it has an impact on what you are creating?
Not necessarily. I’m daggy most days! My work is kind of like escapism, like a fantasy of what I want to make. In all honesty, I have to restrain myself and make it wearable sometimes! I always have to pull it back and think, “Would I wear this?” You know – “I love this fabric, but is it wearable too?” Which is only something I’ve been thinking about in the past few seasons. Before that, I was making things exactly how I was imagining them, and not necessarily thinking about how it would translate to everyday wear. So no, not every piece will particularly be personal style, but its all part of the story of the collection, and I stay true to that. 

So many of your collections feature the most beautiful bold colours and prints. Can you tell me a little bit more about your relationship with colour and print?
You know, I have a problem because so many different things inspire me at once. I get so many ideas in my head, and my issue is that I can’t eliminate things to be able to focus on one idea. And I think, because of all that mess that goes on inside my head and all the things I want to do, I think that’s why everything ends up being so colourful. I really have to force myself to keep my lines and design silhouettes simple, because otherwise it would just be an explosion of crazy! [Laughs] I could never imagine making a collection that was all black and white. 

I follow the ksswim Instagram, and when you post I have the go and hide my credit card from myself. Can you tell us a little more about KS Swim?
So when I started the label, I included swimwear in my first ever collection. I suppose it was a summer collection… but you know what? I don’t really know why I did swimwear originally. I wanted to do something different! After three or four seasons of including swimwear, I noticed a good deal of interest in it. And being a Gemini, I always have to make my life more difficult and add more things to my workload [Laughs] and so I thought it’d be great to separate my label and swimwear, and that way I could really expand on both, and have separate ideas for both.

Is it a thousand times more stressful with two lines, or are you an organized kinda woman?
Yes definitely more stressful because it’s two completely separate brands now, and I do have to keep them separate. The workload is stressful, but in terms of me escaping into my creative world, it is so exciting because it allows me to focus on another story. When you just have your mainline, you go through so much in the initial process, then there’s production and so on. Having something else to look at and come back to is great, it’s actually really helpful. And it keeps everything interesting!

So far there’s been noticeable inspirations from Egypt, especially hieroglyphics, and crystal formations. What’s next?
The new collection… Well, I’m on a bit of spiritual path. It’s definitely from a personal place. I don’t know if I want to say what the inspiration is, because I’ve done it SO early, and whenever I look at something for too long I always end up changing it!  

Do you think that your experiences as a child (coming to Australia from Croatia) have shaped you in any way as a designer today?
I would like to think that they made me more independent, eager and resilient in some ways. Having to leave your home so suddenly and begin a whole new life on the other side of the world definitely instills some ‘fighter’ qualities, which I think have helped me along the way.

Is fashion design something you loved from a young age?
As a child I spent a lot of time drawing and being creative. Making things from clay and anything arty and crafty was right up my alley. Then I got bored and wanted to create clothes because I figured I could wear them and in turn feel good.  So that was the start and I soon realised there was so much more to it than just making clothes so I really couldn’t get bored with it.

I read that you don't draw out your designs first... which, as someone who can barely draw a stick figure, is super confusing to me! Can you tell me a bit more about your design process?
The process is different each time. Sometimes I don’t draw the idea because if I do, I see it in front of me, and I get bored with it. So in turn I either drape or make the pattern or simply put the fabrications together to bring that idea into reality. Then the rest flows. This is the hardest way because you never know what you are going to get. What’s in your head does not always work in reality, and sometimes you can’t realise it right through due to lack of resources. 
Lately I have been forcing myself to draw the design so that it’s always clear and so I can follow through with it efficiently otherwise I’m all over the place and it can be tough. So my processes are always different depending on my mood and time frame.

I know you are a big supporter of production and sourcing materials right here in Australia. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Is there many difficulties?
Yes it’s quite hard to find something different. We’re still quite small here, not everything is accessible to us. We constantly have to search for things, for colours or dyes. I mean, I do have suppliers overseas that I deal with, so I’ll work with them to try and source some fabrics. But in terms of producing and making the product, I firmly believe it has to be done here in Australia. My brand is here; this is where I work; I want to keep the main line very true. I want to keep it all here. I’d love if we could do it all here one day.

What do you think is your greatest achievement to this date?
That I’ve survived my journey thus far! At first it felt so complicated and big, then came the challenges, so I am happy that I’ve found my balance and feel as excited to do my work as I did in the beginning.

Who is your greatest inspiration for what you do?
I don’t really look to anyone in particular. I get inspired by events and stories and things that I see. There’s never been one person or one place. It could be anything… something mediocre even. As long that it triggers an idea. 

So, environment over an entity?
Yes. I think if only one person inspired you, I mean, wouldn’t your work always turn out the same?

True. What are you working on right now?
I’m working on my winter collection at the moment. I am so behind, I don’t even know whats going on.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I never think like that. I live in the moment and make the most of every day. If I have ever planned things, anything can happen anyway. Something crazy can always happen. Go with the flow. Everything is unpredictable…