I talked with Karolina Janulevičiūtė (b. 1993) about design, capable of being utilitarian, symbolic, and sometimes privileged, and about the phenomena hidden in it. Karolina is a designer and artist, a graduate of Vilnius Art Academy and Aalto University. She is currently continuing her academic activities at Konstfack in Sweden. In her work, she explores connections between the individual and design, clothes, their expression and other phenomena. The artist has mounted exhibitions and performances, designed costumes for multiple events and performances, and is the founder of the Nones fashion brand. She currently resides in the cultural complex SODAS 2123. The purpose of the residency is to create a (clothes) wardrobe for residents and visitors to SODAS 2123. In this interview, we talked about Karolina’s activities, studies, fashion as a phenomenon, and her favourite materials, and even had a little peek into her wardrobe.
Agnė Sadauskaitė: Karolina, tell me how you chose your career in the fields of costume design and fashion.
Karolina Janulevičiūtė: When I was a child, I used to rummage in scraps of fabric and clothes patterns at home in my mother’s sewing workshop. At some stage, this game evolved into a passion, a skill, a medium for creative expression, and it is currently my professional field of research and expression.
AS: During your BA degree, you went to Estonia on an exchange, and later you continued your MA studies in Finland. You are currently continuing your academic path in Sweden. Is this geographical choice of studies a coincidence, or is the sense of design in the Baltic region closer to you?
KJ: The choice of exchange studies in Estonia was a coincidence, or rather a decision due to the excessive number of applicants at another art academy. The semester, which fatefully turned into a creative year, motivated me to continue my studies. So after looking into the best programmes in Europe, I chose Aalto University in Finland, and I am still purposefully continuing my wanderings in the region. This year I entered Konstfack University in Sweden. During these few years, my understanding of the Baltic region has expanded, from being naturally close to becoming almost inseparable. I feel at home always and everywhere by the Baltic Sea.
AS: What activities are you currently engaged in at Konstfack in Sweden?
KJ: I am studying for a PhD, and continuing my studies in artistic research, which provide an opportunity to return to the academic field and strengthen my methodology and theoretical knowledge for practising artists. The studies are individual, so much of it is independent research driven by internal motivation.
AS: In one interview, you mentioned that after your BA you felt a certain lack of knowledge, and that was your main impulse to continue your studies abroad. What perspectives and new topics did studying abroad open up?
KJ: Studying abroad opened up a wider understanding of clothing, the fashion industry, and possibilities for implementing creative methods and ideas. Well-equipped university workshops and the constant discussions of ideas and solutions with fellow students, colleagues from other fields of study, and teachers, were a fruitful environment for testing and experimentation. It also helped me break out of my stifled understanding of sewing, construction, fashion references and directions. During my studies and preparing for my MA thesis, I compiled topics that were interesting and unresolved for me, and I could build on them and develop them creatively.
AS: You are the founder of the brand „Nones“. Under this brand, you create unique, minimally designed, high-quality clothes. Tell me more about it. How do you articulate the clothes created under the Nones brand, as a work of art or as a design?
KJ: I formed Nones as a pseudo-label to break away from the designer-collection-product trajectory of fashion, and give a platform to my developing practice. The goal of Nones was and is to provide a service, to create a garment that is always most relevant and gives the most pleasure. Since the official launch of Nones, all the clothes created have ended up in someone’s cupboard or archive. I do not have documentation and cannot provide a catalogue; each garment is personally negotiated and developed thanks to my skills and capabilities. I don’t set a time limit. I don’t follow seasonality guidelines. My practice is based on the process, and the natural evolution of each project. Projects created in collaboration with friends, artists and curators are placed in other sections and expand the field of my practice.
AS: What materials do you like to work with most?
KJ: I use mostly silk fibres of various weaves, and dye them with vegetable and/or pigment dyes. Sometimes I use cotton and viscose. I create knitted products from wool and mixed yarns with a Japanese knitting machine made in the 1970s. Sometimes an order or a project forces me to choose other materials, but that only develops my skills.
AS: Fashion and clothing design can be accepted as synonymous with consumerism, or as a utilitarian, everyday thing. At the same time, fashion can act as a symbol of status, responsibility, ideas, and belonging to a group, so it is a multifaceted phenomenon. For you, fashion is not about consumption, but a much broader phenomenon. What phenomena do you discover in this area?
KJ: For me, the phenomenon of fashion is very comprehensive and constantly engaging. In it I have discovered communication, materiality, theory, colour combinations, technology and crafts. Work and sustainability issues, the feminist perspective, and the capitalist system are also relevant to me in the field of fashion. I perceive these areas in processes in the fashion industry like a source of information that can be examined, criticised, reflected on and even avoided, in order to resist and actualise alternative fashion design and creative processes.
AS: In your work, for example, in the exhibition-performance And Wardrobe Planning (with Kasia Gorniak), in the installation Plums and Snails, you look at and evaluate the fashion industry critically. What changes should take place so that the fashion industry no longer has negative associations?
KJ: A very difficult question; it is even more difficult to answer from the perspective of a practising and privileged fashion designer. For some, fashion will always have negative associations; but it is important to look at the ongoing processes adequately, critically, in a search for solutions. In addition, negative associations are also subjective. For a woman in Bangladesh, the fashion industry may be a poor but the only source of income; while in Nigeria, fashion is a platform for lifelong skills and expression. In the north, many are overwhelmed by the question of what to wear today, and clothes that are worn only once or last for only one wash, end up in landfills on the coasts of Chile and Malaysia. There will always be negative associations with the industry. I’m not sure if that can be changed. Personally, I would very much like everyone to value the clothes and accessories they have, to take care of them.
AS: I am very curious to take a look at your wardrobe as well. Do you make your own clothes? Do you try to avoid fast fashion?
KJ: My clothes are colourful and textural, often communicating with each other, collected from various sorting centres, Humana sales, and my own making when the idea comes up. I don’t buy new clothes, because of professional privilege. However, I especially like second-hand, wardrobe sales, vintage stores and archives. I am interested in fashion trends and periods. I have successfully avoided fast fashion for several years now, because it is not close to my style or lifestyle.
AS: Karolina, you have designed costumes for artists’ projects. Until the end of October, you will be in residence at the SODAS 2123 cultural complex, founded by the Union of Interdisciplinary Art Creators of Lithuania. During the residency, you will be given the mission of creating a wardrobe for SODAS 2123, which will be intended for residents and visitors. How is this creative process going?
KJ: I applied for the artistic residency with a proposal to create a wardrobe for residents in the complex and visitors. This idea came from a conversation with a friend. She had recently returned from an artistic residency abroad. In August, I observed and analysed the complex’s daily life, actions and routines. In each case, thoughts arose about what kind of clothing could empower each of the activities and give the residents the freedom to participate in them. In this context, I understand the wardrobe in the residence as a community dressing-up game. I will make the planned clothes in September and October from selected and personally collected left-over materials. We aim to make it possible to see them and try them on, and share them communally in the spaces of the complex at the end of the residency.
AS: Tell me about your future plans.
KJ: The academic environment, the desire to set up a knitting studio, and plans to continue collaborations in projects with other artists dominate my future plans. For now, you can meet me in the SODAS 2123 cultural complex, and in the future on the way to Šiauliai, Tallinn, Stockholm, and occasionally in Vilnius.