Encountering a spring-loaded tangle of wires, the most productive performance I can achieve is shoving the curly mass back into a cavity with hopes it stays out of sight. Where most see snakes on a plane, Alexandra Sipa envisions purpose and possibility. What she makes is repurposed, beautiful, a blend of old and new. All the good stuff.
Gwynned Vitello: Central Saint Martins in London is such a highly regarded school. What were your expectations when you were accepted? Is your current work a departure from what you first had in mind?
Alexandra Sipa: I wanted to go to CSM since I was 12 but, at the time, was attending an arts-focused high school in Bucharest, Romania. Going abroad to study was a big financial commitment and risk, especially with the job insecurity in creative fields. However, when I learned about CSM, I knew it offered the best education and environment possible to achieve my dreams. I wanted to go desperately.
So much has happened over the last four years at Saint Martins that I could not have imagined. What makes this school so special is the unique mix of people, personalities and backgrounds. The most important thing we learn at CSM is that to succeed in this industry and in life you need to value yourself—where you come from, who you are, and what you do.
Attitude, social structure, ambience—how was the adjustment moving to London?
I used to be very shy, so my first year was tough. I already knew English, but it’s one thing to be textbook fluent and another to effortlessly express your personality in a second language. It’s almost like I had to get to know myself again in a different language. Things got easier after the first few months. I was lucky to meet some amazing people who made me feel at home. It also helped when I finally was able to understand British accents!
When you hatched the idea for lace wiring, were your family and teachers surprised or skeptical, or was something so novel kind of expected of you?
It’s funny you ask because my tutors were in complete disagreement. When I first started making the waste wire lace, one of them really loved the idea and encouraged it wholeheartedly, while the other was skeptical and not convinced. That was my second year before interning in the industry. When I returned in 12 months for the final year, my unconvinced tutor slowly warmed to the idea, as I had improved and refined it. That’s the great thing about having two opposing perspectives: one to push and challenge me to make my ideas better and someone supportive no matter what. I’m incredibly grateful to have been taught by Anna-Nicole Ziesche and Heather Sproat, the two BA Womenswear tutors at CSM.
Once you latched on to the idea, what was most challenging about actually producing a garment? What properties of the material are difficult and which are inherently advantageous?
The time-intensive nature of the lacing process was initially most challenging; however, I soon became more efficient, and making the lace became second nature. The process feels meditative now. After mastering the fundamental lace stitch and technique, finishing the wire garments to a luxury standard is the difficult part, and it varies from piece to piece. For example, for the A-line lace dress from my graduate collection, I adapted the Romanian technique of point lace to finish the entire bottom, hiding any loose wiring and creating decorative oval petals. The challenge is to find aesthetic solutions to practical issues so it is wearable, comfortable, and beautiful. The lace dress has taken the longest of the pieces so far, about 1000 hours across a few months.
Unless deliberately undone stitch-by-stitch or cut with scissors, the wire lace textile is essentially indestructible, and including the dress and ruffle coat, can be folded, bent, or reshaped, yet easily molded back to its original shape.
What did the first design look like, and was it easy to proceed to the next shape or type of garment?
The first time I tried making a garment out of wires, three years ago, was not what I imagined at all. It didn’t look polished or close enough to a lace fabric, but I really loved doing it and saw potential.
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