ODE TO A is a new London based design label founded by brand manager Noëlle Maxine Tierie and designer Sabrina Kraus López. The idea behind the label took shape after Sabrina travelled to Peru to learn from and work with the remote weaving community of Patacancha. Upon her return to London, Sabrina met Noëlle and started working on ODE TO A’s concept.
ODE TO A aims to collaborate with artisan communities from across the globe to create limited edition collection that showcase long-practised skills in sleek modern designs, creating a new aesthetic and value in traditional craft.
We got in touch with ODE TO A’s founders to find out more about their label. Read the interview after the photos and support their Kickstarter campaign.
Photos by Jess Maddock and Sarah Blais
Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your backgrounds.
Sabrina: I was raised in Geneva Switzerland but originally from Colombian/ US parents, at a young age I discovered my passion for textiles and the fashion industry. After high school I moved to Milan Italy to study my BA in fashion design. Intrigued by something more meaningful and with an emphasis on textiles I move to London to pursue my master’s degree in Textile Futures (now named Material Futures) at Central Saint Martins. Combining research led design and my fascination for craft I worked with a remote Peruvian weaving community for my final MA project before undertaking the Common Thread residency in Morocco commissioned by the British Council.
Noëlle: I was born and raised in the Netherlands, where I quickly fell in love with Amsterdam. After four years of exploring and studying in this dynamic city I wanted to do something for myself, explore more who I am and what my passion was within the fashion industry, so I decided to move to Florence. Which was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made, who doesn’t want to live in a city which feels like one big museum, full with hidden gems and crafts all around you?
During that year, while studying a Fashion Brand Management Master at Polimoda, I discovered my love for craft, cultures and communication. There it was, I found my passion within the fashion industry, recently found but a wonderful discovery. With a hunger for new adventures and with new inspiration, I moved to London.
What made you start Ode to A?
Sabrina: I had recently finished my MA and had just returned from my British Council residency in Morocco where over a one-month period I worked with six artisans to create the Common Thread collection, a series of bespoke hand woven rugs inspired by the Berber’s heritage, surroundings and personal stories. It was end of September after LDF excitement and it was time for me to find a job if I wanted to stay in London! Fortunately Noelle had rented out my room in London while I was in Morocco and we had met when I came back. We had both had unfulfilling experiences working for fashion brands and were looking for something more meaningful. Both fascinated by craftsmanship, traditions and how collaboration could be a tool to revive these, we decided to join forces to create a brand that would celebrate just this!
Noëlle: After interning at several fashion brands I discovered that I wanted to do something, which I am truly passionate about. When I met Sabrina and when I heard about the amazing projects that she had been working on so far, I was immediately super enthusiastic. The blend of modern and contemporary design with traditional craft, sounded so perfect. Shortly after we met, we had a brainstorm in a Vietnamese restaurant in Shoreditch where we decided to create a platform together for this concept, ODE TO A.
Tell us more about your collaboration process with artisan communities. How do you choose them and start the process?
Sabrina: All craft communities around the globe have a very powerful tool that is a specific skill that has been passed from generation to generation. These craft skills are embedded into the communities traditions and are a way of preserving their culture. Unfortunately most of these remote communities are having difficulties competing with mass produced products and the possibility of selling to a broader market. This due to various reasons, one of them being how remote the communities are from strategic selling areas and secondly the gap between craft and design. There is a beauty in every craft that comes with heritage and culture, we search for communities that are interested in doing a series of workshops with us that will enable them to merge design and craft to create limited edition collections. We aim to live with the communities for a certain period of time to understand their culture and the richness of their craft. It is important that the culture of the community is preserved in the new designs, but that instead of telling stories of their ancestors it tells stories of the people who craft them at present. It is not about being nostalgic about the past, but more about keeping the primal essence from the past to be able to make it last into the far future.
Noëlle: I believe that we are born with the need to craft, shape and create. Unfortunately this is most of the time only expressed while being young, when you still draw or create shapes with modelling clay. What is so special about these craft communities, for them, mastering a craft is stimulated and developed from when they were very young and that is how the skills pass on to the new generations. These special techniques and traditions unfortunately stay unseen or not heard of. This because crafts are mostly practised and mastered within a closed community.
So, the skills and the story are already there, what we do is that we explore and try to reach out to these communities. Once we’ve come across such a community we explore and try to understand their culture and values. Meanwhile we collaborate with these artisans to create a unique collection that celebrates their traditions. These products are a blend of traditional and contemporary design, which creates a new place in the western world for craftsmanship.
You have already worked on an accessories and rugs collections, what’s next?
Sabrina: This is probably the most exciting part! There are endless possibilities to what is next and this is what drives us every day! We are currently still working with the community of Patacancha in Peru and still in contact with the Amazigh artisans in Morocco. It is important to us that we keep working with communities for at least two collections, in the hopes that they can after that design their own contemporary textiles independently! We have a few new contacts in different parts of the world, it is surprising how the younger generations are not picking up and are not interested in keeping their craft alive. I believe it is only possible to make a change by demonstrating to the communities that their traditions and skills do have a value in todays world!
Noëlle: The last months have been very busy, and we have met a lot of new interesting people. For example Sabrina went to the Chiang Mai Design week in December and she opened our network met so many wonderful and skilled people and that combined with the network that we’ve build up over the last few years, make a lot of interesting contacts. For now we are concentrated on succeeding with our Kickstarter campaign and after that we can focus more on the future. But we are very openminded with collaborations and there are still so many crafts to explore, so it will definitely be exciting !
What are Ode to A’s plans in 2015?
Sabrina & Noelle: We currently very busy with our Kickstarter campaign and doing everything we can to make it a successful one! This will enable us to produce our first limited edition collection with the weavers in Patacancha and start designing our new collection with them for A/W 2015. We also have a few very exciting collaborations that we are brainstorming about for the near future!