A LACONIC JOURNEY WITH BARBARA I GONGINI

A conversation with Marlo Saalmink

Time tells many tales. A journey to the remote Faroe Islands is a truly overwhelming experience, filled with emotions, sounds and scents. Hailing from these unique isles, is BARBARA I GONGINI, creative director of her eponymous line. Her words resonate strongly as she speaks, calm and quietly composed. We sat down over black coffees to find our more about her connection with her roots, keeping black relevant and the ethical timelessness of her vision. A conversation with Barbara.

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Lets start at with your humble beginnings, where did you grow up and what experiences made you who you are today?

Well, I was born and raised in the Faroe islands and grew up in the old part of Thorshavn, where all houses where given names, either a name indicating the location of the house or of the owner.  That is where my family name – I Gongini – pronounced I Gonzhina, comes from. The Faroe Islands are 18 small isolated islands in the North Atlantic Sea.  The islands have a total population of 50.000. Stories are resonating that the Irish monks and their staff were the first inhabitants on the islands, others tell tales of Vikings who let their seasick men off, that could not make it up to Iceland.

Our lands are positioned in an epic belt with the wildest weather changes. The insisting weather and savage landscape, non-judicial and ever in turmoil, have a significant impact on the population,  where the external circumstances mirrors the inner self of the individual. These inner landscapes of mine are often the reasons for the design choices I take both in the tactile as in choice of form.  The fact that I now reside in Copenhagen, a two hour flight distance from the islands, makes the wind of these elements appear etched iin my memory, as an elixir from the far north, filled with poetic melancholy.

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The journey we travel as creatives, in how far are we a product of our time? And how do you maintain a sense of relevance in the hasty cycle that is fashion?

Time is in its essence is the most important tool for a designer, understanding of its age and the ability to look in the future, combined with a strong personal DNA.  In my view, this is a pivotal ingredient that requires strong design of our contemporaries. As I do not work with fast trends and tendencies,  but rather choose to immerse myself in my conceptual design methods that are locked into avant-garde platforms. In this way, I aim to create a product that has a long life cycle and is irreverently timeliness.

Our designs, collections, are not based on seasonality but rather on a numerical order that builds on a never-ending story – like a chapter in a book. The current collection is based and build upon its past. Both past as current will have relevance and inter-dependence with the future. This is what constitutes our wardrobing concept, creating designs that are rich on longevity and multi-functionality, allowing wearers to work with a kit than can be customized in any way preferred.

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If you had to frame your methodology, how would you describe your research and collection conception process?

The North Atlantic is the basis for my personal DNA. The basic palette for me is always rather static….. but then I do have an ongoing fascination for the principle of design methodology that I often dwell on as long as the source is open.  Therefore, I see my design process as a continuous process, as I fabulate based on where the process stopped the season prior.  In this way I can be looking at my design process as a story tale of continuity.  It is within the design that renewal takes place,  tactility and the monochrome  non-colour palette only aims to support both form and expression.

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In your garments, there are so many multi-functional elements, different textures and fabrics. Why did you choose to work from a monochrome colour palette and how do you keep ‘‘black’’ relevant?  
My belief is that black is always appropriate. Black has a key position with me because its caliber of calm and quiet, that allows it to be molded to appear in its brightest shape. The same applies to the monochrome anatomy. The multi-faceted approach has many fascinating forces. Some of them is that the style can change shape, encompassing up to several variants, it also opens up an interaction with the human viewer. And lastly and not to be underestimated, each style appear more abstract and thus contains the greatest artistic value.

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Naturally, I also want to ask you about your holistic approach towards sustainability and our environment. Could you describe what elements mean a lot to you and how they are visible in the way you work?

Principles of sustainability have always been one of the key pillars within our design DNA that we are very passionate about. We were honored to participate in the Copenhagen Fashion Summit this year and to be specially recognized for our ethical designs. It makes me glad that eco-friendly designs are finally saluted as novel and current. Some of the measures we take in regards to sustainability are that we strive for low impact in our product, by pushing actors within our supply chain to grant us the most eco-friendly solutions and fair trade constellations.  We strive to excel in our selection of yarns, fabric, and leather and where possible we like to work with vegetable dyes.

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You are known for working across many disciplines. Fashion is a continuous dialogue with Art and both have their own challenges and characteristics. How do you balance art with functionality and wearability?

Personally, I do not think that one excludes the other, as I believe that all creative disciplines emanate from the same source. As for clothing traditions, you have a utility and function discipline to be morphed with a delicious synergy with form, tactility and expression. Uncompromising design, for me emerges as pure, even when one uses large compromises. For example,  if the object has a high commercial purpose it does not wave its personal and artistic value.

Downtime, a most under-rated part of designing, is taking time for leisure. How do you unwind and relax away from it all?

Indeed it is. I like to touch full base with my senses, re-wind and go zen. My nest is my haven and quality time with my family is priceless. Then again, which may come as a surprise…mountain climbing with my man is amazing. Looking over that horizon, it truly humbles my senses.

Could you mention some artists, creatives, musicians that you feel akin to and that have or do inspire you along the way?

Of course!!! Marianna Mørkøre (a film maker from the Faroe Islands), Orka ( one-man band from the Faroe Islands), Muggison (a band from Island), Yoko Ono – these are some of my favorites….but, i can add so many more – the list will always be endless

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