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Wander with us into the mind of Beatrice Oettinger. Her work, in its delicate form encompasses a love for nature, her childhood, and freedom. Growing up in an isolated town, nature became a constant companion for Beatrice. She saw within it imagination, an ancestral pull towards design, art and beauty.
No tool is more important than Beatrice Oettinger's hands. In her moments of deep inspiration, it is her hands that lead her. Finding, searching, and creating. Join us in uncovering Beatrice's beautiful work, her love of human hair, and her infectious passion.
Who is Beatrice Oettinger and what is your vision?
My name is Beatrice Oettinger, and my textile project is called Blooming Fabric. I sew plants into clothes so that the body and environment can enter into a conversation with each other. It opens a space for new experiences, and a new mutual awareness can grow. So, I am concerned with expanding perception and consciousness. That's what I'm doing. My vision, I want to plant seeds figuratively for more mindfulness and closeness to fellow inhabitants of this planet so that we can eventually work together and some time grow clothes in the field instead of coming out of a machine-made retort.
That sounds really beautiful. You way you put it is lovely. So, kind of what made you gravitate towards certain natural fibers? I know one of your dresses is actually made from hair, isn't it? So, what inspired you to use those materials?
Yes, hair is one of the materials I used, and I don't know exactly why I used it. I think I gravitated toward nature ever since I was a child. As a child I already glued flowers on the paintings. And I remember that I sketched veils, and I glued two papers, each one to another, and I painted the veil like hair over two pages of paper. This is something that I think, has stayed with me as I have aged, this love for transparency and for silk and natural materials. Among my ancestors were dressmakers and bakers. So, both are very tactile professions, and I have a great affinity for everything that can be discovered by touch and by smell. So, hair is a joy for the fingers and for the nose. Sheep hair, human hair. And then all the plants, the moss, and the fibers I found around me. Yes, I love to work with fibers that touch a variety of senses in me that I can feel myself as a whole person.
Yeah, that sounds beautiful. When I saw that one of your dresses was made from hair, I was intrigued, but it looked beautiful, so I can see why you kind of gravitated towards that. So, you have seemed to have quite a close relationship with the natural world, especially the world around you. Did this start in childhood, or was it something that kind of grew as you got older?
I grew up in the outskirts of a town in a really lonely area, so I was often outside. And there was a flat, river plain with two big, huge meadows, that were often flooded. If you walk as a child, through a meadow where your feet are in the water and the plants tickle your legs, you are left with a lasting closeness to the environment. The different flowers, the insects, the animals. Such meadows are really very rare. I have a longing for them, I'm looking for them, but they are very rare. And it's also a magical world because it moves, it changes all the time. Every day is different.
It's different from a town. In a town, you must go out and you have to move to see the differences. But in nature, yes. You can be quiet, and everything changes around you. Meanwhile, when I look into the starry sky, I see a meadow. It's like the flowers I am attracted to here in a meadow. It's very similar to the starry sky. I had this feeling also when I was a child, and when I was up, it was so huge, without any boundaries yet. And that's the same on the meadow. That feeling of freedom and infinity has never left me.
Yeah, I completely get what you mean. It sounds beautiful. I mean, I grew up in a city, so it's hard for me to kind of imagine that. But I've been in nature and it's just magical. It doesn't compare to anything else in the whole world. I completely agree. If you had one word to describe your designs, what would it be? And why?
Ah, I think it's joy. I have no other word for that. What is joy? Joy is something that you lose your frontier, that you get permeable for everything that comes through you and that touches everything in you. That gets into a vibration. A vibration that in the end comes together with the vibration which is outside and inside. I think this is joy. If the vibration comes together.
Your work is so intricate. What is your design process like from beginning to end? Like, when you first have the idea versus kind of making it and then when it's finished, what is the process like?
There are different processes. There are processes if I will make theatrical or for people. When I work for blooming fabric the process is very different. And it starts mostly with one wandering. Either in the country side of cities where I live. The cities are important for my work. Because the abundance of nature can be very difficult.
In the countryside, in the quiet, you can see what is important to you. In the city is more focus on the individual plants - they are special here. I recognized this during the last year when I was more often in the countryside. My process begins with aimlessness. I start wandering. I'm open to something to amaze me, to attract me. So, it leads to an encounter with a plant, a flower, a bark. A conversation partner that triggers a feeling in me or draws my attention, my curiosity. And if there are enough of these plants, I will choose them to use as material.
This has really been a problem lately. There are a lot fewer flowers due to the lack of rain for months. At the moment, I can't take anything because there is not enough. So, I only take if there is enough. I take them to my studio and there I do experiments, I don't like the word experiment so much in the meanwhile because it distinguishes between an object and a subject, and I prefer of getting into a conversation. And it starts with the hands. The finger and the hand is for me the most important laboratory. I also make Asian healing practices with my own body. And so, I learned in the fingers it's the whole body. All the organs. All the fluids. All emotions. The nerves and the fascia gets into the body so you can really come into a conversation and connection with the plant. We touch the outside with a huge fiber network from the inside. Based on mutual touch - I am examining the weight. The surface. The stickiness. The softness and smoothness. The magnetism. The moisture. The electricity. If it's warming or cooling, if it makes me nervous or if it triggers some emotions, thoughts or stories.
This process can take a few second seconds or several days. I'm a bit outside of time. So, it's very difficult to describe this. The next step is searching for a co-player, a partner for the new encounter and I'm looking for fabric that is to connect, that brings form and gives space. I wander around here in my workshop or I wander through my experiences, memories. Mostly I'm walking around this room and searching. My fingers are searching. I try to let the fingers find something. For example, this mistletoe. I was looking for what can I use with it.
And then my hands were in the feathers! Suddenly they were in a box. I have many boxes that had been with me for years. So, I put the mistletoe and the feather together. So later, I always research the plant I am using. The plant’s meaning. It's always important for me to find the meaning of the name. For the mistletoe, I found that in former times the birds were caught by applying the glue of the mistletoe berries on branches of the trees - and the bird couldn't fly away.
That sounds crazy, I never knew about that.
I didn't know that before either, I found out afterwards. So, this is what I'm saying I don't know how it comes, the knowledge which is around there you don't need to focus on a set process or science. You can find it by doing it with your fingers and you're aware.
The process just sounds lovely. I can imagine maybe when you're in kind of in the middle of it, you must be just like just kind of encompassed by everything. It sounds just beautiful. So, you as a designer, obviously you work with fashion and design. How do you feel about the current fashion industry itself?
I think I lost the touch with it one day. I lost the touch when I was younger and started also fighting the fashion industry because of the devastating working condition for seamstresses all over the world. Yes. So, I began to learn to sew, but I'm self- taught. I even gave courses for young people, for children to learn to make their own dresses. So they would know that it's easy to make something for yourself and not to buy the dresses from this industry. There was a point where I realised that fashion is going in a circle. Nothing changes. Nothing changes. We have the same exploitation, pollution, vanity, and elitism.
For me, in a way, it's like a machine that fools and exploits greed. It's not only in the fashion industry, it's also in the art industry. It's everywhere. So, I lost a bit the connection. It is pity, because yes, there's an attraction because of this work between body and materials. There's a great attraction, but not in this way. But it's not that I don’t think there are interesting designers. I just don't know them because I'm not looking for them anymore. But if this is a global problem that affects all areas and all things.
I completely agree. I can see how you can kind of lose faith in fashion itself. I love that you run classes for children. That's just amazing. I have no idea you did that. I know you said you aren’t paying attention to designers at the moment, but are there any designers or artists who have influenced your work?
There is really an overlap between fashion and me. I am like a butterfly. So, I was fluttering when I was younger from one to the other, sipping honey everywhere. I liked Vivienne Westwood, Jean-Paul Gautier, Issey Miyake. Hussain Chalayan was important. Yes. I was looking for him yesterday. It was a shame to see he doesn’t really have a place in the fashion industry anymore. Unfortunately.
But as I said, I lost touch with fashion. So, then there were some costume designers here in Germany. I worked also with one, and it was a nightmare. There was a lot of hierarchy in the theatre. I think, I never imagined that we would have this. I was learning tailoring by dances because I made the dresses for them. So, I started with costumes for the belly dance. Then I learnt Indian dance, the costume was really complicated. So, I think the real problem for me was I felt rootless. I was missing the ground. So, I was very often in libraries and looking for patterns, looking for the culture of our ancestors. This is, I think, still until today. But this all changed when I learned Bavarian dancing. I took a class to sew the bodice for the Munich traditional costume for the Bavarian dance. And there I found everything, everything that I needed for my future work. I have it here. I think this is difficult to show. Can you see it?
Yes. Oh, wow. That looks incredibly complicated.
Yes, it is, I think, 150 hours from design until the end. And there are willow and rice sewn in it. It's a bit like a tattoo. So amazing to find something in this culture that gave me everything. It took all my senses and also my thoughts, my imagination, my fantasy. I started with beans, with rice, with cereals and I used transparent materials. That was my beginning. So, in this technique, there was everything I really like to do-for example collecting and hunting. Also technical challenges of tailoring, working and thinking across borders, multi-dimensionality. Together with the abundance of nature yes, you can do everywhere where you are. You don't need a studio. Also, I'm interested in research and healing, the power of healing plants. This is very important also. And eroticism and femininity are important too. Previously, I didn't find this in the fashion industry. The woman I was feeling, and I was looking for.
Yeah, I completely see how the fashion industry doesn't really even cater towards women at all. Kind of exploits them in a lot of ways.
So, is there a particular design that you have completed which stays in your mind or you struggle to forget? And if so, why?
Yes, it's the vetch dress. So, this is really a funny story. I was laying in the meadow. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a glowing and I found these thin, twisted pods which were like spirals. And I took a few of them. I had never seen them before, but they were everywhere. So, I took them home, but I couldn't do anything with them. But I could identify them. They are called fence vetch, vicia. So a few days later it was raining, I was walking to take some plants and then I saw something silvery. It had similarities to the plant which I saw the days before. But it was smooth, it was pearly, and it was like a sea creature. So, I took them home and I sewed them immediately into silk. But I didn't know what they were. So, the next morning, when I went into my studio, I saw something on my table and I didn't know what it was. I was really thinking there was somebody had come into my studio and put this thing there! because I couldn't remember who made this. So, when I examined it, I realised that it was the same part I made the day before. But they dried and twisted into spirals, so they took the whole tissue and made it into folds.
Oh my Gosh.
This was the work of the plant. And this was really interesting for me. So it was maybe the first time that I consciously noticed that the plants worked with me at this moment because I could no longer see what I had done. The stitches had disappeared. If you put water on this, the pods dissolve again, lose the spirals and the whole dress gets long until the floor.
Wow. I don’t know what to say, it’s beautiful.
It's so simple, you just have to be able to recognize it. Every one of the plants of the dresses has a story. It's because it is an encounter over a long time, over years.
I only really have one more question for you today. What are your plans for the future? Do you have any upcoming projects?
At the moment? I'm looking for a new studio, and I want to focus on working with other people. I want to invite people to come to my studio, maybe for some projects. To talk and learn from each other, it's new. For a long time, nobody was interested in my work, because the time was not yet ripe for working with plants. But now, people are interested. There are many young people that want to get more connected to the plants or materials. Yeah, I don't know how this will work, but I think it's better to work together. It's important at the moment to work together and to do things, not only to talk about them.
Thank you to Beatrice Oettinger for taking the time to talk us through her wonderful, intricate designs.