Interview: Maria Chen Pascual

by Gemma O'Brien .

Gemma O'Brien: What inspired you to become a fashion designer?

Maria Chen Pascual: Growing up in a surburban town in middle America made me want to break out of it and make something of myself. Since applied and performing arts became a creative outlet when I was a teenager -I involved myself in many areas, including designing the 'yearbook', theatre, and sewing- and I wanted to go into something that would utilise all these skills. I guess becoming a fashion designer seemed the most obvious choice as it involved 'theatre' (drama created in fashion shows), graphics (print design), and sewing, obviously!

Gemma O'Brien: Your collections carry a strong sense of the gothic. What is it that interests you about that aesthetic and how do you combine it with modernity in your designs?

Maria Chen Pascual: I was quite a dark teenager, and probably did a lot of brooding and going around being overly-philosophical about everything. Well, I was a dark horse in the family anyway. Then I largely secluded myself in my own created world at high school (a bit of a Donnie Darko). I wasn't really part of the popular kids, and then I wasn't really a part of the nerdy super-brainy ones either. I just did my own thing. So I discovered a college radio station and started listening to Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy, Jesus & Mary Chain. Music played a big part of my life, as it seemed to be able to elevate me beyond what I felt was bland suburban life. Now, my work reflects on this past, relating to all those other teenagers like me that are now (hopefully) successful people. The clothing carries and celebrates the aesthetic of the music, the emotions, of that time.

Gemma O'Brien: What do you think draws you to 'sub-cultural' forms: how do you reconcile this fascination with the commercial imperatives of your own line and popular culture represented by Topshop?

Maria Chen Pascual: Well, I think the lines are merging. Topshop is very keen on tapping into the aesthetic behind each designer they work with and making a commercially accessible range for a broader market. Which, with the advanced technology today makes it far more possible. I spent a lot of time during my formative design college years wishing to have interesting clothing but not being able to find it or afford it. Topshop ultimately caters to that person and beyond. With Topshop, I see a change in the way people think about how they dress and also the attitude towards designers is changing. It will be interesting to see how it shifts, as high street brands gain more power and start to buy out or support successful designer brands (e.g. La Redoute and Gucci) as profile investment.

Gemma O'Brien: Is there a specific theme or story that you create for each individual collection, or do you consider each a continuation from the last?

Maria Chen Pascual: Each collection tells a story that is a progression from the previous. My collections tend to have a darkly romantic undercurrent of the theme of unrequited love.

Gemma O'Brien: Which takes precedence in constructing your final garment: cut or fabric?

Maria Chen Pascual: They actually work hand in hand, as one has to think of how a chosen fabric would behave once it is cut.

Gemma O'Brien: Would you agree that there is a blending of the genders in your garments? How important is it to keep a sense of separation?

Maria Chen Pascual: Yes, there is a sense of that in the collection.

Gemma O'Brien: What do you think gives your clothes the ChenPascual identity?

Maria Chen Pascual: The clothes are romantic and subversive (but more romantic than subversive), designed to be worn in layers so you can put your own individuality into the clothes. The prints and textiles also have a romantic or heavily music-influenced edge, often with a dark sense of humour.

Gemma O'Brien: How has collaborating with artist Andrew Logan contributed to the feel of your collection?

Maria Chen Pascual: Working with an established artist such as Andrew is a complete honour. He draws that mythical romantic element to the collection with his experience, vision and amazing craftsmanship with broken mirrors. He also has an undercurrent of the rock 'n roll edge to him, having inspired important people such as Mick Rock, Brian Eno, and Derek Jarman.

Gemma O'Brien: What was your motivation in showing your collection on film at The Glasshouse during London Fashion Week?

Maria Chen Pascual: I wanted to offer something different during fashion week. I felt that doing a film screening with live performance in celebration of those who inspired us as icons of art and fashion - Andrew Logan and Zandra Rhodes - was a perfect mix.

Gemma O'Brien: Do you think the increasing use of film holds extra possibilities in communicating the feel of a collection, over a live catwalk show?

Maria Chen Pascual: Yes I do because with film you can have more of a narrative with the work. It is like editorial-in-motion. Funny: my final project at St Martins required me to make a film, and since then, meeting my collaborator Jean-François Carly, it's played an integral role in both of our work!