Kristian Steinberg has created a corner of the fashion world that is beautiful both inside and out. His ideal creative strategy stems from the use of fashion to bring people together, and he achieves this by addressing each sector of the professional world. Steinberg embraces the everyday woman in his latest collection, Pocahontas, which opened the 2017 Tallinn Fashion Week. ‘Pocahontas’ is a collaboration with young female artists and MA students who have doubled as his muses. We spoke with Kristian about why he thinks Pocahontas is so relevant today, as he goes into detail about what society can learn from such an immense reformation during a time of accelerating globalisation.
Lisa Telle: Congrats on your first womenswear collection! What type of woman did you have in mind when you created this collection?
Kristian Steinberg: This collection embraces women as they are and though it sounds like a general statement, I am actually being very specific here. I’m addressing a woman who isn’t trying to conform to made-up ideals, but who instead embraces her own creativity. Rather than worrying about looking skinnier or on-trend. she asks herself: what do I feel like wearing today?
LT: Why have you chosen Pocahontas and why now?
KS: The story of a young Native American women who came in contact with Europeans, their culture and religion, converted to Christianity, and was presented in front of King James I of England as the “Sophisticated Savage,” is inspiring and relevant on multiple levels.
In the time of accelerating globalisation, we should stop for a moment, and reflect about the damage Europeans have caused to other world cultures and their peoples' way of life. In a strange twist, Pocahontas was to predict the future 500 years ahead of her time as she transcended geographical, cultural, and spiritual boundaries. Her story is a testament to “Soft Power” that our world today seems to lack ever more and is a quintessentially female trait. If balance of opinions, soft power, and equal opportunities is what we want to achieve, then feminism could be the reaching hand that helps us all make that ideal into reality.
LT: What do you think Pocahontas represents in modern culture? How did this influence your collection?
KS: Pocahontas didn’t just go through immense transformation, but was a very successful ambassador for her people at the time and place where she would have been viewed as less than human. The fact that she made a huge success of her arrival to England puts her in the same category as many other female trailblazers like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Angelina Jolie who has indigenous ancestry.
LT: The collection seemed to display a sort of chronological 'reformation' with fabrics and patterns slowly disappearing from one look to the next. From Pocahontas' story we know that she expanded culturally, learned a new language and became a Christian. What is your view on Pocahontas' reformation and its relevance today?
KS: Pocahontas lived an extremely transient life before that excised as a concept and that ability is now needed more than ever. We live in the beginning of the digital age that some call the 4th industrial revolution, but I feel it’s a gross understatement. Our world is not just changing fast, but that change is accelerating and the rise of A.I. and quantum computing will change what humanity is and can become in every way. The survival of our kind rests on coping with this transformation and we have to be prepared to revisit fundamental questions and finding new answers to them.
LT: How do you personally think the collection signified this reformation? What was significant about the model undressing while other models walked around her?
KS: The final dress is a sizeless evening dress in silk organza, and though in essence consisting of randomly pleated godés, it is a complex garment to handle, and remains therefore an idea rather than prêt-à-porter fashion. The model is Pocahontas being presented in front of King James I. She’s barefoot and detached from the show as she makes her way very slowly across the runway, undoing her dress and even ignoring the commencing final walk-through. The symbolism here is the freedom of spirit and mind, a detachment from whatever isn’t part of ones being, and banishing it as of secondary importance. By undoing the dress, the model reveals all its secretes, then steps out of it and drags it behind her as she follows the other models off the runway therefore treating the most important dress of the show as just a piece of material. To quote Jean Paul Gautier: “It’s only clothes.”
LT: It was said you presented three characters. How did you engage with these three characters from a design point of view - creation (fabrics, cuts, moods)?
KS: We start under the enormous prairie sky where the fully adaptable designs allow for absolute freedom to be re-styled. The Sky Grey cotton voile dresses and jumpsuit are adjusted with belts and gingham chiffon details reflect a sense of a home. Ethnic jacquards and quilts are introduced along the same theme all picking up those base colours of sky-grey and indigo. A raging torrent inspired dress and skirt, semi-precious stone jewellery and charcoal like jersey bring in natural elements of Pocahontas´ world.
As she meets the foreigner and converts to Christianity, European and military influences start to break up the silhouette and the colour pallet is now based on sand and selected shades of red. The ethnic jacquard turns red and is used in a size less abstracted dress and tailored jacket underlining the idea that Pocahontas makes foreign ideas her own. The zigzag details are carried over from the first theme and give another twist to the minimal style of tailoring. The sand coloured military style shirt with the oil-iridescent pleated leather skirt is a symbolic outfit to show what the conquerors really would come to value about this land. Oil. Red turns into Cardinal Purple as Pocahontas converts to Christianity and becomes known as Rebecca. The zigzag leather trim caressing her shoulders is still a reminder of her true identity, whilst forming the silhouette of a crucifix.
Rebecca at the royal Court uses monochrome eveningwear to reflect her settings but again she is a rebel. She features a sexy leather peplum dress in hemp organza and a shoulderless leather coat worn with fetish inspired boots. Historic sleeves and necklines are given a modern look and feature material surfaces like charcoal burned velvet and feather-like georgette. The final dress is the complex evening dress that is falling off and symbolises absolute freedom and the absence of ownership of one man over another. Rebecca is forever free.
LT: How does Pocahontas express the voices of young women in Estonia today?
KS: I have been teaching MA students in Estonia as part of this collection and the three finalists that have been assisting me with the collection have also been my muses and sources of information for how young Estonian women see the society they live in. The collection itself is highly influenced by their feedback but the project is more far-reaching than that. As a one-off collection to open the Tallinn Fashion Week, it has been a collaboration platform featuring a number of young female artists like Grete-Ly Valing a.k.a Regret, Ester Soidla, Kreeta Aidla, Brita-Liisa Brutus, and Saara-Samantha Steinberg.
LT: You said you think it's important to connect with people far from the fashion scene and to find a common cause and to work together for the benefit of the society. How did this collection find that common ground?
KS: We had the immense pleasure of having the Estonian President´s officials, as well as the Culture Secretary attending our show, and they all found the experience very inspiring. Among the guests was also Marianne Mikko, the Social Democrat and fellow feminist with whom I’m planning to collaborate on social and cultural issues in the future. Fashion can bring people together as a natural collaboration platform and it can achieve more than just PR gimmicks, by addressing people far beyond the fashion industry.
Words: Lisa Telle
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu
Cover Image: From Kristian Steinberg's SS18 campaign by Saara-Samantha Steinberg
Runway Images: Kertin Vasser