Klaudia Stavreva is a Macedonian/German fashion designer with a distinct vision on femininity. She is inspired by strong women from her direct environment and culture. Stavreva taps into sexuality and genderbending that she transfroems into textile rage.
In your collections you always have a strong opinion about representation of femininity. Where does this come from?
I think it’s because two different perspectives from cultures I grew up in. There’s a Western perspective because I was born in Western Germany and my origin is Macedonia, so Eastern European. There came a moment when I realized that my mom always dressed in a different way when we went on holiday. When she went to Macedonia she had a different wardrobe. She had special dresses that she wouldn’t dear to wear in Germany, but she would wear them in Macedonia. Then I became interested in the reasons why it is ok to dress like that there but not here. Then I started to become interested in femininity. While on holiday in Macedonia I was also impressed by the way that women their dress, their body language, attitude and self confidence they had. It was quite different from how women in Germany were. So, during my studies I did a lot of research in this direction to grasp the difference.
How does your Macedonian background influence your concept of femininity?
Actually, the first thing that I notice when I go on holiday to Macedonia is that no matter what kind of body you have, if you’re big, you are very feminine and sexy. I have a friend who’s pretty big, maybe size 46, we used to go out and she always wore these skinny tight dresses, mini skirts and heels, and she felt beautiful. She is beautiful; she is one of my most beautiful friends. In Europe for instance of course bigger girls dress sexy but if you would go out here and you’d see a big girl dressed in a short skirt, you would judge. You would look at her and you would say “How can she dare to wear a mini skirt like this?” People would talk and would say “She’s slut”, that “She looks cheap”, of “How can she show so much body?” In Macedonia you would not hear this. Everyone would look at her and if she is beautiful and she feels and moved beautiful, and is confident about her own body, nobody would speak of her negatively. Of course, we also have that in Macedonia, but it’s not like here. In Macedonia you would not get easily judged if you’re dressed sexy.
Your collection The Laugh of The Medusa shares the title with an article by French feminist Hélène Cixous. Were you influenced by her theory?
Yeah, and the reason is that my work was very much related to The Laugh of the Medusa. In the beginning I actually couldn’t identify myself as a feminist because I had this wrong picture of feminists, like they are butches and anti men. That was not the kind of feminism for me or the direction I wanted to go. In Cixous I found links and connections that it’s very much about female sexuality, your own body and how you respond to it. That’s why I decided to call my collection The Laugh of the Medusa. But I never went deep into feminist theories.
What was your inspiration for that collection?
The inspiration came from a personal experience. I was living in Paris for my internship at Margiela and I forgot to do the laundry, so all my clothes were dirty, and I just had one pair of leggings that were ripped at the crotch. I didn’t throw them away because I didn’t have much money at this time. I would actually wear them when I sleep. However, I didn’t have anything to wear that day and I decided to wear these leggings with a black simple skirt so that nobody would see the hole between my legs. On my way to work I felt this light breath of air under my skirt on the naked parts of my body and it felt so empowering. Also, because it was a public space, and nobody could see what’s happening underneath. This experience really boosted my awareness about my feminine sexuality and the effect lasted the whole day. From the outside I looked very boring, simple, cheap, and normal, just a boring shell, but what was happening from the inside gave me so much confidence the whole day. That experience captured what I was looking for in my work and what I was trying to create.
How did it translate into the clothing that you made for this collection?
It had to be something from the inside, something secret that is not visible from the outside. I always had an obsession with details inside of garments and finishing’s so for this collection I was focussing on the layer directly to the skin. The inside layer, the lining, the finishing’s, the closures, everything was literally close to the skin. I was looking into how I can get as close to the body as possible and how can I integrate this stimulation into the garment. I worked with inner constructions, with ribbons, with beadings. For instance, there was a bustier with lining that had a cut on the inside that was beaded with embroidery and strings on the inside, and if you would put the bustier on from the outside it’s just a bustier but inside your breasts would go inside the beaded lining and the nipples would get stimulated. So, it’s like secretly playing with your nipples.
You called one of your next collections Bande de Bitches. Why did you claim a derogatory term?
I think that I can say that. I can say bitch to someone because I am a woman. It’s different than if a man would say that. I’m claiming it. I can also say bitch to a guy if I want to. I think I just take it back and change the meaning. Not that it makes it ok for me to use it, but I want to reclaim it. If you make it an insult for women, I’m the one that has the right to take it and change the connotation to something positive. We used to call our friends group in Paris, Bande de Bitches, that wasn’t an insult but a connecting identity. We removed the idea of it being an insult.
So how did the topic of female bonding influence that collection?
Very much. For instance, the model casting. I casted only friends. I looked around in my friend’s circle and I was looking for the women that I want to represent as a gang. So, there was an outgoing type, a singer and songwriter, then there was this hypersexual girl with really big boobs and a big ass, she had this really dreamy sex body with perfect proportions and small waist. So, I had to choose from all these pictures and ideas, maybe stereotypes, and when I formed the models, that was my Bande de Bitches. They all needed to have a certain attitude.
Your latest collection is called BOSS Stavreva. What is in a name?
It’s the inscription of a real boss lady. It was actually led by intuition. I started with a mood board with a lot of sexual images on it, including lingerie, beads, because I still had this idea of stimulation, which was my thing. So, there was a lot of lingerie, feminine sexuality, masculine female, and a lot of kitsch. So, I needed to limit myself and it was really difficult to eventually choose five pictures. There was the word BOSS, another one was a photograph of a sworn virgin from the photo series about the sworn virgins of Albania. It is kind of a secret rule in Albania when there are not enough men in the family that parents can raise a girl to live as a man. So, she cuts her hair, dresses like a man, acts like a man, can smoke and drink in public, it’s all fine. But she must pay a price of course. She has to vow that she would never get married or build a family. So, it’s a high price to pay. In the interviews with the sworn virgins they didn’t regret the decision. They were really standing behind it and were proud. They are also highly respected in their society. One of them said “I never wanted what my friends wanted, to build a family.” I think that’s pretty cool, living in a traditional society like that and finding this loop hole to sneak out of oppression and live like a man. So that was quite bossy. Through the word BOSS and the sworn virgins, I came up with this concept of boss lady.
Why did you choose to explore cross dressing in this collection?
This theme came up through my research into the sworn virgins of Albania. I recalled cross dressing movies with me and my sister when we were teenagers. My parents had a restaurant in the 90s and we were mostly home alone in the evenings. During that time, we really enjoyed discovering the wardrobe of our parents. We would dress up in their clothes already when we were 5 or 6 years old. Sometimes we dressed in our mom’s dresses and sometimes we’d dress in our dad’s suits and he was only wearing BOSS suits. Since I was a baby my dad always filmed everything, so I grow up with making movies of ourselves. We though it’s funny to dress up like men and film ourselves to watch later, so that’s what we did. It was kind of amusement or a habit or a hobby. We dressed in these big BOSS suits of our dad. I think we were 15, the first time we did it at 12 and we did it until 17 or something.
What did you do when you dressed up as men?
Through the restaurant we had and the gambling hall in the house we lived in, there were always all these strangers coming, like Turkish, Arabic, Albanic, Eastern European men playing poker and whatever. Also, when we went to the discotheque, we used to go out quit early since 12 or 13 with my sister, there were always these strange men with long wet-look hair dressed in suits and weird pointy shoes. We kind of try to mimic them. We were thinking about who we want to be, so my sister wanted to be an Arabic guy, she was Mustafa, or a Turkish guy, and I wanted to be another stranger. So, we painted with mascara mono-brows, breast hair and beards. We pretended to be these men and we played romantic songs, Italian or R&B. We just pretended how they would act in the disco or do these cliché romantic things with a rose. We made up stories and used to film it like a movie.
During the show you dressed the models together with your sister and send them onto the catwalk with a slap on the butt. What were you trying to say with this gesture?
That is also something that is connected to my research of reclaiming things. Of course, it’s questioning humiliation a little bit and being bossy, being the boss. There’s also a sexual connotation and I’m questioning is it ok or not to slap someone. I go crazy when someone slaps me on my butt. It happened recently actually with a guy and I told him “I’m going to kill you if you do it again” and now he’s fucking in love with me. I know since two days, he told me. But yeah, it’s kind of provoking and looking for when is it ok. It’s part of all these little things that I want to tell in my story and are important to somehow include. To me it made sense that I dress them and when they are ready they get a little slap. Some like it some don’t.
Why did you decide to do a performance?
My keyword was go crazy, because I’m still studying. Actually, it was the advice of my boss in Paris, that when I graduate I should go crazy and I should do whatever I want because once I have a job at a company I will get restrictions. The key word was also, not boring. I wanted to evoke emotions and also intimidate a little bit because my collection is inspired by a quit dramatic theme; sworn virgins, inside a woman, outside a man, pretending, acting, giving this vow. So, I needed something heavy, light, and vulnerable. I dressed the models, so I could also undress them and turn the garments inside out to show the inside finishing’s. Than I thrown everything in a pile and I showed the movie of me and my sister cross dressing. I wanted this surrealistic kind of feeling and took my sister out of the movie. So, we were standing there both with black hair like we had in the movie. I really wanted to create an experience that combined my background, my childhood and my work.
Do you consider yourself a performance artist?
First, I never thought about this that much, but performance and filming are always a big part of my design research that I never shown but put on the side for myself. I never really presented it as part of my work. During my bachelor I became aware of what I do when I’m alone, like with the selfie shootings. When advisors and other professionals saw this, they thought it was interesting and did not understand why I’m hiding this part of my work. So then during the master I started to take these elements and use it in my work. I think also to express emotions.
You collaborated together with your sister and you previously used her as a model. How does collaborating influence your work?
My sister is of course my muse. I only planned to use her for my first master collection, Anti DNA, because I was looking for a person who would represent that collection best. I chose my sister because to me she is the ultimate prototype of a person. She is so pure and has a strong character. At the same time, she is very sensible and a real boss. She has her own rules. For instance, there was a time when she was a kid and decided to not speak. She was only speaking to me, our mom and our dad. At school she absolutely ignored everyone for a year. Nobody could get a word out of her mouth. She’s just weird but so pure and honest. That made her the perfect person for me to represent my first collection. The second time she somehow also ends up fitting into my collection and this time she is the main figure. She inspires me a lot and I think she also keeps me down to earth. As kids she was introvert and I was extrovert but in reality, I’m the vulnerable and hyper sensitive one and she is the tough one. It appears different by it’s not.
Would you call yourself a feminist?
I am obviously feministic driven, but I am more a creator of female. I never really had an issue with gender. To me female is also masculine. I don’t want to question gender issues, because for me it doesn’t matter if you’re feminine or masculine, it’s just human. In my work I definitely try to provide a female point of view and I want women to feel confident about their body, but I also want men to feel comfortable. I am a feminist but I’m also not. You know what I mean? I do think that I’m a feminist but with my very own understanding; maybe I create my own wave of feminism.
What is feminism for you?
I think I’m feminist because I’m making women’s wear collections, but the reality is that it’s about expressing yourself no matter if you’re a woman or a man. That you are respected, and nobody judges you. Of course, I’m for equality and jobs and money, there is no question. But these are old issues. So, to me it’s more about emotions and body positivity, how you feel about yourself. Because I believe that if you’re in balance with yourself and your own body that you can achieve everything, and I can help that, to boost women.
Did you have a moment when you realised that you are a feminist?
The moment I started to fight against the word. I don’t know why but I never like when someone puts a stamp on me. When you say I’m this, I’m going to do everything to prove you wrong. I’m so complex as a woman. I can be this and I can be that. Maybe that’s also why I like to put myself in other people’s skin. I love to act. A woman is not just this or that. Female is not just this or that. It’s open, it’s complex, and can be everything.