Szymańska is a member of Fashion Systems, a multidisciplinary team formed as part of Slovenia's BIO 50 design biennial. For its contribution to the biennial, Fashion Systems showed Matter Loci x Matter Globalis, a collection of garments and accessories made by Slovenian makers from Jezersko–Solčava wool, a material sheared from a breed of sheep native to the north of the country. With its use of vernacular materials and expertise, the project is a challenge to the international focus of much of the fashion world.
Matter Loci x Matter Globalis consists of 22 pieces (12 garments and 10 accessories) and the project is strongly tied to the overarching ethos of BIO 50. The biennial, which is based in the country's capital Ljubljana, has a distinct focus on local Slovenian communities, with eleven teams (of which Fashion Systems was one) asked to respond to themes resonating with the city's populace. Over a six-month period Fashion Systems, a team made up of more than 20 designers, explored the potential of locally-sourced materials as the basis for a fashion collection, responding to a brief which questioned whether fashion design in Slovenia might be given a local rooting.
In their efforts to source a local material to form the basis of their collection, the designers in Fashion Systems came across Jezersko–Solčava.“It's a beautiful and intriguing material,” says Clara Vankerschaver, a PhD textile researcher at University College Ghent and a member of the Fashion Systems team. "It’s more coarse than merino, but the thickness and ruggedness of the fibre has its own powerful aesthetic qualities. It also appears that there is an active community in Slovenia raising these sheep and promoting this specific breed”.
Yet further research revealed that Jezersko–Solčava sheep are largely bred for their meat in Slovenia, presenting the team with the problem of persuading traditional farmers to reconsider the potential of the sheep’s wool. “From the beginning the biggest challenge was convincing local Slovenian makers to work with wool as they had a very bad perception of the material", says designer and team member Eugenia Morpurgo. "It's not seen as a refined material but as designers we were excited by it – it has very specific qualities and as a result, you can do very specific things with it.”
In line with BIO 50’s focus upon design process, the method used to create each garment in the collection – which contains dresses, jackets, hats and scarves – was documented with a forensic attention to detail. Costs, tools used, people encountered, techniques and exact production times are all recorded on a tag attached to each item of clothing. It is this transparency that the team hopes will encourage wider participation in the project in the future. “The goal is for the project to move from country to country”, explains Morpurgo. “We shall launch an open call inviting not only fashion designers, but also amateurs to experiment with one specific local material, presenting a wearable and documenting the process as they go.”
The collection on display at BIO 50 is not just the result of Fashion Systems own craftsmanship therefore, but also that of the local makers who responded to the open call to work with Slovenian wool. The collection is continuously being added to and the project welcomes a diverse range of techniques and varying interpretations of the material. Wet felting (matting and condensing the wool into felt), nuno felting (a method used to create lightweight felt by bonding wool to a sheer fabric such as silk gauze) and hand sewing are all present in the collection. Some designers have gone further however. Nika Ravnik purposefully damaged the wool in a washing machine and then reconstructed it to create a more rugged texture for her heavily matted jumper.
As a means of documenting these varying interpretations, the project is not limited to the walls of Ljubljana's MAO Gallery, where it is being presented as part of BIO 50. It also lives online, with a website documenting each of the garments and also sharing material samples and a written statement of intent behind the project. “It’s a means to make these projects accessible and comparable," says Morpurgo. "We want to try and inspire the different makers to both follow the processes explored by others and come up with alternative methods to use and source local materials.”