Martina Manfreda Mortimer was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia, now she is one of the young designer talents in Berlin. She graduated in textile design at the University of Ljubljana and pursued a Masters Degree in fashion/textile at B.I.A.D. University of Central England in Birmingham with a scholarship from the British Council. Among others, she did her work placement with Vivienne Westwood and Julian MacDonald before setting up her own label – Manfreda knitwear. Her designs show that knitwear is far from being old fashioned. She likes colourful accoutrement and the combination of different materials.
Adriana Leidenberger: When did you decide to study design?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: Since I was a teenager I knew that I wanted to do something creative in my life. Towards the end of my Secondary school- Gymnasium- it was becoming clear that this should be art of some kind of design. The final decision- that I chose fashion design and not industrial or interior design- was rather coincidental. The decision was not so much based on the fact that I liked fashion, but more on the fact that I wanted to design and produce my own product.
Adriana Leidenberger: What do you like about your profession?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: It gives me an opportunity not only to be creative, but also to fully express myself through my work. Through knitwear design I can express myself in countless ways. Also, because of the nature of my work – meaning that I produce directly on my knitting machine- I have an opportunity to be spontaneous at my work and to improvise. This is how I like creating the most: improvisation and less planning.
Adriana Leidenberger: What would you say, is the difficulty of being an artist in general, and a designer?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: Sometimes it is difficult so stay faithful to yourself, your own ideas. Many artists/ designers have to make compromises in life in order to survive. This means they sometimes become more commercial than they want to be. It is important to find balance, especially if you are a designer.
Adriana Leidenberger: With whom did you prefer working? What was your most interesting working experience?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: I have to admit that most of all I like working on my own, I enjoy my own solitude. I am not a very good team worker, I am afraid.
Although I did learn a lot from working with other people. One of the interesting experiences was summer 2000 when I did my work placement with Julien MacDonald– as a part of his team I was working on his next fashion show, presenting knitwear collection. It was a very stressful time, the last days before the show we used to work from 9.00 in the morning till 3.00 in the morning of the following day.
Adriana Leidenberger: How was it to work with Vivienne Westwood?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: This also came as a work placement following my M.A study in Birmingham. It taught me again that behind all glamour it as all about very hard work. That is what it taught me: no success comes without working very hard and pure dedication and lots of sacrifice. Maybe the one interesting thing to mention about the V. Westwood team of workers: People there came from everywhere , there were hardly any English people in the Studio. The most spoken languages were Italian and German.
Adriana Leidenberger: What about your design studies? How did they prepare you for your work? Is there anything you would recommend young designers (what they should do, besides their studies, what they should focus on?)
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: I enjoyed my study years enormously- as they gave me the opportunity to develop my creativity without any limitations. Still I have to say that those years gave me a lot of theoretical knowledge , but in practical terms I was completely inexperienced. When I finished my studies, armed with lots of knowledge, I still felt that I was thrown into water and realized I did not know how to swim. I learned very quickly that in real life it is more difficult to survive than they ever tell you in school and that you have to learn skills that are completely new to you. Therefore I would recommend young designers to gain as much work experience as possible before they finish their studies.
Adriana Leidenberger: Your designs show clearly that knitwear can be very fashionable. Do you have to fight prejudices nevertheless? Maybe in some countries more than others?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: One of the reasons why I decided to do knitwear design was exactly this: the prejudice, the belief that knitting is for old ladies who keep themselves busy this way. And that all what knitwear can be is a warm woolly pullover that is very practical but has no elegance at all.
Here I should mention that my big inspiration was Missoni, the Italian knitwear company. Through them I learned how much more knitwear can be: it can be an elegant dress, a sexy dress, a business-like dress or even an evening dress. I have never noticed that this prejudice is more present in some countries than in some others. The popularity of a knitted dress depends more on the general fashion trends.
Adriana Leidenberger: What appeals you in knitwear? Did you decide to focus on knitwear during your studies or even before? Was there any crucial experience, or a souvenir from your childhood?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: As a designer I like knitwear because it allows me to design and be in charge of the product from the very beginning- when I hold a simple yarn in my hand -till the finished product. In a way the process of my work is like the work of an artist who has the paint and the brush and with these two simple means he can create whatever art he wishes.
The love for knitwear appeared at rather late stage of my studies, came very eventually, but stayed with me from that moment ever on.
Adriana Leidenberger: Who are your typical costumers? Who are your favorite costumers?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: All my customers are my favorite customers. But the typical are ladies around 40 years old, independent, with their own carrier or interests in life, with strong personalities. This is because my fashion design is not a mainstream design, it is sometimes on the edge of it. So women who like my work are strong women who like to follow their own path in life.
Adriana Leidenberger: How does your cultural background, your origins influence your work?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: I think my taste is much more ‘colorful’ than the German taste in general, for example. I love all colors, bright colors and combining all those colors together is one of my biggest passions. On the other hand, I also like minimalism as the contrast to it. This winter I was especially inspired with plain black.
Adriana Leidenberger: Is there anything special about the German market? What about being in Berlin compared to other cities in Germany?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: I think the German sense for fashion is rather minimalistic, practical and pure. This is obvious, especially in Berlin. The most respected colors are black, brown, grey and beige and most shops will strictly follow this trend. I sometimes feel that women are afraid to be too feminine and that’s why unisex fashion is very popular.
Adriana Leidenberger: If you could freely choose. Where would you like to work for a while?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: I enjoy working in Berlin very much, for a designer there could hardly be a more energetic city. But if I had a chance to leave Berlin in Winter, which is not my favorite part of the year here, I would like to work in Italy. From my previous experience I know that my own taste is very close to a taste of an Italian woman. It would give me a lot of pleasure to create in a passionate environment of Mediterranean.
Adriana Leidenberger: What are your plans for the future?
Martina Manfreda Mortimer: On one hand I would like things to stay as they are as I am happy with my work at the moment. But of course one should always look forward and make plans and be ambitious. I would like to spread my business a little bit, over the borders of Germany. Also, I would like to find time to develop my second passion- fine art. I have been developing a technique of combining knitted fabric and painting for the last few years and I hope to have an exhibition in the near future.
Adriana Leidenberger: Thank you for the conversation, and good luck for whatever your plans are!