Austria has already produced many great personalities. One of them is Arthur Arbesser.
Although the Vienna-born designer has lived in Milan for 15 years now, the Viennese in him is still noticeable and the local fashion scene is close to his heart. The current SHOW OFF. Austrian Fashion Design exhibition at MAK Vienna shows Arbesser’s creations. He sees the exhibition as a sign from Vienna to the international fashion world. We had a chat with him and found out more about the talented designer.
First things first: As a Viennese living and working in Milan, what do you prefer – Italian or Austrian food?
Italian food for sure. I’ve been living in Milan for the past 15 years. By now, I’ve started to appreciate the freshness, quality and simplicity of it. I am definitely a fan of Italian cuisine. Still, every time I am back home in Vienna, I love to eat Austrian food.
Since Vienna isn’t known as a fashion capital, was it too difficult to go on with your career there?
I studied in London and then got a job at Giorgio Armani. I moved immediately from London to Milan, and how life goes, I got stuck here. It wasn’t really a choice, and I didn’t think about it too much.
How was your time at Armani?
It was seven significant years of my life. I went there just after graduation so I was still kind of a baby (laughs) and then, I stayed until I became a man. I learned a lot about craftsmanship, fabrics, and also about social intelligence. Working for a big company, you have to learn to deal with so many different people and characters; Mr Armani, the postman or whoever. Learning this has helped me a lot in my career.
If you could choose an Austrian woman as your muse, who would it be?
As I always say, Cordula Reyer, who is a good friend of mine and I think represents the best in Austria. She is a gorgeous and natural woman who is fascinating and wonderful. In the ’90s, she was a famous model, and now she also works as a fashion journalist.
As a fashion designer, you dress pretty casually, how come?
Because I am extremely uninterested in how I look, I am much more interested in how other people look. I can honestly say that I’d rather observe than be observed.
Or maybe sometimes you are just too busy to dress up.
Yes, that’s also a reason. I don’t want to waste time, I want to find something in my wardrobe that fits, and I am good to go.
Your Spring 2020 collection is a tribute to your grandmother. We would love to hear the story behind it.
Being a refugee, my grandmother didn’t lead an ordinary life. Her family lost everything when they had to flee the German-speaking part of Romania. Her life was a mix of tragedy and romance, and she used to tell us about dramatic stories but also joyful memories. My grandmother collected fabrics her entire life, and when I found a suitcase full of those fabrics, the idea for the collection was born.
Wonderful. How did you use those fabrics in your collection?
We redesigned some fabrics taking into consideration colours, prints and the other materials used for the collection. We also used the ceramics of Transylvania as inspiration for our prints, especially the blue and white ones.
Right now the SHOW OFF. Austrian Fashion Design exhibition at MAK Vienna is happening; showing some Arthur Arbesser pieces. What can visitors expect?
I am delighted that the curators have chosen a few outfits that represent my very own world. These pieces are all very graphic, dramatic and colourful. I am also happy that the outfits come from different seasons – from the first to the last one I designed.
Do you think an exhibition like this is important for the Viennese fashion scene?
Of course! It was about time to bring this exhibition to life, especially at the MAK museum. MAK is the museum for applied arts; naturally, fashion should be part of it. I love this museum and its collection of fabrics. I always visit MAK during my stays in Vienna to find inspiration, and I think it’s fantastic that this exhibition is happening now. It’s an excellent way of sending a sign from Vienna to the rest of the fashion world.
Since we are talking about Vienna – which places of the city have you locked in your heart, besides MAK?
I love visiting the Dorotheum to see what they have in the auctions. I also love the Kleines Cafe at Franziskanerplatz. Besides places, I always see my friends – I still have a completely intact circle of friends.
If you were a piece of clothing, what would you be?
I would call myself a very gentle, soft sweater that one is always happy to wear.
I think it won’t be that gentle and soft in Milan in a few days since you show your new collection during fashion week there. How do you feel?
I feel a little bit weird because we’ve just finished designing the costumes for the opera “Der Rosenkavalier” in Berlin, which was a massive project for me. It was the first time I did opera, so that was challenging but fantastic. Back to Milan, I literally have only one week to prepare the show. Everything is going very quickly at the moment, but I am excited. I think it’s going to be a beautiful collection because I couldn’t even spend much time on it, and therefore, overthink. Sometimes if you don’t overthink, the best things come out, and this time we worked spontaneously and very fast.
As a kid, you were very interested in opera. Did your dream come true when designing for opera?
André Heller had no idea that I was interested in opera as a child. But he was pleased when I told him I had always had a soft spot for opera. It was definitely an enriching experience, and it was wonderful to work with André Heller and getting to know the artists.
In your opinion, what was the most significant step in your career?
So far, the most significant step hasn’t happened yet.
What’s the next big thing we can expect from you?
I would say my next show :). As an independent designer, the most important thing is to survive and keep going. Every season you survive is already a challenge and an achievement at the same time. I keep things going and produce a lot. Many people out there are very fast in criticizing, but only a few actually do something. I am risking a lot and this is part of the challenge and my goal.
Is this an advice you would give to upcoming young fashion graduates?
I don’t know; every person is different. For example, when I graduated, I certainly wasn’t ready to start my line; it took me a long time to be prepared to do it. But I don’t know; there is no real advice, I would say. The only sure thing is that it’s a lot tougher and harder than one expects. You must do things. By doing so, you can make a lot of mistakes, but each error is something you can learn from that enriches your life. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Thanks for this essential advice and your time!
From February 14th, 2020 till July 12th, 2020, you can see chosen pieces of Arthur Arbesser at the SHOW OFF. Austrian Fashion Design exhibition at MAK, Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts.