M. Patmos

Designer Focus
< Back to features
2 December 2016 By Kam Dhillon

M. Patmos


Meet Marcia Patmos, winner of the International Woolmark Prize 2015 for womenswear. NJAL investigates the designer’s kaleidoscopic knowledge of knitwear, and distils a focus on fine fabrics, everyday wearability and versatile elegance with a socially-sustainable conscience.

Using architectural silhouettes and a soberly sophisticated palette, Marcia Patmos’ eponymous label revels in the freedom of aesthetic restriction. Prior to launching M.PATMOS, Marcia was co-founder of cult-favourite cashmere brand Lutz & Patmos, where she brings with her a familiar sense of considered craftsmanship and functional luxury, to strike the delicate balance of versatile elegance. Yet, Patmos’ singular foray has allowed her the creative freedom to evolve on her own terms, and form focus on timeless pieces with modern and unexpected details. 

Following NJAL’s appointment as a nominating body for The International Woolmark Prize, it seemed sensical to tap one of its winners for the essential details on how it’s changed both her practice and career. Beyond dissecting the kaleidoscopic possibilities of knitwear, the reality of practising sustainable fashion is a pertinent point of discussion, and one at the crux of Patmos’ process and practice of carefully, crafted neutrals, graphic palettes and expert tailoring. 

Patmos' propenstiy for humanitarianism, has recently seen her donate a percentage of proceeds from sales on her own website to Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, and look beyond fashion to design a soap that is Made in USA, artisanal, preservative-free, and cruelty-free for a cohesive comitttment to sustainability.  

We've previously discussed the difficulty in securing a 100% transparent supply chain. While it takes more people to really question how fibres were made, farmed and sourced for such information to become truly transparent, do you think there are certain things designers can do in order to make a collection with a transparent supply chain of production?

That is an interesting question and one I’ve been thinking about a lot right now.  Yesterday, I visited a Merino farm in Goulburn as part of my visit with Woolmark here in Australia. To be able to be so close to the start of what we do—to be able to meet the sheep, as it were—is such a rare and special opportunity. It was great to make a human connection with the farmer and her family and see her deep understanding and care for the animals. 

I also think that as technology continues to make it easier to drill down into a supply chain, that the impact and aspects of each individual link will take on greater importance.  I recently met someone in London who had started a fibre tracing system. Another option is for the designers to get directly into the supply chain themselves. Billy Reid and Alabama Chanin are growing their own organic cotton. Right now, as designers continue to learn about these elements and to ask mills and suppliers for organic and sustainable products, and as organizations like NJAL continue to keep a focus on these ideas, then the questions and choices and philosophy begin to filter out to the customers. You can see similar shifts in the food industry: as it becomes easier to see what’s happening in the supply chain of our food sources, we’re able to make more informed decisions about what is important to us as individuals.

Tell us more about your brand, as we know it. You’ve recently called M.Patmos a “lifestyle brand”–can you tell us what means and how you want it to grow/develop?

I think of M.PATMOS as a lifestyle brand because I want to connect to my customer and the way she lives her life. I envision my customer having similar beliefs about the choices she wants to make in terms of her impact on the environment. I’m also beginning to move into other realms of design, such as home and travel items, which are appealing as they offer new ways of combining beauty with functionality and can exist outside of the fashion calendar. 

Let's talk about inspiration. How do you translate visual references such as New York in the ’30s and art-deco decadence into functional designs? 

In particular, I look at lines and details for seaming and patterns. I also look at how different materials work together. Like on construction sites for example, the old, the new and the in-progress are all mishmashed together, creating interesting contrasts. One of the great things about New York is that it’s constantly talking to you. My camera is like a running notebook of the visual ideas I encounter every day.  When I sit down to put mood boards together, I can see how on a single block you can have all these seeming contrasts—the ornate art-deco detailing, the stately 1800s stone facades, the sleek lines of the ultramodern glass and steel—but the city and its ultimate functionality and style weave them all together into a single skyline. I think it’s this never-ending conversation that helps me in my own creative process, to say, “Of course luxury and durability go together, look at the Chrysler building.”

What have been the biggest changes in your business since winning the Woolmark prize?

There has been a great satisfaction and joy that I have found in working with an organization like Woolmark and Australian Wool Innovation. Their support and validation have been incredible. As well as the connections and introductions they have made directly, the international exposure we have received from the Woolmark Prize has put me in front of retailers, collaborators and customers who I would not have been able to reach otherwise.

You’ve worked with wool long before your Woolmark prize win. Why is it such an important material for you? What are some of its challenges and limitations?

I would say that the reason I work with wool so much is that it is such a versatile and problem-solving fibre. Clearly, I use other fabrics as well, but often that is a question of choice and variety rather than a limitation I’ve found with wool specifically. As a malleable, natural, elegant and reasonably priced luxury material, wool really is a great choice for my line. Also, because it is beautiful and utilitarian, many qualities are “stock service”, which means you can order exactly what you need, saving waste of money, time and materials.

It seems that you really apply the “sustainable” moniker with honesty and integrity. Despite being associated with “eco-friendly” fashion, you’ve openly said that only about 30% of your line is “sustainable”. Are the limitations of fashion as an industrial complex (a fixed seasonal calendar with constant deadlines) much too demanding to actually realise the idea of “slow fashion” and execute a collection that is truly sustainable within time frames, enshrined by retailers and fashion week calendars?

I do want to be honest in all of the ways I represent and talk about my collections. I am associated with the eco-friendly, sustainable and slow fashion movements, not just because I believe in the principles and am always happy to keep these ideas in the wider conversation, but because I apply the practices where I can and am constantly innovating to reduce the impact of the industry on the environment. I would say that 99% of my collections are made with natural fibres and materials. The seasonal fashion calendar is definitely an element that works against the ideas of slow fashion, designers are always trying to drive the market and maybe this is a new frontier where changes can be made. Even working within this framework, I have found ways to improve, from repeating and tweaking signature styles that are still relevant from season to season to consolidating regional production output to a single shipping source.

Is there enough room to be creative in the heavy rulebook that comes with practicing sustainable fashion?

I tend to focus less on a heavy rulebook and more on each achievable possibility. People are starting to realize that these issues are less binary, in or out, and more along a continuum. I think there’s definitely room to be creative and I think it’s what these problems demand. It’s important to keep driving the industry, driving the market and creativity is as important as technology and education to achieve these goals.  Sometimes rules and boundaries can create interesting results, helping you to find creative solutions or new ways to work with materials.

 

There is a sustainable conscious underpinning much of your design efforts, but is there also a political one? You work with handicraft collectives in Bolivia, and Women’s Artisan Collectives in Nepal. Is empowering women and indigenous or marginalised communities a firm part of your collection?

There is a social or political consciousness at work when I partner with these collectives but I also just love the work that they do. I came to fashion by learning handwork from my grandmother and these groups in Nepal, Peru and Bolivia are persevering traditions and techniques that are beautiful and meaningful and at risk of being lost. There is something special about work that can only be done by the human hand. That it also empowers these women to support themselves and their communities is all the better, like the fact that it’s eco-friendly, being powered by people rather than fossil fuels.

In your work with Manolo Blahnik, you chose discarded tilapia skins for pairs of heels and sandals because it’s a by-product of the food industry. There’s a growing intersection between science and fashion to develop bioplastics from plants, and other repurposed natural materials. Beyond using zero-waste technologies in your production process, are you looking for other ways to elevate industrial by-products into functional luxury?

Definitely, I am always open to new ideas and materials. I often upcycle materials that would be waste from the production of one garment into detail on another, so expanding that upcycling to include other industries and processes is certainly appealing. I like the idea of collaborating with science and technology to create something beautiful and luxurious. I speak frequently with the technicians at the factories to brainstorm on uses for factory “leftovers” and in an effort to “know your maker/supplier”. When I was in London for the launch of my Woolmark collection at Harvey Nichols, I attended the Future Fabrics Expo 2015 put on by The Sustainable Angle and saw an interesting array of technological eco-friendly materials, including leather made from mushrooms.

How do you look to educate your customer, and encourage them to think holistically about slow fashion and sustainable living through the story and labour of love behind your garments?

Interviews like this one are of course a great way to share these thoughts and ideas with my customer. So I thank Not Just a Label for the opportunity and for your insightful questions. The platform I’ve been given by the Woolmark Prize is another valuable channel. There are definitely a lot of common beliefs between M.PATMOS and the Australian Wool Innovation on ideas around natural fibres, high quality and a love of the land.

I interact directly with my customers through Instagram, Pinterest and other social media. I also participate in many in-store events and try to do sales clinics with my stockists’ staff whenever possible.  When I have more manpower, I would love to create more content for blogs and stories.

Further Reading