Interview by Katrina Zusevica

Artis Štamgūts is one of the few Latvian fashion designers who has a distinctive style and whose creations have an added artistic value. His colleagues say that his work simply can’t be mistaken for someone else’s. Artis is the designer and the creative director of STATUS BY SHTAMGUTS, his own brand. He is also an assistant professor at the Art Academy of Latvia, in the Fashion Design Department. He has participated in many different art and commercial projects, as well as fashion contests in the Baltic countries and in Russia. We met in Āgenskalns (Riga), in his studio that is full of life, with mannequins and sketches everywhere and music playing in the background. It’s an artistic environment that has a positive vibe. Artis was dressed all in black and was sporting bright blue hair. We chatted about his path to becoming a fashion designer, his place in the Latvian fashion industry and about the need to be daring.

STATUS BY SHTAMGUTS

How did you come to the decision of becoming a fashion designer?

You know, it’s an easy but at the same time difficult question because it all started back when I was in school. Of course, back then (Artis was born in 1981), there wasn’t much information about this kind of field, but intuitively I was interested in clothing. Let’s call it clothing because at the time there was no such thing as fashion as we know it today. Clothing attracted me. Interestingly, my main subjects in high school were maths and IT, however I did frequent an Art School in Dobele too. There, already in year one, I knew that after high school I would go down the fashion road. So, it turned out to be both a conscious and unconscious decision. However, I had the feeling that it is something interesting and that it is what I have to be doing.

When I entered the studio, you told me that you were in the middle of a creative process. Could you explain what is happening with your brand STATUS BY SHTAMGUTS at the moment?

I’m in the middle of a sort of transition period. We have just had the fashion show Modes Manifestācija where we presented the spring/autumn 2018 collection, so now the focus has switched to creating products for shops. 8Rooms in Galerija Rīga, Taste Latvia in the Spice shopping center and of course my online shop STATUSBYSHTAMGUTS.COM. The patterns and prototypes are basically ready and graded. There is just the manufacturing of the product left. A lot of work gets done in my studio and I am the only one to do it, so it’s a continuous process from one thing to the next. Sometimes there are some other orders and projects. In general, my products aren’t made for specific seasons, it’s a non-stop process. My new collection isn’t specific for a season either, that’s why I write spring/autumn 2018. Nowadays, people travel a lot, consequently the climatic conditions don’t play such a big role in consumer habits anymore. A lot of the customers are tourists that come from different places of the world.

Could you describe a typical consumer of your brand?

First of all, they are an open-minded person that has a vast view on the rest of the world. They are daring and they acknowledge themselves as a personality. STATUS BY SHTAMGUTS offers clothing for every day as well as for more special occasions. I draw attention to detail and construction and that requires observing and going deep into things. The name of the brand STATUS BY SHTAMGUTS isn’t stressing the wearer’s status as a wealthy person, it is stressing their consciousness about their status as a person. Everyone who responds to my designs is special. They are people who not only live on this planet but they are people who shape it. History has proven wonderfully that clothing helps people to reach their goals. Clothes show who you are and what you are interested in, or that you are not mainstream. It is a language and people choose to speak it or not. At the moment the stress is more with male clothing but in the new collection there was actually more women’s clothing. So I could say that I’m returning to what I was doing before, I create clothing for both sexes.

What is the message that you want to send with your collections? Does each of the collections have a different one or is the “big concept” the same?

Each collection has its own message. That is maybe the reason why sometimes the people of the fashion industry are puzzled that my collections are so different. One is black, another is very bright and colorful. But that is who I am. I’m interested in these contrasts. The contrasts in society, in people’s looks, also my own personal contrasts. For me, each of the collections…on the one hand I keep learning and challenging myself, on the other hand, I gain something new for myself. Others have noticed that with my collections, I wouldn’t use the word protest, I ask questions. They are not too aggressive, they can’t be dominant over the design otherwise my work would become visual philosophy instead of fashion. These questions are about the limits that people have come up with. They question whether these limits are really essential and important. Each of us is a human, and each of us has the rights to our personal opinion and to setting our own limits. To be honest, there are no limits at all. It’s a kind of stereotype. That is why I give bright colors, unusual shapes and different materials to my customer. So that they can reflect on these questions. Why not? It is just other people who have come up with the rules. In my opinion, anyone has the right to change these rules and to create their own ones, without damaging the rest of society.

Maybe someone has noticed that on my clothing that is sold in shops, on the label there is written MADE ON PLANET EARTH. If legislation allowed, I wouldn’t even write that it is made in Latvia. That is another inconspicuous message. First of all, the only thing of actual importance is the planet and mankind being a united structure without any limits or borders. I am a patriot of the whole planet and sometimes I am truly confused about what is happening around us. The things that people do, for whatever reason, to others and to the planet in general. Second of all, I also think about the future and the fact that there are/will be other planets that can be lived on, and that this clothing is made on planet Earth.

SPRING/AUTUMN 2018. Photo: Bruno Kabucis.

Have you thought about who you would be if you weren’t a fashion designer?

In high school, I chose to study maths and IT. At the time, I was very interested in the world of computers. Probably I could have become a programmer. There was a point, after finishing my studies at the Riga School of Design and Art, when I was thinking of studying architecture and not fashion. From one point of view, fashion and architecture are very similar but buildings are still buildings. In the end, I chose fashion because, from a sketch to the finished product, the road in fashion is so much shorter than in architecture (laughs).

Which of your expectations regarding the profession of a fashion designer have you fulfilled?

Designers/artists are in the world so that others can see their creations, evaluate them and respond to them. In this sense I have been lucky because my work is being used in magazines and online and because it is being purchased in shops. So in answer to your question, it would be the expectation that people are interested in what I am doing and that they need it.

THE SELF-EXPRESSION

You often change the colour of your hair. Green, pink, now blue… Does it depend on your mood? What is the story behind it?

I think it is my way of self-expression. I want to show people that being different is allowed. It is exactly the same thing that I’m trying to say with my collections. I want to tear down the stereotypes. This concept also becomes evident in my visual image. That is very important because, if you don’t stick to your concept and don’t wear your clothes, then why would anyone else want to?! This is why I feel right now that my hair should be in bright colors. At the moment, this feels like my natural hair color.

Sometimes you experiment with your beard too. For example, during the Modes Manifestācija fashion show.

Yes. Last autumn, during the Modes Manifestācija show, I tried something new with my beard. I think it wasn’t too successful though. It was an experiment. I wanted to try it and I did. Now I don’t have a colorful beard anymore.

CREATIVE COLLABORATION

How did your collaboration with the singer Agnese Rakovska start?

It started when I participated in the Riga Fashion week for the first time. Me and my colleague were creating the big show. That same year, Agnese Rakovska was a volunteer backstage. She noticed me and a little while later came to me with a collaboration offer. With her I can be creative with my ideas, so we continue working together. From time to time I create costumes for her to wear to some event or concert. I did her Eurovision costume too. Some liked it, some didn’t, but it’s not important to get everyone to like your work. The costume was without a doubt noticeable. I also created costumes for her and her band for the Supernova contest. It was a process where the costumes got better with every performance. We saw our mistakes and dealt with them for the next time.

Agnese’s stage image is made to perfection, which indicates that there’s a good team behind it.

Yes, definitely. She has a makeup artist, she has someone who is responsible for her hair and for the wigs. The designers change, of course. She doesn’t even need a designer every time. She also has an assistant that is responsible for her clothing. She knows what she wants and then through discussions we get to what we both want (laughs). It is definitely teamwork and the result of lots of discussions. Working with her gives me the opportunity to completely express myself. She is amazingly interesting and open-minded. It is a true pleasure to know her and to work with her.

THE FASHION IN LATVIA

How would you describe your place in the Latvian Fashion industry?

Slowly and steadily I am moving forward. I am doing everything that is necessary for my work to appear in shops. I want my products to be available for the local market regularly. Once a year I create a new collection.

I must say that basically from the moment I started my fashion studies up until today I have been considered as an Avant-Garde fashion designer. It shouldn’t really be a downside but it has become one. That was the reason why already twice I have been declined participation in the Riga Fashion Week, they just don’t see me as appropriate for their format. They see me as too artistic. But I don’t think that that’s the real problem. I’m not actually that Avant-Garde. My work is clothing that is fashionable and that has an added value. I guess not everyone has been given the gift of understanding fashion. This is why it is quite difficult for me to describe my place in the Latvian fashion industry. Not everyone wants me to be part of it, at least from what I have understood. However, I participate in the Modes Manifestācija shows, they do invite me. I want to thank Dita Danosa (the owner of the Taste Latvia shops), who understands fashion and who looks at it not only locally but also globally. I want to thank the stylists and media that appreciate me, too.

Also, for three years now, I have been participating in the Vidzeme Fashion Show, which is a very well organized event that I really enjoy participating in. With my clothing I try, maybe sometimes with some Avant-Garde ideas, to get people to realise that fashion can be very diverse in itself. I want people here to understand that. For several years, I have been participating also in various Lithuanian fashion events.

I remember a certain Latvian TV news coverage of Modes Manifestācija show where you said confidently that everything is great in Latvian fashion. Can you mention some examples of what is great and, since we’re at it, what isn’t?

I’ll start with the positive. When I said that everything is great in Latvian fashion, I was talking about our designers and their ideas. We have a whole lot of great designers, but I want to stress that I’m talking about those that actually have the appropriate education. Also, those who have the appropriate training, like people who have worked in the field since the 1990’s, learning and developing themselves within the field. They are capable of offering design products that are competitive and that are available abroad. Students, participating in the Erasmus exchange programmes, spend time in other unis and are given great feedback, saying that our future designers are creative and gifted. They draw very well. Agnese Narņicka, Dace Bahmane, Indra Salceviča with the RedSalt, Žanete Auziņa, Indra Komarova, I can’t name them all. The fashion that they offer is of a very high standard. This is what I meant when I said that everything is great in Latvian fashion. What is not great, is the lack of understanding. People don’t understand what design is, or what a good design is, or even what a designer is in general. Furthermore, they don’t understand what an artist is, neither do they really understand what fashion is.

On the other hand, people who have a lot of money and want to create a brand, they should understand that they don’t necessarily need to be designers themselves. The result is an artisanal creation if they’re lucky, if not then it’s plagiarism. There are people with the appropriate education. They should be hired instead of trying to create some sort of product on your own. There are quite a few brands that function in this way. I have already talked about one before. There is another one though. They have a positive image but I can tell you that they copy the work of other brands, other designers. In their shows and in their shop I have seen the design of my dress. I have heard that other designers have had similar experiences. Okay, they can function as a company, but their products are not original so they shouldn’t be acknowledged as something special in terms of content. As a business, no problem, but it is absurd to name them the Artist of the Year.

Another problem is the grouping of designers, which the Riga Fashion Week so likes doing. They are now being financed by the State Culture Capital Foundation, so they shouldn’t carry on with the grouping of designers. If the State is financing the event, it should be evident that there isn’t only one type of designers in the whole country. What happens to the rest of the Latvian designers? These are things that are not great at all.

Not only with the eyes of a designer but also those of a professor, how can you describe the new fashion designers? Is there someone who has strong potential?

I can’t talk on behalf of others of course but the students have the right mind-set. They see all the processes that are happening around them, here, in Latvia, and they observe and understand. They don’t want to prove themselves here much, they are interested in abroad. It’s there that their potential will be noticed. This is only my subjective observation. However, thanks to Modes Manifestācija’s section for young designers, there is now a platform that promotes young local designers.

The young future designers are very capable, they see what is happening in the world and they are able to analyze it. Their products and ideas are not only up-to-date but they are created with a look to the future. That is the job of a designer, to offer something that is of interest, not only at the moment but also in the future. They are creative and thinking, so I must say that with our future fashion designers absolutely everything is great (laughs).

Which of your colleagues do you respect the most?

You mean my Latvian colleagues?

Also others.

Probably the first one who grabbed my attention and whose work I started following was [Alexander] McQueen. I guess it’s not a big surprise. Also, I really like the work of Nicolas Ghesquiere. He is the current creative director at Louis Vuitton but I noticed his work when he was still the creative director of Balenciaga. I sense that their ideas and the message that they are trying to send correspond to mine. From the local designers I really like the collections by Agnese Narņicka, Dace Bahmane, Arita Varžinska and Indra Komarova. Also, Indra Salceviča’s male collections were very interesting to watch. Keta Gūtmane and definitely MAREUNROL’S, which is a very creative and strong brand with a very important message. I guess there isn’t just one designer whose work I appreciate and am interested in. There are a few that make me reflect and that have a good message to deliver.

Is fashion part of the culture?

Most certainly. Fashion isn’t just clothing. It is a mirror of society, a mirror of one’s mood, thoughts and feelings. Even if one doesn’t choose screaming clothes, they still have clothes on, so there is still a message. On stage in theatres we see costumes, that is also a part of fashion, therefore fashion makes up a big part of the culture.

Does society understand what fashion is and that it is part of the culture?

I might be wrong. It seems to me that to a great part of society fashion equals entertainment. Fashion shows are regarded as a form of entertainment too. That’s not right. Designers present their work that eventually can be purchased. Even if it isn’t meant for sale, it still isn’t entertainment. It’s work.

In answer to the other part of your question, personally I can say that some of my collections and creative activities have been supported by the State Culture Capital Foundation. They understand that fashion is part of the culture and they recognize our work. The vaster audience still needs explaining to that fashion isn’t just a form of entertainment. Of course, fashion shows are created as shows but they are still presentations of clothing.

THE PUBLIC OPINION

Your Facebook post “the Latvian Design Award just spat in the face of professional Latvian designers when they announced Amoralle as their finalist” created a discussion between professionals. In your opinion, what needs to be changed in the industry to avoid similar mistakes?

First of all, it would be great if media analyzed more of the fashion processes. It needs to be talked about more and professionals need to raise their voices. Who is a designer, who isn’t and why they aren’t. This brand should be a design brand, that one just a product brand. Second of all, the professional designers are not active enough. They need to be much more united and need to talk about these topics way more. Okay, one can click like on some Facebook post or other but being able to stand up for one’s opinion and announce it publically is a whole another thing. At the moment, it seems that people are afraid of something or simply don’t care, or maybe they are too involved in these processes. One could be a stylist, another could be working in a magazine, and you probably shouldn’t criticise your own advertisers… This is why we have designers who don’t express their opinion actively. That’s my personal guess though.

If we are talking about this specific case, Vēsma Kontere McQuillan, one of the members of the jury, commented very actively and, if I may say so, even aggressively, and gave the reasoning behind choosing Amoralle. In reality, she damaged the image of the Latvian Design Award because she showed that she had completely ignored the anonymity that is foreseen by the Regulations. When submitting the description of their work, the authors were not allowed to indicate the name of their brand. Also, the photos had to be anonymous. In the discussion after the event, one of the members of the jury mentioned that the anonymity had been very important. However, Kontere McQuillan in a different interview explained the reasoning behind the positive evaluation of Amoralle “first of all, because it is a brand and a brand has a factory, so there are people working. A brand has an actual shop, packaging design, an online platform and professional design photos. It has a visual communication language. Amoralle functions as a brand”. This shows the violation of the anonymity, as she clearly says that she has taken into account all this extra information that she knew, even though she was supposed to evaluate the specific work, i.e. the Amoralle design photos. And that’s all. Not the fact that they have an online platform. Therefore, I think that she has severely violated the Latvian Design Award Regulations. The same applies to this quote “two jackets from a thesis project isn’t a brand. It isn’t even a design, it’s just proof that the person has been through the study process”. In the Regulations of the Latvian Design Award there is a clause that allows education institutions, together with their students, to enter their thesis projects in the contest, in the appendix mentioning the people involved in the creation process and explaining their roles. The organizers themselves were promoting students’ participation with their two jackets. At no point were the students labelling their work as a brand. All of this tells me that Vēsma Kontere McQuillan wasn’t aware of the Regulations and evaluated the participants based on their subjective likings.

Young designers should definitely have the opportunity to participate in such contests. How else could they become a good designer, if not by going through all these processes, good or bad? After what happened, will designers want to participate in this contest again?

That is the problem. The organizers invited us to participate, stressing that one doesn’t need to submit a whole collection, just some singular work that would be evaluated anonymously. And then one of the loudest members of the jury, after having made her choice, announces that she thinks differently. That she hasn’t followed the Regulations. Maybe the organizers forgot to show the Regulations to the jury?! I hope that in the other design award they will eliminate these mistakes. Whatever they might say and however they might wrap it up, there were mistakes. Let’s look at the bright future though.

Is it bad that the platform of this discussion was Facebook?

I don’t think that there’s anything bad about it, because it’s fast. With my post I reached out to others and they could express their opinion. Okay, I wasn’t present in the discussion that took place in the morning after the award ceremony. I missed it but I have a free choice of which events to go to. However, I was present at other discussion and I mentioned information that came from the official interview, which will be published on the Latvian Design Award homepage, even though it evidentially shows the violations of anonymity. Many will republish that interview, not being aware of the Regulations. People will only see that opinion, and that will become the right one but sadly people who thought differently will remain not understood.

Fashion is a language. Artis Štamgūts proves it, not only through his collections and stage costumes for artists but also through his opinion. If there are two sides involved in a discussion, why do we acknowledge only one side of the story? There are lots of different processes in the fashion industry that are based on an economical platform. This is one of the stories that introduces us to an artist, as well as his view on the processes in the Latvian fashion industry, gained through his extensive professional experience.

STATUS BY SHTAMGUTS “WHITE” SPRING/AUTUMN 2018

Photos: Uldis Vilks.