In Plato’s Symposium, all humans were once double beings – two bodies perfectly harmonised into a single self. But after angering the Gods, mankind was split, cursed to spend their lives searching for their soul partners. This is one of the stories that designer Florence-based designer and Polimoda alumni Emilia Genova incorporates into her graduate collection.
Hailing from Bulgaria, the designer grew up surrounded by a sort of post-communist uniformity. In this collection, entitled “The Long Island Sound,” she rebels against it, utilising complex silhouettes and draped fabric to create stunningly fluid collages of both colour and space. Schön! spoke with Genova about the collection as well as her inspirations and history in the design world.
Where did the name “The Long Island Sound” come from, and how does it connect to your collection?
While I was working on the collection, I often listened to the band Beirut and would imagine my clothes moving with music. When the song “The Long Island Sound” would come on, I could see it in a deep shade of orange. I feel like that’s how the song would look if it were a colour; that’s how my clothes would sound if they were a song. It gives me a very strong sense of nostalgia, but for something long forgotten in a dream. It seemed fitting that I should name the collection after one of Beirut’s songs since their music accompanied me through the entire process and helped me envision the colours from a very early stage.
The colours in your pieces are reminiscent of artists like Edward Hopper and Guim Tiò. When did you first become familiar with these artists and how did you decide to implement their palettes into your work?
I trust my instincts above all else. When I work on a collection I start noticing certain colours and shapes around me more than others. I came across pictures of Edward Hopper and Guim Tiò’s paintings and they resonated with the extreme solitude I was feeling, and fit with the colours I had in my head. I loved the composition; the lonely figures often found in empty houses and urban spaces, or in the case of Guim Tiò, tiny figures lost in vast landscapes. When I went to get fabrics for the garments I was drawn to the exact shades that I had seen in those works, and I knew I had made the right choice.
What is your personal history with fashion design?
I started drawing when I was a child and have wanted to design clothes for as long as I can remember. It took me a very long time to convince my family it was a good idea to attend Polimoda. Once I was there, however, I realized I was not at all meant for the environment. I hated being given guidelines; I wasn’t able to explain my thinking process and would often deliver something completely different than what I had been asked to. I was a huge mess, usually creating a blurry mental mood-board and then vomiting the whole collection out in a few days. Meanwhile, my classmates would work meticulously for months. I think the teachers saw some potential in me and tried their best to make it a better experience but I didn’t give them the chance. I isolated myself quite a lot and worked on my final collection while working part-time as a waitress. As a result, I was never considered a model student, but I felt like I was doing the right thing. I did learn a lot during the past four years, and I am still convinced that designing clothes is what I am meant to do. I just need to figure out my way about it.
You were born and raised in Bulgaria but now live in Florence. How do those two places influence your design?
Bulgaria is a beautiful country and our folklore has much to offer when it comes to embroidery and fabric manipulation, but unfortunately, there aren’t as many possibilities to work in fashion as in other European countries. My parents always encouraged me to study foreign languages and took me travelling whenever they could. The patterns and textures that I saw on the different trips will always sneak their way into my designs. Surely the colours that I feel naturally drawn to are a subconscious reminder of those childhood memories, but my roots remain solid in my country of birth. I’m extremely happy to notice an increasing amount of young Bulgarian brands and designers in recent years. My move to Florence was an opportunity to learn Italian, and to experience a culture visibly different from mine. It is impossible not to notice the opulent beauty of this city. The Italian quality of production is on a whole different level, which gave me access to beautiful fabrics and materials. Despite my personal discomfort at school, I learned more here than I could have anywhere else. I take inspiration from both of these countries but strive to create garments that are unconfined.
Talk a little bit about the myths underpinning this collection. You mentioned Aristophanes’ depiction of love in Plato’s Symposium – how does that story make its way into “The Long Island Sound”?
I first heard about this story from my philosophy teacher in high-school, who was helping me write my thesis on love being a form of mental disease or illusion. Ironically, I “fell in love” with the myth and tried to work on various collections inspired by it throughout my studies at university, but failed to reach my full potential and was not well received by my examiners. I would like to dedicate all my designs to the concept of love being like a missing puzzle piece, a soulmate we must find and merge with to become whole. That’s why I use pleated and expandable fabrics with little construction and a lot of draping so that the wearer can “welcome” their missing half into the outfit once they find them. I am consumed by parallelism, which I see between clothing patterns fitting into each other perfectly and the partnership in a romantic relationship. The idea is to show that each outfit is able to exist on its own, as each person should in a couple, but also be able to interlink with another, creating an even stronger and more interesting silhouette and emotional bond. Although I can be very cynical about relationships, I am a hopeless romantic.
What’s been the hardest part about designing and compiling this collection?
The biggest issue was the fact that all of these outfits are draped on the model, which makes them difficult to wear in a show or to sell. I would love to make garments that are considered sculptures in the future and exhibit them in alternative ways. I think today’s fast-paced fashion system needs some blissful childish naivety to balance the idea that we must sell at the cost of creativity. We should be creating for the sake of self-expression and beauty.
If you had to describe your collection in one sentence, what would it be?
That dream you had one time but you have long forgotten.
What’s next in your life?
I’m gonna get a drink.
Make sure to follow Emilia Genova on Instagram to keep up with her.
all clothing designs. Emilia Genova
photography + direction. Irene Montini & Rocco Gurrieri
jewellery. Alessandro Gaggio
shoes + accessories. Lili Austin
fashion. Yasmine Saliba
models. Valentina Oteri + Cloe Simoncioni
make up. Giovanna Fucciolo
location. Studio Ruggero Mengoni
production design. Matteo Pucci
music. Nàresh Ran