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  • Hysteria By GIRLONFILM Contributor

AN INTERVIEW WITH OLIVIA BALLARD


Conducted By Jayna Rohslau (@j.rohslau) for Hysteria By GIRLONFILM



No, she has no wool for summer - mesh is much hotter. For a slow fashion designer, the maker underneath this thunderous label has been lightning-quick to establish herself on the scene.


When I met Olivia Ballard, who graciously agreed to speak with me, the 27-year-old has recently unearthed her second collection of the year at Berlin Fashion Week.



PHOTOGRAPH VIA OLIVIA BALLARD  PHOTO BY: © HAYDON PERRIOR FOR BFW
PHOTOGRAPH VIA OLIVIA BALLARD PHOTO BY: © HAYDON PERRIOR FOR BFW



During the July 13th show, attendees witnessed an intricate exploration of fashion as performance: where textiles like latex and mesh alter the human form. It is unclear whether the starkly dressed models are the black sheep she suggests when the garments offer wolfishly sleek layers. What remains piercingly apparent is the melting of diversity and gender-nonconforming barriers.


Her energy transcends not only transgresses societal boundaries but leaps over a physical divide as we meet on Zoom. Two minutes into our conversation, there’s a knock at the door as a stylist comes by to collect clothes for a shoot. Fittingly, they communicate at a fiendishly rapid pace.


“I f*king love her”, Ballard declares, speaking of the model turned musician - her best friend is in cumgirl8, the punk band that played her Flussbad runway to perfect disruption. The stylist asks if she has any orange mesh garments from the previous year, and she replies to the negative. “But I have this,” she says, and it’s a mesmerizing and textured pink piece kindled into art.


Given the incandescent nature of her creations, it seems suitable that Ballard has a nontraditional background for a designer. Before launching her brand in 2020, she worked in the sculptural world. From its unusual origins, she has shaped the label as an organic being to be worn on or off your shoulder all the time. 


Here are the spitting details of our conversation, burned into record.



Q: What inspired your most recent collection?


A: Clothes I would like to see in the world again, that I would like to wear, that I would like to dress my friends in. Rather than fixating on a certain trend or making it too contrived, it [the process] was pulling in a lot of different influences and seeing what has worked with past pieces, what the customers have liked and fusing all of these impulses and influences together.


I was also thinking about the environment in which the show would happen. We had our first run in January, and this one in July was the second of our runway shows, so I already knew the location. I was fortunate to be able to design with that place in mind. Thinking about all the different elements that would be there on the day of the show and fusing them together with the place and time of the year creates a narrative through the clothes rather than the clothes being made first. It was a symbiotic situation.


Q: Do you keep returning to any specific cultural or artistic references?


A: I come from a background in sculpture, so many references that I draw into the work have to do with artists I've always had an affinity for. I was working with latex, so Eva Hess. And looking at works like the early works of Christo and these kinds of wrapped paintings and sculptures and thinking about the intersectionality between different art forms. We also dressed the location with this really long dinner table of 15 metres filled with sculptural elements.



PHOTOGRAPHS VIA OLIVIA BALLARD

PHOTOS BY: © HAYDON PERRIOR FOR BFW



Q: What have you been listening to lately, and do you think music intersects with fashion?


A: Some of my old friends from New York are making music, like a jazz collective called Onyx Collective and Nick Hakeem. I think it's because I’ve been missing home a bit. So, it's always nice to listen to the beautiful music of collaborators and people from different places. Berlin DJs are always a big influence in my work, whether I'm dressing them for different events or going to their shows on the weekend. But yeah, I think music [intersects with fashion]. I'm not a musical person, but I appreciate it a lot.


Q: So, you’re originally a New Yorker who moved to Berlin. How does New York differ from Berlin regarding style?


A: I am always responding to the cities I've lived in. Berlin style and New York style differ a lot because of people's access and proximity and how much money people have. I think there are a lot of creative ways people dress in Berlin, whether it's upcycling old clothes or putting their spin on things.


And I see a little bit less of that in New York; more like the kind of young scene dressing where everyone's wearing the clothes of their friends, or you know who, and it's a lot more about status there in terms of how people dress. And in Berlin, it's more expressive.


Q: What was the process of experimenting with new materials like, and do you think they have the potential to alter the fashion landscape radically?


A: Infusing new materials into the practice is a learning process for me because of not having a fashion background. So, I am slowly putting things into the studio practice and learning how to work with them and respect the materials being brought in. I’m also trying to find new ways of thinking about how one can dress oneself. How do we take care of our clothing? When I think of these more sculptural pieces in the show, they're wearable. You could put them in your closet, wear them out, wear them, whatever. Maybe not to the supermarket as an everyday look, but there's a different respect that I think you pay towards clothing that is obscure or things in which you can really see the hand of the maker.


I think it invites a bit more contemplation than something where you always see the same cut and throw it around all the time. And when you elevate a piece of clothing as an object that is to be respected and put on a pedestal, it makes people integrate it into their lives differently. So the latex pieces require a certain amount of care and attention because the material decays when exposed to light. There is this kind of sensitivity where you feel the piece is a bit organic and dying in some way, which is positive for its keepers.



PHOTOGRAPHS VIA OLIVIA BALLARD PHOTO BY: © HAYDON PERRIOR FOR BFW


Q: What artists did you work with to create the immersive set, and what was that collaboration like?


A: What is nice is that we don’t work with a production company. So, I built up my team of collaborators through friends and different artists in Berlin and New York - Koa for production. My friend Matthew Bianchi did the set design.


We also worked with another ceramicist who has a company called Be Assembly and is a dear friend of mine, Benjamin Patch, who contributed these large vessels and sculptural works to the set.


For music, I worked with Dauwd (@dauwdmusic), a Berlin-based DJ, and Maryama (@maryisonacid), who played a vinyl live set for the opening and then did the soundtrack for the show, a mix of cumgirl8 (@cumgirl8), a band from New York. And Veronica [from cumgirl8] was my best friend since middle school, so it was really nice to have them come to Europe and play the show.


The whole collaboration process was so beautiful because it was all people I've known for a long time, and I respect their artistry. We had the opportunity to fully execute all of our visions and see how it was to work professionally together, so it was super cool.


Q: Is this challenging of rules and expectations also inherent to the club scene and nightlife?


A: Yeah, I think [it has to do with] queer ideologies. Sara Ahmed, a brilliant writer who talks a lot about queer theory, defines queer as the disruption of hegemony. In club spaces, you have this place of celebration. You have, especially in Berlin, a lot of queer spaces that invite people to disrupt, go against the grain, express however they want to, and come together and celebrate being othered in other spaces.


And, there's a rebelliousness to that, but it's also done in such a light way, which is so beautiful that through celebration, you have this super political and kind of anarchist way [of thinking].



PHOTOGRAPHS VIA OLIVIA BALLARD

PHOTO BY: © HAYDON PERRIOR FOR BFW



Q: Do you think fashion is political, and do you believe designers have a social responsibility beyond aesthetics?


A: I think there needs to be freedom in how people dress, and the brand should invite everyone to be a part of it. And clothes should be a celebration point and embrace the wearer's confidence.


There are so many rules with fashion that are so outdated and just ridiculous, to begin with, so it's kind of just to, like, [the brand's responsibility to] put everything a little bit on its head and allow people to do whatever they want to with the way that they trust and express themselves. It's just like, do whatever you want to because everyone should express themselves how they want to wear whatever the f*ck they feel like one day, and the next, they can do something totally different.


Fashion is just another medium in the art world. And like all art forms, there are intersections between life and the outcome of what you're making. So, I don't think fashion is only for aesthetics, but it's a way of adorning yourself and presenting to the world a certain armour or what you want to communicate non-verbally.


And so, there's a lot of power in that and a lot of potential to build communities by connecting on specific values. I think about how I interact with brands and what my takeaway from them is, it's about clothing, but it's more about visual storytelling. And certain brands are very vocal about their political stance on things, their stances, identity, representation, and all these things.


So, when you wear a piece of clothing from a particular brand, you're not only pulling out a look but also declaring to everyone that you align with whatever subculture it belongs to. So, there's a lot of power in what you can do with how you dress. Especially as a brand, you can make it more than just clothing.


It's a beautiful time for fashion.


Q: Absolutely. Along those lines, do you think that art can't be separated from the artist, and they're intrinsically linked?


A: I was just talking about this; should you cancel certain movies because of all these things?


I think, yes, art is always linked with artists.


As it comes from you, it reflects your inner subconscious, concreting and fossilizing whatever happens in your artistic mind. Art can grow once it exists as its own thing in the world, whether it's a physical object or an idea that then gets interpreted through its reproduction and through how people understand it, see it, and talk about it.


And so it becomes so much more than the artist who made it.


Q: I know you’ve mentioned that clothing should elevate what a person has rather than conceal it. Do you think there’s a contradiction between the inherently performative aspect of fashion and being true to ourselves?


A: Yeah, you can dress to trick the world into [believing] whatever identity you want to highlight one day as a sort of protection. I think that you should be able to fluctuate between what you want to perform.


And it's just been like, okay, be your authentic self every day. I'm like, you can play around with identity because I don't think identity is fixed. So why should the way that you dress be as well? There's the possibility to play around with the hyper-performative nature of dressing and find an authentic inner self through that.


Q: What are you interested in exploring next?


A: After doing two [shows at a normal pace], I want to get back to the way of making that I initially set up for myself that was closer to the customer, doing customs, doing one-offs, working in a slower manner.


Because it's hard to follow through with sustainable practices; as much as I want to explore new forms, I think it's such a fast industry and I'm thinking about how to make things with more intention.



PHOTOGRAPHS VIA OLIVIA BALLARD PHOTO BY: © HAYDON PERRIOR FOR BFW


Q: And do you think the sense of slow fashion is more prominent in Berlin or Berlin Fashion Week than in the hyper-fast-paced shows we see in places like New York and Paris?


A: Yes. I mean, the Berlin Fashion Council is doing a lot of work to brand Berlin Fashion Week around inclusivity, sustainability, and diversity, which is super beautiful to see. It does a better job of imbuing those values than other cities, it's slower and smaller.


It's uncharted territory, so it's easy to work authentically within that framework because of the freedom.


Q: Is this sense of freedom inherent to Berlin?


A: Yeah, for sure. I always say that Berlin is a beautiful city of a lot of people that left where they were coming from and is this city of just a bunch of black sheep.


So, you have people from all over, but always going elsewhere too. It doesn’t have this sense of permanence, which I think is really refreshing.


But yeah, you have people from all over and people visiting all the time and passing through when they come to Europe, so it’s a very international city.

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