Walking into Bea Szenfeld’s studio in Stockholm is magical. It’s like stepping into a fantasy world. Every-thing is perfectly organized, spotlessly clean and well thought-out. The floors are black, the walls are white.
"I like clothes and fashion, but I don’t like trends and people dictating how things should be done"
“This used to be an abandoned and rather rough place that I would once walk past. Then one day I asked if I could rent it. My assistant and I spent months tearing things down, scrubbing, filling, and painting. I’ve been here seven years now,” she tells from the kitchen.
There are bits and bobs everywhere, ancient and modern, old and new. A beautiful chaise lounge, a sumptuous table laid for afternoon tea, and Szenfeld’s lovely dog playing about. A large cutting table, shelves of scissors and tools, and a room stacked with boxes of material. And then there’s Szenfeld herself, with her light blonde hair, strong, self-assured gaze, and soft dialect.
Art and fashion in paper form
Bea Szenfeld has a reputation for being a fashion designer who doesn’t compromise on workmanship. “Disposable” is not in her vocabulary. In 2003, she took part in Fashion House, a Project Runway-esque reality TV show, and won an internship at Stella McCartney in London.
Szenfeld worked with her own fashion label for several years, but found that it didn’t suit her. She now works as an artist and with fashion in paper form.
Last summer, Szenfeld spoke on Swedish radio about her upbringing in Poland. She told stories about the winter of 1981 when a Soviet Union invasion was imminent and everything was rationed, how they survived by keeping carp in the bathtub, picking blueberries, and growing food on the balcony. Her grandmother taught her to peel potatoes - using a knife, and more importantly, how to sew.
Szenfeld and her Chihuahua Amik, meanwhile, got street smart the Polish way. They learned how to get to the front of the line when food and work were being handed out.
“I have my opinions of course. I’ve said no to working with certain companies even though their fees would have supported my operation for a year. It just wasn’t the right fit”
Everything is done by hand in Szenfeld’s studio – ideas are sketched out, cut, and draped. Nothing is done on computer. Her preferred methods are collage and experimentation; everything should be tactile. It’s as simple as that. She is not looking to provoke anyone or promote any sort of message.
“I like clothes and fashion, but I don’t like trends and people dictating how things should be done. Fashion should be fun and enjoyable. I like to work with the body, but I can’t say that I work in the fashion industry,” she says.
A fashion designer and artist who isn’t interested in trends or promoting herself?
“When I had my own fashion label and followed major buyers to giant trade fairs, well, I was actually honest with the shops and told them not to buy 20 of a certain dress because it wouldn’t sell. The end result was that they didn’t bring me to fairs anymore.
“When the focus is sales and consumerism, it doesn’t matter how organic something is. The aim is still to get someone to replace their entire wardrobe.”
And yet, she’s not an activist or judgmental. Things aren’t always black and white, and people are just different, she says.
“I have my opinions of course. I’ve said no to working with certain companies even though their fees would have supported my operation for a year. It just wasn’t the right fit.”
Vintage clothing and recycled paper
Reinventing and reusing has always played a big part in Szenfeld’s creative process. She’s worked with both vintage clothing and recycled paper. Her first major commission was an advertising campaign for the launch of Absolut Peach. She pursued her own conceptual idea and did what she felt like. She created the campaign image out of paper. It was a success.
“When I started out 10 years ago, the world was totally different and anything like this was completely new. Today, opportunities are served to us in a completely different way, with social media, 3-D printers, and so forth. 10 years ago, the world of fashion hadn’t even embraced the raw edges of the fabric,” Szenfeld says.
Björk, Lady Gaga and Laleh
To call her a pioneer is no understatement. Her vision and craftsmanship speak for themselves. Both Björk and Lady Gaga are fans of Szenfeld’s work and have worn her creations. When she got a message from Lady Gaga, she thought someone was playing a prank.
“Sometimes I get a stomachache and wonder what I’ve got myself into,” Szenfeld says with a smile.
“My creations take on another life in someone else’s hands. You never know how it will turn out beforehand, but the Lady Gaga video for “G.U.Y” was great, and the section featuring my stuff is really nice! [The Swedish singer] Laleh has also borrowed pieces from the Haute Papier collection for a photo shoot or her latest album. She, too, wore them in a way I had never thought of.”
Bea’s Stockholm favorites
“Because the drinks are divine and you can bring your dog!”
Södra Blasieholms-hamnen 2
“For the heavenly fudge and the Forties-style girls who make them by hand to jazz music!”
“For the strangest scents I’ve ever smelled and their incredible knowledge of scents.”
Mäster Samuelsgatan 9
Unlike Lady Gaga, Szenfeld is not out to provoke people.
“There are already enough people screaming out there,” she says.
She attracts attention regardless, and the line of people knocking at her door includes not only journalists but investors. So far, she has politely declined investment because she can’t envisage how it would pan out.
“They always want you to grow, grow, and grow. Of course, I could produce more with 40 assistants rather than 20. But my creative process can’t get any quicker, because I don’t want to repeat myself.”
“The fact that I work with paper means that no one questions how I work. If you want to order a pair of tights, I can do that, it just takes 20 kilos of office paper and a couple of months. Suddenly, I don’t need to explain how I do it, you know.”
It’s like magic.
Text: Petra Dokken
See Bea's Stockholm favorites in this interactive map
Published: March 17, 2015