Kostas Murkudis

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13 July 2015 By Kam Dhillon

Kostas Murkudis

Following NJAL’s inter-disciplinary showcase of contemporary creativity in Berlin, it’s an apt moment to spotlight some of the fashion iconoclasts who have long cultivated creativity in the German capital. Although his name betrays his Greek heritage, Berlin-based fashion designer Kostas Murkudis has an undeniably German pedigree and his enduring influence is being marked with a retrospective at The Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt, set to open on Friday 17th July. NJAL meets the designer working to collapse the categories of art and fashion with contemporary conviction.

Murkudis' approach to fashion has always been consistent in its concept: elected, thoughtful and unpretentious. These are three worthy aesthetic signifiers for any designer, but Murkudis’ real legacy as one of Germany’s foremost design talents is deep-rooted in a commitment to code fashion with the duality of a rarefied art practice. It’s this sense of dualism and an urgency to distil the essential details that’s followed him from his days as Helmut Lang’s first assistant to his own fashion label.

Murkduis makes his institutional debut at The Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK) with a retrospective celebrating the essential compounds of his design DNA. Artistic outlooks and ways of working have always had a decisive influence on Murkudis’s work. Perhaps most particularly in his sculptural approach, where his enduring investigation of three-dimensional materials underscores a much wider creative praxis, one that finds its focus at MMK. Designed by German artist Carsten Nicolai, Murkudis’ first retrospective visually weaves his sartorial history into a much broader narrative addressing social, sculptural and participatory issues. NJAL catches up with the contemporary visionary, to understand his conceptions and perceptions of the medium of fashion, and why dualism remains such an integral aesthetic cursor that permeates every inch of his oeuvre.

Let’s talk about your forthcoming exhibition at MMK. How did the idea for a “mid-life” retrospective, as you put it, come about?

I was asked in July 2011, just after my summer collection presentation at Judin Gallery by Susanne Gaensheimer, who is director of the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt/Main. She came to me with the question of whether I could ever imagine myself being a part of the museum’s permanent collections as a fashion designer. That was kind of the staring point, and I was very excited but I didn’t expect anything further to happen at all, but then it did…

You have a long history of collaboration with artist Carsten Nicolai. How did that creative relationship begin and how has it evolved to date?

We met for the first time in 1995 at his gallery-opening/show in Munich, where he explained his project in detail, and we got into a real conversation about his next steps. It was quite magic in so many different ways and I think that was the beginning of a true friendship.  

What was it like to work with curator Peter Gorschlüter on this project?

It was a totally inspiring and mutually respectful experience. Throughout the entire process, he was always pushing things further and was always very open minded in our creative dialogue and very honest in his point of view which was incredibly valuable for me.

As part of this exhibition, you also examine some of the relationships between your own designs and prominent works in MMK’s permanent collections. Tell us about the process of choosing these artists and works? Especially, the work of Blinky Palermo and Robert Longo. What were some of the specifics?

During the process of putting the exhibition together, I discovered so many art pieces that I had always admired for an incredibly long time but I hadn’t seen in real life before. So, it was very easy to go through the existing collection and work with Peter Gorschlüte to secure the pieces which I felt have always been guiding and inspiring me for a very long time.

I’ve heard you have a photograph of Kurt Cobain your studio. Is that true? 

Yes–that’s true! How do you know that?! It’s a photograph of him in wearing a tiger jumpsuit. I was always thrilled by his music, the poetry in his lyrics and his iconic, sartorial sensiblity.

How do you describe or look at the relationship between art and fashion? Despite being a fashion designer who is showing work inside an artistic canon, you don’t seem to assign your works value to art’s value system. Why are you wary of being judged by those rules?

That was exactly what Susanne Gaensheimer saw in my work and she’s most definitely responsible for convincing me to show my work at the museum and move beyond my initial caution towards institutionalising my own work , but it’s been thrilling to realise my fashion in the context of art, and allign myself with artists that inspire and motivate my aesthetic signature.

You began your career as first assistant to Helmut Lang, and though that’s a firmly close chapter in your illustrious career, how does that time of your life inform your design practice and aesthetic philosophy today?

It was such a wonderful moment when we met for the first time. He was preparing his first show outside of Austria, and believe it or not–the location wasn’t Paris, it was Munich. We started working together very closely, very quickly. We were discovering the world of our aesthetics together and it was all such an intense process. I believe it felt very natural for both of us, and most especially being able to inspire each other by sharing our knowledge and perceptions on an array of things.

You have lasting relationships with creatives across so many artistic fields. There’s often a sense of dualism underlying your collections, especially when it comes to inspiration. Where does that affection for duality come from?

I was born behind the iron curtain as the son of two Greek immigrants. That’s the first and major contradiction but not the last one. I love to experience the field between two extreme poles and that’s how I very often start the process of discovering content and curiosity on so many different levels, and most especially when it comes to contextualising my practice.

You collaborated with olfactory icon Sissel Tolaas for the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival in 2012 on designing the first stage of a dress, with Tolaas creating the initial stage of a smell. What was that process like? How does the human sensorium affect your design technique?

I met Sissel around 2005, and she was encouraging me to develop a perfume with her. It was a very long process and very challenging for me. I needed to go through a sort of education really—learning to trust my receptors and finding my personal way on that path. It’s such an overlooked sense and its capacity is severely underestimated. I’ve always been aware of it but I can’t say smell was ever that prominent or considered in my life until that very moment.

I started to like this sense of discovery and I think I came out with a strong sensitivity to everything around me as the result of the experience. I really enjoyed working with Sissel and the whole process of exchanging ideas with her, So, it was quite easy to collaborate on that project, and the starting point was this dress, made from high-tech fibres that reacted to the light. She was analysing the garment and creating the smell solely inspired by the dress. 

How would you describe your own work and its evolution to date in tandem with all the experiences you’ve lived?

I would say that I’m still learning by constantly experiencing and discovering new techniques , skills and new creative fields–whether they  belong to crafts or the world of futuristic and technological development.

What is your advice to young designers?

Stay true to your ideals

All Images Courtesy of MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt 

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