UY. Slow fashion and art collective in Berlin

"Transe". Installation Room by Michał ANdrysiak, Shira Kela and Jessica Comis, sound design by Ali Najafi, choreography by Kiani del Valle, solo performance by Valentin Tszin. Photo: Monica Lek

UY is a Berlin-based fashion label and art collective, created by Fanny Lawaetz (Stockholm) and Idan Gilony (Tel Aviv). The minimalist and futuristic aesthetic reflects the alternative spirit of the brand. UY’s innovation is essentially based on its fashion ethos ; namely, it offers genderless, ageless, one size, comfortable, handmade, local and affordable garments. But most of all, UY is a lifestyle and considered a community by its designers. They chose to follow an ethical and slow fashion philosophy. No advertising, no big stores. UY is a complete project with a strong underground artistic identity.

Manifesto XXI met Fanny and Idan in their studio in Berlin-Kreuzberg : the place itself mirrors UY’s world. It is both their living and working place. Indeed, everything exudes UY : the smell of the candles, the rows of black garments, several artworks on the wall, a panel of sketches for the next dance performance in the corridor and the loud techno music playing in the studio, where a seamstress is working while Fanny and Idan are busy preparing the parcels for the sales of the day. We began the interview with Idan around a cup of tea.

Photo : Michał ANdrysiak & Magdalena Woodmann

Manifesto XXI – How do you think your projects could have an impact on society, at the level of communities but also individuals, regarding the main fashion industry?

Idan : I think today, fashion is not only about the clothes. I feel that for garments, everything has been already done and seen before. And just selling clothes without a story behind might not touch you. Therefore, I would say that we are not selling clothes, but a lifestyle. Our aim is not to create beautiful, amazing, unique clothing. We want to present how we are living, something that we believe in. We express ourselves through the smell of us (showing the new collection of natural wax candles), visually what we are wearing, what we are eating, which music we listen to… Therefore I think it would have input on some people. 

Fanny Lawaetz and Idan Gilony in the studio. Photo : Søren Drastrup
Fanny Lawaetz and Idan Gilony in the studio. Photo : Søren Drastrup

You convey a lifestyle more than a dress style. It is very clear in the way you share your living space with the studio! It is also really about self-expression and identity. Insofar as you sell material for self-expression, do you control the outfits of the models on your campaigns, or do the models choose it?

Idan : It is an interesting question. It depends on the projects. For editorials, lookbooks and new pieces we are trying to promote, we are dressing up. But for some projects, it’s about the identity of the person, it’s not about the clothes. For those cases, we have what we call our “Muses” (we don’t call them “models”), people that inspire us. They come to the studio and we say dress up as you are. For the videos for the promotion of UY sales, we choose our muses, because of who they are.

So who are your muses?

Idan (laughing) : Yeah, it could be a lot ! It’s not necessarily so exclusive and crazy. It’s not only one unique person. It could be any person that has a strong identity, that brings something different. Usually that is a person that looks very confident with himself and doesn’t matter how he looks. Our muses do not wonder if they should have the heroin look, if they should have a tattoo on the face or shaved hair… It could be anything. It’s really about the agenda, the story, the background that the person is bringing.

How do you meet them? Are they friends of yours or people you saw somewhere and then contact? 

Idan : Actually, the photographers offered us many times people from agencies to collaborate with. But we are trying so much to avoid the fashion world! And agencies, for us, it is totally mass production of human beings.

Yes, and it is based on criteria…

Idan : It is really not who we are. Most of our models are friends of us. If not, it is people that we have met in nightlife, in the street or a friend of a friend. But afterwards they already become part of us. It is people we get to know and most of them are not professional models. For those, it was the first time they were in front of a camera. They give us something and we give them something. It’s an experience.

We want to present how we are living, something that we believe in.

Do you think that other labels will follow your model and if so, do you think it would it be about mimicking your style or follow UY’s spirit? Do you have contact with other fashion labels?

Idan : I don’t have contact with other labels, I hate fashion. I hate the competition in fashion. There are some designers (friends of mine in Barcelona, Berlin, Eastern Europe) that I follow because I do appreciate their art. Two days ago, someone sent me photos of a lookbook of a brand. He thought it was our work, because it was so similar! It happened several times in Berlin. It bothers, it is annoying because you work so hard to make your visions happen and you see something that looks quite similar. But at the same time we take it as a compliment and we just don’t care. If you care about the small things you will freak out, because in the world of fashion, it is all like that.

Photo : Paul Krause

Let’s talk about body shapes and gaits, that tell so much about our mind and us generally. How do you grasp this reality when you make clothes? Is it about controlling the body to create a specific shape or letting freedom to the body and the gestures ?

Idan : We try to be very free in the garments. Freedom is one of our main key words (with unisex, updated, sexy), words we think about when we build a collection.  Therefore, most of our garments are very loose, oversized, comfortable and free. It can go along with a lot of different shapes of body. But it changes according to collections and projects. For example, we had a project, in which we focused more on structuring the body and muscles, with very fitted shapes. We have also had a woman inspired collection, and most of the garments were made after the curly silhouette. It can change, but mostly we try to avoid shapes. When it comes to ready-to-wear collections, we make big shapes in order to fit to everyone.

MILKSHAKE. Styling : Kevin Meunier. Models : Valerie Pomme, Kewin Bo and Morys Coulibaly. Photo : Jacqueline Mikuta

I saw there are many one-size garments on your online shop.

Idan : Yes. If we have a garment that is not one size, Fanny and I try it and if it fits both of us, then we are very happy. If it’s only fitting an M and an S, we don’t like it. We do it sometimes, for pants we really have to do it, but in the up-tops it’s better when everybody can shop the « one size ».

Your collections seem really close to dance, because the clothes seem so comfortable and flexible. Is it connected to the fact that techno is your main inspiration? Do you make garments for dance?

Idan : Actually we are very connected to « movement » and dance, not necessarily techno. We do like techno because it’s part of us and yes, it’s strongly related. But I would say that it’s more about movement in general, as we express ourselves also with the events we organize, in which there are contemporary dance performances. It could be for all types of music. Sometimes we express through techno music, but also ambient, experimental or more groovy music.

UY PERFI Sweatshirt . Photo : Francesco Cascavilla

The way you play with nakedness and sexiness is quite unusual. For example, I have been very surprised by this campaign photograph for the grey “Perfi” sweatshirt, where three bottomless models wear really casual sweatshirts. The effect of it is really weird and interesting, it is both sexy and unsexy. Do you intend to do something sexy, or you just don’t bother? 

Idan : Of course, we like when it’s sexy!

Fanny :  I think it’s something natural. We don’t think too much about it.

Idan : Sometimes it gets too sexual and we are like…

Fanny : Yeah it’s too much…

Idan : For example, yesterday, we shot something in the house and we thought it’s super nice, but when we saw the material, then we were like « oh my god! It’s not sexy, it’s literally porn! »

Fanny : Maybe it’s also because here in Berlin it’s so open about sexuality and nudity.

Idan : Like I said before about the muses, we choose people that inspire us. We appreciate open-minded people, and that also means about sexuality. A lot of series of photos that we have made were actually built up according to the personality of the people. So sometimes if you see a couple that is almost making out, it is very sexual, they are just being themselves. But yes we like doing sexy things because it is our environment. It is how people live in Berlin in 2016.

Photo : Mikuta
Photo : Mikuta

What about the reception of your creations outside of Berlin? Do you sell a lot in other places?

Idan & Fanny (altogether) : Yeah!

Fanny : In France, Amsterdam is really inspired at the moment from Berlin, Easter Europe also…

Idan : But France comes in second after Berlin.

Mostly in Paris?

Idan : For what we sold today, it was very certain.

Fanny : Today we sold in Paris, San Francisco and Berlin.

Idan : I guess in France, they just appreciate this black clothing aesthetic, not necessarily the latex, fetish clothing. And they also like the Berlin vibe.

Berlin is really an inspiration in Paris at the moment. They are movements that really try to « berlinize » Paris.

Idan : Oh really?

Fanny : Berlin has a name, it’s a statement.

Online LookBook, July 2015, with Anna von Rüden and Erwin Werder. Photo : Jacqueline Mikuta

We like doing sexy things because it is our environment. It is how people live in Berlin in 2016.

Do you feel that your projects kind of represent the Berlin spirit and atmosphere?

Fanny : In our scene, yes.

Idan : It’s not representing the whole Berlin. There are so much different scenes, like the hippie scene. I would say that we are representing one side of Berlin : the techno scene, the clubs, the black, some stores… A lot of friends of us play music too. 

Fanny : We involve everybody of this side of Berlin, somehow.

Idan : Exactly! Obviously we are sharing some aesthetic. So if someone we don’t know also shares it, we are already connected. 

Photo : Michal ANdrysiak & Magdalena Woodmann

What are your commercial strategies, your choices concerning UY’s visibility in public spaces? You have no advertising on the streets, neither on magazines.

Fanny : No, we don’t do advertising. We use the social media : Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat.

So the spaces where you show your work are the internet and the studio, that’s all?

Idan : Yes. Many times we got offers to sell in stores, with Bread and Butter, during the fashion week, all these fashion fairs. Even in Paris, there are showrooms that always ask us to come for the fashion week. We are just really trying to avoid it, because we already feel now not so underground, we are not so small anymore. Our aim is not to have these big brands, you know…

Manifesto XXI – Don’t you want to spread it?

Idan : We want to spread it to the right people. If you find ourselves in Bread and Butter, it is not going to be special anymore.

Fanny : We have to be careful with these steps we are going. Of course if you want to grow and to live from your work, you have to be a little bit commercial, because it is bringing the money. We try to choose the right way to do it. 

Idan : How did you hear about us actually?

Manifesto XXI – Some friends already Facebook-liked UY, so it appeared on my news feed. I visited your website, read a bit about the spirit of the label. But I was mostly surprised by the affordable prices!

Idan : Yes, we really try to make it affordable as possible. For some of the garments we do not even earn. For the candle line we are doing right now, we literally lose money. But we just want to do it. We just play around and do what we want to do. Also for our events, we spend a lot of money. For example, we will do soon a big presentation (UY ZONƎ) for our community to come and celebrate with us our three years of creations, and party together.

You often present your collections through the notion of experiencing something (with performances, videos, events). How do you combine it and how did you got into arts?

Idan : We both are coming from art. Fanny had been studying fashion design since high school. I had been studying art since elementary school. We are really related to art.

Fanny : We always did it.

Idan : We are expressing ourselves with fashion right now, because that is what we studied and selling our garments brings us most of our incomes. But we would like to express ourselves through all kinds of arts (photography, video art, visual arts, graphic design, product design). Mostly it’s dance, it is a big part of us. The « art collective » covers fashion, which is one way to express it, but our aim is to reach more artistic mediums, like sculpture, painting, installations. Even if it is not our artworks, because we are really focused on the clothes, we try to collaborate with other artists, with whom we share the same aesthetic, in order to make an art collective.

Manifesto XXI – You seem to be very inspired by the everyday life. In these series of small videos, we see people drinking, eating, shaving, sleeping…

Idan : Yes, because it’s not about selling clothes, it’s about this everyday that is related to everyone. When you see somebody eating pasta, you also often eat pasta, so you are like « how do they eat pasta? ». I sleep every day. So when you see someone sleeping, it sounds so boring, but when you see it, you actually want to see the whole series! Seeing how this one is sleeping, how this other one is sleeping, what he is doing in the bed, what she is doing in the bed… But at the same time, the idea is to catch the everyday action.

UY’s future plans?

Idan : Now we start with a candle line. These are just prototypes. Everything is handmade as well.

Did you make it ?

Idan : Yes, with powder. It is us really. Here there will always be candles, we will always try to have a nice smell. We just try to offer our lifestyle out there. To be honest, basically everything we do, we first do it for ourselves. We want to wear almost every garment that we make. We make it for ourselves.

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