In Conversation with Roksanda Ilinčić and Irina Razumovskaya

Words & Photography:
Sofi Chetrar

Within the welcoming ambiance of Roksanda’s flagship store on Mount Street, I had the opportunity to meet and sit down with fashion designer Roksanda Ilinčić and ceramic artist Irina Razumovskaya. We gathered to discuss their extraordinary collaboration, which seamlessly merges their distinct creative perspectives and shared passion for art, architecture, and sustainability. Both engaged in a captivating conversation about the fascinating intersection of fashion and sculpture, their creative processes, sustainable practices, and the profound impact of Japanese culture ob their work. Together, they embark on an exploration of the boundless possibilities that lie in a more inclusive and equal future, where art and fashion converge to inspire and uplift.

Sofi Chetrar: How did the collaboration between Roksanda Ilincic and Irina Razumovskaya come about?
Roksanda Ilinčić: As a female designer, I’m very much about supporting women, particularly women in art that, unfortunately, are still slightly overlooked. And this started back home. I actually studied the history of art as part of my course. At that time, I didn’t think much about it and just assumed that women, for whatever reason, were not as involved in art. Maybe it was because of family or children, and they didn’t become as successful as their husbands, partners, or friends. But later on in life, I came to the conclusion that this was not the right reason. Women were purposefully hindered for many other reasons, not just in art, but in many other professions as well.
When I opened the store here on Mount St., it used to be a gallery before I took over. It’s located near many other important art institutions. I felt that this little window I have here would be a great showcase, not just for me, but also for other artists, particularly those who are not already well-known and established. Artists who are young, exciting, and new. That’s where my little collaboration started. Irina has incredible work and comes from a similar background and part of the universe as mine. Irina is from St. Petersburg, and I’m from Belgrade. So we share a similar heritage and inspiration from architecture. In my case, it’s brutalist architecture, which we have a lot of in Belgrade—more of a post-Second World War rejuvenation of how things are done. Even in this store, you can see the influence of concrete and a strong resemblance to architecture in all of my designs. From my point of view, and I hope Irina agrees, she is also inspired by architecture, construction, different textures, ceramics, and various tactile processes. The beautiful installation you see in the shop window has a particular shade of pink, which is also a highlight in my store. It wasn’t planned or necessarily discussed, but the first work by Irina that I saw was in a very similar shade of pink. So that’s how it all started, I would say.
Irina Razumovskaya: Well, I first came across Roksanda’s beautiful brand just like any woman would, while shopping online. It was several years ago, and I was just mind-blown because it felt like if I had any talent in fashion design, it’s something that I would design for myself. So I was really in love with the brand itself and it started to resonate with me. Then I started to read and follow more about it, and I discovered that we actually come from very similar backgrounds and share a lot of inspirations. The concepts of many collections really spoke to me. So when I was approached, I was completely happy because it felt like the perfect match. It took about a year to develop this installation window, I quite liked the iteration of the architecture; the brutalist and constructivist influences from Russia, which have a strong influence on my works.
Additionally, I really liked the idea of supporting artists in this industry. I wanted this to be a discovery, and I wanted to work with Roksanda’s style as well. That’s why I decided on this dreamy landscape, like a landscape that is either deteriorating or coming together. I thought that aesthetic would align well with the architectural and structural aspects and complement the floatiness of the collections. I wanted one of the dresses to appear like a Greek goddess coming to the ruins. I had that kind of vision in mind. So, yes, I was really excited and happy to work on the whole concept and ideas level.`
SC: Despite working in different mediums, both of you incorporate art and design into your work. In your opinion, how do fashion and sculpture intersect with one another?RI: Well, I think it can be looked at from many different perspectives. First of all, there’s obviously the form and the shape. Sculpture is all about that 360-degree point of view and how it takes into account the negative or positive space. I approach my designs, particularly my dresses, in a very similar way. I used to study architecture back home, so I think that architectural background is very prominent in my designs. I like to make them not just as sculptures, but also as light sculptures, so that when you wear them, regardless of their volume and shape, they are also very comfortable, effortless, and easy to live in. So there’s that visual aspect that comes through as well. Additionally, there are different textures and finishes, which I think are so important in Irina’s work. She excels in pushing the boundaries of what those textures are and how they play with the human eye and evoke human emotion. They communicate without words. I believe all these elements are approached in a different way in our respective mediums, but they stem from the same source. There is also an element of color, which is very prominent in our work, as well as a certain graphic sense that always exists, even if the shapes are fluid or soft and lack structure.
IR: Yeah, I agree. I think that first of all, this intersection between fashion and art has existed since the early 20th century. I remember Chanel’s collaboration with Picasso and how those two mediums inspired each other and coexisted. Especially with fashion designers who have a 3D vision. I think this 3D thinking works well in terms of space, but also in terms of materiality. It’s amazing to see how textiles and fabrics can yield a wide variety of outcomes, just like working with ceramics. It’s quite exciting to see that, with fabric, it comes to life as a person wearing it moves, or how it looks. It’s different from ceramics, where the creation process is more fixed. But there’s still this element of immediacy and a possibility of change, which I find appealing. It’s not just a structured piece that is unchangeable. That’s what I like about this mix, and it works for me.
SC: Could you elaborate on some of the similarities and differences in your creative processes, given that you work with different mediums?
RI: I think it’s like every creative process. You start with an idea, you start with research, and you also challenge yourself to make things fresh, new, and unique. That’s something that is very similar in all creative disciplines, whether it’s dance, music, or fashion. You begin with that idea and an inner voice, an intuition that pushes you in a certain direction, which I purposefully and intentionally follow. So in that sense, it’s very similar. Obviously, the medium we work with is different, but the initial process is quite similar. That’s why I think there’s a creative dialogue between artists like me and Irina, and why we understand each other so well. There are many similarities in the process.
SC: Your works often convey a sense of movement and flow, whether in the draping of fabric or the lines of a sculpture. How do you create this sense of movement in your creations?
IR: I think for me, that is the slight difference when working with clay compared to textiles. As a sculptor, I create the shape and form, but the lines, flow, movement, surfaces, and textures all happen in the kiln. I have to work with the unknown. When I put things in the kiln for firing, I have to approach it with an open mind because unexpected changes can occur. There’s always this process of accepting or not accepting and embracing the unknown, which is a significant part of my process. It’s at the core of my practice, where I collaborate with my material, helping it to transform and find its best form or explore new directions. So, I guess with textiles, there’s something similar where you have to let go after you finish making.
RI: Yeah, exactly. You just have to embrace the nature of the fabric and understand how it behaves, knowing which one flows and which one doesn’t, and what you need to do to enhance that flow. Or if you want a more structured look, you may need to fuse it or make other adjustments. Movement is crucial for me because I love when my garments come alive when they’re worn on a body. They are enhanced by the personality of the wearer. And I think that the element of the person and their personality becomes the final result in my designs. I aim for that unexpected element because I don’t necessarily know who will wear it, but everyone will bring their own flair, mood, and unique look to the same piece based on their body shape, thoughts, and movements. That’s the beauty of creating—having both elements you can and can’t control. Embracing both is key, I would say.
SC: Speaking of textiles and considering the importance of sustainability in today’s world, could you share your approach to making more sustainable choices when creating designs and sculptures?
IR: I believe in art, we have to be straightforward when it comes to sustainability. There are already some golden rules in place. For me, it means sourcing my clays and glazes locally and recycling them. I even like to incorporate recycled pieces at times. So there’s a sense of continuity within my sculptures, where if something breaks, I grind it down and repurpose it into different pieces. Additionally, I strive to use energy and electricity responsibly, considering the firing processes involved. It’s about being aware, just like in many industries, of the impact we have and making conscious choices.
RI: Yes, sustainability is a very important part, I believe, for everyone. Interestingly, Irina and I were discussing the topic before this interview as well, because it has become such a crucial aspect of all our lives. It’s something that, unfortunately, we weren’t as aware of a few years ago, but now it’s essential to follow and implement changes. Like the majority of the fashion industry, I am also actively embracing these positive changes. It’s not just about sourcing sustainable fabrics, but also adopting ethical practices, ensuring fair treatment for the people involved in creating these garments. We have a thorough process of working with a wide range of individuals, checking and sourcing materials that are closer to home. Recycling is also a significant focus, which personally, I fully embrace and support. I have never fully understood the concept of wasting things and constantly changing styles and colors every season. I think this mindset comes from my background in Serbia, where we were taught not to waste and to reuse anything we’ve used before in our collections. The idea of constantly seeking newness at the expense of sustainability is a thing of the past. Even the dress behind you is recycled from my dead stock, and many others in the store as well. It’s something that brings me great pleasure. One important thing I want to emphasize about sustainability in this interview is that we should all do something, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant it may seem individually. There are so many of us on this planet, and by collectively doing even the little things, they will add up to something significant. That would be my word of advice to those listening to this interview.
IR: Yeah, I also believe that thinking sustainably as an artist presents an interesting challenge. When you have limitations and work with bits and pieces of old materials, it sparks creativity. I have some small remnants of old clay and golden glaze that I scrub and utilize. It’s an interesting challenge that leads to unique results, which probably wouldn’t happen if you had everything readily available. It’s not about being boring and merely ticking boxes; it’s about embracing the creativity that comes with these limitations.
SC: Irina, you did your residency during school years in Japan. How would you say Japanese culture shaped your works?
IR: Yes, I have done quite a few residencies, but that was my first one. I went to Japan when I was 18. It was a traditional pottery town called Tochigi, and I studied ceramics there. It actually changed my perception of materials, not just aesthetically, but also philosophically. I embraced the tradition where the material becomes an extension of your concept, where it’s not just a means of communication, but an expressive mode to amplify your ideas. It’s like another language, where as an artist working with materiality, you can create nonverbal things that are felt by the viewer on a subconscious level, connecting with nature, architecture, and bodily associations. It’s a powerful tool that artists can use. Since then, ceramics became my language, and I’ve been trying to expand my vocabulary and use it wisely. That philosophy is what shaped me as an artist.
SC: That’s fascinating, even their Kintsugi technique of mending broken pottery is intriguing. Roksanda, do you ever get inspired by the Japanese culture?
RI: Oh, I absolutely love everything about Japan, although I must admit I’ve never been there. So my love is more like a dream for me. That’s my next destination, especially during the cherry blossom season, hopefully. But yes, I think Japan has that philosophical and minimal mentality that resonates with me. It started when I studied architecture, and I also love concrete very much. The idea of achieving perfection with minimal means and materials is something quite different from what we’re taught here in Europe. I have incorporated that a lot in my designs, maybe not as directly as you with the texture and surroundings that Japan is known for, but in my own way. I’m definitely a huge fan of their approach to living, not just aesthetically.
SC: Lastly, having worked in the art and design industries for over a decade, what changes have you observed in your respective fields over time, and how do you anticipate they will continue to evolve in the future?
IR: I think there has actually been quite a positive change in the ceramic art and sculpture industry. Ten years ago or more, if you told somebody that you work with ceramics, they often considered it a cute hobby or just pottery. In the broader context of fine art, it was somewhat looked down upon as a medium due to its history and utilitarian tradition. However, right now, I see very positive changes. More and more fine art galleries and art fairs showcase ceramic art, and people are starting to recognize it as a full form of sculpture rather than dismissing it as a mere craft. This shift is great because we no longer have to constantly explain to people that what we do is worthwhile. It’s one of the biggest positive changes I’ve observed. The field is also developing as it is relatively young. Ceramics as a material has existed for as long as Homo sapiens, but ceramic art as a manifestation of ideas is still in its formative stages. Currently, there is a growing understanding and exploration of different avenues within ceramics, including design, fine craft, and sculpture. This allows for more intersections between these disciplines, creating more opportunities for innovation. It’s a very interesting field to be in, and I hope the future holds bright prospects for ceramic art.
RI: Yeah, there’s been many changes the past 10 years in the fashion industry, particularly, the influence of social media has kind of broken down all the barriers and fashion has become much more democratised, diverse and inclusive, which, of course, are all good changes, but also happening with a very dramatic speed. And I wouldn’t quite necessarily predict what is going to happen in 10 years because I would never ever in my wildest dreams thinking that it will change so rapidly in such a short time. But I’m certainly hoping that change is going to be for better, and it’s going to involve more women. And it’s going to have a slightly more equal balance between who is doing it and how and where they’re coming from. And that people that are coming from different backgrounds, will be capable of doing fashion. So it’s not going to be just necessarily for people that can afford it. That’s what I’m hopeful for.