Swedish fashion designer Bea Szenfeld creates highly original and artistic fashion pieces from paper. She works the fabric such that it becomes wearable and certainly noticeable and beautiful. Seeing models parading around in her garments is a feast to the eyes and numerous celebs like Björk, Gaga and others wearing and showcasing her creations, have certainly placed her in a unique niche position in the fashion world. Born in Poland and with an impressive creative background which seems to be part of her heritage and DNA, her life and educational/ career path has certainly touched a lot of inspirational fashion enthusiasts and companies to get her where she is today. Among other things, she delivered a whole array of highly recognized collections and brought her origami-inspired fashion from the runway to the theater in a collaboration with the Royal Swedish Opera. I truly enjoyed and was pleasantly surprised with her communication style and the way she opened up for this interview. She made me appreciate her art even more, knowing the more personal background behind it. We share a fair amount of experiences and emotions which make our personalities highly compatible. It is my hope you can indulge in this original and exhilarating article.
Bea, since we’re very interested in your persona, can you tell us a little about yourself in a personal manner?
I’m a pretty unsocial person. Don´t fancy people too much but I appreciate the company of dogs very much. Have been vegan for 26 years. In the 90´s being a vegan was a full time job. We had to make our own almond milk and made a lot of disgusting experiments trying make some eatable vegan cheese. I work quite a lot, so spare time is rare, but if and when it happens I usually visit second hand and antique shops. I also love watching movies, David Lynch, Ridley Scott, Jane Campion, Peter Greenaway, Jim Jarmusch are some of my favorites.
As an migrant at a young age to Stockholm, Sweden myself, I wonder how your experience was and in which way it affected your personality and development?
It’s very difficult to leave the country where you have been raised lived your whole life. Also as a child, you don´t get do decide that kind of act. And if I had a chance I would of course never leave my grandmother and my dog and my friends. And moving to Sweden was incredibly hard. I was to young to know how to react, but I missed polish food and my toys very much. So of course it has affected me how I am as a person.
At an early age, I had to learn to manage myself among people who did not understand what I said. Eat strange food. Getting used to a whole new way of living.
I also remember that my life stopped to smell. In Poland if you wanted cheese, you went to the cheese store. Cheese of all kind were placed on the counter and of course you can imagine the smell. Same was for the bread and the warm sugary smell. My favorite when I was small was the kiosk where you could by cigarettes and newspaper. The ink smelled so good. And the newspaper paper was so thin and sounded so important when my grandma flipped the page.
My grandma, with whom I´m raised, she smoked a lot. Everybody in our family smoked a lot, so for me the cigarette and tobacco smell is something familiar. I think the move has made me a very caring person. I also have hard times saying goodby and actually I´m not to fond of traveling. The move made me as well a rootless person. It does´t matter if I´m in Poland or Sweden, I’m always a foreigner in other peoples eyes.
Considering your ‘Sur La Plage’ and other PaperCouture collections, are you open to conversion of your designs into more wearable versions through 3D printing or use of fabrics other than paper in favor of practicality and commercial effectiveness?
Everything is done by hand in my studio. In my past I have worked with fashion in a commercial way. I was manufacturing my collection in Estonia and Portugal. I´m glad I have that experience. But it was not for me. I do not fit in that context. I want to be involved every second as a paper garment is made. And that is not possible if not every little paper scrap is made and fabricated in the studio. Nor am I interested in speeding up my handiwork. The time it takes to make all the garments is important to me and my assistants. We learn a lot about papers quality and whims during weeks of handwork.
Do you apply sacred geometry, fractals and other mathematical designs and patterns to much of your work?
Yes. Not too often but when there is possible. However it´s nothing that I´m informing or showing for the public. Me and my assistants know, because we are involved in the work.
Your ArtCouture has been worn by the likes of Björk and Lady Gaga, are there other expressive celebrities you would like to see wear your garments and why?
Björk and Gaga are such amazing stars. I have listened to Björks music since the 90’s. She has been in my ears and my head and my heart for such long time.
It’s always like magic when famous people are interested in using my paper garments. Their music reaches out to so many people, so it’s great to be part of that incredible journey.
Madonna and Beyonce would be FANTASTIC to dress up in paper. On the other hand they are a little calculated due to they are known for wearing extreme and avant-garde outfits. A real challenge would be to dress artists like A$AP Rocky or Wu-Tang Clan, musicians who are not associated with art fashion at all.
Are your Polish roots reflected in any way, shape or form in your work and if so, how?
I would like to think so. I grew up in a home where everyone in the family sewed or could preform some craft profession. My grandmother was a tailor. My uncle carpenter and my other uncle was a car mechanic and hobby filmmaker and photographer. We sew our own clothes and developed our own photos. If we needed furniture, a chair or table was built. The grownups let me be a part of all the projects that was around the house and that made me feel good and important. I felt like I was contributing as much everyone else in our household. Creating with my two hands is what I have with me from my childhood. I learned that everything is possible if you just spend enough of time and effort. And things take time. Crafts take time, both to perform and to learn.
Does your origami-inspired fashion require experienced paper folding artists and for collections like ‘Haute Papier’ do you get inspiration from resources like Papertrophy (see my post) or professional origami art pieces?
I find inspiration everywhere. Books, nature, indoor and outside. The only challenge is for me, to keep my eyes open and see it. I keep an eye on artist that work with paper. It’s so exciting and instructive to see how the mange to tame the paper sheets. I love the short films, when You can see how the artist holds the tools and how they assemble al the bits and pieces.
I´m very lucky to have such great and patient assistants. They help me so much. And my mum as well, she is very helpful. But some of my garments can not be done by anyone else but me. The craft is so advanced that it is not possible to quickly learn an assistant. Some of my paper garments can be made by anyone. The handcraft is very easy but then the time is crippling. So I need a lot of pair of hands and al the time I can get. However it’s always me who build the garment-foundation and assemble and finish it.
You indicate you only need a hot beverage, sugar and some silent privacy to get into your most creative mode. While in this mode, are you able to tap into your spirituality and apply it to your designs? Can you tell us something about your preferred spirituality and/ or philosophy?
It is possible to just sit and wait for inspiration to appear. Unfortunately I don´t have that luxury.
So I have some rituals to help my brain and hands get started. Sometimes this works, sometimes it does´t. There are days when I know that NOTHING can make me creative. Tons of mail, demanding customers, invoices and bills, unencumbered meetings and agreements etc, etc. Some days are just not ment to be creative. But my creative rites are just a start. Of course the presence of the correct pencil and pencil shaver, the specific scissors is a must…and a super important thing: I have to be completely by myself in the studio.The dog is a exception of course!
Since your pieces are very labor intensive, typically taking weeks to months, how do you make this art commercially viable considering collections of many outfits?
To make a collection of paper garments is complicated enough, without adding the commercial issue.
Logistics and to preserve the pieces takes forever.
I don´t even know how many items we will end up with at the end. Everything depends on so many smal thing. And hopefully we end up with a collection. Sometimes with many pieces and sometimes with few. The most important this is that the collection is of top quality.
Like your presence at the Eurovision 2016 opening parade, do you have plans to enter other markets like art exposition/ galleries, ‘party’ scenes and parades?
Eurovision was a dream project. I have NEVER participated in such huge production ever.
The show was seen by 200 million TV viewers and have won a lot of prices al over the world (Rose d’Or etc.)
I can still be breath taken just thinking about it. As we speak there are no plans on performing something similar.
Last but not least, can you let our readers know what you’re currently working on, give some insights into your roadmap and where you aim to be 5 years from now?
The tedious thing is that all my current projects are confidential at the moment, until they will be launched, unfortunately.
My hope is that in 5 years I can still sit in my studio and fold and cut paper. I am very aware and thankful every morning I open my studio door.
One of my dreams right now is to have a exhibition in NY or Paris!