Ukrainian designer Masha Popova graduated earlier this year from Central Saint Martins’ esteemed Fashion masters programme. Exploring diverse and seemingly disparate sources of inspiration in her work, underpinned by memories of a childhood spent in post-Soviet Ukraine, Popova’s subversive hybrid couture-sportswear offers new perspectives on garment making, celebrating traditions of fashion history while utilising the latest technology to create zero-waste textiles. Having gained experience at houses including Maison Margiela and Celine, it is perhaps Popova’s earlier education in architecture that is most fascinatingly imbued in her distinct clothing. To learn more about the designer’s work, how she handled lockdown, and what’s next for her eponymous label, Something Curated spoke with Popova.

Something Curated: Can you give us some insight into your background; how did you enter this field?

Masha Popova: I was born in Ukraine and grew up in a small industrial town first and then moved to a bigger seaside city. Before coming to Central Saint Martins to study Fashion on BA and MA, I studied Architecture back in Ukraine. And even though the first scholarship money I received I spent on a sewing machine, I didn’t think I would ever end up doing fashion. I liked studying architecture; I still love it. But when I started working in the industry I realised it is not for me. It is a very monotonous job with too much screen time. I wanted to do something more spontaneous, I wanted to do things with my hands, and feel what I make.

I guess that’s why I love draping and textiles so much. Growing up in the 90s and 00s in Ukraine, where I am from, everything that had to do with luxury or was labelled “glamour” was very tacky and usually in bad taste. I did not have much knowledge of fashion history and the current industry, and had never seen a real fashion magazine until my late teen years. I think this background definitely gave me a different angle on fashion.  I see clothes as a way to express your views, and we can use fashion as a tool to do so. At the end of the day, fashion is a message we use to communicate visually with the world.

SC: How would you describe the ethos of your label, Masha Popova?

MP: My work is a mixture of cherished crafts, traditions and innovations. I draw inspiration from distinctly different references: late 20th century high fashion, and 80-90s sportswear, through the lens of childhood memories in a suburban post-Soviet town. The ideas behind my work include imperfection, the relationship between constraints and freedom, postmodernity, crossovers of social codes and the subversive use of materials, departing from the traditions of haute couture and childhood memories, blending character study, social criticism, elegance and an “I don’t give a fuck attitude.” I make decadent sportswear with irreverent elegance and a decidedly unbrushed, weird look. I aim to make boring exciting.

SC: What are you working on at present, and how has the pandemic affected your way of working?

MP: Having no access to a print studio and other facilities or library, having no mannequin or sewing machine was hard to get used to. All my patterns, materials and tools got locked at CSM as well which I couldn’t get until the end of June. The lockdown period gave me time to reflect and think about how I want to work, where and who with. Also I had time to learn coding and web development that I wouldn’t probably try to do if we weren’t in lockdown. I am currently working on some new pieces as a continuation of the last collection. I don’t want to make a completely new collection and to be honest have no capacity to do so right now. There is no point in neglecting the work that has been done; I want to let this collection live longer. We all understand now that seasonal collections and all systems have to be reconsidered. I also have some exciting private orders and clients that I am currently making pieces for. I am trying to find a studio space that I can afford, which I am planning to share with a few other talented designers and friends. 

SC: Could you expand on the thinking behind your colour palette?

MP: I love 80s and 90s sci-fi and horror films – Videodrome, Brazil, Liquid Sky and Blade Runner are just a few from the list – and their colour pallet, especially their film posters. I think their retro-futuristic ideas about the future and aesthetics became one of the greatest influences on my sense of colour and prints. Lumen prints, 90s rave posters, Franz West and Marlene Dumas or even vintage sportswear are other sources of inspiration. My references are rather chaotic. I love forming awkward relationships between ideas, enhancing the unconscious intelligence. This gives the imagination a new less constructed way of working.

SC: Are there any materials or processes that you are particularly enjoying exploring currently?

MP: I love working with denim, combining traditional craft and draping with new sustainable washing technologies, applying them in new unusual ways. The reverse screen-printed leather, which I would call my other signature textile, combines traditional screen-printing techniques with laser technologies. I am also currently working with digital embroidery creating a lace-like textile with it. I don’t use it to decorate a fabric but to create a new one, engineering it to the specifications of the garment pattern, resulting in zero-waste. I find it extremely exciting that I can create complex garments in colour in shape having only two white threads to start with. Print and fabrication is definitely a very powerful media to express personality, mood and energy. I find the greatest joy in figuring out new ways of printing or working with denim. I feel a little bit like a scientist doing many trials before achieving the new exciting result.

SC: What do you want to learn more about? 

MP: I want to learn millinery, glassblowing and swimming.

Interview by Keshav Anand / Images courtesy Masha Popova

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