“Our bodies are influenced by our way of living. And yet, our body is more than just the sum of its parts. Subsequently, we are more than the sum of our experiences. We are malleable like wax.” This is how Franziska Fürpass describes her work. She is a fashion designer and the female half of Femme Maison. Sia Kermani, a visual artist, is the other male half.
Franziska studied fashion under the direction of Veronique Branquinho and Raf Simons at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna where her work attracted attention early on. It was during this time that the idea behind the project Femme Maison was established. In 2012 she founded the label alongside Sia Kermani. Works by Auguste Rodin and American-French artist Louise Bourgeois have provided important inspiration for Franziska. A particular love of experimentation and sculptural qualities can be found within the Viennese women’s fashion label.
Originally from Iran, Sia came to Austria as an eight year old. After working for a while as a software developer in the digital world, he was drawn to painting in search of a sense of ‘humanness.’ His works process autobiographical fragments of The Gulf War and the consequences of the current Islamic revolution from his own experiences as a child. Later, he learned how to use a camera and spent time in Milan for several years working as a fashion and portrait photographer. These credentials make him the perfect candidate for managing the visual appearance of the label.
Their atelier is located in Alsergrund, a Viennese district which was lucky enough to conserve its diversity. Due to the close proximity of the university there are lots of small shops and cafes nearby with a distinct student flair. On the other spectrum, there are also more elegant pockets to be found. This mix offers an exciting backdrop for an afternoon spent with Franziska and Sia to discuss their work and experiences within the fashion world.
Where does the name Femme Maison come from?
Franziska: I was inspired by a work by the artist Louise Bourgeois. It’s about a series of drawings and sculptures which were generated around 1940. In this particular work she focused very much on intimacy and the ‘space’ of the female.
How do you incorporate these general themes within your designs?
Franziska: In this particular philosophy, the house – le maison – stands as a metaphor for the person itself. It brings along many facets and interpretations which form a fundamental subject matter within our collection. It intertwines material and the female body to generate a ‘space’ for the female – a room that incorporates the idea of shelter.
You have shown your work in Paris. Have you had some good experiences there?
Sia: Franziska has been to Paris quite a lot and always speaks very passionately about the city. Personally, it is not a city I would like to live in. I really appreciate the high standard of living here in Vienna. By now, I can actually understand Franziska’s love of the city. I also find that the people living in Paris have a stronger intuition when it comes to aesthetics. The feedback alone that we received when we had our showroom in Paris was so motivating.
Franziska: I feel very comfortable in Paris, but I also think it’s the right place in order to present our fashion.
The models’ faces were partially covered by masks in your first collection. This has changed now. Why?
Franziska: The masks were a conceptual element. Topics such as security and intimacy were very important to me. These masks helped me to demonstrate these ideas more strongly.
Sia: It constantly develops. A good example would also be the lighting of the campaign. In the beginning the lighting was very soft and atmospheric. Then we decided to change the light-mood in order to emphasize the idea of womanhood. Over the course of time we developed clearer ideas about the models and how to present them. They were supposed to be more natural, which is why the faces became much more relevant.
Do you have preconceived ideas about the type of person who will wear your garments during the design process?
Sia: Of course we have a particular type of woman in mind that we envision wearing our things. This is why we have clear, concrete ideas with regards to branding, marketing, our visual direction and our target audience.
Franziska: When designing, I make sure to incorporate my own character and my own feeling as a woman. In the end I have an overall image of the piece and its wearer throughout the design process. The comfort and authenticity of the wearer is very important to me.
Is there a specific division of tasks at your studio?
Sia: We come from two different fields. I come from the visual production side and Franziska comes from the design side. We consider this a true strength and take advantage of it as much as possible.
Franziska: Yes, it all belongs together anyway. Our expertise meld together in many ways. Through intense communication and the direct exchange of ideas our work always takes shape together.
Your work seems very detail-obsessed.
Sia: Yes, we love things that others might perhaps overlook. We love to feel things. This is exactly what sets Femme Maison apart.
What did you both study?
Franziska: I studied fashion under Veronique Branquinho and Raf Simons at the University for Applied Arts.
Sia: One of my biggest influences is my studies in abstract painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Looking back however, apart from also studying under people such as Yair Martin Guttmann or Matthias Hermann, I have to say that I benefited the most from my my own self taught pursuits and will probably do so in the future.
Sia, do you see a parallel between fashion design and painting?
Sia: To a certain degree. I think it doesn’t matter what medium you work in. Whether it is painting, photography or fashion design, it is of great advantage to avoid generalized beliefs and create a personal presentation that develops naturally out of the process itself. Ideally at a certain stage the idea and the work inherently identifies with a preferred presentation platform.
Franziska: Something very relevant to this discussion is something that we both practice intensively: we take in all the information that comes from the work and are sensitive to it. However, we are both very critical and true perfectionists (laughs).
Doesn’t that mean that a lot happens backstage?
Franziska: Yes, we research a lot, which naturally remains invisible. Online presence is probably the closest way to demonstrate something to the public, but it is definitely not the only way when it comes to branding and marketing.
Sia: A brand can have so many beautiful facets of how one can portray their brand to the outside. Facets which are very interesting and exciting, but also extremely challenging.
Franziska, how do you approach your design process?
Franziska: I live for making fast decisions. I like unfinished moments. I love working on the mannequin and not knowing what will happen next, at least to a certain extent. This is one of the reasons why Auguste Rodin inspires me. I work with color collages a lot. They are a good reference for me. They inspire me to select diverse colors, textiles and silhouettes. Later during the design process I drape the pieces onto a mannequin and see how they fall. This is the stage where every seam, neckline and line are progressively generated.
Do you guys prefer to get lost in the process or work result oriented?
Franziska: That is exactly the contradiction, that describes us best (laughs). Sia thinks a lot prior to implementing his ideas quickly.
Sia: And Franziska starts off with a roughly outlined concept and refelcts intensively throughout the process.
Franziska: Because both of us think so differently, it works out pretty well. A combination of consideration and speed are the perfect medium to keep moving forward. That is why it is the middle way between both of us which forms the results. It is the sum of intensive processes.
You need a lively exchange for this don’t you?
Sia: Yes, we constantly and very intensively exchange ideas. Not solely about the business, but we also talk a lot about our inspirational worlds. The more one knows about the other, the less words are needed for an exchange. We often communicate non-verbally on a formal level which the whole ‘product’ benefits from. This is also why we plan to renew our atelier to create a tranquil oasis where we are able to communicate even better.
What does your new atelier mean to you?
Sia: It is a big relief.
Franziska: It is a very comfortable to ‘center’ yourself workwise. Previously we had various locations that we worked at. Now we can be very close and work better together as a team. Geographically we are more centrally located and are able to receive guests a lot easier.
It seems very homely here with you.
Sia: Maybe this is because it is not a classic atelier in the sense that is does not run like a typical workshop. We very much take care of our well-being as work is so closely interwoven with our personal lives. It makes it more fun and we don’t have to constantly look at our watch in order to check when we can go home. I also really like the light here. It is very soft and delicate because of the reflection from the opposite building.
Where does the light come from? Which direction?
Sia: Good question. I have to think about that. This is west, isn’t it?
Supposedly men should be able to tell the right direction with their eyes closed.
Sia: Then we have a problem (laughs)!
What type of lighting do you prefer in your photography?
Sia: Light is obviously only one part of a greater whole. But it is very important and often underestimated. There is a big difference in ‘brightening up’ as opposed to ‘illuminating.’ In the beginning we used very soft, diffused light for the collection’s campaigns and projects. I was really obsessed with a certain type of light that I experienced in Sweden. I went back just to understand this particular light in its complete delicacy and later reproduce it for my own work. As previously mentioned, we wanted to bring different aspects of a woman to the forefront: the dynamics, the personality, the confidence of a woman, rather than her fragility.
Franziska: This also outlines really well how deep we go into details in order to make our innermost ideas tangible and carry them out onto the label. Thats when details matter, not just what is illustrated.
Art should always be a personal confession. What is yours?
Sia: Absolutely. Our love for details and quiet clearly: authenticity.
Franziska: Yes, we don’t try to be something else. This way we can look into the mirror everyday and say: okay, that’s us!
Do you also work with other artists?
Franziska: Yes, and we really don’t want to be the center of attention. It is so nice to have a shoemaker doing their thing after discussing the overall concept with them.
Sia: We have a great respect for craftsmanship by hand. Our job is great because we are in contact with diverse professions and are constantly surprised how other creatives approach fashion. It is also very important for us to work with genuine people. When we work with friends and partners we always find some sort of harmony.
Who pleasantly surprised you the most?
Sia: Ada Kokosar for example. She is a New York based stylist who came to visit us in Paris.
Franziska: It was so nice to meet and talk to Ada. She is very natural but at the same time very elegant. She is a muse.
Where do you actually produce your things?
Sia: The workflow is quite complex as we really care about perfection in the processing stage.
Franziska: I work very closely with my seamstress who creates new processing possibilities with me. The cuts are very complicated so perfect processing on the interior of the garments is absolutely necessary. The cuts are optimised for our production facility in Lithuania.
What role does the Vienna Business Agency play in the world of fashion?
Sia: The agency is special as it provides sponsorship not only with money, but with expertise and support. This is very important within the field of fashion. Usually grants help with the creation of a sample collection and a website but afterwards the money is gone. You have a chic website and sample collection but the fundamental structure of the business is missing.
Franziska: Very often company management, formation and financing is not part of fashion education. This is one of the agency’s strengths. It supports young talented people comprehensively.
Vienna is better known for music than fashion isn’t it?
Franziska: Yes, it could be seen that way. But Vienna doesn’t necessarily need to become a fashion capital in the near future. It’s nice that music has such an important role and a historical significance here. When it comes to fashion we also enjoy leaving the city and showing our products internationally. But Vienna is and always will be our ideal retreat. It is a place where a certain tranquility and quality of life is much appreciated.
Sia: I can only agree with that.
Where do you take visitors who have never been to Vienna?
Franziska: I am not such a sightseeing fan. It’s much nicer to find a personal and intimate view of the city, like talking a walk through the historic district and the sixth district where we live. Naschmarkt is very close, perhaps we would take them there to eat first.
Sia: Yes, cafés, bars and restaurants. There are so many spaces filled with the soul of the city in Vienna that you can only discover if you explore the small side alleys.
What is your tip for good food in Vienna?
Sia: Deewan has great Pakistani food in a buffet setting and has an amazing atmosphere. The great concept behind it is you only pay as much as you think it is worth. As it is only a few streets away from us, we eat there quiet a lot during the day or evening. Vietthao at Karlsplatz is also a recommendable Vietnamese restaurant, that offers high quality cousine to a very fair prices.
Franziska: Only a few weeks ago we discovered a hidden and tiny cafe called Caffè Couture located in a parallel street to our atelier. They use carefully selected coffee beans that are roasted on location. The coffee is just insanely good.
Sia: Things like that make us really happy. Sincere, detail loving people creating an oasis of calm. For sightseeing tips, you’d be better off to ask someone else.
Franziska and Sia, thank you so much for a great conversation and offering insights into your work. Find out more about their label here and more about Sia’s work here.
Photography: Martin Stöbich
Interview& Text: Philipp Daun