German designer Mona Cordes first graced our screens with her captivating and kooky looks in 2020. Her MA collection ‘SELSHAMOUR ~ HIDE + SEAM’ took us on a journey through Scanadavian mythical tales – “The collection calls people to look at what nature has to offer and the spirituality behind it”, she told us. Impassioned with storytelling, her 2021 collection ‘VIVAL VIRTUEZ’ ventured into the seven deadly sins.
This year, Mona’s back with another collection that encourages us to wonder at the beauty and intricacies of nature. CELLUSION fashion film covers the importance of microorganisms through the medium of sustainable design. Paying homage to the place she has called home for the past seven years, Mona shot her latest fashion film in Canning Town, London. Dancers flood the underpass of a bridge, showcasing eighteen complete looks, which vary from sea lilies, plankton, coral, moss sponge and more.
Since we last spoke, Mona has been busy working on a freelance basis – seamstressing, pattern making, print designing and screen printing. More recently, she has been enjoying exploring filmmaking. We spoke with this endlessly exciting creative about running an online store, the art of film and sustainable design.
Œ: We last spoke to you back in 2020 after a very turbulent year. How was the rest of the pandemic for you?
Mona: The pandemic was a nightmare for me at first. I left uni with no showcase, but a Master’s degree in Autumn 2020 and no jobs available or very little… I had planned to travel but of course, could not. So it was very hard until SET came into my life with a year-long sponsorship that also offered a free studio and I got my energy back and crafted two full collections, which I showed with London Fashion Week in February 2022 on the physical schedule with a dance performance. As a designer, this was a great achievement for me!
Œ: At the time, you were setting up your online shop. Two years later, your website looks super jazzy and active! What challenges have you found with running an online shop? Has it led you to pick up any new skills?
Mona: It’s been a wild ride, yes! Running a business and branding yourself alone is a lot of work! I have not expanded my team but I did have two interns helping me with this collection ‘CELLUSION’.
Recently, I have worked on the website and uploaded a lot of new products, mainly made-to-order custom pieces. I’m super happy with my website at the minute. I suppose I am always learning things such as doing screen printing on larger scales, doing meterage and product imaginary using photoshop and illustrator. But I haven’t had quite the time to learn a new skill. I have been focussing on doing my work to the best quality and challenging myself to be better at running my socials. However, my primary focus has been to become more sustainable. For example, I scrapped using any newly bought fabrics. I have only been using recycled materials and dead stock.
Œ: Regarding the inspiration for this collection – is each full costume supposed to represent some sort of microorganism?
Mona: This collection ‘CELLUSION’ informs us about bacteria and microorganisms – how they rule the planet and their importance in our ecosystem. Without bacteria, the world would not exist as it is today. The networks are so strong, and different bacteria enable plants, animals and humans to breathe, grow, produce etc. The film is showcasing the collection I showed at London Fashion Week in February. They all have one to two sister looks.
These are the character looks:
Roseobacteria x Plankton
Chloroflexi x Seabed lilies
Saroma x Protoza
Cyanobacteria x Coral
Paenibaccilus x Funghi x Moss Sponge
Deinoccus x Ghost Bacteria Creature
Myxobacteria x Slugs x Worms
Aquificae X Nudibranchs
Œ: What was your thought process behind these “sister looks”? Is it random or is there actual science behind these pairings?
Mona: Yes, everything is connected! For example, Chloroflexi is related to starfish and therefore, paired with seabed lilies. It resides in waters, lakes, rivers, hot springs, and sulphur baths. Chloroflexi eats Plankton, which is why it’s paired with Roseobacteria. It also resides in water – often in polar regions as a free-living individual with a community structure. It eats plastic and is therefore good for our planet’s ecosystem.
Cyanobacteria is also good for the ecosystem, it lives on algae, it’s attached to coral but it’s toxic to humans. It lives through photosynthesis and there it has this power play with coral – coral steals its oxygen. Coral is the oldest organism on our planet and is a healthy part of the ecosystem. It also can become one with Saroma.
Œ: How does CELLUSION vary from previous collections? What evolutions have you been pushing for in the way you work?
Mona: All my collections are rich in storytelling – my first collection: ‘CIRCUS INFINITY’, used iconic storytelling through the Circus to discuss Brexit Remain ideas. My MA collection: ‘SELSHAMOUR ~ HIDE + SEAM’, played on the theme of Scandinavian myths. And ‘VIVAL VIRTUEZ’ focused on the seven deadly sins.
What makes this collection different compared to previous ones is the sustainability aspect. With my collection ‘VIVAL VIRTUEZ’, I used only recycled digital print fabrics, but this collection is much more versatile. As mentioned, I have worked with very sustainable materials. For the trimmings, I buy nothing new apart from chains, which I got from a hardware store. This collection also has the most looks. I crafted 18 complete looks – with every look there is an individual story, I had a whole character basis and system map drawn out. The research stage was very long, probably the longest apart from my BA collection.
Œ: Looking back on the collection you featured with us in 2020, if you could back in time, what would you change about it?
Mona: Back when we had the MA shoot published with Œ, I had just begun focusing on sustainable fabrication properly. Because I had the sponsorship with Swatch On, I wasn’t able to do a fully sustainable range of looks – they only had some recycled or Gots-certified fabrics. Of course, at the time, it was more sustainable for me to use the amount I was given than go with another expensive fabric supplier.
Œ: Why did you choose to use the medium of film to tell this story rather than just editorial images? What are the benefits and constraints of using film?
Mona: It is very important for me to produce a film and use movements for me to portray what the looks are about – to portray how social the bacteria are and how they behave amongst each other!
Dancers can tell much more of a story than models to me. I like to dance myself and this expression is full of energy and passion. Still-shots show only one aspect of the looks and less of the story behind my collection. I love the medium of film as it is planned well. I’ve got more and more into producing and directing films and shoots myself. This is something I would like to work more with and expand my freelance network in.
But there are so many elements to consider – the location, the cast, choreography and music. I can’t just focus on my outfits.
Œ: You filmed it in London – how did you choose the location? What difficulties did you encounter filming it in such a densely populated city?
Mona: I found the location a long time ago – I think about two years ago when I went to view some flats around that area – I knew I would use that spot for some creative outlet of mine.
The film was shot in Canning Town, under a bridge. We shot in the middle of the week when most people were working so it was fine. I was concerned since we didn’t get a permit in advance, but we just went ahead, and everything went smoothly. We didn’t make a fuss, there wasn’t any extra lighting, and there were only a few dancers on camera at a time.
Œ: Any exciting upcoming projects or plans?
Mona: I have got some adventurous travel plans for October and hopefully, that’s when I will gather some new inspirations to start my collection ideas for next year. I’m not in any rush as I don’t follow seasons – I only do one collection per year since it absorbs all my time and money. Apart from this, I am doing various smaller collaborations with artists like Harry Whitelock. This collaboration will be happening in February 2023 and I am very stoked to see it all come together. This will be a bigger outlet but I will keep this quiet for now!
Fashion – Mona Cordes
Photography – Vanessa Ng and TJ Dribble
Director of Photography – Daniel Lillie
Videography, Casting and Production – Mona Cordes
Director’s Assistant – Xae Cotterell
Movement Director – Evie Webzell
Movement Director’s Assistant – Tilly Woodward
Editor – Daisy Riley
Grade – Unit TV
Music – Charlie Barker
Makeup – Christine Dupuys and Tamara Darago
Makeup Assistant – Cami Oliver
Hair – Fang and Elijah Hourrides
Hair Assistant – Yukie Shigemoto
Dancers – Cat Lawther, Mona Cordes, Giunta Elettra, Ioli Kaskani, Pierre-Antoine Bardot, Verity Wright, Niamh Keady, Lizzy Owen and Liam Hill
Runners – Anti Camz and Emma L Johnson