“My creation is mine, it’s what I want to say. If I’m saying something, but it’s coming from another person, it’s useless to me. My brand is my words and I want to talk to the public,” says 24-year-old designer Ailin Bisi. Her message is pretty clear: opposites attract. Ailin has been uniting extremes – think whimsical pom-poms mingling with armored shoulder pads – to produce fashionable accessories and outfits under her eponymous label since 2007. Her multi-dimensional designs have caught the eye of renowned Argentine designer, Benito Fernandez, and more recently the international powerhouse Opening Ceremony, where the ex-Project Runway Latin America contestant sold out in weeks. She brings fantasy and untamed originality to her creations and is quickly gaining recognition as she presents her newest collection.
Tell me a little about your background. Where did your creating start and when did you know you wanted to be a designer?
My whole childhood environment was playful and artistic. My parents really let me do whatever I please, but still gave me strong values at the same time. My father was a singer and my mother taught me to sew. We had a treehouse in our backyard, with a zipline over our garden, we were always outside, and it was a very playful and cool childhood.
When I was 15, I would sit in math class, bored, and begin to draw… girls, different outfits and I really lived out my fantasies out through my drawings. I wasn’t a regular teenager. For prom I made my own outfit and was always creating. When my cousin started her design project, I started helping her until she got pregnant. I sort of took on independence there and taught myself.
At one moment I started studying psychology, but I realized then that I just wanted to learn, not actually be a psychologist. So I started studying fashion design with Mariano Toledo [at Escuela de Diseño de Indumentaria Mariano Toledo]. I learned things like fashion theory, but the real stuff going on was in the street – the challenges, making mistakes, starting over again, losing money, earning money, and so on. After 2 years I graduated and began to make my own collection.
What was that first collection like?
I was 19 and made a collection inspired in Marie Antoinette. It was really cool! Lots of neck details and black bows. I was able to sell it at my boyfriend Martin’s mother’s store, El Ultimo Beso in Palermo, which was such a great opportunity because there were people from all ages there going to try on clothes, from 20 to 70 years old. It opened my mind to a wider range of customers.
How would you describe your style nowadays?
Conceptual would be one word. Over-the-top… when I make an outfit I like to take it all the way. And also, a mixture: of a lady and a rocker. I like to play lady and rocker.
The mixing of opposites is important because I’m staying true to who I am. It’s cool to be that easygoing person, but it’s ok to be a bit rude, even dominating or imposing. In the end I make a product where I can invest my art and my creation, but still get on well with the public.
Where did the inspiration for your current collection come from?
I found a lot of inspiration in rites and rituals, as in magic woman and witches– the hair, the bones, the tooth. Some came from those magical ways and also from the light and darkness. I think there is force between their opposites, and I try to bring those opposites to my brand. Taking not just the light, peaceful and transparent, but also including the darkness and the turbulence, and joining those two forces to make something really powerful. So I starting mixing textures that are very kind and very naïve, with something that is hard like leather and hair.
Many people may know your name from the first season of Project Runway Latin America. What did you take away from that experience?
I took away two important things. First of all, I realized I need to stop and think twice before committing to things, to take a break and breathe before answering big questions. I don’t need to be an adolescent teenager and jump right in, I can think, it’s okay to think. That was something good.
The bad thing was that I realised that those were very top producers who know how the public work. [After my first round elimination,] I realised that there is not really a big public for me in Argentina, where most people are looking for more regular, normal things. At first I was really angry about that.
How have you found the Argentine market to be challenging?
Argentina is really tough to reach and conservative about clothes. It’s not like they shop wherever and take risks. New York, for example, is in a really good economic condition and its ok for people to buy, buy, buy, and throw, throw, throw. Here people think about what they purchase five times before they really buy, and I include myself in there as well. So I try to think about the client and take that into account here.
Also, at least 90% copy other collections [from the US and Europe]. Not only is it obvious and ridiculous, it’s more expensive than the brand they copied! So I find it really important that my brand is clear and not a copy of anyone, not even a little.
So where did you go after Project Runway?
I decided to move to New York for six months, and it was there that I decided to make a accessory that you could use with everything you wear and only have to invest once… the removable shoulder pad. I use one almost every night, and they really fit with anything – jean jacket, leather jacket, white t-shirt, dresses, anything.
Which are incredible and super original! What are they made out of?
They are like vintage, 50’s-style bra cups! There’s a really old button shop 10 blocks from my home in Villa Crespo, it even has that old smell. They only had 1,000 cups and I said give me everything! It’s the idea of having something here that really makes you beautiful, going beyond a pair of earrings. I’m not getting tired of it.
You’ve been selling those shoulder pads and other accessories on Opening Ceremony NY and LA, one of the top outlets for emerging independent designers. What has that been like?
At first you see “Ailin Bisi” then “Alexander Wang” and I was like a little puppy with my tongue hanging out! I started laughing at myself! It’s my design, but it’s not something “WOW!,” it’s just me doing my stuff. So finding this on the website was unbelievable.
My stuff sold out really quickly. Fashion blogs starting picking up on me from all over the world – Australia, China, Japan, and people speaking all different languages were calling me. I think that was exposure from OC. Guys from Tokyo started asking me for samples, and 2 days later they were already hanging in the store! Vogues from all over – UK, Nipon, etc – have my name on their list to send samples, so I’m looking forward to see if they’ll use some of my stuff in the coming months.
As a young, up-and-coming designer, which established designers do you look up to?
I love McQueen. I went to his exhibition at the MET right after his death and felt very close to what he did. So I was very emotional. I started crying and thought “when am I going to reach that level?” He was such an artist, always making something new, not paying attention to the public, just creating. Never a mistake.
I love Balenciaga. And Chanel- it’s my lady side. But of course it would be awesome to have a Chanel blazer with skull shoulder pads, I love that mix!
Assuming you have some free time between your designing and worldwide antics, what do you enjoy doing?
I am a singer! I was in the same band from 13 until 22. Well, I never really left the band. I will always be singing, it’s something I love to do.
And of course I create the costume design for the band! I’ve made outfits for several bands and video clips, like Angus and Julia Stone, Charley Garcia y Emmanuel Horvilleur.
Besides my own label, Ailin Bisi, I have two other projects. Los junglas is me, my boyfriend and a friend of ours. We were living in New York together and we started to create whole concept art – nothing commercial, just art for the sake of art. The other is Shock Your Cocktail, my brother’s project that involves performance art and creative content for events – like interventions or productions or shows – where people are not sure if the actors have infiltrated a party or if it’s real people involved.
So I think it’s safe to say we can expect to see more of Ailin Bisi around…?
Yes! I am really at peace with myself, because every single day I am doing something I really love and I’m happy to be creating things. Of course there will be good times and bad times, times when I’m on top, and moments when I’m a bit bored, but I’m doing what I want to do, so it’s a good thing. I recommend everyone do what they want, and where you put your heart is where your happiness comes from.