This season Macedonian-born London-based Teodora Mitrovska was happy to be back taking part in a physical presentation for London’s AW22 Fashion Week. After almost two years of cancelled shows and events, she saw the world through a different lens. Usually, the designer likes to comment on socio-political issues through her work, but recent challenges have made her self-reflective, looking for more straightforward, relatable inspiration.
Since its inception, her brand, T*MITROVSKA has been featured in numerous publications and has shown at many European fashion weeks, including Riga Fashion Week, Fashion Weekend Skopje, Lisbon Fashion Week and London Fashion week. Recently the brand gained recognition as part of the BIG SEE Awards for Fashion Design in Macedonia. The Big See Awards were launched to explore, promote and celebrate creativity and business potential in South-East Europe, recognising innovative and exceptional design in all 21 countries across various sectors from architecture to design, art, sports, science, politics, travel, and hospitality.
This season, the designer, who loves to work with unconventional materials, explored the social and emotional impacts of the pandemic, emphasising the effects of prolonged periods of isolation on our mental health. T*MITROVSKA AW22 launched on Saturday 19th February as part of a collective experience with several other brands. Like many designers, Theodora took her collection, entitled ‘mind your mind’, back into a physical space for a full-day display that culminated in a live performance and a screening of the video editorial for the collection. It was a chance to reengage with her audience and allow them to interact with the clothes. The collection was pared down for AW22 with fewer pieces, carefully curated and produced for maximum quality and aesthetic effect. But, despite fewer garments, T*MITROVSKA, as anticipated, offered a distinctive collection ranging from comfy oversized bombers to intricate bodices and headdresses.
We caught up with Teodora post London Fashion Week to talk about her presentation, her thoughts on being back in the physical space, navigating the fashion industry and her hopes for the future of her brand.
Congratulations on your latest collection entitled ‘Mind Your Mind,’ which addresses the self-help phenomenon that exploded as we were all in isolation. What did you do to maintain a positive outlook through that time, and how has that translated into the pieces?
As I have acknowledged, some of us were in a quite privileged position during the pandemic with secure housing and a secure job. This allowed me to work from home and take things a bit slower, so the first few months of the pandemic came like a much-needed break for me. Minus the loss of smell (which I later discovered was due to catching COVID in early 2020), I felt better than ever in those first months of lockdown.
After the summer of 2020, the COVID melancholy definitely hit me harder, and the ‘mental health walks’ were a great way of dealing with that. These were the times when I started brainstorming my collection. Imagination has always been a great escape for me, so walking and daydreaming of my next project really helped. I was just observing peoples’ behaviour (including my own) and then processing it in my park walks, which inspired the collection. I started to realise that it didn’t matter to me whether I looked stylish if that meant being cold or uncomfortable; all I cared about was being warm and cosy. So I started documenting my very questionable, park-walk outfits – these were a starting point for materials and silhouettes. Another little detail was that every time I would go out, my ears would feel extremely cold – that’s how the TRAPPER BERETKAs were born.
Your designs usually reflect a socio-political message, but this season you felt the global challenges warranted a more straightforward approach; how did this translate in terms of how you worked and has it taken your label in a new direction?
You are correct; I thought it was quite radical to design socio-politically engaged fashion when I started making clothes. Now, when it is expected of everyone to do this in their work, on social media etc. I felt the most radical thing to do would be to stop pointing at the issues and telling others how to fix them but focus on the thing that I am most competent to talk about, which is to reflect upon my experience. It is funny because the collection started as a reflection on the personal but ended up being a reflection on the collective. At the end of the day, we aren’t that different from each other; I think if I experienced something, probably at least 50 other people experienced the same thing. So it ended up being, maybe not politically inspired, but definitely socially.
I think fashion has always been a reflection of our society, so I am not sure how and if my brand will change in the future; we’ll have to see how and if the world changes. I don’t want to restrict myself; I want to have the freedom to create based on what feels right in the moment.
You have said that “while some of us had the privilege to experience the pandemic as a time for self-reflection, self-growth, self-investment time, the world has been falling apart.” How do you see fashion’s role in that context?
I am not sure. Fashion has always been social and political. In that sense, it is important that it acknowledges and discusses any issues and changes in these areas, but in relation to itself. I feel like we have started asking from fashion for too many answers or solutions in areas that fashion is not part of. Therefore I am not sure how the fashion industry could have resolved the pandemic or even influenced the consequences from it.
When we interviewed you a few seasons ago, you mentioned that you enjoy working with plastics and rubbers but were also looking into exploring more sustainable alternatives. How has that search for more sustainable materials progressed, and have you been able to incorporate them into this collection?
I am still on the journey and will probably have to be for as long as I am creating. From this season, I have decided to decrease the number of pieces I make per collection and really focus on the craftsmanship and attention to detail in each piece. I am really trying to avoid producing ‘filler’ garments (which seem necessary in a 12+ looks collection). I am also happy to say that I haven’t bought any PVCs or plastics for this collection and have been reusing leftovers from my studio. The bomber coat/ jacket with the ‘Mind your Mind’ print is actually embellished with ‘sequins’ made from leftover iridescent PVC fabric from 2 collections ago.
As part of that ethical ethos, you have moved to designing one collection per year. How challenging is maintaining an environmentally sustainable footprint and a financially sustainable business?
Yes, correct, I am doing 1 collection per season, and now I have even reduced the number of garments I make within that collection. To be very honest, being sustainable is one of the smallest challenges to building a financially sustainable business. I believe the problem is much more complex than choosing to appear on fewer seasons or choosing local production as opposed to cheap labour abroad. Some designers have already talked about the flow of the fashion industry as a system, and I think we are all aware of them. Hopefully, we can make some useful changes.
If anything, I think choosing to produce less but with better quality helps the brand grow in a ‘healthier’ financial way. This allows to really focus on producing more exciting showpieces and also develop better core items. When I worked for Raeburn, I learned it is all about slow and steady growth; you don’t want to burn out after 4 seasons.
You have always worked with a gender-free approach to your designs. Since life is still in a semi home/work setting for many people, do you feel that gender-free designs afford themselves to this relaxed and versatile way of living?
I never really thought about that, so thank you for asking this question; it’s made me think in a new direction. I guess the answer is yes? It is an interesting question to think about because, on the one hand, working from home and focusing on self-care and well-being has influenced a more relaxed and comfortable way of dressing. Still, there is Tik-Tok which I think is another significant phenomenon from the past two years, and I think it has influenced a very different aesthetic.
I had a conversation with my students (I teach fashion foundation at Middlesex University) about their obsession with very tight revealing clothes. And we came to the conclusion that it is perhaps the exposure to social media from a very young age and how it has liberated a lot of boundaries of what is provocative, what is empowering etc. It is interesting how these two outlooks on clothing co-exist. Not to say that tight revealing clothing needs to be gendered, but it is definitely a much braver choice than a cosy stay-at-home look.
You began your label producing one-off pieces that eventually led to an online presence. How challenging was it launching online amid the pandemic, and do you feel it has helped you reach a broader audience than a physical presence would have in these uncertain times?
I have to be honest (and maybe I am an old soul), but I was never fully convinced about online spaces. From my experience, the connections and visibility have always come from physical spaces and then fed into my online spaces, rarely has it been the other way around. So I was extremely excited to finally be able to create a physical presentation, and I think it really paid off.
How impacted were your design and production processes by the pandemic, and what lessons have you taken from that time that you have implemented now that we are back to semi-normality?
I source most of my fabrics locally and produce all the pieces either in my studio in London or working with other local production studios, so actually, my production hasn’t really been affected by the pandemic. It was more so the drive to produce because, as I’ve said, I am not a big fan of digital spaces – they never really worked for me independently of the physical ones, so it is tough to create when you have that feeling that no one is going to see it or nothing is going to come out of it.
LFW AW22 continued with a phygital version of fashion week. Your latest collection featured an installation that looked at our nostalgia for physical interaction during the pandemic and allowed people to try on your clothes. How did it feel to see people physically enjoying the clothes again, and what do you want people to feel when they wear a piece by T* Mitrovska.
I think, as human beings, we are all a bit selfish, in the sense that we are mostly interested in the experience that we are part of. So I think turning your collection into a personal experience for others is really important and valuable. This is why I believe digital spaces could be a struggle, as watching something on a screen doesn’t make you a participant but an observer. To add to this, fashion at its core is about physicality; you want to be able to touch and feel the fabric, look at the finishings up close, try it on etc.
I think it depends on the piece. If it is an RTW item, comfort and practicality are really important, but if it’s a showpiece, I’d like people to feel like pop stars. When I was little and just started exploring the world of fashion, my favourite activity was to dress up. Whether in clothes from around the house or some pieces that I had put together myself, I would play my favourite MTV hits to lip-sync to, and at that moment, I felt invincible; I was the coolest pop icon ever. That’s how I want people to feel in my showpieces.
You were awarded a BIG SEE Fashion Design 2021. How did it feel to be recognised for your work in your home country, and what advice would you give to other young designers wishing to follow in your footsteps?
Yes, BIG SEE awards are aimed at artists and designers from across all South-Eastern European countries, and I was awarded best fashion designer for North Macedonia for 2021. It is honestly such an honour to be internationally recognised like this and at such an early stage in my career. Especially with previous award winners, in this category, like Marjan Pejovski, who founded KTZ, another Macedonian-founded London-based fashion brand.
Ahh, that is a tough one… I would say be curious and be persistent. I think these are two very important things if you want to exist in the fashion world.
Having returned to LFW with a physical presentation, what are your hopes for the brand in the coming months?
As you know by now, I am all for physical events, so this has really given me a lot of positive energy and motivation for more work. I am currently working on promoting the new collection, but I already have some new ideas emerging for the next project. I am also planning a few collaborations with a couple of sustainable British brands and designers, so all in all, it’s a busy and exciting time for me.
In an industry where many young designers are trying to carve a path, it’s not always easy to stand out, but Theodora made an impression on us long before we experienced one of her shows. Standing outside of Freemason’s Hall in London a few years back, wearing one of her designs, she made a significant impact, and we’ve been following her ever since. It’s great to see how much this designer has progressed since those early days in her career.
As we have got to know Theodora, what strikes us is her profoundly thoughtful approach to her designs. Many brands choose to include environmental or political messages in a bid to be current – ultimately with commercial rather than genuine intentions; Teodora, though, is one step ahead, taking her thoughts in a different direction, genuinely channelling her work for the better of the collective.
As well as producing inclusive gender-free collections, she is constantly exploring new ways to use existing materials; and Avant-guard alternatives to fabrics. In the past, she has used items like postal materials and this season, she is working to reduce her environmental impact by mindfully concentrating on quality over quantity.
For us, it seems T* Mitovska is not just a label. While it delivers stunning designs with contemporary aesthetics, it is a brand that encompasses so much more; this is a designer who consistently delivers stunning collections while encapsulating an ultramodern mindset, a vision, sharing purposeful messages that reflect the sentiments of Teodora’s generation.
Back in those early days outside Freemason’s Hall, we knew that T* MITROVSKA was different, that this designer had something special, and she proves us correct, time and time again.
Show Photography: Godrut Gaspar
‘Mind Your Mind’ Video Director/ cinematographer/ video editor: Katerina Vahalova
Music: Aka Thesaur
Styling: Tudor Covaciu
Models: Filip Slomski & Chilli-Rae McCormack
DOP Assistant: Dafne Ysabel Sanchez
Editorial photos on set: Sash Manev