The Universe and Ourselves

Hailing from Los Angeles, self-taught designer Shaina Mote strives for reinvention. Imbued with her refined taste and keen eye for detail, each of her creations is a step at curbing the mentality of fast fashion, through a deep consideration of form, fabrication and longevity. Mote’s primary educator was in fact her sewing machine, and what began as a side-project was catapulted to celebrated label through the support of the GenArt foundation and luxury boutique, Totokaelo. Preoccupied with notions of time and timelessness, Mote takes a very contemplative approach, often musing over Wabi Sabi-based notions of impermanence and other philosophical ideas. She is a designer on the search for humble beauty, each of her pieces crafted from plant-based renewable fabrics and artfully finished with French seams or bound edges standing testament to her intellectual and refined aesthetic.

Hall of Furs: Firstly can you tell me a little about yourself? How would you introduce what you do to someone unfamiliar with your work?

Shaina Mote: I am an L.A. based, young designer. I am fascinated by the idea of time and timelessness and strive to make pieces that are built to last and easy to reinvent. Many times I will design a piece to be multi functional or to have an aspect that is open for reinterpretation.

When did you know that a career in design was for you? Did you study? Or, what necessary steps did you take to get to where you are today?

As a child, I imagined that I would be a photographer or fashion designer. I ended up going to school for photography at Art Center College of Design as a high school student and then decided to go to an art college for photography. A huge twist of fate found me flown from east to west coast, back to my childhood home with very few belongings for weeks. One of the only things I had back at my LA home was my sewing machine.

From there, I really began to focus on sewing and patternmaking as a means of creative expression. I took an apprenticeship with a patternmaker when I was about 18 to understand how to gain more control of the design process. Pattern making became (and still is) my favorite part of the design process.

As far as designing goes, I am self taught.

How did your eponymous label come to be? What are the origins of Shaina Mote?

The label began when I was quite young as something I did very informally and mainly for fun as I worked a full time job in fashion. In 2012, I began to take the line more seriously and it was then that my work was discovered by the GenArt foundation. GenArt helped to get the line out there in a way that was much bigger than what I could do myself. I showed the Spring Summer 2013 season on the runway with GenArt and later on that year opened the line at the first retail store, Totokaelo. From Spring 2013 on, the label has taken the shape that it is now.

One of the goals, or mantras, of your label is to curb the mentality of ‘fast fashion’. How are you aiming to make this change?

Partly within the design itself, partly in construction.

If something does not have the proper finishing, the piece will not withhold the test of time. We finish everything clean with bias bound edges and/or french seams so that the style is truly built to last.

Within the design process, I try to focus overall on simplicity and points of interest within the cut or detailing versus trend focused cuts or details. I find that I personally will wear a piece more and reinvent it over the years if the fabric quality is nice, finishing is reliable and cut is interesting or has some type of twist to it. Just observing this pattern with myself has greatly informed how I design. It must be a classic with a twist or have some type of multifaceted detail to it for it to catch my interest.

What is your personal definition of beauty? Do you aim to create it through your designs? Where do you seek to find it?

To me, beauty is humble, quiet and makes you think.

On a similar note, what is your idea of romance? 

Rose petals.  Night walks.  White sand.

How would you describe your team? Would you say it’s quite close-knit?

The team is small and intimate. We work closely with those who help us produce the pieces and try to focus on keeping all production in L.A. and in the hands of family run businesses. Because the fashion world changes from collection development to sales in the blink of an eye, we have many people who we work closely with from season to season but not always 24/7. Within the studio, we keep it really simple and very tight knit.

What do you consider when designing? Perhaps colour, shape or texture?

I consider lines. I literally dream of new ways to pattern a dress or pocket or armhole.

Who is the archetypal Shaina Mote woman? Do you design with a specific person in mind?

I don’t but I am always pleasantly surprised by those who find me!

You strive to bring consciousness to your designs and customers. Where do you source your fabrics?

I mainly source all the fabrics in L.A., although some are flown in from Japan or Italy.  I am really loving Cupra, Tencel and Bemberg—Lyocell based materials. They breathe well and are made of easily renewable plant based fibers.

Do you draw inspiration from your surroundings in Los Angeles? How has this city influenced your practice?

I have lived in L.A. since I was born and I really know much of the city too well. It can be a bit challenging to find new inspiration visually because I am so adjusted to being here.

The city has an attitude that really works for me. There is a warmth and easiness to the city. I find many other artists and designers that I resonate with here. I have community that influences and inspires me. The creative scene is alive, well and brimming with new ideas.

Where else do you draw inspiration? What influences your design process?

I draw inspiration from philosophy and art. Some current musings are: Robert Smithson, Irving Penn photos from “Small Trades” and Merce Cunningham and John Cage dance/ music pieces.

I love the ideas of Wabi Sabi:

All things are Impermanent. Everything wears down, even the planets and the stars. So too does reputation, status, memories, and art.
All things are Imperfect. Every artist knows the flaws of his work.
All things are incomplete. The universe, and ourselves, are in a constant state of becoming or dissolving. There is no state of “completion” in life.” – Leonard Koren

Who are some of your personal and professional style icons?

I always admire people that are willing to see their personal style through 100%. One of my best friends has the wildest and most incredible style with no holds barred. She takes it there 24/7.

Yohji Yamamoto can do no wrong. His style is always spot on.

I’m guilty of perusing your blog, which indeed has a very strong visual language. For you, and your label, what makes a successful image?

I think a lot about imagery has to do with gut reaction. I learned technically how to dissect an image based on composition and color through photo school, but these days I am interested in the spontaneous reaction to imagery.

On another note, I think precise editing and context has a lot to do with the power of an image.

How do you approach campaign imagery? Do you aim to tell a story through these photo shoots?

I approach campaign imagery as clearly as possible. I create mood boards of creative direction for all aspects of the shoot. I try to have a precise idea of where we are going and then on the day of the shoot, I try to let things roll out as they will.

As far as the aim of telling a story: I enjoy alluding to where inspiration is coming from within the set design or styling, but mainly I try to get across a feel for the season. For example: for SS15, we shot in a dance studio and with dance rehearsal mirrors as a reference to some of Robert Smithson’s work. We moved with the daylight across the studio and built up a set of crumpled paper so that as the frames came in for each look we would have something similar in feel but also totally new.

How does the fashion industry differ in Los Angeles to other parts of the world?

L.A. is now just coming onto the map as a fashion destination whereas other global cities are more established.  The industry is shaping up here. I recognize that it has been subject to some pretty terrible styles that took the limelight for a while there, but I think that L.A. also has some incredible stores and fashion icons here that will help to push the envelope and pave the way for the city. I think L.A. has a lot of potential.

Is travel a major component of what you do? Where is one place that you’ve found particularly stirring? Alternatively, where is one place you would love to visit next?

I have been spinning so many plates since the brand began that I haven’t been able to steal much time away lately. Previous to my SS13 season, I had lived in Paris for a while which was really a springboard of inspiration for the look of the line in a lot of ways. I would love to bring the line to Paris next market week. I’ve also been dreaming of an island getaway. I’d love to get lost on a Greek or Spanish island next.

What is next for Shaina Mote? Where do you see your label in a few years time? 

The line is so sparse in many respects, which I think is right on par for a newer label, but there are some many ways I would love to expand upon the vision.  I hope to bring in knits, prints and new washes and fabrications.

Words: Sophie Flecknoe

Images courtesy of Shaina Mote from her SS15 collection

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