In the illusion of the Penrose steps, an endless loop of stairs rings the top of an enclosure. At first glance, the image makes immediate sense but as your brain tries to materialise it into actual form, you realise the impossibility of such an object. Some things, no matter how good they look on paper, just can’t be. But what if they could?
Vivian Sredni is a Colombian designer and recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design. While drawing accessories, she started to conceptualise designs that, though intriguing, couldn’t be made with conventional construction. Instead of rejecting these ideas, she found ways and workarounds to make the impossible possible. “Illusions” is the result of these efforts. Schön! sits down with the designer to discuss her creative process, background and ground-breaking approach to accessories.
Before fashion, you were considering studying photography. What inspired you to ultimately focus on fashion?
I’ve always had an interest in fashion since I was very little but never did I think I would end up in the industry. Since I wasn’t sure what my major would be, I looked through the curricula of so many majors that seemed interesting to me… When I decided to take an accessory design course, I fell in love with the craft.
Believe me, I was not good at it at first, I was not born to sew or to cut [and] my professor told me my shoe sketches looked like potatoes, but I practised a lot [and] failed a lot. All of these opportunities got me to where I am today. Practise and dedication are everything once you find your passion.
You came to the Savannah College of Art and Design after growing up in Colombia. Were there any formative moments from your youth in Barranquilla that pushed you into the art world?
I don’t think it’s very popular or easy for someone to go into art coming from a Latin American country, but it definitely is possible. I didn’t have any art or art history classes in high school, which I find so important – don’t get me wrong, I loved my school, but there wasn’t much art education at least when I was there. But Barranquilla did teach me a lot culturally and in some areas within art.
My family has had a huge influence on my interest in art. They were and always have been very open and adventurous. Both of my parents raised me telling me I should pursue whatever would make me happy and whatever I wanted to do. I believe I found that interest in art by going on trips with them. They exposed me to an entire world outside of Colombia, a world filled with different cultures and so many opportunities and experiences. When we travelled they would take us to museums, religious monuments, anywhere the locals would go, and [we’d do] a lot of walking so that we had complete exposure to whatever place we were in. My brother and I are so lucky we got to encounter so many experiences, and it is all because our parents raised us a certain way – we understand that there is a lot this world has to offer. My family means everything to me! I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, my friends and without Barranquilla.
There’s an interesting origin story for this collection. Talk a little about the summer when you came up with the initial idea for these pieces.
For our senior collection class, we had to create three sketchbooks with three completely different ideas that would eventually be narrowed down to form one concept for our collection. We had two subjects we could come up with on our own and one that our professor had given us: “aliens.”
I had no idea what to do for that sketchbook, so I just left that aside and focused on the other two sketchbooks. In one of those two, I sketched a shoe that didn’t really make any sense, but somehow, I fell in love with it. Since it was a strange looking shoe that I loved, I decided to expand that concept and create an idea for the alien theme. I did this sketchbook a week before starting classes. My other two ideas were completely commercial and totally different but I ended up going with the idea that is now the “Illusions” collection. I realised that every project I had done up to my senior collection had some sculptural aspects and conceptual ideas behind them, so I took that and pushed it further. In this collection, I found my passion and true happiness. I love making and creating conceptual pieces.
How did you settle on the title “Illusions”?
I had a few different subjects that inspired this collection, one of them, and the most important one to me, was the concept of illusions — how some things are not what we perceive. This idea inspired me both with material objects and abstracts or intangible ideas. The products themselves are illusions: the materials, the films and photos as well as the concept. It goes past just a word – it’s the feeling the collection portrays to anyone who sees it. There are countless illusions combined into one but at the same time, it isn’t an illusion at all because they’re real and tangible products.
You planned the basis for these pieces with help from Marcell Mrsan at SCAD, later enlisting your friend Max Acevedo. How did they each help you formulate the ideas for what eventually became this collection?
They were each really important assets to this collection, as well as so many other people. Marcell has helped me a lot since I started in accessory design. He was very harsh with me at first, but I like to think it was intentional, to make me stronger and more confident in my work. He taught me so much about the craft and gave me so many pieces of advice that I apply in my daily life, and for that, I will always be grateful to him. We still have a really nice relationship and he is extremely helpful with any questions I have.
Max helped me transform my crazy ideas into reality. Not only was he a huge part of this collection by helping me in the making of the products, but he also made me laugh and have a great time. He made this experience so unforgettable. His friendship means so much to me and I am forever grateful for all of his help, for his amazing sense of humour and for his friendship.
Aside from these two important people in my life, there are so many others that were with me through the entire process: friends from back home supporting me through long distance, my friends at SCAD who supported me in every way and inspired me every day, professors and mentors that helped make the process go smoothly, and my family which has always had faith in me and supported me through every crazy thought that ever crossed my mind.
You mentioned being inspired by architecture. Are there any specific buildings, architects or architectural ideas you found particularly inspiring?
I find architecture to be so inspiring. One of my all-time favourite architects is Frank Lloyd Wright, both because of everything he created, which in my opinion was pure genius and because of the way he used to think. The way he incorporated what was natural and existing merged it together with his man-made but beautiful and breathtaking architectural designs is so inspiring to me.
Do you still feel the hometown Colombian influence you had when you began designing? How does it manifest in your designs today?
It might not show in my design aesthetic quite literally, but when I design I always have my hometown, Barranquilla, in my mind. The concepts always tie back to something in my childhood, in my community back home, in my family or references experiences I have had throughout my life. Where I come from is extremely important to me and I am very proud to be from Barranquilla – it is something I wouldn’t change for anything in this world.
In the future, do you plan to focus mainly on conceptual work, or do you have any interest in designing commercial work?
My passion is conceptual and sculptural pieces, but I am open to anything. I believe that if an opportunity arises we should always say ye. If it goes well, then that’s amazing, and if it doesn’t go as planned or something goes wrong, it is an opportunity to learn and to grow. If I ever get the chance to do anything commercial I would love to do collaborations with different brands where I get the chance to explore creatively and make unusual and unique pieces for runways or presentations that could eventually be transformed into commercial products.
In your background, you mention the importance of giving back. How does this charity affect your life and work, especially as it relates to your home in Colombia?
Giving back is one of my top priorities in life. I am so lucky to have everything and everyone I have in my life, and some people don’t have the same access or opportunities that I and many people around me have had. This is something that my parents also engraved into my brother and I when we were growing up: giving back and being humble and kind are the key to success, emotionally and professionally. Being in this industry, where it can get to feel very superficial or materialistic, I like to step away on weekends or whenever I get a chance and give back to people in need. This is something that I hope to focus on in the future. I’ve always dreamt of creating my own organisation to give back, and hopefully, at some point in my career, I’ll be able to do that.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Well, in the very near future, a new collection, and looking ahead, hopefully, more and more conceptual collections and at some point my own organisation to give back. It would be a dream to be able to merge these two somehow. I always want to do more, because I always feel that I can do more and honestly, we all can. I hope to someday be able to inspire people with huge dreams from anywhere around the world. This is only the beginning.
all designs. Vivian Sredni
product development. Maximiliano Acevedo
photography. Javier Asturias
film direction. Samuel Gonzalez
director of photography. Camila Saldarriaga
styling. Juliana Munera
model. Isabela Munoz
hair + make up. Christina Garcia
video editing. Erica Terry