As part of the sustainability weekend in our school, we were lucky enough to participate in a workshop given by the fashion designer Elisabeth Prantner about her already five year ongoing project “bis es mir vom leibe fällt”, or in other words; until it falls off my body. After listening to her lecture and having a short yet interesting interview, I was able to better understand Prantner’s ideas and past.
Perhaps the first thing to mention is that she has her own fashion shop under the name of Lisa D. This, she says, creates a great conflict, especially now that she has her repair and upgrade studio. On the one hand, she designs and sells new clothes, made from organic (GOT certification), albeit new, fabrics. On the other hand, she and her team answer the requests of the people coming to the upgrade studio, reusing old materials and remaking the loved pieces of clothes. What is her solution? After five years of struggle to make the studio sustainable, economically as well as environmentally, she decided she will close her shop the following year. “Fashion designing is a hard job, you have to love it”.
I asked one question: ‘When did your interest in fashion begin?’ In return I got a whole life story. She was an art, math and theatre teacher and later decided to be a director for children’s plays. Then, at the age of 26, she and her husband decided to go to the states. She always liked painting, and at one moment decided to paint on clothes. “But I didn’t know how to sew, no idea”. She put a rope against her body and that turned out to be a skirt. ‘Where did you get this skirt’, New York asked her. ‘I want this skirt’, New York demanded. There were so many people wanting her clothes. So, somehow, she became a designer, never having considered it before, wanting to be a director or an artist, since she studied directing during her stay in the states.
A year later she returned to Austria and started with some fashion shows, combining her passion for directing, making 60 collections in her life so far. One example of a show she made took place in a ghost train in Berlin, but instead of ghosts there were models. After a while her awareness rose and thoughts about the production conditions came to mind, even though that was not the case for the clothes she made. “I was always a kind of a hippie so I applied another form of dealing with people who work for me; we do it together”. When she started, there was no mass production; she could always live by her work. Now there are thousands of free designers taken by the big companies, which mass produce good designs. Good designs maybe but still mass produced in Asia (India, China, Bangladesh…). This resulted in her making big shows about this topic, her last one being about ‘H&M’, hoping to make people think about these conditions, but “people still stayed consumers”.
And so the idea of a repair studio arose. Do not mistake in thinking it is cheap. The work is “some really good craftsmanship”. People come in and ask ‘how much is this’. When she answers “100€”, they go away. But making a dress out of several pants takes from 20 to 30 hours, so “how can you give me only 50€? Would you work for this wage?” And when they answer they wouldn’t, she counters “you wouldn’t work but my people should work?” These discussions made people think about it.
A wonderful example was of a guy coming and asking for a quick repair of his zipper. “I have only five minutes” he says. “We cannot do it in five minutes, it’s a really complicated thing, come tomorrow.” But he refused, wanting to pay only 5€. So they had the idea to make a deal; the guy will take the zipper off his pants on his own and they will put another one on, that way he will only have to pay 5€. After half an hour the guy gave up, left the pants and paid 10€.
Following a long discussion, where she explained the danger in new clothes being made from polluted fabric, I commented about our mindset today: The money we put aside for clothes today usually does not go higher than 20€. And she agreed: “When I was young, clothes were very expensive. My mother changed the clothes of my aunt. It took me one or two years to buy new clothes. Now clothes are so cheap that nobody wants to pay a normal price.”
“So you take the customer on your side and work together on what they want. You make people more conscious about what they are doing “and for me this is the only possibility to work in my field in a better way. The more you get people on your side the better it is for the world and for the nature.”
The discussion was so interesting that I had to ask another question. In our workshop, she put a big emphasis on clothes having a special memory or story for the owner. That is why some people come with torn pants and sweaters, not willing to give up on them. So what is her special piece with its own special story I wondered. If you look at her picture you will see her wearing a red and white dress, which is also her special dress. She has had it for 12 years now and she loves it so much that she still repairs it from time to time. People ask her why she always wears this dress, being a fashion designer. “Why don’t you wear your other collections?” She does it but there is something about this dress. “When I went to Israel I only had the possibility to take one dress with me, so I took this dress because I combine it in my memories with all the big shows that I did. I am always connected in my dreams; how it was, all the actors and models. This dress is connected to a good time in my life.”
That was Elisabeth Prantner and I would suggest us to think about her words. What can we do to make a change? Perhaps cut an old shirt or maybe even change our habits. Who said we need to buy clothes so often, what if one set that we truly like is enough. Maybe then 100€ won’t seem so much, but rather solely as a yearly investment. Bis es mir vom leibe fällt.
Written by: Maayan Agmon
Edited by: Carlos Sevilla
Copy edited by: Emily Perotti