Andrea Vytlačilová: up-and-coming young fashion designer on dyeing with avocados
Andrea Vytlačilová: up-and-coming young fashion designer on dyeing with avocados
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Andrea Vytlačilová is only 26 years old – but has the extremely impressive CV you’d expect of a person with many more years of life behind them. Already with work experience under her belt from fashion houses such as Marc Jacobs in New York, Acne Studio in Stockholm, and Kenzo in Paris, and collaborations with famous names like Versace, Swarovski, and 20th Century Fox, Andrea is an up-and-coming designer who was voted one of Forbes Czechia’s 30 under 30.
A native of East Bohemia, historically famous for its textile industry and craftsmanship, she draws a lot on the rich traditions of the region where she grew up, such as textile dyeing, Indigo printing, traditional lacemaking and glass production.
Recently having finished her MA in fashion design at the prestigious Central Saint Martins in London – typically considered the best fashion school in the world, with alumni including Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney – and having moved back to the Czech Republic, I met her at her studio in Malá Strana, overlooking the gardens below Strahov Monastery.
I started by asking her when she first became interested in fashion and textile design.
“I think I’ve always had it in me. I was always interested in drawing, cutting paper, any form of creating really, as far as I can remember. Then it started to move towards textiles as I got to know the idea of dressing up and fashion in general.”
Why did you decide to study in London of all places?
“I’m from a family of no artists at all – my mum is a scientist and my dad works in admin, so I had no artistic connection. So when I was telling them that I would like to study fashion or art or design, they took it as a joke, like ‘OK, she loves drawing, but then she’s going to be a dentist or a lawyer – a proper job.’
“So for me it was like, I’m going to find the best school I can go to, and if I don’t get in I’ll just give up and study languages or something normal. But then I got in!”
Had you already known of Central St. Martin’s for a long time?
“I can’t remember if it was a Google search or I got a book, but I was looking for the best school for fashion design and that’s how I learnt about it. That was probably at the end of primary school or beginning of high school. I was afraid of not getting in anywhere and was really anxious about the whole process, so I started early. I was hoping but I didn’t really believe it was possible to be honest.”
I read somewhere that you’d never lived in a city before you moved to London. Was it a huge culture shock?
“I took my bike with me – London is a very bike-friendly city, much more than Prague I think – and I think that made the transition smoother because I got to know the city really easily.
“And I was at school most of the time so I didn’t really notice. Especially the first few months were really intense, because it was the first time I was actually studying what I loved – before that I was just doing general high school. So it was so many new things at once – but amazing new things.”
You’ve also lived in other big cities – Stockholm, New York, Paris. How do all these cities compare for you? Do you have a favourite?
“It’s hard to say because I spent so much time in London that it feels like a second home. It’s also the place where I grew into the person I am – it transformed me in so many ways. So it’s very special – I can’t really compare it to the other ones.
“Whereas when I lived in Stockholm, it was over the winter, which is very dark and very long. I was at work most of the time though so I didn’t notice. It is a beautiful city.
“I think New York is amazing for your career but not so much for a family life. I think I learned so much there and met amazing people.
“And then Paris is very European, so it’s not much different from Prague or London I think.”
How do people at home view you now? What do they think of where your life has taken you?
“When I was at high school everyone thought I was a dreamer because I had these big dreams of going to London and studying fashion. And since I was studying at a gymnasium (grammar school), most of my classmates went to study medicine or law – the normal subjects.
“So I guess for them it’s very foreign, very intangible. When we talk about things we talk about other things. It’s similar to when they tell me about their work in a hospital, for example.
“When I go back – and I sometimes do go back and do workshops or exhibitions, I’m really happy that I can share my experience with people and maybe inspire more people to follow the path I’ve taken.”
You’re interested in the textile tradition of Eastern Bohemia where you grew up, the sustainability of the fashion world, and a return to local production. But you also use the natural pigment from avocado pits to dye your fabrics. As far as I know avocados don’t grow in Bohemia – can you explain how that came about?
“This happened when I was in New York. I went to a talk about the rainforest and the woman that was giving the talk said, just as a sidenote, that you can dye with avocado pits. And I thought, “wow, that’s so interesting – I wonder what the colour would be.” I was thinking maybe green – knowing what I know now, I realise how ridiculous that is.”
What colour is it?
“So I called or texted my grandma and I asked her, ‘Next time you cook something with an avocado, can you keep the pits for me so I can try to do some dyeing with it when I come back?'
“Then I forgot about it completely. I went to Paris and when I moved back almost a year later, I went to my grandma’s and she had these really dry pits on her windowsill. Because they had lost so much water, they were a really dark red. I think that was beginner’s luck – I tried to dye with them and the colour came out so beautifully.
“As I was approaching the final year of my BA when you do your major project and your collection, I was always contemplating what topic to choose, so I started thinking, ‘Maybe I can try to dye the entire collection using natural dyes – but trying to make it modern, not earthy or beige.’
“So that was my starting point – and from there I started dying with avocado pits, lavender, so many different things. I knew I wanted to follow the Bohemian traditions specifically and obviously the old way of dyeing is using natural dyes, so it kind of all connected.
“And the avocado dye – I can’t really smell avocado anymore because I’ve used so many avocado pits. I went to every restaurant in the area where I was living in London and I asked them if they could keep the avocado pits for me. Every evening I would grab a big tray of avocado stones.
“At one point I was travelling from London to Prague and I had some of them in my suitcase. I was going through the security checks and they asked me, ‘What do you have in your suitcase?’ And I said ‘Um, they’re avocado pits.’ And when I opened my suitcase, it looked like some armour or something, it looked so bad [laughs].
“And another time I went to a café and asked them if they could keep some avocado pits for me, and the woman looked at me confused, and I said ‘I use them to dye’, but I think she didn’t really get that I meant D-Y-E, and she was like, ‘What?’ She was probably thinking, ‘What kind of a person is this?’ She probably thought I was using them to do some kind of rituals – it was so embarrassing [laughs].”
I was surprised when you said you asked your grandma for avocado pits – avocados aren’t a very Czech traditional ingredient.
“They’re not, but my grandma loves cooking. She makes ramen and all sorts of things – she’s very into trying new things.”
Not what I’d expect from a Czech babička (grandma)!
“Actually yeah! I’m vegetarian and when I first stopped eating meat she was a bit like, ‘Why?’ But then she kind of got into it and she started looking for vegetarian recipes and now she’s fully backing me.”
When did you become vegetarian?
“Seven or eight years ago – it was the transition from high school to university. Because when I was in high school I was still under the influence of my grandma so I couldn’t – I didn’t have the willpower to stand up against that [laughs].”
Do you also like to eat avocados?
“I mean, I’ve washed so many of them and touched so many of them – like hundreds. I mean, I like them in guacamole, but it’s not something I would pick in a store.”
They’re very bad for the environment, apparently.
“Yeah, that’s kind of the funny thing about the project, because I was using something that was already being thrown out. I never bought any avocados. First of all, it would be really expensive, and second of all, it would make no sense with the whole concept. So I only used avocado pits that were already being thrown out.”
There’s a documentary about you, My Bohemian Tale. How did that come about?
“When I first met the director, Lucie, we were working on a project together and I was telling her about how I was starting to work on this Bachelor’s thesis. And I thought we could do a quick video of the concept, just to sum it up. But as we got more into the depth of it we discovered that we might actually be able to turn it into a longer film or a documentary.
“And since I was also working with some textile mills here in the Czech Republic and also with modrotisk, we thought it might be interesting to combine the modern with the traditional also in the form of a video, so that’s how it started.
“It’s still waiting for its premiere – first it was postponed by the pandemic like 10 million times, and then I went back to finish my MA, and I only just finished it – so hopefully soon.”
I read that you also sometimes collaborate with your husband. What’s it like being in a relationship with someone and also working with them professionally?
“It is very inspiring for the both of us, because our work is very different but both are based on drawing, so when one is drowning in it, the other one can help.
“Also the fact that we are both doing something creative without a 9-5 timeframe makes it so much easier, rather than trying to explain it to someone who finishes work at 5 and then they don’t think about it ever until they open up their laptop again in the morning. In that sense I think it’s very helpful.
“Also, we are working almost all of the time because we are always talking about things and thinking about new projects.”
Do you ever take a break or a rest?
“Er…. I love my work. It fulfils me. I don’t think I would be able to do what I do if I didn’t really love it the way that I do, because it’s crazy, fashion is a crazy environment itself.
“I mean, after my MA I was completely exhausted, both mentally and physically, and that was probably the only point when I was happy to take a break for a while – I was still working, but I wasn’t going full-speed because I was so tired. Finishing my MA and working at the same time was so difficult, especially the last few months.
“It was still the pandemic, so I was travelling back and forth between London and Prague and there were so many restrictions and it was so much stress and everything piled up on top of itself. I didn’t even think I could finish – I was so exhausted already by Christmas and I was finishing in March, so I couldn’t even imagine pushing further and harder. But it worked out in the end!”
What do you do to relax?
“I like to run. I do yoga – I also used to teach yoga in London. And then my dog Fík, of course – he’s my stress relief.”
Does he run with you?
“Yes, he does actually! He’s very active.”
How much does social media play a role in your work?
“Quite a bit. It’s a form of getting in touch with the customer.”
Would you say you’re an influencer?
[Very quickly] “No! No, because I’m a creator. I create my work and then I try to present it on the platform. I feel like an influencer is a medium for brands to promote themselves. I don’t know – or maybe I just don’t understand the word.”
I think you’re right – if you make your own stuff, then you’re not really an influencer.
“Yeah, because social media is just a way for me to show what I’m doing to a wider audience really quickly, which is amazing.”
How much of your day would you say social media takes up?
“Well, I do it every day, that’s for sure. Right now when I’m finishing a couple of projects I can’t really focus on it as much.
“I try to plan ahead for launches of collections or things that are really important to be planned out, but I’m not a PR brand so I don’t have an Excel sheet or anything.”
Do you enjoy that side of it or is it just something you feel like you have to do?
“Sometimes I do, but sometimes I feel like it’s kind of depressing. When I spend too much time on it, I’m a bit like – I feel like the more you scroll on it and the more you get into it, the more it becomes kind of depressing and you think, ‘Maybe I’ll just turn it off now because it just doesn’t make me feel good.’”
Who are your customers? Are they individuals or do you work with fashion houses? Who do you sell your products to?
“Both – or all those things you mentioned. It’s very diverse. If we are talking about the scarves, it’s generally women, but sometimes also men for their wives or mothers or girlfriends. I also make custom ones – scarves and handbags and dresses.
“I also work for companies – I’m doing one thing for a winery, I did another thing for a hotel. Just very different things, very different projects, which makes it exciting, because it’s not repetitive.
“And so far I’ve had real luck with customers and clients so I’m happy with that. Because sometimes people can be – and I understand, because they’re investing the money and time into you – but sometimes it can be interesting.”
So it wasn’t difficult to find customers in the beginning?
“I think it kind of evolved naturally. It started kind of slow and then I think maybe word of mouth is one of the best ways how I’m getting customers. Social media as well, media in general, Designblok – all of these ways of kind of presenting your work.”
Do you have a favourite thing you’ve designed?
“I do have a few favourites in terms of the scarves, like the poppies – I guess it’s also because of the topic. It’s from the Bohemia collection and I made it as an homage to my grandma and to my childhood.
“But beyond that it’s difficult to say. I like this tapestry because it has a meaning to me as well, I did it as part of the Grayson Perry project. It depends really. When I finish a project I usually hate it, and then after a while I’m beginning to love it again. Or at least appreciate it.”
What’s your main source of inspiration?
“Anything really, anything. I go to a lot of art exhibitions and museums, just walking in nature, talking to people, listening to stories – I love stories, legends, fairy tales. All of this kind of literature – that really inspires me.”