Fashion designer Aleks Kurkowski in her store, which also serves as a studio and showroom.

Interview with fashion designer Aleks Kurkowski

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“Düsseldorf is very intimate, diverse and creative.”

Born in Poland, raised in Essen, and briefly resident in Berlin. But for fashion designer Aleks Kurkowski, Düsseldorf is her “favourite adopted home”, where she feels she truly belongs. For seven years, Kurkowski has been living and working in Pempelfort, becoming deeply rooted within the local creative scene. Her eponymous label offers minimalist avant-garde clothes made from sustainable materials. You can tell that she originally intended to be an architect by the clean cuts and the industrial aesthetic of her showroom, which serves as a studio, shop and gallery in one. The 41-year-old fashion designer has turned a former kidswear shop on Schlossstrasse into a creative space for sophisticated clothes and art. In addition to her own collections, she stocks high-quality accessories made by other like-minded labels, as well as hosting special exhibitions.

Fashion designer Aleks Kurkowski sorts through her patterns.
Fashion designer Aleks Kurkowski at work.

What is it that fascinates you about fashion? What is its power?
Personally, I don't like the term ‘fashion’, I prefer to talk about clothes. Fashion suggests a trend, but you'd be better off not following trends. Rather, you should ask yourself: “What do I like? What do I feel comfortable in?” Clothes are a means of communication. They provide our first impression of a person, the first way in which we communicate. They are an expression of who someone is and what their values are. That’s what makes clothes so powerful, and therefore valuable.

You originally wanted to be an architect. What persuaded you to become a fashion designer and create clothes instead of houses?
In architecture, it takes years before the creative process is completed and you've got a finished building. That felt too long to me. As a teenager I saw a fashion show and was instantly fascinated by the way in which you can combine individual pieces into an outfit that looks fantastic. So I decided to study fashion design rather than architecture. Initially I worked as a designer for a company in the fashion industry, but when they decided to outsource production to China and use polyester instead of cotton it became clear to me that this didn’t match my own values when it came to clothes. So I handed in my notice and started my own label in 2012.

You focus on fair production and sustainable materials. Why is that type of sustainability in fashion so important to you?
I only use natural materials for my clothes, such as wool, cotton and linen, as well as vegetable-tanned leather. I often opt for organic, my buttons are certified and I use fair production methods in my home country of Poland. Sustainability is important to me in every aspect. It is impossible to live 100 per cent sustainably, that is a utopian dream, but if you start thinking sustainably in one segment it invariably spreads into other areas. If I’m going to be working in the fashion industry, I regard it as my duty to do so sustainably.

Can fashion ever be sustainable? And what aspects can consumers themselves influence?
First of all, you should aim for quality when you’re buying clothes. Try to avoid polyester and check where exactly the clothes were produced. Another aspect is not to follow every trend, but rather develop your own style that you maintain over the long term. For instance, you could buy a coat that is a bit more expensive, but will last a long time and can be combined with lots of different things, instead of getting a new outfit every week. That in itself makes quite an impact.

How would you describe the style of your collection?
Minimalist. Strong. Androgynous. I appreciate the strength of masculine clothing and also implement it for women. I put a lot of emphasis on the cut. In the beginning, I was inspired by darkwear and designers like Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto and Ann Demeulemeester. My collection was very avant-garde and completely black. When everything is black, the cut is the most important thing, it is not interrupted or distracted by colors or small details. Over time, my collection has become more classic and elegant. In addition to black, I also use white and grey and every season an accent color such as beige or olive green.

Aleks Kurkowski uses a pair of grey trousers to explain her style elements, in this case diagonal seams.
Diagonal seams are one of the fashion designer’s recurring elements.

What does your creative process look like? As a fashion designer, how do you go about developing a collection?
I start off with a basic cut, with lines and figures that inspire me. I have a very mathematical approach to my designs. Slowly, details will emerge, like pockets and spacings, that I find interesting. I work a lot with cut-outs, lines, minimalist details and with diagonal seams, into which I insert pockets. Many of the elements build on each other. The focus of my collection is on jackets, coats and trousers, because to me those are the most important products. If you wear a terrific coat combined with perfectly cut trousers and a simple shirt you’ll immediately look fantastic. A fabulous outfit often only needs one exceptional piece as a highlight.

What tips do you impart to talented young fashion designers?
I advise them to try and work sustainably from the outset, ideally starting from when they are students. That’s not always easy, and can often be expensive, but it’s worth it. It is better to have fewer materials in your collection, but to make them special ones. When I first started out, there were hardly any avant-garde designers producing sustainable clothes. But it’s not a contradiction, because you can create a cut using sustainable materials.

Where do you get your inspiration?
I like to be inspired by the styles and clothes of other countries. Spain is my favourite travel destination. I love how light-hearted, relaxed and easygoing the people there are, yet they still always look very elegant.

Karolina Landowski and Aleks Kurkowski are sitting at a curved glass table talking.
Aleks Kurkowski (left) being interviewed by Karolina Landowski.

You lived in Berlin for a while and then moved to Düsseldorf. How would you characterise the city’s creative scene and how does it differ from that of other cities?
The creative scene in Düsseldorf is very down to earth, which is definitely a positive. Previously, I’d been living in Berlin for four years, and I was surprised and delighted about the warm reception you get in Düsseldorf as a creative. The emphasis here is on cooperation and community, everyone is included and nobody gets left out.
Düsseldorf is very intimate, diverse, creative, open, and full of interested people. For me, Düsseldorf is my favourite adopted home.

Which Düsseldorf designers should people look out for
I have a high regard for fashion designer Marion Strehlow, who I often collaborate with, and for the jewellry designers at Atelier Hinter Indien. The sustainable Düsseldorf label Sharokina, whose bags I stock in my shop, is also great.

What makes Düsseldorf a city of fashion?
From a business point of view, it’s the Düsseldorf Fashion Days, where the trade places its orders. Königsallee, the city centre and the Altstadt generally offer a very pleasant shopping experience. In Düsseldorf, you don’t just go shopping, you’re going for a walk at the same time. I invite all of my family and friends to Düsseldorf for a stroll through the shops and along Königsallee, which is a beautiful and special place.

Leather clutch bags by Düsseldorf label Sharokina on a shelf below a painting.
Along with her own designs, Aleks also stocks other selected products, such as these leather clutch bags by Düsseldorf label Sharokina.

What do you personally associate with the city?
Even as a young woman I always saw myself running my own fashion store in Düsseldorf. My sister is based here with her architect’s office, and I used to visit a lot during my time in Berlin. I simply fell in love with Düsseldorf, especially because there is so much creativity in such a small area. I found Berlin too large to live in. In Düsseldorf, everything is within walking distance. That's what I’ve always longed for, a lot of diversity but also a sense of intimacy.

Where in Düsseldorf might we bump into you?  Do you have a favourite neighbourhood?
That would be Pempelfort, of course, ‘my’ district – for living, working and hanging out. There are lots of other creatives tucked away in the area around my studio, then there’s Hofgarten Park and the many museums … I’m happy to stay in my own neighbourhood and stroll through the shops and cafés on Nordstrasse. I love sushi and I like to eat Japanese food at Renya or Yabase. Café a Gogo is my local, and since I’m a passionate whisky drinker you’ll also find me in the Liq Bar. The coffee roastery Die Kaffee on Schwerinstrasse and the Kwadrat are my absolutely favourite cafés.

Is there a place in Düsseldorf that particularly impresses and inspires you?
What inspires me most is my walk from home to the Rhine: through the Hofgarten, past the Kunstpalast and the NRW Forum. I often go for walks there, even with my young daughter. These places inspire me because I find peace and quiet there and can be very creative in my thoughts.

alekskurkowski.com

Interview: Karolina Landowski
Photos: Kristina Fendesack

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