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The young designer explains why she left Chile to pursue fashion and tells VOZ about her ‘Altered Perceptions’ collection.

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Photography: Briana Quintanilla, Fashion Assistant: Victoria Maldonado, Creative Director: Valeria Ghersi Valdivia, Models: Amaia Navarro and Sophie Castillo

If you had to choose a gown to wear during quarantine, what would it look like? Perhaps one made out of fluffy cloud-like shapes that wrap around your body –and can double as a pillow– sounds appealing. If that’s the case, look no further, Stephanie Uhart has just what you are looking for. “When I'm going through a period where I feel sad, depressed or have anxiety, I want to be comfortable,” Uhart says, “this piece was like that feeling… a soft armour.” She refers to the first look she made for her Central Saint Martins 2020 graduate collection, mainly worn as a dress, but adaptable into an infinite number of shapes. One can even be completely covered by the fluffy lilac mass, much like a butterfly in a cocoon from which the wearer will emerge feeling comforted and renewed. VOZ talks to the knitwear designer about what it was like finding physical forms for intangible sensations for her ‘Altered Perceptions’ collection.

 

As the offspring of two art dealers, Uhart grew up immersed in the art world in a Chilean-Colombian household, “If we travelled, we would visit every museum in the area, so I always wanted to work in a creative field.” However, Uhart’s objectives were challenged by the lack of artistic education in Chile, “[Growing up] schools are just: math, language, history, that’s it,” says the 29-year-old designer. After graduating from school, she began a Business Bachelor but later decided that it was time to plunge into the pool of uncertainty she considered studying a career in the creative industry to be. Uhart wanted to do it in a place that presented her with the best opportunities, and at the time, that was not Chile. So, she applied to Central Saint Martins and was accepted onto the BA Fashion Knitwear course. Despite Uhart’s initial reason to study fashion being unconventional, it seems to have been the right choice, “[In] art you either do very well, or you don't do at all… In fashion, I could always be employed by someone else, [so] it was the part of the creative industry that I dared to enter,” she laughs.

Uhart wanted her graduate collection to be “bigger, more extensive [and] more personal…” When she started designing it, she was meditating often and was having strange experiences recurringly during her sessions, something she became interested in exploring. She read about out-of-body experiences and tried to do visual research around the concept of auras, but “it all became a bit non-existent.” After the pandemic hit, Uhart revisited the concept, “Even though I had been alone in the same flat, doing the same things, I felt completely different [during] the last two months. You perceive the same things differently when you feel differently.” Uhart assigned forms, textures, and colours to emotions, auras, and energies the only way that would make sense: intuitively, and her collections began to take shape. The collection’s title, Altered Perceptions, is a direct reference to how our emotions directly influence how we see the world.

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In a look called Comfortable Discomfort, the intangible feeling of anguish became muddy pink repurposed latex made into a see-through matching top and bottom set covered by ambiguous shapes that go up one leg until reaching the hips. “[Anguish] comes from the floor and takes over you, it's uncomfortable and you can't move. That’s why I chose latex, a less manageable material. It is difficult to put on, to move in… everything [in it] is difficult,” says the designer. Old yellow pool inflatables were converted into headpieces tightly pressed around the wearer’s neck and laced over their face for a look Uhart called Self Reflections. The look was completed with tight cream laced shorts and bright pink latex knee-high boots, made by stitching and combining the amorphous shapes that have become a staple of Uhart’s work. The stars of the collection, however, were her fluffy gowns. The first one she made, called Obsessive Comfort, was lilac, big and engulfing, but in a different way, “It conveyed calmness,” Uhart says. She later made variations of the genderless gown in different colours –including lime green and combinations of red and pink and yellow and cream using intarsia knitting– all following the principle of providing a soft shelter for the wearer. The voluminous shapes that constituted the garments were all stuffed with leftover fabric scraps and the furry exterior was accomplished by following a method Uhart started experimenting with during the second year of her BA. “I knit [the shapes] myself and then I brush the wool... it’s therapeutic,” the designer says. The textured knit was also used to make droopy handbags, to convert plain shoes into fabulous fuzzy heels, and even placed on top of fingernails.

 

It is undeniable Uhart was able to successfully convey these emotions through her garments due to her precise use of materials and placement of shapes throughout the body. She has a clear understanding of visual balance and knows when and why to disrupt it. Her creations never fail to be engaging for the viewer and wearer. The collection was featured in AnOther Magazine, The Face, Vogue Portugal, Harper’s Bazaar Taiwan, amongst others and continues to gather substantial amounts of press for the young designer. Uhart was especially excited when Venezuelan singer and producer Arca wore it for i-D.

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Stephanie Uhart amongst her Altered Perceptions collection. Photos taken by the designer and edited by Jon Jacobsen

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Uhart believes knitwear allows her to be more experimental, especially with textures. She looked at yarn as a substitute for clay, from which she would create wearable structures that interacted with the body. It is easy to see the effect growing up surrounded by paintings and sculptures had on her when looking at her creations. They insinuate that Uhart sees them as art pieces rather than purely as garments. “It’s a combination. I see it as art that one can wear because it is the basis of everything I do. [But] I never start by saying, ‘I want to make a jacket,' or something that has a set structure, so it's a more artistic [approach],” Uhart says. The designer allows herself to be unrestrained from her sketches and focuses on constructing shapes which she then reacts to and adapts until satisfied. Even the afterlife of her creations resemble that of an art piece, “I feel like they’re fragile, I [don’t] interact with them too much. I know people wear them and do photo shoots with them […] but I make them and go on with my life.”

 

The video Uhart made to debut her collection –replacing the usual Central Saint Martins show– was made in 24 hours using a cheap green-screen set with the help of Jon Jacobsen, who edited the video. The short film and its soundtrack —by Enya de la Jara— take the viewer into a grainy, pink unknown land where you are left to explore some of the collection’s main concepts: meditation, hypnosis, emotions taking a physical form, and out-of-body experiences.

 

Post-graduation, in addition to making custom pieces, Uhart is learning how to balance commercialism and art, “I’m having trouble trying to take this into something more wearable [but] maintaining the concept so it does not lose [its] appeal. I don't want to sell just anything.” During these unpredictable times, Uhart prefers not to make plans, “I like to be surprised by things… I thought about doing an MA but I don't think it is the right decision for me to continue studying with a set structure.” For now, she will be staying in London, working on creating new pieces and seizing every opportunity that comes her way. For any moment of uncertainty, she has a closet full of comfort(ing) gowns to choose from.