The Men's Room

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by Grandin Donovan
Perspective is all about where you stand.
As a woman designing men's clothes, it is no surprise then that Austrian Ute Ploier takes a rather "critical" view on the images and expectations of masculinity that clothing builds, expresses, and deflates. Having just completed her sixth collection, she is preparing for a fourth autumn/winter season that should ground her position as a strong newcomer in a male-dominated field.
A native of Linz, Austria, Ute attended London's Central St. Martin's before entering Vienna's University of Applied Arts, where she studied under Raf Simons, Jean-Charles Castelbajac, and Viktor & Rolf. During university, Ute showed collections in Berlin and Vienna, presented at Lucerne's GWAND fashion show, and received a prestigious scholarship and a local award for her diploma collection, "Noli Me Tangere." In 2003 this collection, which examines the cusp between youth and adulthood, made her the first Austrian to receive the "Prix Hommes" at the Hyères fashion festival in France. Riding this success, Ute presented her debut collection in Paris. "Electrification" conflated the businessman and the DJ, day and night urban commonplaces whose work relies on wiring. Ute has since presented "Pioneers," which combines winter-woodsy Americana with Cold War motifs; "Charming Crooks," a gold-spattered, styled-up Miami Vice summer set; and last winter's more severe "One Man Show," which introduced shoes, jewelry, and accessories. Her latest, "Beautiful Wastelands" conjures post-apocalyptic beachcomber with its rolled-cuff cutoffs, sci-fi tops, low-scooped tanks, and ethno-mashing patchwork prints.
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Refinery29 spoke with Ute recently about crossing the gender line, and just how she makes the "little movie" that is each collection:
How did you get started in menswear?
It started out of some experiments. I work a lot with certain stereotypes and archetypes, and I thought it would be interesting for me, as a woman, to try out menswear. This idea of the male designer who does womenswear is much more common. I wanted to reverse it, because if I question certain clichés in my work, then I have to start with myself. I felt very comfortable doing it because you design from another point of view.
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"One Man Show"—fall/winter 2006 collection
Do you find menswear constraining?
For me, with menswear, it's much more limited actually, but if you do a little push or subtle change the effect you create can be quite striking. In womenswear you can let go in every direction—there are no limits. But in menswear I think there still are, and so it's much more of a challenge to push them. It's much more constructed, and so for me it's interesting to deconstruct it.
Your work is very diverse; what unifies the collections?
I'm very interested in the social background of fashion, and so each collection or each project I do works on a specific theme or on a specific aspect in society, and the designs I do try to reflect that, or turn it around and twist. Of course, I'm interested in craft, and in doing clothes that men look good in, but it's important for me to have this critical aspect to it as well. Also a bit of irony and humor is very important.
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Do these themes guide your collections from the start?
It's something that actually develops with a collection. It can be a small starting point, but in that starting point, it's all there. For me a collection is always a work in progress. It's not all designed in my mind and then I just sit down and realize it. Constantly asking questions.
What about your last collection?
[It] was about savages and civilization, inspired a lot by surrealistic films and photographs, and this conflict between man and animal. It had quite a formal look, but I slipped leather details into it, since leather was one of the first materials used for clothing. Shaving is an act that makes you look civilized, so the jewelry in the collection was made out of razorblades that were blunted and galvanized. We also used the razorblade motif for the knitwear.
...and your latest?
The story is journey through beautiful wastelands. It's American-inspired by movies like Arizona Dream. It's about someone who travels through a deserted landscape, so the whole atmosphere is open space and horizon. It's about the things—the treasures and trash—this person finds along the way.
Ute Ploier is available at Concept 10 in London; www.uteploier.com
Austrian designer Ute Ploier gives menswear a new point of view.
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