NATHINI VAN DER MEER, whilst being doubtlessly fashionable, is not your average Berlin fashion designer. You won’t find her running up and down Torstraße analyzing the trendscape, much lesser participating in the endless exploitative intern cycles the fashion industry has to offer most newcomers. Frankly its rather hard to get a hold of her at all, since she is either buried in omni-medial projects in her Berlin studio, or out of town entirely travelling. Roadtripping by herself through Mexico, chasing Tornados in the US-Midwest, tattooing some band members in the back of their tour van on the way to San Francisco – you name it, she wrote it to us in some apologetic out-of-town-email from the other side of the globe. We contemplated not believing her, but we’ve seen pictures. Fortunately we managed to pin her down for a quick interview about her Ready-to-Wear Line „Paint it Black“ which will launch on March 20th. Following two elaborate collections full of fluffy hand-knotted Mohair-Coats and complicated Leather-Jigsaw-Pants, she now took a turn to design a very sleek and very black wearable yet luxurious collection. Nathini, let’s talk.
Your name is weird. Who are you and where are you from?
I was born and raised in Berlin. Well, raised between Berlin and South-East-Asia i guess. My parents worked as university professors down there, and we moved around a lot when i was a kid. My name is Thai.
Name three things you couldn’t live without.
Earl Grey, travelling, home.
If one visits your website, the multitude of media can be confusing. Photography, artwork for bands, music videos, fashion- it seems the only thing thats not on display is your drawings- which by the way we have admired on various peoples bodies. When did you make the decision you wanted to study and work in fashion specifically? Why fashion and not art?
I don’t distinguish sharply between the two. I think i’m a practical person tho, and I like to make things that have a specific function. I think that the body as an organism and skin in particular are a constant theme in my work. I love to work with leather, hair, heavy wools and silk- those are all very physical materials. I love taking these quite primal resources, and transforming them into something more refined and entirely man-made. I like the slight air of absurdness of transforming an animals hair/skin/cocoon into a human garment. I also like seeing a friend carry a drawing of mine around under his skin forever. I do this more privately.
For every writer it´s the hardest thing to write the first chapter. How do you approach designing a new collection?
I move away from everything fashion related. I pack a giant bag of shit im not going to wear, just to carry it around some faraway country wearing the same 2 pairs of jeans and t-shirts for two months. After completing a full collection cycle from inspirational process to design- and production-phase as well as documentation, im entirely exhausted. I feel empty and swear im done with it all. Then i try and get as far away from it as i can, start working on other projects or go… high-sea-fishing… or something. But then i end up being inspired by the color scheme or structure of some damn trouts scales, or dirty oil film on the water, or whatever, and the whole cycle starts all over again. I cant wait to get back home and start working again.
Whats your secret weapon against creative stagnancy? How do you motivate yourself to keep going when you feel like you have reached your limits?
I never really feel like there is stagnancy in my life. Usually things are moving. Maybe you could say there are neutral points on creative amplitudes. The point where you move from one phase to the next feels like standing still, even though you’re actually just at the top of the roller-coaster waiting to plummet down again. I’ve always sucked at maths. But this whole sinus curve thing stuck with me.
How would you describe your new PAINT IT BLACK collection without using the word black?
Haha, good one. Letsee. Even though its sharply contrasted, its actually a very “soft” collection. It’s the first time i did not work with color schemes. Bright colors are easy to see and also easy to photograph, whilst b….. (cheat!) swallows all the light. I realized that when we shot my lookbook and I found it really difficult to fully perceive the textures of the clothes. I think you have to feel the fabric and see it up close to get the full realm of it. I worked a lot with range of motion and finding a fit that is not tailored tightly, but rather falls smoothly on various body types. The collection is mostly unisex and one size. I guess I also enjoyed that the absence of color puts the focus on the shape and silhouette, it kind of emphasizes the “essence” of a garment.
Johnny Cash once said „I wore black because I liked it. It’s still my symbol of rebellion..“ – What does wearing black symbolize for you, and why did you choose to use all black?
I chose it for the reasons named above, and also because i had never used it before to that extent. After all black is a fashion business cliché, and one of the most worn colors in the textile industry. I guess not wearing black could be considered more rebellious nowadays. Still, its like your “go-to-person” of colors. It’s easy to wear and least deceiving for the eye. Im really bad at remembering faces, i think i have this Prosopagnosia thing.. I often just remember people by “what they wore that day”.. Surprisingly i think i’d find it easier to remember someones face if he’s all dressed in black. It puts the focus on the bearer. I like that.
PAINT IT BLACK mixes very wearable and user-friendly fabrics like Modal, Viscose and even Polyester with very high end materials like Silk, Wool, Leather and even Horse Hair! What inspired you and how does this collection differ from your previous work?
As mentioned earlier, everything i did before involved a ridiculous amount of man-hours. The horse hair jacket, which is actually a piece from the “Sappeur Sauvage” collection is made with some kind of wig-technique, where small bundles of hair are tied together and then hand-stitched onto the fabric in thin rows. I had a proper “horse hair sweat shop” in my house, with all my friends watching HBO series and knotting horse hair bundles, haha.. I think this jacket was also the turning point, which is why i involved it into my PIB Lookbook as well. I thought- hey this jacket would be quite nice, even without all the glass beads and hair on it. So i started working with the pattern- and now all the bomber jackets and jumpers of the collection derived from it.
I really enjoy crafting single pieces, but always found it unsatisfying that no one ended up wearing them in real life. I guess i wanted to make something that becomes a personal item to someone, as I myself can get very attached to certain pieces of clothing. This is also the reason why the pieces of the PAINT IT BLACK Line are crafted in super-small editions, the cut stays the same, while the materials are exclusive and irretrievable. I love to buy dead-stock fabrics, like one big bolt at some fabric warehouse. I have ten jackets made out of it, am really excited about how great the material is, and then move on to the next one.
If you had to pick one piece out of your line and give it to a special person to wear what would it be and who would you give it to?
I just took one of the viscose kimono jackets from the collection on a 2-month trip to India and Nepal, ran through the jungle and climbed a big-ass mountain with it, had it hand-washed on a crooked washing board by some hindu grammy- and its still perfect. That kinda makes me hope i might pass it on to my kids some day, that would be pretty cool..
Whats your spirit animal and why?
It used to be hawks, i guess, but the inspiration for the “Sappeur Sauvage” collection were snakes. I love snakes. The glass bead embroidery on the horse hair jackets also derived from abstracted scale patterns. I have two pet snakes at home actually.
What super power would you chose?
Probably telekinesis. I do a lot of physical work, too much heavy lifting and carrying shit around- it would be nice to sit back and let it all shift by itself.
Thanks for your time!
Interview by Katharina Hingst and Louis Mc Guire