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Unsettling Fihavanana by Designer Fabiola Soavelo

Our 'ON THE SPOT ' interview series highlights individuals throughout the creative community for their contributions to art and culture. Putting these artists "on the spot" we created a space where creatives and innovators tap into the conversation to uplift and continue to inspire the creative community. Next up is...Fabiola Soavelo.

Photographer Karla Del Orbe Designer Soavelo Fabiola Model Bodega Nosh

Fabiola Soavelo, is a highly skilled fashion designer with a unique and diverse background. Originally hailing from the enchanting Nosy Be, Madagascar, Fabiola's family relocated to Switzerland when she was just 10 years old. Deeply connected to her roots, Fabiola incorporates raffia into her creations, a material deeply ingrained in Madagascar's rich cultural tapestry. Meticulously crafted by local artisans, raffia showcases intricately woven patterns and textures, reminiscent of the harmonious rhythms of life.

Infusing her designs with personal narratives, nostalgic memories, and a profound journey of self-discovery, Fabiola elevates these materials to new heights. With effortless finesse, Fabiola blends Malagasy and Swiss traditions, infused with a touch of science fiction allure. Her collections provide a fascinating insight into how the echoes of colonial history and African heritage shape our perception of the human body.

Drawing inspiration from literary masterpieces like Octavia Butler's "Kindred" and Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner," Fabiola delves into the intricate interplay of race, memories, and identity, transporting us to a realm where the familiar and the unknown seamlessly converge. Prepare to embark on a transformative journey through her innovative designs, where a captivating tapestry of fresh experiences emerges from the echoes of the past.

Unsettling Fihavanana is a captivating exploration of the connection between identity, memory, and togetherness. Designed by Fabiola Soavelo, this collection draws inspiration from the dual Swiss-Malagasy heritage, incorporating discarded leather, raffia fibers, and intricate silhouettes. Seamlessly blending the artistry of Malagasy and Swiss traditions, guided by elements of science fiction, it reflects on the impact of colonial history and African roots on our perception of the body. Through works like Octavia Butler's "Kindred" and Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner," this collection delves into the intricate interplay of race, memories, and identity. Join us as we navigate the uncanny realm of memories, merging the familiar and the foreign to create fresh experiences from past echoes.

Soavelo Fabiola

Photographer Anoush Abrar

How would you describe your artistic style?

I'd describe my artistic style as 'hybrid,' blending bold elements with a touch of nostalgia. I enjoy weaving intricate details into my work and experimenting with unconventional materials to create sculptural shapes.

Are there any artists or social movements that have influenced your creativity; and how do you showcase this in your work?

Pierrot Men, a Malagasy photographer, has had a significant influence on my creativity. His black and white photographs of people in Madagascar evoke a sense of nostalgia, connecting me to my childhood memories. Additionally, I've been drawn to the Afrofuturism movement, which sparked my interest in Black futurism. This influence is reflected in my work.

Can you recall the best thing you've done, simply because you were told you couldn’t?

I faced a significant challenge when I decided to change fields, especially coming from a low-income background. Many fashion schools are private and quite expensive, not to mention the material costs. My initial degree was in Media Communication Design, a field focused on computers and intangible output. However, for years, a voice inside me insisted that I had to give fashion a shot. I was afraid that one day I'd wake up with regrets for not trying. I believe it's better to have regrets about trying and experiencing the outcomes than wondering about all the different paths I could have taken. This journey is particularly meaningful to me, given my dual cultural heritage, which adds another layer of uniqueness to my perspective.

What has been the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I once presented a project with a video shoot, but after the presentation, I felt something was missing. So, as soon as I got back home, despite the winter cold, I decided to redo everything to match what I had in my mind. I re-edited everything and sent it to my teacher, expressing that this was truly what I wanted to present. His reply was, 'What do you think about this version?' I told him I loved it and was willing to redo it. He then said, 'Then I have nothing more to tell you.'

From this brief email exchange, I learned to trust my vision. If something doesn't quite match our expectations, we should be willing to redo it, not because we failed the first time, but because our vision and tastes can evolve over time. It's important to accept that not everything works perfectly on the first try.

Have you ever had a "this can’t be happening" moment? Tell us more about this experience.

I'll never forget the moment when I realized I was about to live in New York City for at least two years. I was caught up in all the administrative preparations, and it hadn't quite sunk in yet. The first day I set foot in NYC was something else. Not only was it my first time in the city, but also my first time in the United States. It felt like I'd stepped into one of those sci-fi, post-apocalyptic movies - a city of paradoxes. It was simultaneously refreshing and nerve-wracking, an excitement tinged with a touch of fear.

Photographer Karla Del Orbe Designer Soavelo Fabiola

Models Leslie Yulfo + Jason Pettigrew + Jenny Jung

What have you grown to love and/or outgrown in the past year?

Over the past few years, I've come to cherish the finer details of my creative process, rather than just the final results. I used to think that the end product was the most fulfilling aspect, but gradually, I've discovered that all the little steps involved in bringing a design to life are truly something unique. They make me question, reflect, and understand the where, what, and why of creating each piece, which has become a deeply meaningful part of my journey as a fashion designer.

What was the last thing to make you happy?

The last thing that brought me immense happiness was having my mother travel all the way to NYC to assist me on my latest project. It was an experience that allowed me to see a whole new side of her, and working together in such a close, personal manner was truly special. We shared something unexpected, and I will cherish that memory forever.

If you had to title this era of your life, what would you call it? And why?

If I had to give a title to this era of my life, I'd call it the 'Emergence Era.' Over the past four years, I've lived in three different countries on two continents. This unique blend of experiences, combined with my African and European background, makes me feel like I'm on a sci-fi quest, a journey of self-discovery and personal growth that truly sets this period apart.

How do you feel about AI art? What impacts do you think it will have on creators in the future?

I do love AI, it’s a part of human history evolution. But I still see it as a tool rather than a competitor threat somehow! And hope it's gonna stay like that! I think the impact on the creative field is hard to predict exactly and I feel that we might be bored at some point as AI can not be unpredictable as a human being!

Photographer Karla Del Orbe Designer Soavelo Fabiola Model Bodega Nosh

What creative sources or outlets do you often visit to get inspiration and renew your creativity?

I know it might sound cliché, but there's something about bustling coffee shops that I adore. Observing the diverse flow of people in and out of these places sparks my imagination. It leads me to ponder all the different paths they're on, where they're from, and what their lives hold beyond that coffee shop.

Additionally, I find inspiration in the lively streets of the city and the serene halls of museums. Both environments offer a unique blend of energy that fuels my creativity.

How do you show up for yourself? As in, what does self-care look like for you?

For me, self-care begins with embracing and accepting the unique aspects of who I am. Growing up in two different countries with diverse cultures has often presented challenges to my mental well-being, as I navigated the complexities of fitting in and finding my place. Self-care, in my world, means fostering a profound understanding and awareness of my cultural heritage and its significance in our contemporary society. It's about mapping out how I want to carry this heritage forward in the ever-evolving landscape of my work and life.

Photographer Karla Del Orbe Designer Soavelo Fabiola

Models Nia Calloway + Khambrel Hinson

These past years have been life-changing. What’s something new you've learned or discovered about yourself? How have you applied that to your work?

Over the past few years, I've gone through some significant changes. One important lesson I've learned about myself is understanding the most productive moments in my day and week, and it has reshaped my approach to my work. I used to buy into the stereotype that creative people need to burn the midnight oil, sacrificing sleep and well-being. However, due to health issues, I discovered that my mind and body need to be in top shape for my creativity to flourish.

So, I've started placing a greater emphasis on my health. I've come to realize that, at the end of the day, I'm the one responsible for my work, and putting too much pressure on myself can be counterproductive. This ongoing process of self-discovery and self-care has had a profound impact on my creative process and my ability to bring my nostalgic inspirations into my designs.

Photographer Karla Del Orbe Designer Soavelo Fabiola Model Jenny Jung

Our passions drive our purpose, what recurring messages or themes do you often explore in your work?

In my work, I often delve into the realms of science fiction, memories, and nostalgia. It's fascinating to me how memories can be both comforting and unsettling when we compare our past with our present.

Drawing inspiration from my Swiss-Malagasy roots, my work blends the simplicity of Swiss culture with the vibrant history and nature of Malagasy heritage. Growing up in such diverse surroundings, I've sometimes wondered if those memories are real. I firmly believe in embracing the essence of our younger selves; after all, they are the driving force behind our life's journey.

Photographer Karla Del Orbe Designer Soavelo Fabiola Model Bodega Nosh

What still amazes you?

For me, it's when I'm reading; the sheer power of words never ceases to amaze me. As a designer who creates tangible objects, I'm constantly struck by how something intangible, like the right words, can evoke such vivid emotions and sensations in our minds. It's truly refreshing.

You're building your dream creative team, who's on it?

In my wildest dreams, my team would include Sun Ra, the musical genius, alongside FKA Twigs and the legendary Azzedine Alaia.

Photographer Karla Del Orbe Designer Soavelo Fabiola Model Jason Pettigrew

What's next for you artistically?

Right now, I'm on the lookout for opportunities that provide a steady income while allowing me to continue honing my craft. I'm also really excited about the idea of collaborating with artists from various fields. In fact, I'm already brewing ideas for my next creative project!

If you were to write a message in the sky, what would it say?

It will be; "Savor the present and worry less about the future!"

Connect with Fabiola Soavelo

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