Interview: Gracia Ventus
A chat with Shanghai based designer and fashion critic Gracia Ventus
Gracia Ventus runs the avant garde fashion archive Rosen-Store and the very influential and deep resource of the The-Rosenrot.com which gives a critical view on contemporary world of fashion.
Sat down with Gracia Ventus to discuss her past, retailing, subcultures, China and more. Read below for insight into her practice, thoughts and more.
Your blog is an excellent resource that has grown deeper, more timeless in style and more elevated over the years. Its fascinating however that even though you are featured in all your posts, there is so little about who you are on the actual site. Would you tell us more about exactly how your started Rosenrot, the store and your background before that?
My fashion journey started when I was working in a fashion magazine. I made The Rosenrot to write about vintage fashion. Though I quit the job to do my degree, I continued collecting vintage pieces in Melbourne because it was a haven for vintage clothes. That was when I started selling a few pieces on the side to make some extra cash. Shortly after I fell in love with Rick Owens who made me see that designer fashion is not just fancy frou frou a la Versace. There’s an element of rebellion and individuality in Rick Owens’s works that I could relate to. The focus of my writing shifted from vintage to conceptual fashion as I started collecting designer pieces. Soon the collection grew too big for my tiny dorm room so I had to let go of a few pieces. Having bought and sold over the years as a hobby I realised that there is a second hand market where curation plays a strong role.
“I’m not an artist, I’m a businesswoman,” Kawakubo says. “Well, maybe an artist businesswoman.”
Where do you see your lens in the fashion world? As a collector, as a retailer, as a consumer, as a critic, as a stylist, as a muse?? How do you see these different lens overlapping?
I am certainly a consumer and collector, sometimes a writer and a harsh critic, and more of an entrepreneur than a retailer. TheRealReal is a retailer, and I’m not sure it’s something I’d like my business to be, at least not for the time being. I’ve created my own universe in which I invite my audience and clients to interact with me and look into my thoughts. I talk about the things I collect, or wish to collect, and sell the things I sincerely believe in, which I’ve probably talked about on the blog.
There is a real contrast that I love between the layered voluminous styling, the high end labels and the dilapidated stagings where you shoot. There is a way you democratize these impossibly avant grade clothing in a way that is refreshing. Its clear that you are an “otaku” of these labels you write about. Are you trying to connect with people like you? To find other “nerds” of these obscure and difficult labels? or are you trying to do something different with your blog, retailing, writing?
I don’t necessarily write to connect, but it has become a wonderful result that I wasn’t expecting when I started. My writing is a declaration of my love (or disdain) for specific topics and labels, and through my reading, research, and collecting, I hope to spread the things I have learnt to my audience.
Talking about dilapidated, messy wabi-sabi backgrounds do you think this is something of having grown up in the tropical Asia?
Possibly. Who knows what my preference will be if I had grown up in Oslo.
Some early photos showed you in a sort of emo/goth style that currently has evolved into something more refined and minimalist but still quirky and wild. Were you subversive or interested in underground cultures growing up or currently? I’m curious having lived in Singapore/Malaysia in these sort of regimes how that might have influenced you? How is being in China changing your attitudes to that?
Before I found fashion my energy was focused on music and competitive sports. I played the drums and listened to mostly angsty music. My choice in clothing was pretty literal in showcasing my music preference. Growing up I had developed a rebellious attitude in which I disliked the mainstream (eg. choosing rowing over football). I’m less snobbish now, but I still prefer ideas that stimulate my thinking process, be it social issues or creativity. Being in China has been an eye-opening experience. Beneath the authoritarian regime and the quest to keep up with the joneses, China is the bubbling pot of creativity with its own distinct flavour; thousands of years of history, ready to be drawn out and reinterpreted for modern times.
I always love going to Tokyo where people actually where Comme De Garçons in the street in comfort in such numbers. You seem to be fully comfortable in your garb and I’m curious how you developed that confidence?
Fake it til you make it. Also strangers care about you way less than you think, which is a comforting thought.
Becoming a retailer is something newer for you and an evolution from your blog. The Rosenrot Store focuses on rare archival pieces from cutting edge brands and i’m curious about your day to day operation? How is it going? I’m curious about your buying and goals?
ROSEN as a standalone web store is fairly new, but the business itself is a few years old. I have been doing the same thing on ebay for a few years years before I shifted to a new platform.
My day to day operation differs from one day to the next. Every morning and evening I read and respond to emails. In between I’m either shooting, editing photos, or listing and organising new stocks for the store. Some other days I’d be writing and shooting for the blog, or crafting newsletters, fulfilling orders and dealing with social media. I’m constantly online and getting involved with various fashion communities and forums. In between I try to slot in time for reading, exercise, and cooking. When my brain shuts down I watch The Simpsons.
My buying process is rather straightforward - bringing beautiful items to people who appreciate them. When I sell something it’s my way of saying, hey this is really nice, I think you’d enjoy wearing it. Of course I have to make sure that there’s a good mix of exciting big ticket items with simpler pieces to match them with.
Retailing online is competitive and challenging, what are you plans with the project? Do you ever imagine doing a physical store or experience?
I would like to bring the joy of second hand shopping and conceptual designs into China. I might do a physical store one day, but probably centred around second hand thrifting rather than specific designer goods. China has produced so much cheap clothing over the years. They shouldn’t be dumped into the landfill as soon as the next exciting thing comes along.
Do you ever see your self designing or evolving into production?
If given the right opportunity to create products I love, I would jump on it, but it has to be a viable business and not a vanity project.
Talking of stores, you travel all over the world, what are some of your favorite stores and why? What do you think of stores that skirt between worlds like Totokaelo and Haven. That carry high brands like Comme, Won Hundred and surf brands like Saturdays Surf? I’m curious of your thoughts on these “buys”?
My favourite store is Dover Street Market, which may have created the blue print for conceptual fashion stores like Totokaelo. I’d say it’s great. I’m much more interested in the vision of the store owners than resorting to a tried and tested merchandising formula.
Some of your critiques are pretty epic and spot on ranging from boring and repetitive “appropriation of subcultures like those of Hedi Slimane” to the “rise of overpriced derivative streetware” or your disinterest in daily micro trends? What are you most excited about now in fashion and least excited about?
Right now I’m very much excited for local Chinese labels. Despite the stigma of Made in China, this country is teeming with talented names who are tapping into the rich history of the country, from textile production to prints and silhouettes. You can find small independent stores selling beautiful garments with artisanal qualities at accessible price points, to home-grown luxury labels like Uma Wang and Zhu Chong Yun who are gaining popularity worldwide.
I think I’m getting tired of Vetements and Gucci. I’m not seeing any evolution from either of them ever since their (re)rise to stardom.
I’m curious how your interactions with different subcultures of Rick Owens, Issey Miyake, Comme and these high end labels differs from say others interest in subcultures of denim, style forum etc. Do you find them at the core same? Are these just like minded collectors sharing baseball cards and stats?
I would say that the basic reasons behind their interests in respective subcultures are similar, which boils down to these few: they are either to do with the design and aesthetic direction of the brands, the elements associated with these labels (eg. prestige, quality etc), or that the person you admire is endorsing them. Or all three. Depending on the labels, the way participants interact with one another would differ. Fans of Japanese masters would be more likely to discuss the concepts and philosophies of fashion, while denim heads would probably talk about fabric and stitching. Visvim fans would probably talk about both, while Saint Laurent fans would probably discuss the best ways to squeeze into their skinnies.
On your blog you wrote in critique of Galliano’s show for Margiela that designers should be more conscious and design with the brand ethos to move forward? Do you still think this? At the end of your critique in contrast to your points you reference a quote that sometimes the redesigns in opposition aesthetically to the past do better financially than original design house. I’m curious what you think of the creative design vs the financial reality sometimes? Has your thinking changed as you become more of a retailer? I ask because as a retailer in a boring city fashion wise, we’ve always had to balance the reality of what people are willing to wear to what we find interesting and forward.
I think both premises you put forth are not mutually exclusive. One can respect a brand’s original vision while evolving to stay relevant in order to generate healthy sales. Raf Simons executed it beautifully for Dior. The struggle to find a balance between commerce and creativity has always existed since pret-a-porter overtook couture. But the dawn of internet has allowed creativity to inch forward as it allows designers to find the people who would appreciate their aesthetics, regardless of their locations.
Recently with PRIDE festivities happening worldwide , i’ve been thinking about your notes on androgyny, hybridity and gender fluidity in fashion. Even in your own styles you flux between traditional male an female garments. Are you conscious in your thinking about gender in your clothing? Do you think this androgyny is moving from a place of accepting more fluid sexuality and preference?
No it’s not something that I consciously take note of when I dress myself on a day to day basis. It was a result of my boredom with conventional beauty and overt sexuality. The current movement in androgyny is certainly more egalitarian than the one we had in the 80s, where only women were adopting men’s dress. Men are now adopting more adventurous silhouettes which were previously relegated only to womenswear. It doesn’t have a direct reflection on someone’s sexuality but there is certainly a strong correlation with a wider acceptance of gender and sexual fluidity in global societies.
I’m curious on your thoughts on the uniform? Do you ever get bored with fashion and think about wearing something like Steve Jobs? A perfect Issey Miyake turtle neck some Levi 501s? Is that why you so attracted to black? to Comme ? Is the timeless, ageless, genderless your uniform?
Humans are funny creatures. Boredom can set in even when they’re surrounded by nice things. I do get bored occasionally and have a few go to uniforms. They are black, yes, because it’s easiest to care for. Black is also a colour that repels and attracts at the same time. My uniform can be a black suit or a black dress, as long as they are roomy and have pockets. Got to have the pockets for my phone and passport whenever I travel. Coincidentally these uniforms are probably timeless and ageless, also genderless on some occasions.
Likewise on gender you’ve written many times about feminism, misogeny, patriarchy, form etc and am curious if you’ve come closer to an answer to your question about how you dress being a “self defense mechanism” or “an internalization” of an ideal? If so how and if not what questions about these do you still have?
You know, I’ve been thinking of these issues less and less over the years. It’s like eating the same breakfast over and over so much so that it’s become routine. The way I present myself is a silent protest against the various -isms still plaguing our world, while at the same time showcasing a different approach to beauty.
Writing from California and looking at your blog your focus is Asia and Europe. Are you interested in the Americas, emerging world styles from Africa, the Americas or else where? Aside from Rick Owens who is now nearly cosmopolitan do you see any thing interesting coming from the United States?
Africa is a region I’ve been keeping my eye on. I can only hope that emerging designers and artisans will be given the opportunities to tap into their own traditional craftsmanship and aesthetics instead of copying Europe’s approach to fashion. I’ve just watched this movie called Lamb which was set in a rural village in Ethiopia. Despite its humble plot, I was entranced by the clothes that they wore, so rich in colours and textures, to the unspoilt mountains portrayed through the cinematography. Though I do not know how accurate the depiction of clothing was, I can see it as a source of inspirations for future designers to come.
Speaking of United States, Thom Browne does fascinate me once in a while. The Row was quite alright for a bit, but the ship for that form of Minimalism has sailed.
If there was one designer you would work under who would it be? and why?
Rick Owens. I love his clothes and he seems like a nice person.
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