Designer Eleni Bantra puts fashion under the microscope.
The founder & head designer of the brand in conversation with COZY VIBE.
An interview by Eleni Michailidou
The talented designer @eleni.bantra literally puts fashion under the microscope and creates luxurious accessories that "marry" scientific research with its design duality!
"I started the brand in July 2019. I was terrified, but I wanted to chase my dream", Eleni Bantra says to me. The talented designer, who lives in London, came up with a unique idea: to put flowers, insects, drugs under the microscope, and transform those unique patterns into prints for luxury accessories. In our conversation, she describes the brand's philosophy, talks about slow fashion and shares her dreams…
Your accessories intend to amalgamate art with science. How did this journey in "biomimicry" begin?
The subject of both my degrees, was the manipulation of pure materials and their methods of transformation into a beautiful and elegant result. Therefore, from the beginning I was taught how to combine art with science in order to bring a final product to life. Specifically, my first degree in Textiles with Business Studies from the University of Brighton, introduced me to the coloration of fabrics, how to recognise, manipulate, and use the many different techniques. A similar approach was taken in my second degree (MA in Jewellery & Metal at the Royal College of Art in London), where metals in their purest form, were transformed into beautiful objects.
It has always been a combination of art and design for me and my work; always a sample sheet with recorded calculations, dosages and exact time that led to a desired result.
I first started looking under the microscope when I was preparing my BA final major project. My idea was to explore patterns further, in a different way, something I could not see with a naked eye. It was sports, which, during that period, helped me get through stress. It took me a while to realise the effort my body was making to go through the day, and so I decided to look at the human body under the microscope. I was curious to explore the sheer and delicate complexity of our bodies' internal systems. And that was it! Fascinated by the ability to combine nature and technology, I began exploring and developing my original idea further.
How do you manage to "marry" there two different worlds? Or are they not so different after all?
As Albert Einstein said "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all art and science".
We often forget the beauty that exists in nature. We are so distracted by technology and its new achievements that we choose - consciously or unconsciously - to ignore where it all came from. We live in a fascinating world, but do we really know what other beings exist around us?
The brand’s inspiration derives from the beautiful and microscopic patterns that exist around us and cannot be seen with the naked eye. The dynamic shapes and colours of the designs result from the combination of these unseeable organic structures of nature and the geometric shapes of those man made instruments one needs to see them with. In this way it creatively and equally utilizes the factors “nature” and “man”, while at the same time, organically combines art with science, going beyond what is obvious at first sight.
My goal is to produce aesthetically pleasing concepts and designs that may seem disgusting or even scary at times. A typical example is the transformation of a human liver micrograph into a beautiful and elegant design, adorned with colours combinations.
What is the process you follow to create your accessories and how has your previous experience helped you with this?
The first step is Research, which guides me in my field of work. This is essentially the decision I make about the “world” I will reveal using the microscope (e.g. flowers, insects, drugs). Also, the techniques and samples are finalised as a prerequisite for the next step.
The next step is the observation in the laboratory, during which the field experts guide me on how to choose the slides that I need, prepare new ones if necessary, stain them, photograph them, while at the same time I draw and photograph the shapes of the equipment I use.
Experimentation follows, during which I experiment with colours, shapes and textures, using my micrographs and lab drawings.
The final stage is the design, the “translation” of all the above into final products.
The creation itself is stressful and difficult, especially when you want your collection to be successful and appreciated by your customers. My previous professional experience in fashion houses taught me how designers in practice create their collections. However, the most important lesson for me was that the uniqueness of a brand - no matter how hard it may be at the beginning - can eventually be appreciated over time.
Creating a brand whose main visual characteristics are scientific and not only fashion related, can be very risky, since people may not understand the concept behind the brand at first. However, by creating a unique identity and maintaining it with consistency, you ultimately create a timeless product.
Could we say that through your creations, you make these delicate and sheer components timeless?
I would like to say yes, since these creations are influenced by the products of nature. It is precisely this authenticity, the uniqueness and the wonderful complexity of everything that surrounds us, as well as their existence in various forms, that makes them timeless. In a sense, it seems that I have discovered a way to bring them to life, but the truth is that they were, are and will always be there, in this very nature we must respect and protect. And that is why I believe that they will always be timeless.
From the things you have seen under the microscope, which impressed you the most?
The truth is that every time I think I have chosen my favourite sample, I put another one under the microscope and I have a new favourite again. It is difficult to describe the beauty of the images one discovers looking under the microscope. It all depends on the stains used to dye the sample, the magnification used, as well as the angle.
Although, if I had to pick from the ones I have viewed under the microscope so far, I think I would choose the insect cornea. As a designer, I see the same sample for examination differently from a scientist. In regards to the above sample, I see a fabric texture; a tulle sample, with embroidered pearls and many layers. In fact, I just transform all these micrographs into something more artistic.
Why did you choose accessories and which of your products is most desired by the customers?
There are many people who are afraid to wear colour in their everyday outfits and would choose only small, coloured pieces for their looks. So far, the most popular pieces in my collection are the scarves and I believe that this is because they can be worn in many different ways. The different sizes also help the consumers to choose the one that suits them best. I have the impression that, in Greece, most people have associated the scarves with the “stewardess’ accessory”. However, the scarf has a huge history, from covering women’s hair, to indicate social class differences. It is a timeless accessory and an elegant piece in every woman’s wardrobe.
Your limited edition collection, WOMEN, is dedicated to women. What message would you like to convey?
History reminds us how many women have fought to claim their rights, and that there are still women today who face discrimination and abuse. This collection is dedicated to three different women who have been a great influence to me along the way. All three come from completely different backgrounds, they have achieved completely different goals, however, they have all made a difference in this world.
First of all, my mother, a Greek Philologist, who is my role model and taught me to love and seek knowledge. Then, Neri Oxman, and American-Israeli architect, designer and professor at the MIT Media Lab, who, by studying her research, helped me realize what it means to design with the help of nature. And finally, Olivia Palermo, the American fashion influencer and entrepreneur, who, following her work, made me believe in the uniqueness of my brand aesthetic.
I would say that this limited edition collection is a statement that honors history and gives hope for the future. It is a reminder that every woman is important and unique and no one can deprive her of these characteristics.
The brand embraces the Slow Fashion Movement and its philosophy is deeply ecological. What methods do you use in the production process of your accessories?
The brand’s luxury accessories are made of high quality textiles that can last for generations. The items are either made-to-order or produced in small quantities, aiming to reduce the environmental footprint of production on the planet as much as possible. In addition, all accessories are digitally printed using natural dyes and without any harmful chemicals. Furthermore, the brand operates a no waste policy, where no product is discarded or discontinued each season, and all excess fabric is used to make other products, such as mini artworks. Finally, all the packaging is fully recyclable, biodegradable or made from recycled materials.
My goal is not to “bombard” the customers with new designs and products constantly. I do not consider my collections seasonal, as this could limit customers in many ways. In other words, they may assume that a product can only be worn at a certain time, when in fact their style and choices allow it to be worn in different ways and on many occasions. Of course, the choice of fabric, colour and design can give an idea of when the product should be worn. For instance, wool is obviously worn in winter, while silk can be worn all year round. Thus, my intention remains to transfer the “possession” of the product to the customers, who will choose how to use it.
Do you think that people are now ready to embrace Slow Fashion?
The past year has been very different and difficult for everyone and I have noticed that people have changed their criteria as to what they choose to buy. Many choose to spend more on a product that will last longer and can be worn in different ways. I have also noticed that people are looking for more unique products. This is the difference between slow and fast fashion. There is a different relationship between a consumer and a unique product; a beautiful connection. From the designer’s point of view, we want to create a story behind a product, which automatically passes on to the consumer, then they make this story their own.
How do you define the timelessness of a fashion item?
It is the unique identity of the product in relation to the history that it bears and allows the customer to identify with it. It is, after all, the wonderful combination of the design result, with the unique personality of each customer.
What do you think should be the purpose of fashion?
Fashion can be seen as a platform which provides different tools for people to choose from in order to express their individuality. It should not be about following trends, and the artificial need to follow them constantly. It should be approached as a means of self-expression and self-realisation.
Of course, it is essential to support fashion. It is fast fashion that involves a lot of risks and has caused problems in the long run. This is the right opportunity for everyone, considering the rapid climate change and the economic recession due to Covid, to carefully decide what we really need in life. There are so many brands that support slow fashion and so many creative ways to wear something differently.
And how would you imagine your brand to develop in the future?
I would very much like for the brand to move forward. To become my everyday life 24/7. After all, you never really work when you do what you love. I would like for more people to understand the concept of the brand. The production process is very difficult and time consuming, it is not something that can be done faster. I understand that this may be a risk as many are expecting to see a new collection every six months. But when the new products are ready, people who trust and respect the rhythm of the brand will be there to appreciate them. This is a process I really enjoy and what gives the brand its unique identity, thus I will fight hard to keep it.
A big thank you to cozyvibe.gr.
Find the original interview in Greek here