In Conversation with fashion designer Alicja Czarnecka

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I met Alicja over a decade ago. As far as I could remember, she was an open minded, determined and passionate individual. So when I heard that she has started her own fashion line, I said to myself – I have to have a chat with this young lady about her fashion line, called DRESSI. Within a year Alicja has become a very successful clothes designer. She has appeared in prestigious Polish magazines such as Gala and Newsweek and on a well known Polish TV channel TVN. She also had her first catwalk organised in the capital of Poland, Warsaw, which is seen as the heart of Polish fashion. She is a mother to two wonderful little girls. I can’t imagine how she manages to combine both jobs! Full time mum and a designer, impressive if you asked me.

View of the Arts: First of all, could you tell me how DRESSI was founded and what was behind the project?

Alicja: I launched DRESSI to show that casual style can be combined with an elegant one. I have always enjoyed mixing these two styles, it’s comfortable and convenient for me as a mother. I remember I stood in front of my closet, full of clothes, however, I came to the conclusion that I did not have anything useful to wear. Nothing that would fit well and be comfortable at the same time. And then I wondered what I would like to wear that would make me feel great and fashionable so I came up with DRESSI.

View of the Arts: What inspires you when you design skirts, dresses and jackets?

Alicja: My main inspirations are European celebrities who show off their fashion style at big commercial events. By observing them, I think of my customers and how I would like them to look unusual and stunning. I want their style to have something of a stars’ elegance.

View of the Arts: Do you think you ought to have a formal education, e.g. a diploma from a fashion school, to design clothes?

Alicja: I do not think it’s necessary, I am the perfect example! However, I believe, at least in my case, that you should listen, take advice and suggestions from those who are professional in their field e.g. seamstress and other designers. You have to learn how to analyse each and every piece of advice that is given to you.

View of the Arts: What is so special about being a fashion designer?

Alicja: The nicest feeling of being a fashion designer is that when I see my lovely customers in my designed clothes my heart beats faster with an excitement. Also, satisfied customers make my work easier and more pleasant.

View of the Arts: Running your own fashion line must be hard. It involves primarily design, manufacture, sales, finance and advertising. Which of these five aspects, according to you, is the hardest to achieve?

Alicja: I can not really say which of these factors are harder to achieve. Each aspect is important and difficult, all you need to do is to plan and implement it consistently in your fashion line. You have to take each step into consideration very carefully if you want your company to prosper perfectly.

View of the Arts: Do you think that women have started to dominate the fashion world?

Alicja: I am not sure about that to be honest with you. It would depend on the country you live in. Eastern Europe has changed drastically in 1990s. We have opportunities to become someone big in the fashion world dominated by men. Now, in the 21st century, we are more independent and creative. Which definitely allows us to do significant things in our lives.

View of the Arts: In addition to DRESSI, you are also busy raising your two wonderful daughters. Tell me how do you cope? Is it all possible, being a designer and full time mum?

Alicja: This is probably the most difficult aspect of running the business, I must admit that it is really difficult to reconcile the responsibilities of running DRESSI and being mum to my lively little girls. Nevertheless, I always find strength, thanks to it my dreams are coming true.

I, personally, found Alicja’s designs super comfortable. I have a coat, which is wonderful and beautifully sewed. And it is the most cozy and fashionable thing in my huge wardrobe! Please do not ask me what else I have got in it. Have a look at Alicja’s website. It is in Polish, however, it can be easily translated into English by using Google translator. It is worth visiting!

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Roxy Simons

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Pictures courtesy of Alicja Czarnecka, http://www.dressi.pl and Newsweek

In Conversation with Vicki Psarias

Gilbert Adler,Producer ‘Superman Returns’,’Valkyrie’ once said:”Vicki’s a great director, drawing superb performances from her actors- a real talent to watch”.And sure she is a very talented young filmmaker.Her shorts won critical acclaim at international film festivals including prestigious Channel 4- 4 Talent Award in 2007 for the Best Filmmaker.I was very happy when Vicki Psarias agreed to answer few of my questions.

Maggie: You once said “My Dad, who was my cameraman, shot films for me with a VHS camera I begged him to hire”. Was this the main reason why you have become a filmmaker?

Vicki Psarias: From a young age, I did used to beg my Dad to hire VHS cameras-I think I really got a taste for filmmaking at 11 when my parents appeared on several episodes of BBC2’s Food and Drink.; The director really got me involved with the outside broadcasts and I loved everything about the shoots-it was such a dynamic, creative environment to be in. I used to shoot my own films whenever I could after that-they’re hysterical to watch now and pretty accomplished for my age which surprises me!

Maggie: You directed two amazing shorts ‘Rifts’ (2004),which was awarded for the Best Screenplay at the Portobello Film Festival and ‘Broken’ which was awarded by Channel 4 with the 4 Talent Award 2007 for the Best Filmmaker. I could actually recite all the awards that Broken received; however, I would need a half of a century for that. My question is: what inspired you to make ‘Broken’?

Vicki Psarias: Thank you, Rifts and Broken did pretty well on the festival circuit taking me all over the world and both are inspired by my British Cypriot community. Broken in particular tells the story of my mother arriving in the UK aged 12 so is somewhat of a family archive as much as a piece of drama. Rifts was my MA film made aged 22, and is about warring kebab shop owners-it’s currently being developed for TV.

Maggie: Apart from directing films, you are also involved in making commercials/ promos and music videos, which one is more exciting or easier to make?

Vicki Psarias: These tend me be quicker shoots and often bigger budgets. A lot of my drama work has taken a long time to finance especially as it’s indie filmmaking and for certain shorts like Broken I wanted to shoot on 35mm as it was a period piece so the budget had to accommodate that. There are pros and cons to everything-I love the fact you can push boundaries with music videos and have greater freedom. I have made quite a few social documentaries about children too and that responsibility to your subject/s makes the project not only a challenge but pretty moving too.

Maggie: Is there any other filmmaker that has or had an influence on your work?

Vicki Psarias: Too many to mention. I worked for Redbus (now Lionsgate UK) straight after my MA aged 22 and they were producing and distributing Bend it Like Beckham. I remember Gurinder Chadha being a huge role model for me-she was making commercial British ethnic films people wanted to see. Of course everyone from Scorcese to Andrea Arnold have inspired me.

Maggie: How do you generate new ideas?

Vicki Psarias: Usually just before I sleep, I can be found scribbling notes onto a pad by my bed. I think I take a lot of inspiration from my Big Fat Greek Family who are naturally very entertaining! I do believe though, the more you write, the more you write.

Maggie: London or Leeds? Which of these cities give more opportunities to the filmmakers?

Vicki Psarias: That’s a hard one as I moved to Leeds fairly established and I work in both cities. I write from home in Leeds and that’s the beauty of writing-you can do it anywhere. I think the fact the BBC have moved to Media City in Salford is great for the North and will bring with it many opportunities. I still work a lot in London though too, my directing work is still fairly London centric.

Maggie:What three pieces of advice would you give to mums who are filmmakers and struggle to cope with both. Is there any way of combining these two: being a mum and being a filmmaker?

Vicki Psarias: Of course. I never wanted to sacrifice having kids for my career and strongly feel you can juggle both. I have a lot of help from my family and childcare. Many women do it and more female writer/directors should feel confident to do so. It is tricky I know, especially tv directors who are on set constantly but my child is my life. I think having Oliver has made me a stronger director in every way from working with actors, drawing performances to my endurance on set. Not sleeping for a year makes you feel you can do anything!

Maggie: How does it feel to be a female filmmaker in the film industry? We all know that the industry is  pretty much dominated by men?

Vicki Psarias: Things are slowly improving- and I tend not to think in terms of gender to be honest. I disagree with positive discrimination-put my film in Cannes because you love it, not because there are not enough women competing. I think directing is so well suited to creative women-we can juggle so many balls at one time, constantly putting out fires and remaining dedicated to our vision. I really hope things will change.

Maggie: Are you working on any new projects at the moment?

Vicki Psarias: I always am-currently developing a tv project as well as this minute editing a promo which features some remarkable women including Ruby Wax and Sarah Brown. There’s always something bubbling away…

Vicki Psarias’ showreel
You can follow Vicki Psarias on  Twitter

Interviewed by Maggie Gogler

Posters by Vanessa Scott-Thompson

VICKI PSARIAS

***Winner of the Entertainment, Media and the Arts Category for the 2011 World Spread’s Square Mile 30 under 30 London Talent Awards in association with CNN***

***Listed in the Observer’s Courvoisier The Future 500 for outstanding individuals***

***WINNER Hellenic Foundation’s Art Award 2009 for exceptional merit in filmmaking***

***Highly Commended at the Red Magazine Red’s Hot Women Awards in association with Calvin Klein in the Creative Category 2009***.

**CHANNEL 4 4TALENT AWARDS 2007-Winner Best Filmmaker, hailed by the channel as ‘a future creative hero’ and ‘one to watch’ **

Picture of Vicki Psarias courtesy of Peter Broadbent

In Conversation with jewellery artist: Manolo

 

 

It was a lovely and pleasant day for an interview with an amazing and talented artist Manolo (Manolo’s real name is Marta Chojnacka). We met at the Tate Modern Art Gallery and decided to chill out on a balcony with a stunning view over the Thames River. It’s always been my pleasure to interview artists. I find them extremely fascinating and interesting. Their way of thinking seems to be coming from a place that is unknown to us.

I’ve first met Manolo at the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre. I was blown away by her creativity and talent.After the festival I was keen on talking to Manolo again and asking her few questions regarding her art work. Marta received MA in Painting and Drawing from University of Warmia and Mazury in Poland. She currently lives in London where she works and creates her amazing jewellery.

Maggie: Marta tell me all about your art work, when did you start and what was behind your inspiration?

Manolo: I’ve started few years ago after discovering a very interesting method called laser cut. I’ve been making jewellery using my own drawings as a template for the laser cut. I was always fascinated and inspired by Pedro Almodovar’s ( Spanish film director) female characters. In my view his women represent a complete picture of the female; a woman full of drama,gossiping and drinking red wine.They are real and truthful to what and who they are.I’m also inspired by a French painter and illustrator Henrie de Toulouse-Lautrec. He was masterly at capturing crowd scene in which the figures,especially females, were highly individualized.

Maggie: Why did you choose the name Manolo?

Manolo: It’s simple name, I wanted a memorable one. The name that would stay in people’s mind for awhile.

Maggie: What is so special about your little creations?

Manolo: I love making females and males characters. Each and every piece has its own story to tell, for example: Francesca -gold and walnut brooch;her father was a diamond and gold mining entrepreneur. She likes luxury,truffles and champagne.My customers like to identify themselves with jewellery they are interested in purchasing.As far as I’m concerned they are satisfied with brooches they have bought.

Francesca

Maggie: Apart from making brooches you have been keen on creating earring and necklaces.

Manolo: Yes, I have got customers who are not only interested in buying brooches but also in having different type of jewellery such as earrings or necklaces.Ladies seem to like it.I am really grateful for their positive feedback and encouragement.

Maggie: You are a professional painter, have you ever considered a career as the painter?

Manolo: Yes, one day for sure. It’s my passion so it will never go away. I am very much into making my jewellery at the moment.

Maggie: I wish you all the best and looking forward to your new collection.

Manolo: Thank you very much it should be out soon.

If you wanted to see all of Manolo’s collection take a look at her website, or find her work on etsy, Urban Designs or Vanilla Ink Studios.

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler, lead blogger for View of the Arts.

Interview with writer and performer Sabrina Mahfouz

Sabrina Mahfouz

Sabrina Mahfouz

Dry Ice got great reviews in Edinburgh, tell us about the piece.
Dry Ice is my first piece of work which combines a rapid-fire poetry style with my love of theatre. It follows Nina, who is a stripper, through an evening of getting ready at home; telling dinner party stories and finally, going to work.

Is it political?
Yes. I think everything is political. Women choosing to take their clothes off for money; the increasing sexualisation of society and the exponential increase in strip clubs since the first ‘official’ UK one opened in 1995, is no exception.

Where did the inspiration come from?
I worked as a waitress in stripclubs for 5 years and I wrote lots of poems about that time, which eventually formed the beginnings of the show. I wanted to question the statement ‘it’s a free choice’ and explore the roles women are given in our society. As well as just make a fun show that put accessible poetry at the heart of it.

What are the myths about the sex industry?
That stripping isn’t part of it. That stripclubs somehow belong to the genre of ‘nightlife’ rather than ‘sex industry’. Even legally, it is still at a council’s discretion as to whether they are classed as ‘sex entertainment venues’ or just as a regular bar or cafe.

Where are you on the Pussycat Dolls?
I mention then in the play! As a reference to the protaganist, Nina not being able to tell her mum she’s a stripper because of what the neighbours might say – even though the neighbours love the Pussycat Dolls.

I’m not keen on their image at all (and I think it’s hopefully had it’s day now), but the generic, bland music coming out of the US which is given forced airplay  is what offends me more!

Other than performing, what are you most looking forward to at WOW?
Oh everything! I’m looking forward to Shabnam Shabazi telling me a tale in a car; to Equals Live and to all the many discussions that sound amazing, with some of my favourite women of the world.

Sabrina Mahfouz performs Dry Ice on Saturday 10 March

Interview with Layla El-Wafi a founder member of Women4Libya

Layla El-Wafi is a founder member of Women4Libya, a campaign that aims to promote women in the new government and civil society in Libya. Layla is taking part in Reporting back form the Arab spring event (Saturday, 10 March)

Layla El-Wafi

Layla El-Wafi

Why was Women 4 Libya set up?

W4L is a campaign started by the Libyan Civil Society Organisation (LCSO), a non-profit started by a group of Libyans living abroad last year but now includes Libyans in country too.  W4L has several aims but mainly to lobby for the meaningful inclusion of women in the transition process within the political, social and economic life of the ‘new Libya’.

Why did you get involved?

This project found me as I was concerned that women were not represented in the interim governmental body, the National Transitional Council (NTC) nor visible in the high level delegations and meetings in Europe and USA at the start of the Revolution.  I knew for a fact that Libyan women were extremely active and played a huge role in overthrowing the regime. Libyan women are highly qualified and can bring a lot to the table. So we started writing letters to politicians, speaking up in the media and drafted an online-petition calling on the NTC to include more women which to date has over 1500 e-signatures. That is how W4L was born.

You’re of dual Libyan/ Egyptian heritage, the last 12 months must have been pretty intense for you?

In a word: YES!

Many sleepless nights, expensive international calls and countless hours on emails and social media sites like Facebook to check that my family and friends are OK and then to try to do what I could from abroad to help.

The past year has also revived my ‘inner activist’ and pride in my roots. ‘My people’ showed their true colors and paid a high price to fight for freedom and dignity. These revolutions were not imported nor imposed.  It’s amazing.

When were you last in Libya or Egypt?

I’ve visited Libya, Egypt and Tunisia in the past few months. Although in some ways it felt ‘normal’ there were noticeable differences. Namely the public expressions and street art and signs (replacing the images of Qaddafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali), the many new TV, print and online stations and countless conferences and meetings about the transition to democracy.

How do you feel about what’s happening there now?

Mixed. Cautiously optimistic. I’ve buckled my seat belt for a bumpy ride. My relatives and friends complain about lack of security, uncertainties about the economy and what new governments and constitutions will bring. Some are still nostalgic about the past and it reminds me of how people get in abusive relationships.

Whenever I get really frustrated or stressed out I reality check myself and think we didn’t even dream of having these conversations and concerns a year ago. It will take time.

What are the most common myths about women in the Arab region/Arab revolutions?

That we are passive and oppressed.  I’ve met the most articulate, passionate and educated Arab women from across the region who represent the range of the political and religious spectrum.  It reassures me that Arab women will not be silenced or sidelined!.

Other than your event, what are you most looking forward to at WOW?

The Equals Live 2012 concert and other artistic/music events. It will be a welcomed respite from the countless political debates and discussions I’ve been part of in the past months.

Interview with Ghanaian writer, activist and designer Nana Sekyiamah

Ghanaian writer, activist and designer Nana Sekyiamah has recorded a very special podcast of her blog Adventures from the bedrooms of African women, to be played at WOW.  (Adventures from the bedrooms of African women, Saturday 10 March, 12pm)

Nana Sekyiamah

Nana Sekyiamah - Photo: Yinka Ajakaiye

Why  did you set up Adventures from the bedrooms of African women blog?
I set up Adventures in January 2009 with my BFFFL Malaka Gyekye (Best Friend for Freakin Life). I had been on one of the best holidays of my life with 3 other women and we had spent most of that time having the most frank open conversations about sex. I came home thinking ‘Wow. I want to keep having these conversations with African women’.

I love the blog title, can you explain to us please?
Malaka and I decided we needed to document our own stories. We laughed about the stereotypes that existed about African women and sex, and how shocked people would be to learn what really went on in the bedrooms of African women.

What are the main myths around the sexuality of black women?
That’s the weird thing about the myths around the sexuality of black women. It’s extreme, contradictory and often irrational. On one hand we’re portrayed as hyper sexualized (by the majority of commercially successful hip hop artists for e.g.), we’re objects of sexual curiosity and exotic to the white western male world (from as far back as Sarah Bartmann) and to others (I would put African men in this bracket) we’re boring, unadventurous, and sexually unimaginative. None of these stereotypes in my opinion are true.

Why is the sexuality of black women an issue?
Because to me its one of the major issues that we haven’t yet dealt with. The right to bodily integrity, the right to freedom of choice, the right to pleasure, the right to safer sex…

What have you learned from the blog? How to have better sex. Seriously. You can’t be ‘preaching’ to others about the importance of pleasurable sex and not be taking your own pleasure seriously. I have also learned how diverse African women are in our sexualities, experiences and desires and that it’s crucial to respect the sexual choices that women have.

When you’re not doing Adventures, what else are you doing?
I am  Communications Officer for the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), I own a fashion label with my sister, MAKSI Clothing, I write for magazines including DUST magazine and Dream Weddings in Ghana, and occasionally I do some consultancy work on communications and PR. Oh and I own a small farm which produces oil palm.

How are you spending IWD in Ghana?
I’m organising an event for AWDF with our partner Alliance Francaise (Accra). We’re holding a series of events including an arts exhibition, launching a specially commissioned song by Lady Jay Wah called ‘African Woman’ and a concert with Sia Tolno, RFI Discovery Award Winner of 2011.