Diana Orving: “Once I started creating I was like this self-playing piano”
In an intimate interview, Diana Orving talks to Make it last about clothes as architecture, witches, an old fashioned washing machine – and the experience of living in the Mojave desert.
In the Mojave Desert artist Andrea Zittel has constructed an experimental outpost called “A-Z West Wagon Station Encampment” which basically consists of ten “A-Z Wagon Stations”, an outdoor kitchen and open air showers. The wagon stations are best described as modern huts almost small enough to fit in a station wagon. People who are interested in cultural or personal research can come and stay at A-Z West during one month in the spring and one month in the fall. The visitors consequently participates in this ongoing artwork adjacent to the artist’s own personal practice. In April 2014 Swedish designer and artist Diana Orving spent three weeks here. She accompanied her friend Tova Rudin-Lundell who had then already stayed at A-Z West once, documenting her experiences in the book One Month in the Mojave. She had now gone back in order to present her work, which Diana Orving was a part of since she had constructed these overalls that Tova Rudin-Lundell wore during her first time in the desert.
– She wanted something that would keep her cool and protect her from the sun. I made two overalls in white cotton, one with short arms and legs for daytime use and the other with long arms and legs for evening and nighttime use. I also put a zipper in the crotch so she would not have to take them off when using the bathroom. She would wash them by driving around on bumpy roads with the clothes in a container together with water and detergent. This created some sort of old fashioned washing machine, says Diana Orving.
When Diana herself stayed at A-Z West she wore these silk garments that she had created from sewing together old saris. She would spend her time climbing around in the mountains or going for long walks in the desert. At midday it was extremely hot so she would stay in the shade, writing, painting or reading.
– I lived according to the sun, when it rose I would wake up by myself so I did not need an alarm clock. I had not brought much stuff and I could not use the Internet. There was this silence all around and I started to connect with new frequencies in my mind. I forgot about the day-to-day problems that we create for ourselves. A part of me wished I could stay forever, she recalls.
Before Diana went to the Mojave Desert she did not know that her time there would influence her in the creation of Diana Orving S/S 15 collection. She came home in May, since the show was scheduled for August she had to get to work at once.
– I was mentally clean and my energy levels were high. Once I started creating I was like this self-playing piano. Shapes, lines and patterns were simply flowing out of my head. However, I do not really like being too specific when talking about my inspiration. I mean you can not tell by looking at these garments that I spent time in the desert. The things you can see are those that are always important to me, for example, playfulness, movability, and changeability. I am constantly asking myself: how do I want to experience this particular piece of clothing? To me it is like searching for a temperament or a certain flow of energy.
Diana Orving, now 30 years old, started her self-named brand back in 2007 when she was 22. She had sewn and sold her own garments since the age of 15, so this was a natural step for her to take.
– I never studied design or anything; I learned how to create through hard work. My mother is an artist and worked with textile pieces when I grew up so to start sewing was not really a big step for me. But it is a work in progress and I learn more for each collection.
Diana certainly has her own expression. Once you get to know her way of working it will not be hard spotting her garments from a distance and she is famously known for her draping skills.
– Since I am self-taught I create patterns in my own way. I look upon clothes as a space for the body and its movements, like architecture sort of. I do not see a flat front and back, I see the garment in 3D. I am always open to changes, I have an overall idea from the start but I also want this organic process in which there is room for surprises. I work thoroughly and consistently but I am nice towards my own creations. They are allowed to transform along the way.
If you have ever worn an Orving-garment you might have found that they are often changeable. With the help of strings and straps you can alter the way you carry the piece of clothing according to the mood you are in. This is an important feature for Diana since she does not want the clothes to be limiting or restraining in any way.
– I am aspiring to design timeless fashion. I am not just saying this, it is the very fundament on which I work. I want to create favorite pieces that the wearer will put on over and over again. It is about having a sustainable relation to your clothes. My garments are not trendy, they are to be used in order to make up your own style, something to build a wardrobe around. When looking back I find that all my collections are cohesive.
Diana grew up in a home where consumption was not really a key issue. It is therefore basic practice for her to be thoughtful when buying new things. She mostly wears her own creations and apart from that prefers to buy things second hand.
– I am aware that there is a contradiction in proclaiming a sustainable lifestyle and at the same time being a fashion designer. People must wear clothes and by creating them you will stress the environment. However, as long as I know that my customers wear my garments for a longer period than one season I will at least have contributed to a more defensible consumption.
Diana’s work is not only permeated with the thought of a more sustainable production and lifestyle, but also with politics. By looking, for instance, at her latest fashion show this becomes obvious through her choice of models, they embody something else than the regular look and skin color most frequently parading the catwalk.
– In one way it is sad that you have to mention my choice of models. My intention is not to make a statement or to talk about it. People should not have to react to this, but they do. I guess that it confirms which type of bodies and looks that normally get to represent conventional beauty.
In order to comprehend a creative person you might want to find out what inspires them. But it is always difficult to describe. The words sound flat and pointless when you try to line out the stream of consciousness eventually ending up in a physical creation. Diana finds this process almost magical; when fragments of thoughts take a shape you could not have predicted from the start. I try to make her explain how it works.
– Everything I do derives from this urge. All my choices are made from my gut telling me that I want to do it. These decisions can be everything from choosing a certain material to how I am going to spend my day. I can be extremely disciplined and work a lot but the feeling of desire is always there. I must also remember to give myself space to breathe. I sometimes feel the pressure to communicate with a certain pace. You know, answering emails the same day and having the phone next to me and so on. But if I you always pick up the phone when it rings or answer emails the second you get them you will not be able to finish one constructive thought. In order to receive inspiration and dare relying on your intuition you must sometimes take a break. It is about understanding that you are an instrument and that you must be tuned in order to function correctly. It all comes down to getting to know yourself and the conditions under which your creativity works in the best way.
We meet in Diana’s studio when there are less than two weeks remaining until Fashion Week in Stockholm, where she will show her A/W 15 collection. She is understandably up to her elbows in work. Still, things have not yet fallen in to place and when I ask her to summarize the collection she falls silent. Then she starts grasping after words, almost becoming annoyed about the fact that it is so difficult (and maybe even unnecessary) to label your ideas. After a while she shows me these enhanced photographs that she has taken herself. They appear almost magical and at first I can not see what they are depicting and I start guessing (space, water, fire, fluid, watercolors).
– They are reflections in an old bowl from Tibet. I worked with light and water and I ended up with a result that I could have never expected. They are really abstract and I guess that it is up to the observers to guess for themselves. It is almost like The Rorschach test. I myself think of the four elements, objects flying in space, alchemy, brain scanning, organs, fetuses and so on. On a more concrete level the images inspired me to make certain color choices for the collection. I have ordered silk prints made from the photographs. I just hope they make it in time for the show…
Diana tells me that she has also been thinking a lot about witches lately. A large amount of time has passed since the burning of witches but in some parts of the world a negative look upon strong and willful women still remain. Maybe they practice medicine or help other women, it does not take much for them to be labeled as a modern day “witch”.
– I sort of picture them wearing big, flapping sheets of clothing, you know, like the stereotype image of a witch. I want to honor these women who have historically been ahead of their time, giving them strength and power somehow, by making a certain type of clothes. This collection consists of pieces that you feel comfortable and powerful in. Not garments you wear when sitting silent while looking pretty.
I think I can picture myself this person, the one you become when wearing Orvings’ clothes. It is an individual who moves in a certain way. She carries herself with a posture showing that she is not afraid. There is force and power in her step and she is not excusing herself. She is taking up the space that she deserves. Her garments are billowing and dramatic and they move along with her arms as she casts her spells upon those who mistreat her or work against her. She is a witch in her own way and she will not try to please anyone ever again.
Words by Rebecca Öhnfeldt
Images by Märta Thisner
Diana Orving has big dreams for the future. She wants to travel more and work with different kinds of artistic projects. Apart from working with her own brand she designs costumes for the opera and for dance performances. She has also been invited to create and exhibit a work of art at Liljevalchs museum in Stockholm later this year. The exhibition is called “Utopian Bodies – Fashion looks forward” and has an experimental take on fashion. Diana will therefore probably create something of a more sculptural character. Read about the exhibition here.
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