Meet the Maker
Interview by Camilla Frances
Images from Maison ARTC, Artsimous and Mehdi Sabik
From his atelier in Marrakech, ballet dancer turned designer, Artsi Ifrach, creates wearable art and one-of-a-kind designs from vintage textiles, one of which is currently on show at V&A Africa Fashion, London. Camilla Frances speaks to Artsi about his journey, and why he hopes to change the way designers are remembered.
You were a professional ballet dancer for 20 years. How did you transition to design?
After dancing I worked in haute couture in Paris. My life had changed and I was questioning the best ways to express myself; I was always very passionate about art, culture and vintage textiles and have been designing pieces, but not as my full time work, since my late 20s when I was living in Amsterdam. I found myself drawn to different materials and starting tying everything together without really realising what I was doing; I tried a lot of things. It wasn’t until I started Maison ARTC six years ago that I felt I could call myself a designer, or artist. We live in a fast world where people are always giving themselves titles they haven’t earned; I didn’t want to do that. I have a lot of respect for these creators, and was careful not to give myself titles I didn’t deserve yet.
What influences your work? How do you plan and execute your designs?
I think anything that's valuable or worth doing takes a long time. I’m not in the ‘business of fashion’, it’s my passion, and I don’t really consider what I’m doing ‘fashion’, it’s very borderline. My photography is all about story and I make one-of-a-kind pieces from vintage materials I find and source, so I have creative freedom. I make these pieces because I think they are beautiful, not because it’s fashionable; most of my clients are artists and dealers. It’s been a long road, and not always easy, but I don’t set myself goals and destinations, I just enjoy the journey.
What challenges, if any, have you faced along the way?
I think the hardest thing, for me, is that to work so hard and be so dedicated you have to believe that what you do is worthwhile, that it has value. This was the hardest thing I found, to actually believe in my work and talent. The rest was just hard work and being determined.
Who or what most inspires you?
I am inspired by history, by culture, by storytelling, and by the dialogue between different cultures and creators. I am deeply inspired by other creators; I have a lot of respect for those who express their creative energy. And of course, I am also inspired by my country, Morocco - the colors, the art, the handmade traditions, the artistry.
Where is home, both emotionally and literally?
I was born and raised in Israel, but my parents are both Moroccan. I moved back to Morocco 12 years ago, after living in Paris and Amsterdam as well as Israel. It’s been beautiful to rediscover my country and culture again, I feel Morocco is home. I live in a beautiful apartment in Marrakech, in the middle of the new city. It's hectic, noisy, colorful, and I love it. My apartment is very eclectic; I collect pieces from all over the world when I travel so I am surrounded with memories. I am always collecting and working with vintage, with memories, and through this I am fixing my own memories and creating new stories. I tell the story the way I want to remember it.
What does a typical working day look like?
I wake at 7am and have a coffee on my beautiful terrace, then go to my atelier and work side by side with my seamstress and [the woman who does my embroidery]. Together, the three of us start to create beautiful pieces.
What are the best and worst things about your work and industry, in your experience?
I enjoy myself every day, and because I love it so much, I can’t call it work. Whenever it starts to feel like work, I stop, because the energy has gone out of it. Until then, it feels effortless. I am not trying to be liked by anyone, I’m just trying to be a creator with my own language. I suppose I am trying though, in my very humble way, to change the way that designers and creators are seen. I think a lot of designers have lost their credibility because everything belongs to brands and branding, and I’d like to see things shift back to a place where creators are respected for their imagination, not who they are working for; money can be a disaster when it comes to fashion, it can kill creativity. People have forgotten who Galliano, Balenciaga, Dior truly were, they become names on products and the signs above a door. They were real artists, there is so much to learn from the past.
One of your designs is currently on show at the V&A as part of its landmark Africa Fashion exhibition. Can you tell us more about the piece and how it came about?
The V&A asked me to take part in the exhibition, and I was so honored. I asked to create a custom piece reflecting the cultures of both England, where the exhibition is, and Africa, the focus of the exhibition. It took six months to create and hand embroider the piece they commissioned, and there are so many messages in it about how I would like to present Africa. It reflects both a trench coat design - a recognisable garment that relates to England - and the Burkha, one of the most recognisable garments of the Arab world, and also the hand of Fatima and the evil eye, recognisable Arab symbols. At the back, I embroidered Nelson Mandela’s speech, ’The Deepest Fear’. This is what inspired me the most. I think this piece changed Africa, and how African and black people see themselves; I wanted to pay homage to that. Ultimately, I want the piece to give people an opportunity to reflect.
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