Katharina Schmalz is a 33-year-old designer (read more about her here), who in February 2016 participated in Designers Nest (DN), a fashion design competition for new talent during Copenhagen Fashion Week. We noticed her beautiful and strong work, and decided to meet Katharina and investigate her motivations for being in the design competition.
Why did you choose to participate in DN, and how did you enter?
When you are enrolled in a Nordic Design School, this competition is in everyone’s lips. I also know some fellow students, who partook in the competition last year. It’s a professional and international platform for talented Nordic design graduates from the most famous design schools in Scandinavia. It’s a fashion show where all participants could show 3 outfits of their collection. The winner receives a cash prize of 50.000,00 DKK.
Tell us about the process.
My tutor Nadine Mollenkamp, Head of the Fashion Department at Designskolen Kolding, selected three people from my school for the competition. Luckily I was one of them.
The competition always takes place during Copenhagen Fashion Week, and the day started with a presentation in front of a 5-man jury. After my graduation from Designskolen Kolding in the summer, I had moved back to Germany, so I had to travel from there to Copenhagen. I never imagined, I would be back so quickly, even though I love the city and get inspired from the people there.
It was a really tight schedule. At 8 am, we met backstage at the show location for a short briefing about the time schedule for the rest of the day. After that, the presentations started at 10 am and lasted until 2 pm. Each participant had 5 minutes for the presentation including rolling the rail with your garments into the room with the jury. Everybody had to present alone. You didn’t have the chance to hear, what the others were telling about their collections. In my opinion, that was a pity, because it would have been so interesting.
In general, you can imagine that 5 minutes is nothing, if you consider how much time and effort, everybody has put into his collections. Certainly everybody had more to say. Also, there wasn’t time to think about, what to say. You just had to be well prepared and mention the most important and valuable things about your collection. In my opinion, it was a little bit too short.
Even if you are well prepared; how can you present your work in 5 minutes? But; it seems to be important being able to give a so-called ‘Elevator Speech.’
Were you nervous?
I was very nervous before the presentation! I had no safety plan, because I didn’t know exactly, what they expected from me. Also, it was my first competition! But the jury was very kind and interested, and it helped me calm down. I’m always nervous before a presentation, and I prefer to act from behind the scene, and let the collection speak for itself. So, participating was a big thing for me, as I now, I have to train my presentation skills.
Communication in our business is as important, as the creative part itself – or maybe even more so – and I have to practice it and see it as a challenge to overcome my shyness. And in contrast to presentations; I like challenges;-)
What did the jury look at?
The focus of the jury was on the overall topic of the collection. The jury was interested in looking into the whole collection, and not only the three outfits, which were part of the fashion show. They wanted to see the complete picture behind the collection. They asked for the key concept, and key looks as well, and they looked at the details. They were interested in the main inspiration and motivation behind the collection.
They also were showing interest for my fabric swatches, including my self-made silicon fabric and the manipulated neoprene. The time passed by so quickly, and they didn’t have so much time to ask any further questions.
What happened next, and when did the show start?
After the presentation, we had a short break. Following this, we started with the rehearsal for the fashion show. Shortly after, they started receiving the guests for the fashion show. We could observe from backstage, how the saloon filled up more and more with the guests for the show, and there were so many! I was overwhelmed by the response for the show, as we’re just young designers. Just before the show started, I had mixed feelings. It was a combination of excitement, surprise, nervousness, and a bit of pride and thankfulness to be a part of the show.
Why do you think your MA collection Mat Blur fitted into the competition?
Despite the fact that my MA collection MAT BLUR was realized before the invitation for Designer’s Nest and wasn’t designed specifically for the competition, I think, my collection fitted into some of the criteria defined by the jury. The collections were evaluated on four criteria: innovative fabrics; creativity; possibility of commercialism; and originality and power to propel.
MAT BLUR was almost entirely created with the use of new technologies. The entire collection was developed using IT tools, and it only ‘came out in the physical world’. Once the prototyping started. I used a 3D program for fashion, which is quite new on the market. In my opinion, it will revolutionize the fashion industry in a not-too-distant future, and the way, we design fashion.
I tried to create futuristic materials, which would have the ability to embed new technologies and new gadgets into them. Therefore I worked a lot with silicon and created my own silicon fabrics for clothing and accessories. Furthermore I used laser cutting as technique to manipulate neoprene.
Another aspect was the concept behind the collection. The idea was that with the CLO 3D design tool, you can communicate virtually and in real time with your customer and all other involved people during the whole design and production process. You can get direct feedback on your designs; everything gets more transparent for all parts involved, and you have the possibility to work from everywhere during most of your design process, what hasn’t really been possible before.
What was the biggest gain form this experience?
One of the biggest gains in participating in the competition was the resonance from different people, like for example the interview and contact with you and a fashion headhunter, who contacted me afterwards.
But I missed a bit the possibility to network after the show. I prepared extra for the opportunity with collection flyers and business cards. It was a bit of a pity, because I think, it is important to get in contact with industry people, and a competition should make room for that.
Half an hour after the show, nobody was there anymore. For me, it was a big surprise: why everybody packed down so quickly? I was really proud, though, that the senior designer from Balenciaga, Vanja Hedberg, who was in the jury, took one of my collection cards. I really like Balenciaga.
How did you feel about not winning?
Of course, it would be a lie to say, it didn’t touch me, but I was also very happy for the winners. In any case, it was a really great experience. I met a lot of nice and interesting people, there was a great atmosphere backstage, and I grew my network.
As I didn’t win, they must have looked for something else than what my collection was about, but it’s hard to say. Maybe some of the others were just stronger. There were really many talented designers in the competition.
What tips would you give other young designers, who wish to participate in a talent competition?
Just do it. It is an opportunity to show your work, gain feedback and get in contact with industry professionals. Today it’s hard to stand out in the fashion crowd, so you should take any opportunity of showing your work really. In our digital age, communication and networking is everything:-).
What brands inspire you and why?
I don’t have a preferred fashion brand, but I like brands like Maison Martin Margiela, Balenciaga and Givenchy. I also like Studio XO based in London, who are working between fashion and new technologies. They have a creative team with people from different professions, for instance engineers, and they inspire each other, and try to push the boundaries of the fashion system.
See more of Katharina’s work here.
Read more about Designers Nest fashion design competition here.