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picture: Diane Betties
Julia P. Leifert is the creative mind behind the label Philomena. Concerned with fashion that respects our environment long before the term “sustainable” became a buzzword, the designer founded Philomena in 2014. She is only interested in the best fabrics and the highest quality when it comes to production, and with her work she wants us to feel the real value of a piece of clothing again—something that can become a life-long friend. We had a chat about architecture, her granny’s cardigan, and why people thought she was crazy.
Which piece of clothing in your wardrobe have you been wearing the longest?

A really old cardigan that used to be my granny’s, later my my mum’s, and now it’s mine. It’s made from pure cashmere and every time I feel its quality I’m smitten. Despite all these years it’s still in top condition; to find such quality and longevity is rare these days. It’s been with me for many years now and I always feel snug and secure in it. It’s a real treasure that keeps inspiring me. I want clothes to be regarded as something special again, something here to stay, and something that can be your companion and friend. This is also where the name of my label stems from: Philomena is my great-grandmother’s name, but it’s also Old Greek and means something like “loving and staying together, faithfulness and friendship”.

Does the limitation of only using sustainable materials have an influence on your design process?

It certainly does, the entire process is affected. For me, using premium-quality and natural materials plays a pivotal role when developing a collection. These are often hard to find since they need to meet our standards regarding quality, sustainability and design, which means the entire design process is often dependent on finding those treasures. Very often this is where the design process begins—I see a material and I instantly know what I want to do with it.

When you started your label, sustainability wasn’t yet the hot topic it’s now become. What was your personal motivation to launch a sustainable collection?

I remember the beginning very well, when people would look at me funny when I told them what I do. An eco-label wouldn’t have any potential, people would tell me. Nobody could imagine that this would work, and I was called crazy more than once. That makes it all the better now to see the development of the industry, with more “eco” labels who do a great job, are anything but boring, and at the same time embody a new awareness.

Fashion has always been a passion of mine, but even in the early stages of my fashion education I realised that I didn’t agree with the exploitation, destruction and waste within the industry and fast fashion. The closer I looked, the more I asked myself whether there were other ways of doing things, and I started to look for alternatives—in vain. At that time it was just impossible to find fashion that looked cool and also satisfied my standards regarding sustainability.

© photography by Mike Meyer

What do fashion and architecture have in common?

I’m a massive fan of graphic elements and geometric shapes, and you can see that in my collections. I’m fascinated by architecture: the aesthetic discourse of space and function; to give something a protective frame and therefore the space to develop; the history of a building, and what it tells us through its societal and historical context.

I think this is no different in fashion. You need a precise cut for a good fit. A two-dimensional construction is translated into a three-dimensional one, and besides its functional value it gives us an aesthetic frame to explore and evolve ourselves every day in a new way.

What inspired your collection for autumn/winter 2018/19?

The collection is inspired by the Wiener Werkstätten. The 20s were thrilling times and, to this day, have a lasting impact on art and architecture. The Wiener Werkstätten were founded in 1903 by an artist community, with the goal to redefine the predominantly ornamental approach to art of the time by focusing on arts and crafts and redefining it in various parts of society. Strong black and white contrasts, geometric patterns and linear elements are typical of the Wiener Werkstätten style—pioneers of Art Deco.

The garments are informed by a deconstructed approach and the abstract consideration of the well-tried: asymmetrical shapes, patterns and drapes define the silhouette, and the collection is finished with large-scale interpretations of stripes and checks. Wider forms that are typical of the 1920s are reflected in our silhouettes and oversize elements. Expect a material mix, like delicate silk dress and blouses with elaborate sleeves, combined with key pieces like robust blazers and warm coats. Alongside black and white, dark red is paired with an elegant nude and shades of blue and petrol finish off the winter colour palette.



A big thank you to Julia for taking the time to speak with us.

Interview text by Björn Lüdtke.

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