Marit Ilison is a multi-disciplinary artist and a freelance designer working in the fields of conceptual art, fashion, costume design, site-specific installations, perceptional experiences and exhibition design, mixing deep concepts with feelings and eye-catching form.
For her, everything starts from a concept or a feeling. Her main goal is to create experiences and haunting, memorable feelings, to have and to keep – be it a mind blowing site-specific installation or an act of wearing a simple black dress.
Ilison studied patternmaking in Tallinn Technical College and spent a year as an exchange student at Danish Design School before receiving the MA degree in Fashion Design from the Estonian Academy of Arts in 2008. She then gained experience in London, Antwerp, Paris and Berlin, working for labels like Bruno Pieters, Camilla Staerk and pattern making atelier Trois Quarts.
Her site-specific installations and fashion performances have been noted by a renowned trend forecaster Li Edelkoort and she has presented her multidisciplinary projects in Europe and US, at London Fashion Week and prestigious Hyères Festival of Fashion and Photography among others. She has been picked as Vogue TALENT 2014 by Vogue Italy and is the laureate of Estonian Young Designer Award SÄSI and most prestigious art award in Estonia, the Kristjan Raud Award, being one of the youngest laureates and the first fashion designer to ever receive it.
Arising from a passion for concepts, pattern-making and tailoring, Ilison’s work is a mesh of deep ideas and precise technical execution yet designing timeless ready-to-wear pieces that allow for effortless dressing and comfort.
She is the founder of 7SILVERMENINCOATS creative atelier; she is currently executing her personal projects and lecturing at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Ilison’s work has been featured in different international magazines like The New York Times, Vogue Paris, Vogue Italy, Women’s Wear Daily, Dezeen, Stiletto, It’s Nice That and VICE among others.
Marit, it is wonderful to meet with you, almost one year after our acquaintance in the Villa Noailles, where you participated as one of the ten selected designers of the 29th edition of Hyeres Festival. What has changed since?
Thank you for having me! A lot has changed! My collection received a lot of attention: we met Silvano Vangi and the coats are available at Luisa Via Roma, I was featured at the Vogue TALENT 2014 issue, I have received some local recognitions and I had a solo exhibition in a beautiful gallery in the Tallinn Old Town. Also, I moved my work from home to a new bright studio and we just opened our web and webshop!
Looking back, I have only now had time to realize how VERY special is the time of Hyères – it’s an amazing dream to work with the Hyeres team, the sponsors and the media. And also, to meet all the new wonderful people, including you, Filep!
I’d like to say Thank You’s again to Jean-Pierre, Laure, Maida, Julie, Annabelle and everybody at the Villa, Givaudan for the amazing “Sleep is sweet, but…” fragrance; Ventures, STIB 19, Gentili and Puntoseta for fabrics and Swarovski for the crystals.
I am wondering if you have proceeded into creating something new. How intense was the impact of the “Longing for Sleep” collection to you?
The time has been very intense, especially organization wise. Besides the collection there is the practical side with contracts, accountancy, customs etc. that takes a lot of time. But we have made special editions for Luisa Via Roma, our webshop and also special custom orders. It’s so great to ship our handmade coats all over the world!
And of course, I’m also constantly thinking about the new collection and I’m so excited to get my hands on to it!
Where did this particular proximity with blankets come from and how was it reflected in your collection?
I love creating concepts and I see my projects coming together over the years. I collect little bits and bobs – feelings, experiences, sounds and smells – until I’m ready and a project feels it can materialize through me. When I was little, everybody had these blankets at home and I slept with them at my grandmother’s place. In high school I read Chekov’s novel “Sleepy”(the direct translation of Estonian title “Magada tahaks” is “Longing For Sleep”) and the sentence “Magada tahaks” has been haunting me ever since – I l-o-v-e sleeping above all. In 2013 I was invited to take part of the Estonian fashion exhibition “Kaamos”. Kaamos is a special word only known in Estonian and Finnish, reflecting the darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Actually, we are in the deepest kaamos as we speak! The days basically don’t get light here at the moment and I’d like to stay wrapped in a cozy blanket all the time!
As I like translating feelings into physical matter – the blankets, “Magada tahaks” and kaamos all came together, creating colorful coats out of the vintage blankets, which nowadays are often abandoned. Now one of the coats that was made of my grandmother’s blanket is in the archives of Hyères.
Estonian fashion is slowly, but steadily developing and I believe we have some good potential. Concerning the award – it’s a great recognition for a fashion designer. I also received the Estonia’s most prestigious art prize called Kristjan Raud Prize for my work in 2013 and it has been truly a great honour to be recognized by both – the academic art and designers’ circles. Fashion as creative field is always somewhere at the borders of art, design and business and it’s hard to get the idea of conceptual fashion out to the people. Also Estonian Forbes named me as one of the “30 under 30”, so I feel very honoured and good to stand in the middle of these 3 axes.
How would you define the Marit Ilison woman?
She is someone who loves good design and herself and is not afraid to think differently. She might be though and busy at her work, but she is soft and warm inside, sharing love and spreading good vibes to the world, inspiring others.
Is the fashion industry a welcoming place for young designers you think?
The competition is fierce, as you know and we just saw “Longing For Sleep”-like coats at Zara – we can’t compete with them. But the young designers bring new blood and freshness and the era of Internet helps a lot to reach out the people. Also events like Hyères are priceless and help a lot.
I’ve been wondering, WHAT IF the fashion houses were closed down after the departure of the original designer, because the original creative soul has left. At the moment the old corpses are being kept alive because of the business, but instead of that, we should look for new mavericks and support young and new talents. That would change the world!
We live at a rime when digital and economy evolution indeed have an enormous impact on creativity. Which one gets you exited and how?
I love the Estonian e-country success and the mobile ID feature! This means you can sign documents and prove your ID online with your mobile. I run my company together with my brother who is living in South Korea at the moment and when we needed to send a cape to US, we did all the paperwork across the continents with an ease of a click. That is so cool! And everyone can now become Estonian e-resident to use the same features! On the business side I’m excited of the challenge to create something creatively distinctive, yet commercial and affordable.
What shall we expect from you in 2015?
I will start the year with a experimental space and form workshop for the fashion and interior design students at the Estonian Academy of Arts and then I will work with a theatre play at the Estonian cool avant-garde theatre NO99 together with a talented choreographer Mart Kangro. Besides these, we’re preparing new Longing For Sleep collection and I hopethat the new year will bring new exciting creative proposals and collaborations. And also, hope to see you in Hyères in April!
More on Longing For Sleep,
Exhibition photos by Tõnu Tunnel.