MECA 2019 | Kirsten Elfe

By Amanda Whitegiver | Photos by Amanda Whitegiver
May 3, 2019

With the MECAmorphosis and Senior Thesis show drawing the school year to a close, we interviewed MECA’s four Fashion & Textile Design Majors about their inspiration and what comes next.

In this collection, Kirsten Elfe was inspired by photo albums and Super 8 film reels from the early 1970’s when her father’s family lived in Germany. 

A: How did you get into this field? What drew you to fashion/design?

K: My mother owns a ballroom dance studio and since I was young, she would take her performance gowns to a local seamstress shop. I spent time there, learned the machinery, and ran errands with the shop owner. My aunt bought me a sewing machine for my 11th birthday. I was initially drawn to sewing because I often did not feel comfortable in my clothes. I began altering them and mixing thrift store items with new pieces. I became most interested in fashion as a career when my mentor and friend, Jennifer Moore, began leaving me notated issues of Vogue to inspect. We would discuss bloggers and independent makers who drove me to create.

A: Why Maine/Why MECA? Any particular Maine inspiration you draw from? Maine is such a “brand” at this point… very well marketed and recognized. How do you put your own twist on this? or do you forego the Maine vibe all together?

K: Growing up in the sea coast town of Portsmouth, NH, I felt constantly connected to Maine. In my daily commute to MECA, I cross the Memorial Bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery. I view Maine as an extension of my home. I know my work will always reflect a New England touch because the travel between these states has shaped me as an individual and as an artist. I chose MECA because the Fashion + Textiles program was still relatively new when I started there. I wanted to be a part of its fresh energy and I was drawn to the intimate space MECA provides.

A: Discuss your creative process, and the inspirations for these projects. What is the degree of work that actually goes into the production of a line? Connect people to the clothes and the labor of love that is fashion design.

K: My thesis collection, Euro Kind, is a practice in character design and film costuming. I have shot a coinciding fashion film, wherein my collection of work is featured. I was inspired by photo albums and Super 8 film reels from the early 1970’s when my father’s family lived in Germany. In this collection, I have superimposed a hyper fantastical version of myself into my family history as a method for finding my place within it.

The production of my thesis collection is a fully hands-on experience. I render all my paper sketches into digital files. Every garment is then pattern-drafted specifically to the model’s size specifications. From this, I construct cotton mock-ups, or muslins, and they are referred to in the industry. All woven garments are hand cut and sewn. My knitwear is crafted on an analog knitting machine that operates a punch card application, much like the early days of computer programming. Assembling these pieces is the most rewarding part of the process, because the concepts begins to actualize.

A: What are you favorite components of design? What are your greatest challenges? how do you address those challenges?

K: My favorite part of the process is mood building and styling. I curate collections of images that speak to the atmosphere I want to create with my clothing. I draw inspiration from hyper stylized films from directors such as Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson, and David Lynch. I appreciate how the attention to detail in these films heightens the storytelling, and approach my clothing design through this cinematic lens.

I have always found that a significant difficulty in the design process is communication. As a designer, there are so many thoughts and considerations one goes through in creating a piece. It is a challenge is to convey concepts before they are manifested into tangible objects. I address this by compiling visual mood boards to encapsulate the end product I am trying to achieve.

A: What are your plans post graduation?

K:I will be teaching a David Bowie-themed summer workshop at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, NH entitled Fashion ReWERKED. In it, I will be teaching middle school students a foundation of sewing skills. In the Fall, I am teaching a workshop at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, ME. It will be an upcycled millinery workshop. In my personal practice, I intend to pursue my work in machine knitting and to sell my pieces locally.

A: At what point do you feel like you will be able to say  “I’ve made it.” What does “making it” look like for you?

K: I would like to dip my toe in a variety of fashion pools: from teaching, to factory work, to working as a stylist or independent designer. All of these paths are ones I’d like to explore. The cornerstone of my work however, would be to act as key costume designer in a feature length film. It would be a significant bookmark in my career to see my work showcased on the platform that has inspired me the most.

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