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Bags with souls

Accessory designer: Katharina Purkarthofer

In a sit-down with one of the newest accessory up-and-comers, we chat to Katharina Purkarthofer and take a peek at her debut collection INTROSPECTION.

Living proof that design today is not about the mainstream, but much more about the ingenious ideas and honesty of its creators, Katharina Purkarthofer steers her own wheel with her unique accessories. Her conceptual take on shoes and bags has landed her right in the spotlight of the international newcomers scene, and she has been selected for the ‘Polimoda Talent’, along with other important notices and nominations.

A graduate of the Florence Polimoda, the Graz native has decided to pave her own way in the industry, and has passed on enviable offers from fashion houses, focusing instead on her own voice and her own creative trademark. As true artist, Katharina has a bright future ahead of her.

What inspired you to move to Italy, and to enrol at Polimoda?

After graduating from high school, all I knew was that I wanted to study something creative. So I did research on creative programs in my hometown Graz. At this point I had no idea that I would end up in Italy, because I first thought that the industrial design program at FH Joanneum could be the right choice for me. I started to draw, since a portfolio was required for the application and after a while, I had several drawings of shoes for my portfolio. Just shoes. And I was about to draw even more shoes when my mum interrupted me and told me
to draw a toothbrush or fire hydrant or a car something more technical because that’s what I would design as a future industrial designer. At this very moment I realized that I want to do fashion and I did research on fashion design programs with a focus on footwear and accessories design. I have always been more attracted to shoes and bags than clothing. I found a list of the ten best fashion schools worldwide, Polimoda and its undergraduate
footwear and accessories design program was featured too. I checked the website and learned about the possibility to do a summer course for one month, which was the best way for me to gain insights and to find out if this would be the right thing for me. During that summer course in 2011 I fell in love with the city of Florence, the country in general, its spirit and people and the program at Polimoda. Everything felt right there, so I enrolled at the three years undergraduate program and had an very inspiring time.


Do you think your Austrian roots interplayed in some way with the aesthetic you came to contact with during your studies abroad?

I think the Italian spirit interplayed intensely with my Austrian roots and with my personality in gerneral. When it comes to art or design, I work very thoughtfully, gentle, clean and efficient which are design aspects you would rather associate with Austria or Germany than Italy, but on the other hand I have a lot of Italy in me as well. The easy going attitude, having two or three coffee breaks instead of one, being outgoing and communicative or being spontaneous. Spontaneity for example is a very important ingredient in design. I feel like I
have found my balance during my studies abroad.

Do you feel like your conceptual feeling towards design was shaped by any specific country, experience, or designer more than others?

My studies in Florence at Polimoda definitely shaped in terms of conceptual thinking. The importance of concepts and stories behind fashion collections or art in general played an essential role in our studies. The head of design department, Patrick De Muynck, used to say „A shoe without a soul is just a shoe.“ Which also goes for bags or any other piece of high fashion or art. That means before you aim to create something, you need to set a
proper fundament for it. It has to be enriched with everything that defines you and needs to come from your innermost part, because the outcome, a fashion collection or piece of art, is the result of the way you translate and express this fundament. Only if you connect it with your very own identity, you will be able to create something unique. At least that’s how I interpreted his metaphor and it shaped my attitude towards conceptual design a lot.

Super Ego

More and more creators and designers are choosing the unmarked path of independency from large established companies, preferring to stick it out on their own, do you also identify with this return back to the less commercial, smallscale, honest way of doing design?

First I would say that there is never a better way of doing design than doing it honestly. Also, the digital transformation brought independency for unknown, small design labels around the world, since it offers several ways to reach a huge international audience and create an impact, no matter if you just have started from the scratch. I am very lucky to be with TFORTHREE, the Italian fashion incubator I work with, because they are aiming to redefine the way we think of the fashion industry. In the end, it should always be about design that
comes from the heart rather than highscale assembly line work.

The Trigger / Euphoria

If you could describe the kind of person you visualise wearing and carrying your designs, who would it be?

Before I start to design or think about a new model, the person I visualise is either myself or my boyfriend. I know this might sound selfish in some ways, but I always start next to me. The definition of my target group is pretty simple: I design for everybody who can identify with my design language and philosophy.

The way you merge design and art is really inspirational. Do you distinguish between you as a designer, and you as an artist?

Thank you, I really appreciate this compliment. No, I wouldn’t say so. The boundaries are fluid, I just set out to create art. No matter if it’s a bag, a shoe or a painting or drawing, everything is connected. The base is the design fundament I mentioned before. Everything else is built upon it. I try to tell a story with the work I create, my design and art are the mediums that I use to express myself.


Talk us through some of your main concepts and ideas behind your work.

The main concept behind my work is positive thinking and the importance of challenging black layers of negativity that might cover one’s true core. To always be focussing on the white spots of positivity that can be found in every situation and every human being.

Is there anything specific which you are inspired by for your next collection?

My next step is to enlarge my debut collection Introspection with five additional bags to have a broader range of products, maintaining the mood and concept of the existing collection.

Are there any fellow designers whose work you admire at the moment? Any artists?

I love Jesse Draxler's work, he is my favourite artist. In my opinion, everything he does is just amazing. I would love to collaborate with him one day. Niels Peeraer is one of my most appreciated Accessories Designer, even if his work is obviously not connected to my personal style attitude. I like him a lot and keep following his process continuously. I discovered his work during my time at Polimoda, when he just started his career and up to
now his brand became wellknown, listing stockists like Luisa Via Roma, 10 Corso Como or Galleries Lafayette. So he is kind of a benchmark for me when I think about my future as a designer. Last but not least: Craig Green. Incredible work.

Text: Manuela Mitevova

All images © Szilveszter Makó

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