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Dossier in Conversation with Tina Kalivas

Polyrhythms, 2009

Ethno-geometry, refined-psychedelia… An attempt to describe Tina Kalivas’ aesthetic often ends up a contradiction of terms. Perhaps the most straightforward route is to call the Greek-born, Australian-based fashion designer a master of prints. For four years and counting, the former Alexander McQueen intern has been developing dynamic patterns for her eponymous line. We quizzed her about her inspirations, aspirations and, of course, McQueen.

Randi Bergman: How did you begin designing?

Tina Kalivas: My mum made a lot of mine and my sisters’ clothes, and I watched and got involved. I took my first patternmaking class when I was 14. I was taught by an incredible Italian old lady who was stuck in the ’50s and taught us with a tailored iron fist. At the time I thought it was really boring, but now I know how valuable that experience was, especially at such a young age. It was a great preliminary introduction prior to fashion college, which I started at 17. As soon as I finished my course, I naively moved to London and got a job working at a costume house called Angels and Bermans.

Randi: What do you take away from working with someone like McQueen?

Tina: Mainly learning how things operate in a fashion house as prestigious as McQueen. I loved the McQueen aesthetic. The theatrics, the craziness, the attitude… Working there was like a fashion version of extreme sport. Nothing was done by halves. I feel so happy to have constructed some very exciting McQueen show pieces and Alexander really had such an incredible imagination.

Randi: I can tell that you worked in film. Your collections always have a story to tell. Do you do this on purpose?

Tina: I get bored if I don’t have a story. The world has so many stories to tell. I am also a costume designer, so I like to design around a purpose. Working with a character brief and doing costumes is great, but the exciting thing about fashion is creating your own story.

Randi: Do you feel particularly Australian as a designer?

Tina: Not really. My style was solidified in London, I spent a lot of time in Tokyo, I travel a lot and I am relocating again this year. I just feel like I am a person in this world who is attracted to many different cultures and all walks of life. This is why ethnicity is always a theme throughout my work. My parents are both Greek and I grew up speaking Greek at home, so I tend to identify with all sorts of cultures.

Randi: What interested you about tarot cards in your S/S09 collection? What were your inspirations for your latest collection?

Tina: I met a fortune teller who really blew my mind and made me think deeply about what is out there. I used to be obsessed with those books—as a kid—where you would have to chose a different path when you got to a certain point in the book, with each ending different. Destiny is fascinating, whether it’s written or whether you create it, or whether it’s a bit of both…

This season I have gone mad over African geometry. African social structure depends on geometry—from the lay out of the villages, which are commonly designed in fractals, to music, to religion, to their understanding of the universe. Indigenous tribes are so in touch with their existence and spirituality in contrast to Western culture and how we come to know things.

Randi: Your prints and pleats are so intensely methodical, especially in this latest collection. You must use geometry on a daily basis… How do you do it?

Tina: My brain is rather messy. My thoughts are always fighting for attention and sometimes I feel cluttered…. Working with shapes and forms and geometry is a way of bringing peace into my life. I design something which lines up geometrically, fits together perfectly, looks clean and simple, yet technical, and it’s bliss for me, like therapy. Somehow it creates a sense of clarity.

Randi: What inspires you the most?

Tina: Nature, culture, diversity, the universe, the future, animals, the ancient world, space travel, science fiction movies, psychedelic music, the ocean, the possibility of life on other planets, dreaming, early couturiers like Paul Poiret, costume designers like Leon Bakst for Diaghilev, geometry and color.

Randi: What are you thinking for next season?

Tina: Next season I am thinking about spirits. Not gin and tonic, vodka and soda-type spirits, spirits in the sky from a beautiful civilization soon to be revealed…

Fortune, 2009

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