**The Non-Body** Meg Hutchens talks with Alme Basurto

The Non-body

An interview with Almendra Basurto  – an excerpt from Meg Hutchens Studio Project-  fashion(image)


As one of fashion’s most conventional conventions – children’s wear remains a practical consideration in the minds of most. It spills over into the luxury arena, spawning ‘mini-me’s’ of a child’s adult accomplice, but is not often elevated to the realm of avant-garde. We see garments created for the curves of the woman’s body, the mans body – the deformed body. But working with a child – new shapes, scales and configurations and most importantly, a new kind of person to dress – opens up new considerations – as designer Almendra Basurto discovers..

Digging deep to unveil a new sociological syntax and symbolism- particular to the child – was key in her beginnings. Too much is never enough for Basurto, as her preliminary approach involves an exploration of the child’s subconscious, sensory development and reactions to surroundings, different from the adult standpoint.

Fashion without the body is a confusing idea to many, but in order to prove her research, she has taken an abstract approach. Fashion that doesn’t fit the ‘fashion’ stereotype can be powerful and visually arresting. There are less restrictions, more room for discussion and reaction. It often changes the possibilities of the end garment as a result. The idea of an installation pushes us to open up our mind and adopt a new outlook on the stages that precede the garment- if not directly, but through suggestion and narrative.

Basturto collaborated with sculptor Matsuri Yamana to do just this for an exhibition, producing an artificial mini-environment aptly named ‘Atmosphere’ at No Vacancy Gallery, during Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, 2011.

Take us through your project so far..

It is about a state of heightened perception. Exploring the senses through materials, creating a primordial response from the viewer. It relates directly back to children, as that’s where the research began. I was looking at perceptual development in kids – that is something that is also recognised as being a state of heighted awareness – because it is not cognitive, it is purely physical.

 And that led you to the idea for your installation, ‘Atmosphere’..

 For that I was looking at two main elements of perceptual development – light and detail. So I attempted to create a technique that would enhance those qualities. This is how I came about the idea of the PVC ruffle. In doing that, without really thinking about it, the piece ended up generating a lot of associations with the surrounding environment. My research also drove me to look at phenomena and how nature effects our sensations as human beings, as we are sensated beings after all. We are driven by sensations that eventually breed into emotions. So because I was looking at that little sample (of ruffled PVC) and natural environments I went to my friend Matsuri who is a sculptor- she was great for this project as she has done participatory projects in the past. Her work is really fun, and everyone can enjoy it – there doesn’t have to be some big massive concept behind it to ‘get it’.

I think more than the exhibition itself, it was the installation of the piece and the collaboration from which I learnt the most. As fashion designers we have a completely different way of approaching design to other industries – our creative process is different, and I learnt a lot from Matsuri because her process is much more organic – I was stressed and she was chilled. When you go to do an installation you can’t arrive with a preconceived idea about how it will look.

We had to do it all in the one day so we pretty much had to go with it and see what resulted – letting go of your preconceived vision to just let it be is hard! It was good to see how people responded to it – it generated a varied response.  Overall, the whole installation was only a test – ideally it would have been a bigger ‘Atmosphere’, something that you could really immerse yourself in to get a sense of an environment. It was a test of scale really- when we were making it in the workshop it felt like we had so much material.  Then we put it up and it’s so small! If I had a whole workshop full of people and time to burn, then I could just make a whole room full of it!

When do you decide whether it is working or not?

I would see if people would respond to it immediately. I think the best indication was that there weren’t as many questions about how it related to fashion, but more questions asking how we made it. A reaction is simply a smile, or a good sensation. Its hard to explain these things – it’s an experiential piece for a reason – you have to experience it to understand.. really immerse yourself in it. I recall many associations that people made between ‘Atmosphere’ and natural environments. People would say “oohh this is like an ice cave” or “it resembles the clouds” – which really validated it, as this was one of the starting points – that of phenomena.

How does this all eventuate into fashion?

This is going to sound really lame because it is a common turn of phrase in fashion but our immediate environment does relate to the body – and I am addressing the body. Formally speaking – it’s fashion technique. It’s based on a ruffle and it’s sewn together and it could be translated to any form of garment. When you wear it it’s more for the person outside of you – whereas when you are immersed in it it’s for you and for your own senses.


But can anyone make these associations so easily?

I think everyone can make an association with this type of exhibition work, as long as you can see the light heartedness in it; that it would relate to kids wear, and that can be enough. There are many levels of association.

So even if it’s just a really simple association – like Barthes says: An image inevitably involves several levels of perception, and the reader of images has a certain amount of freedom in his choice of level. – The image being your installation?

 Yes, and that’s what I am saying- not many people actually question how it relates to fashion- and maybe they don’t need to- maybe they just took it for what it was.


Talking about the body and the cloth – what appeals to you about working on the body of a child, how does this differ to traditional women’s wear?

The body of a child is completely different to an adult- it is so challenging in many, many ways. It’s the proportions! You think something is going to work and it just looks stupid- the body shape is just like a rectangle. And also it’s quite short, there’s not much to work around. But in saying that therein lays the main challenge – the pull for me as a designer. It is little but there is a lot of potential because most people still gravitate towards the same shapes, what’s known and what has already been done, sticking to the clichéd ‘cutesy’ look.

I’m not proposing what I make will be a wearable thing; realistically my collection is one of highlight pieces that can then be translated into something more wearable. I want to implant an idea that can then be translated into clothing without resulting in another cutesy stereotype. There are a lot of German and Scandanavian designers who are well established in this way of thinking.


 Where is it that you want to elevate children’s wear to?

I want to look at childhood from a less patronising way – we assume because children are so cute in themselves that they have to fit a stereotype – but when you actually talk to them, they are a lot more informed than we think. It is important to keep pushing that dialogue that publications such as ‘Kidswear Magazine’ are using, and that would be my goal because its moving, it’s emotional and as an adult it’s just beautiful to watch, and the kids enjoy it as well. To see this and how the child is going to respond to the garment and in it is something that you cannot experience in designing women’s or menswear.


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