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The Story of Gilda Balass

The Story of Gilda Balass

Gilda Balass is a fashion designer, textile and multidisciplinary artist who graduated in 2019 from fashion design with knitwear at Central Saint Martins London, University of the Arts.

How Did You Start Making Carpets and Wall Art? Why Knitwear and Weaving?

From a young age, I was deeply into art, fashion, and interiors. My father, an interior designer, often took me to design fairs, sparking my love for colors, materials, and quality products. Family gatherings usually found me in my grandmother's closet, playing dress-up with her extensive fashion archive. Her eclectic collection of global objects and styles greatly influenced my taste in fashion and art.

At 19, I attended Central Saint Martins, where my knack for 3D sculpting and familiarity with knitting led me to the knitwear pathway. Over the next seven years, I explored various techniques, from knitwear and crochet to ceramics and carpet weaving. Interning for Rick Owens and a small Italian embroidery house was enlightening, but I soon realized that the commercial fashion world wasn't for me. I yearned for artistic freedom and diversity in my work.

In 2019, a DNA test revealed my roots traced back to North Africa, inspiring me to learn new textile skills. I traveled to Morocco, where a kind family introduced me to carpet weaving. The culture, colors, and patterns captivated me, leading to collaborations with local artisans. Today, I work with women near Errachidia and Taroudant, and I dream of establishing a fair-trade cooperative to ensure ethical production.

How Do You Define Yourself as a Creator/Artist?

As a creator, I blend handmade craftsmanship with social activism, striving for timeless, elegant designs that push boundaries and embrace sustainability. Collaborating with women who have preserved traditional techniques for centuries empowers them economically and resonates with my feminist values. My work is a dialogue of mutual respect, avoiding cultural appropriation, and fostering collaboration.

Is Your Work Sustainable? In What Way?

Sustainability is at the core of my work. I minimize air travel, favoring land transport and shipping. All materials are organically dyed or upcycled, including sheep, goat, and camel wool, cashmere, alpaca, raffia, banana fiber, hemp, raw silk, and even recycled plastic. In Switzerland, I craft locally, producing hand-crocheted clothes and using a domestic knitting machine in my Zurich atelier. Occasionally, I collaborate with a small Italian knitwear factory that uses vintage hand-operated machines.

What Inspires Your Work? What’s the Meaning of Your Creations?

My work, rooted in slow fashion, carries a message. My carpets often reflect philosophical, historical, or political themes, expressing moods or feelings. Each piece blends modernity with timeless craftsmanship, celebrating heritage while challenging the status quo. For example, my amonite carpet, inspired by climate change and extinction, evokes a sense of eternity and grounding, resonating deeply with viewers.

In What Direction Do You See Your Designs Heading?

Currently, I focus on custom and series-made carpets, wall art, and exclusive one-of-a-kind pieces. While some artworks are labor-intensive, others are more practical for everyday use. Despite this, each piece is unique due to the handcrafted nature of my work. I also plan to explore ceramics and jewelry, driven by a limitless passion for diverse artistic expressions.

Describe Your Creative Process; What’s Your Favorite Part? What’s Something You Don’t Like as Much?

I love the research phase, sketching, visiting art exhibitions, watching documentaries, and traveling. Production, though rewarding, can be nerve-wracking, especially during sampling. Collaborating with Moroccan women on non-traditional designs presents challenges but yields unique results. Managing design, production, transport, marketing, and sales single-handedly is demanding but ultimately fulfilling.

Do Your Travels Influence Your Design Style?

Travel is a significant source of inspiration for me. It represents freedom and privilege. I connect deeply with nature and simple living, but I also appreciate luxury. My extensive travels have enriched my work with a diverse collection of textiles and jewelry. While Morocco is my current focus, I'm open to future collaborations in Thailand, Mongolia, Nepal, or India, where traditional textile arts abound. My Swiss gypsy roots fuel my wanderlust, always driving me to discover and create anew.

Discover Gilda's designs here
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