Melissanthi Spei is living in London, she graduated a few years ago from MA Fashion Artefact at London College of Fashion. She creates awesome contemporary and sculptural garments. Part of her identity as a designer is to use industrial materials for something historical and old through the exploration of traditional arts and crafts and their projection to contemporary aesthetics.
Cecile Poignant met Melissanthi and asked her questions about her work and « A long farewell to all my greatness », her latest project. Enjoy!
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I am one of the quiet ones! People might sometimes think I am too nice or too naïve because I am very humble. I have high standards and aspire to meticulous presentation of my pieces, but when it comes to words I am a disaster! I know what I want and I want to get straight to the point. I feel more than I can explain in words; my emotions are more than words can describe and this is why all my vividness and darkness becomes my work. As a person I am very calm and creating is my way out.
What is your relation to Fashion and is clothing the most important media for you?
I knew I had an artistic vein since I was very young. At the age of twelve I got really fascinated with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha, I love the way they represented the female body as so fragile yet so powerful. I wanted to do something that could still be very artistic but would revolve around the body. My background is both art and fashion. I studied womenswear and learned all the technical parts of garment construction but I don’t like following rules, I like making my own rules. This really evolved when I went to do my Fashion Artefact master’s degree at London College of Fashion. I think this really made me push myself and feel that there were no boundaries to what I could do. I have worked in different fashion companies since then but I feel I need to have my own voice and carry on what I do; I need to be able to create. The new project A long farewell to all my greatness has a lot to tell and it is the first project that has both art pieces and more wearable pieces. I would like to carry own making art pieces but also be able to see my work being sold.
Why are you so interested by folklore?
This is something I grew up with and is a very strong element within my family. My father is a researcher and writer focusing on ethnographic and folklore elements within Greece and as a child I remember him always trying to do his best to maintain the traditional carnivals in Greece. A lot of tribes from different places around Greece would visit Athens once a year during the carnival season and would perform around the city. At that point I was really young and embarrassed about how wild and vulgar (the whole carnival is about fertility and the traditional songs don’t beat around bush!) they behaved but now, thinking back, it is amazing to be able to perform in such a way, free from everything. Unfortunately this no longer happens in Athens as the funding is very limited for these kind of things but people are still very eager to collaborate and promote their local festivities. Hopefully this is something I would like to contribute to in the future.
What are the key elements of your work?
New textures are definitely key elements of my work. The more I evolve the more risks I take and I have learned to trust my instincts during my design development. Everything I do is based on instinct. I am a very logical and practical person in my professional life but when it comes to my work I want to only work with emotion and then I know I am doing the right thing. Metallic colours and materials are also a key component. I am trying to use really intense and dark inspiration but mix it with very feminine features, marrying the darkness with elegance.
Would you say that history is your main focus?
I think this started subconsciously through my project Death is a dialogue, that was the first project, in which I slowly started realising that this was my purpose. It made so much sense to explore this further through new projects. I love mixing traditional elements with poetry or literature. So far my work has been related to my cultural roots very strongly and I this is something I will always try to explore, although I would love to be inspired by different cultures in the future as well.
How would you describe your last project « A long farewell to all my greatness » ?
From the beginning this project was an exploration of my cultural roots. I am from Greece, and grew up there, but it was only after I left that I came to appreciate these roots. Now comes the time, after living in the United Kingdom for almost a decade, to acknowledge the fact that my roots have been blended with others and now I am becoming a hybrid between cultures that overlap and try to overrule one another. The title, a quotation from Henry VIII, by British national symbol William Shakespeare, shows that this mixture of cultures gives hope for something new while never forgetting the past. This was formed through a series of five neckpieces and three headpieces in black and gold shades, creating a very regal effect.
Materials used are a combination of handcrafted religious trims and industrially made rayon fringing. Different manufacturing processes all come together with handmade techniques. This project has been created with lots of recycled and leftover materials and only a few key materials were sourced from scratch. The main reason for this was that there was that I had absolutely no budget for this, only the need to create and evolve. This for me was also proof that artists can be resourceful with the smallest amount of materials, equipment and space as possible while still producing a very successful outcome. Everything was made by hand stitch after hand stitch, loop after loop, with lots of patience and lots of love and belief in the purpose.
What would you like people to feel about your creations?
I want people to relate to them and be able to dream and escape through the pieces. Each piece is made with lots of thought and I want people to be able to go to a fantasy world and escape from reality.
How do you see yourself in the future?
I think in the future I would still like to work for other fashion labels but also I would like to teach and support young designers. Apart from my design projects I would like to carry own with researching and finding other artists and designers influenced by folklore elements, whether it is from their own heritage or from a different culture they love to explore. I would like to be able to maintain a balance between working for the fashion industry but also still be part of this dreamy world by being more culturally aware of what is going on around me. I think sociology of fashion is definitely an aspect I would like to explore further.