With her new ready-to-wear collection launching this weekend at London Fashion Week, Sophie Breitsameter talks to Berlin-based fashion designer Leonie Mergen about the creative process and how she has drawn inspiration from Azerbaijani artist Arif Aziz’s abstract canvases
Last year, your collection was inspired by the Karabakh region in Azerbaijan and your new collection returns to Azerbaijan, this time via the work of artist Arif Aziz. What is it about Azerbaijani culture that keeps you going back for more?
During the research for the Karabakh Collection (A/W 2018) I perceived Azerbaijani culture as extremely versatile and profound. It is an incredible source of cultural inspiration. In the framework of my research I visited the country several times and came across various historical and tradition-inspired artworks. Amongst others were those of Arif Aziz, an internationally-renowned Azerbaijani contemporary artist. I was fascinated by his abstract and experimental art techniques, especially by in works comprising what is known as his ‘White Period’, from 1992–93. His work was so powerful that I decided to incorporate it into my newest collection.
Tell us about the different elements that made up your mood board for this collection.
The mood board for the Arif Aziz Collection was extremely colourful, as are his paintings, which, as you know, form the basis of my initial inspiration. Further elements include experiments with blue fabrics to match the printed painting; unbelievably numerous test prints in order to achieve the best print results; triangle pattern experiments, which I adopted from another painting and styling pictures that represent the essential mood elements of the collection.
Tell us about your favourite piece from the collection and how you would style it.
My favourite piece from the Arif Aziz Collection (A/W 2018) is a silk gown is printed entirely with one of Aziz’s paintings. The colour transitions and painting structures are incredibly highlighted and visible in this material, due to the fact that the painting has been amplified to about three times its original size. It is even possible to see the fine cracks of paint on the original canvas, which gives the print a three dimensional quality. As the dress itself is extremely visually powerful, I would style it as simply as possible and wear it with no jewellery and perhaps just plain blue pumps.
How does Berlin inspire you?
Berlin’s artistic and creative scene is distinctive and pervasive. It reflects the significant history of the city, as well as its progressive present in a rebellious way. The result is a fast-paced environment. The city is constantly changing in every aspect, which offers opportunity for inspiration. Furthermore, I can take advantage of Berlin’s dearth of museums and galleries. It allows me to do the most profound research.
What first inspired you to design?
Fashion and tailoring have dominated my interests for as long as I can remember. I began experimenting with clothing and fashion at a very young age. The first thing I designed and sewed was a dress for my doll at the age of seven.
We love that your collection is both handmade and hand-embroidered. Tell us about your relationship with craftsmanship.
Craftsmanship is one of the brand’s fundamental principles. The fact that all our products are handcrafted exclusively in Germany not only allows me to control each individual production step, but it also guarantees that our products represent that inherent obsession for detail and perfection, sustainability and the highest possible quality all the way through, from the choice of material to manufacture. It also gives each piece a uniqueness, as no two handcrafted pieces will ever be exactly alike. Beyond that, craftsmanship has the clear advantage that we are able to offer clients a high degree of flexibility and respond to all sorts of individual wishes.
Is there a particular item of clothing that you like designing the most?
I appreciate designing menswear in particular. Compared to womenswear, it contains countless rules regarding pattern-making and construction of clothing. Those rules date back to ancient formalwear and have not dissipated as much as they have in womenswear. I find the challenge of sticking to these guidelines and yet being able to create something new and modern extremely fascinating.
Who is Leonie Mergen?
She is calm, and enjoys experimenting with fabrics and illustration techniques in her studio while drinking tea and listening to Harry Potter. In fact, her favourite city is London, for she adores everything British and she feels honoured to present her seasonal collections there for every season to come. Moreover, Leonie is extremely interested in the history of the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and also astronomy.
As a designer, tell us about your own wardrobe staples.
My wardrobe consists of a lot of black dresses. I feel most comfortable wearing basic dresses and combining them with patterned tights, leather boots and a leather jacket. As I often work with colours and paint, I preferably wear a lab coat while designing.
What is next for the brand?
We’ll continue to take culturally inspired themes and translate them into wearable high end design fashion. Our next collection will be inspired by a famous poem and the Silk Road. We are also aiming at multi-brand department stores in the European capitals as well as in Baku, and, in terms of growth, are currently focusing on our own @leoniemergen Instagram account, which we are working hard on.
Images courtesy Leonie Mergen