With London Fashion Week fast approaching, we speak to designer Di Petsa, who explores themes of sexuality, identity and politics, on their own terms. With increasing recognition in the last few years, Di Petsa has been distinctly crafting their version of female identity at the start of a new decade.
For most designers, the increasingly ritualised event of the fashion show is the first time their collection will take on a performative role. For Dimitra Petsa the collection starts with the performance. “I’m always writing about the things I’m interested in”, says Dimitra, “I find the concept I’m interested in and it becomes a script for a performance. From these performances, I find the shapes that then inspire the designs.” It’s through this process that Dimitra believes those who wear her designs are ‘taking part in performance art.’
It was during her time at Central Saint Martins creating her graduate collection that Dimitra developed ‘The Wetness Collection.’ A collection which incorporates the visceral and the political of the female experience. “We are always wet”, says Dimitra, “we are constantly secreting bodily fluids. But it’s very controlled. You can’t cry; if you do, it must be in private. You must be wet but only during sex, and in any other context we must be dry, we must be sanitised.” Dimitra documented these thoughts in her journal and realised the “beautiful idea of the wet woman.”
The technical development of the collection is as pivotal as the concept and Dimitra says that “creating the perfect wet effect took a long time, I wanted it not only to look wet but feel wet.” The process also takes into account the fact that Dimitra and her team work with slow fashion practices. The process of designing and producing garments requires a standard of technical skill that Dimitra learnt from her grandmother who ran a tailoring school. It was also through witnessing her grandmothers working practice that she came to understand the ‘intimacy’ between the client and the seamstress. The Wetness Collection went on to be performed in Paris and was styled and curated by Christelle Owona Nisin, complete with a ‘wetness manifesto’ which was read out at the beginning of the performance. Both the manifesto and message behind the collection advocated ‘claiming your space’ in the context of ‘women’s right to be wet, and exactly who they are without going against their natural secretions.’ Dimitra explains that her investment in her designs is “not only as a brand- but as an ongoing art project.”
Dimitra’s collection ‘Wetness, the water broke’ delves further into the intricacies of wetness. However, this time exploring ‘internal rather than external’ wetness. Using the ontologies of water and wetness, Dimitra explores where we came from. Fascinated by the mainstream portrayal of childbirth ‘which so often depicts birth as agonising, terrifying and adheres to a culture of fear around birth’, Dimitra instead investigates the less known experiences such as ‘ecstatic birth’ where both pleasure and orgasm are experienced at the time of birth. This relates to a larger conversation around women and fertility which Dimitra points out ‘glamorizes certain aspects of fertility but condemns others like bloating and acne’ furthering societies need to ‘compartmentalise everything when it comes to women’ as ‘everything has to be in a box.’
With performance at the core of her design process, it is no surprise that the fashion medium fascinates Dimitra. When considering the catwalk process, Dimitra believes it is all about the context. For the upcoming show at London Fashion Week Dimitra seeks to question “what a presentation is” and “what is performance” and in this context for Dimitra there is “a lot to play with.” Whilst play and experimentation is of the utmost importance, the personal aspect of the job is not lost on Dimitra. Where femininity and vulnerability take precedence in her work, she finds herself forming close relationships with those she works with along the way as she finds herself “connecting with people in a very different way” as “when you are collaborating on a project, people get to know you more profoundly, you form these incredibly deep relationships.”
With work that exudes an air of renaissance sexuality combined with the ownership of the modern woman, it’s no wonder that these relationships have become increasingly apparent in the celebrity clientele she has accumulated, including industry giants such as Kylie Jenner and FKA Twigs. But for Dimitra, the concept of a ‘muse’ is multi-faceted. “My muses are so varied”, she says, “they are the women I spend time with and then find myself obsessed with! There is something about their beauty and energy that inspires me.”
From the nuanced concepts that are behind the collection to the execution of the performance that sees it all “come together how it was meant to be seen”, Di Petsa is most definitely one to watch this fashion week.
All clothing: @dipetsa
Model: Louise Earwaker