Anna Blessmann’s Call for Commitment
The German Designer Behind A_PLAN_APPLICATION Introduces a New Label for the Long Haul
- Interview: Rosie Prata
- Photography: Ollie Adegboye
Anna Blessmann has been using the same teapot for more than 20 years. It was an antique when she bought it, and it’s chipped now, but the wear and tear just makes her love it more. If you peek inside the Berlin-born artist and designer’s personal wardrobe, you’ll find the same recut workwear she bought at army surplus stores in the 1990s. When she conceived her new label, A_PLAN_APPLICATION, she based it on this same principle, creating items for people with long attention spans. Free from logos or any other unnecessary fripperies, her clothing is built to outlast any of the fashion world’s whims.
With a background in sculpture and a master’s in fine arts, Blessmann has been collaborating with her partner, graphic designer Peter Saville, on a number of exhibitions in recent years. She was slightly bemused when, a couple of years ago, Off-White designer and Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh suggested she start her own clothing company. “I was wearing one of my recut Champion sweaters with track pants I reshaped to make more structured, slimline and feminine,” she says. “At first I just laughed off the idea, but two years later, here we are.” In what she’s termed a “system wardrobe,” the designer has concentrated on strong silhouettes in a spectrum of blues, with each item’s proportions devised to fit precisely with its counterparts. “When I get dressed, I don't want to play with personalities,” Blessmann says. “I think when somebody meets you, you should be the first thing they meet.”
When I met Blessmann at the London home studio she shares with Saville, she spoke to me about self-determination, our relationships to clothes mimicking those to friends, and how the right kind of boring can be very sexy.
How did the idea for A_PLAN_APPLICATION come about?
I've been making my own clothes for a long time, but never had any intention of becoming a designer. I modelled a bit when I was younger and felt that the industry was not for me. I was always interrogating my interest in clothes, asking myself, “How do you dress if you are hyper-aware of all the imagery around you?” It made me want to wear obvious things less, because I could read them so quickly. I didn't want to be somebody else’s noticeboard or be a part of that system of always wanting the next thing.
Do you consider A_PLAN_APPLICATION an extension of your art practice or something separate?
It's a separate entity because I'm working in the business of fashion, which is very different to art. Art doesn't need to have any specific form, but with clothes, you'd better have two legs, two arms, and a hole for the head! I try to be as self-determined, coherent and independent as I can. I'm interested in how things feel, how people reflect on their bodies.
Who have you designed your clothes for?
I think you can only have an opinion or any knowledge about yourself. I don't believe in market research—anything that comes out of it will be mediocre by nature. My designs are based on my experiences and observations from the world I live in. In my experience, people don’t actually dress like people in fashion magazines. A_PLAN_APPLICATION is not about fantasy; it’s really functional. The best thing is to create something that people keep. After not buying anything, that's the most environmentally friendly thing to do.
There’s a high-low juxtaposition in the collection that’s really interesting—the workwear-inspired jumpsuit in the same cyan blue as a cornershop carrier bag. There are some class connotations there, and of course the plastic bag is the quintessential symbol of disposable culture. Were you thinking about these signifiers when deciding to use that shade of blue?
It's more that a plastic bag is an everyday item. I felt that blue was a good color because it exists across many different hierarchies: it’s workwear, it’s an admiral’s uniform, it’s a banker’s suit. It appears in so many different lives. I don’t have the money or the time to invest in trends that are over within a couple of months, so how about finding something that suits your life and being happy with that?
Would you describe your collection as anti-trend?
I'm interested in what is contemporary, but not in the millions of mini trends that come and go. I have better things to think about!
How do you feel about the concept of luxury basics? Does that term apply to your collection? What do you think differentiates your line from existing brands?
I wouldn't say “basic.” “Luxury” is a difficult word, too. Just living in the West at this time is a kind of luxury. Of course, you could say luxury is producing in Italy with high-quality materials. Then that becomes a question of economics: Where are things produced? Who have you exploited? If it’s cheap, somebody's been exploited.
You seem to be very sensitive to language.
I don't find it easy to define things because I don't start with language. I start with intuition and then try to find language to describe what I’m doing.
I have to ask about the name–how did it come about?
I wanted to have a name that reflected the idea of the system wardrobe: something rational that didn't sound like a fashion label.“A_PLAN_” means the first plan, or one of many, and “APPLICATION” means that it goes out into the world and is applied to other people’s circumstances.
What about the underscores?
For me it's about making a shape—the words alone could be read as a sentence, but with the underscores it becomes more of a thing.
It makes me think of a file name—how it’s a way of retaining the sanctity of the file and avoiding glitches. Can you tell me about your collaboration with Peter on the glitch-pattern scarf?
All pieces in the collection are made in relation to each other. That's going to evolve and continue, but not change too much, so I wanted to include a counterpoint: something you can add to your daily uniform that is totally of the moment. Peter and I thought a scarf would be a good vehicle for this. We liked the glitch because it's one of the most obvious contemporary patterns.
Are there any other designers or artists you'd like to work with?
I think that’s to be seen—watch this space.
Is there anyone you would never work with? Who is antithetical to A_PLAN_APPLICATION?
I think most of the world is antithetical to it! I also think it can be good to work with somebody very different. Virgil does something totally different, but I appreciate what he does. We always have interesting conversations with very different viewpoints.
Who do you turn to for inspiration?
I’m hesitant about the word “inspiration,” because what I’m doing is much more based on experience and reflection. There are periods I can relate to, of course—what Margiela did for Hermès, for example. But that’s really Margiela’s body of work; it’s so specific and unique to him. If you rely too much on inspiration, it’s just quoting. I really don’t want to quote anyone.
Did you set any rules or parameters to work within?
Everything had to be the right kind of boring, with something a bit sexy in there, too. I think just as much about how you put something on as how you take it off. But it shouldn't be too obvious. I like things that need a second glance. With clothes, you wear them on your skin. You build a relationship with them. Why would you throw that out three months later?
Like relationships with people, the more worn-in, the more you love them. One side of my shoe always gets broken in first, and it's made me learn about how I walk.
Exactly. I have this totally trashed pair of boots, but I know the night I danced them to trash! Or when you have friends who are not as close anymore because your life changes, but when you see them again, you know why you became friends. I have the same relationship to my clothes. I believe in having fewer things, but things you've really chosen. Sometimes they disappear for a year, but they come out again.
Rosie Prata is a writer and editor based in London. She is currently associate editor at Monocle, and her writing has also appeared in Canadian Art, the Globe and Mail, and more.
- Interview: Rosie Prata
- Photography: Ollie Adegboye