Excerpts from Samudra’s book ‘The Freedom of Having Nothing’ – now available as paperback: Moments in Kyoto, Milan and Hamburg.
Trashion show in Tokyo
Everywhere in Kyoto is quiet, even public places. Japan is like entering another dimension: the minimalist aesthetic, the sense of orderliness and thoroughness, the contrast of modernity and tradition in one space or object, the harmony of forms and colors on my dinner plate, a game of contrasts and shades in the shop windows, and the way people dress, from the weirdest to the most zen.
Sasha and John, thanks to their involvement with the Friends World College, manage to gather a crew of nearly twenty-four people for our Trashion show, including ten models from seven nationalities (Ukrainian, French, British, Canadian, Finnish, Swedish, American, and Japanese). We are working with a zero-yen budget and Sasha moves earth and sky to make it all happen. She has found the venue (the eclectic Shin-Puh-Kan shopping center), sends me to the Kyoto International School to run my first workshop with young kids, organizes a radio interview for me, and sets up a restaurant pre-show (the first place in Japan to sell our collection and stationery). Even The Japan Times publishes an article, “Earth-Friendly Trashion Designer Gives Throwaway a Second Life.”
On rehearsal day it is obvious we need a choreographer and a stylist to pull together the ensembles; none of us has any professional experience to do it. Chie, one of the female models, has a gift for coaching the others in walking and attitude so she improvises and becomes our choreographer. None of our models have walked on a catwalk before but they have a shining glow about them, despite their imperfections. I feel moved by their time and energy to support my vision. The show is a great success. The whole collection and some of our other accessories go on sale in the shopping center’s open-air atrium and almost everything sells on the spot. Even the Ukrainian babushka’s hand-knitted socks sell well.
To think and do something outside the box in Japan is not common. Individual initiative and having a chance outside the company or school is rare so I am happy our Trashion event has had a positive impact on all the Japanese involved. On the plane back to Amsterdam my mind floats through the past few months. I can’t believe I was in Japan with my eco clothes, for my own fashion show. Incredible. How did I get there? How did this happen, again? What should I do next?
Kairos Prize, the turning point
In November 2011, completely out of the blue, the renowned German Alfred Toepfer Foundation shortlists me for the Kairos Prize. This is a major award, honoring European creative artists and academics who give important innovative impulses to European art and culture. Named after the Greek god Kairos, god of the right moment, the prize seeks to inspire people at the right time in their career.
The foundation has to convince me my nomination is real; at first I deleted the email, sure it must be spam. The prize comes with 75,000 euros – who would believe it is possible to win this amount of money? As part of the nomination process I have to spend a day in Milan with one of the jury members so they can get to know more about my fifteen years as an ecodesign pioneer. […]
Was Da Ist (What is there)
At the end of February I fly back to Europe and land in cold winter Hamburg to finish the museum exhibition, Was Da Ist. Time is tight but I trust that everything will be OK (I always do), even in all my frenetic travel and work. The foundation staff lends me some winter clothes to wear and Svado sends some from Italy. My New Zealand ‘old magazine’ lamps and the Dune eco resort aluminum-blind lamps can’t travel so I’ll have to create some replicas from scratch at the museum.
While the museum staff installs my exhibition I make a series of large Medusa lamps from some of the museum’s old posters and vintage aluminum louvers. For seven days I am privileged to go to work in this grand old museum, entering through the back door with all the employees. In the luminous white-walled and carpeted exhibition space the staff handle my creations professionally and with such care, arranging my accessories and clothes appealingly, creating an interesting scenography and story. Each piece is here for two months, in one of Europe’s largest cities, I have all the professional assistance I need, and I have a press officer. At last, proper recognition. I’m very touched and I feel incredibly lucky.
My little postcard notebook, created at Robin des Bois in 1993, sits next to the rubber wallet created in Copenhagen in 1997. The army blanket collection (produced in Ukraine in 2002) brushes against the Lux Bag (2000) and the caterpillar bedcover dress (Amsterdam 1999) and the pebble carpet (Italy 2010). All my food-packaging garments are here (the blue and gold Barilla jacket, the Segafredo jacket…), the German federal post dress, and pieces I’ve made and kept privately in a box in an attic. Everything is being displayed like precious relics. There is something solemn and dignified about it.
The press comes to interview me and I tell my story over and over, but I’m delighted. Sitting on my bed at night I start to write my acceptance speech. Svado, my friends, and my family begin to arrive in Hamburg for the ceremony but Vitaly and Varia cannot get here. The winter has been cruelly cold with meters of snow in eastern Ukraine and many flights have been canceled, and the usual waiting for their visas to be issued has meant they haven’t been able to make definite flight and hotel bookings. Sadly it is out of our hands.
The day arrives and I still don’t know what to wear. My mother has brought some clothes from Bretagne and I’ve waited until the last minute to try different outfits; what I wear needs to send out a strong message and give me confidence. Eventually I opt for a red linen Aiste Anaite dress; I always feel good in red. Aiste Anaite is a talented designer using handcrafting techniques; her designs talk about the Earth, as she says.
Walking onto the stage to deliver my speech, an audience of 1,100 people wait to hear me speak – citizens of Hamburg, elected people, the bourgeois, intellectuals, journalists. The theater is full. A friend’s advice plays in my head.
“When you look at people, don’t think of 1,000 heads looking at you. Connect to them from the heart, and speak from your heart to their heart. There, in that space, there is no fear. You will see.”
‘The Freedom of Having Nothing’ – A presentation of Samudra’s (Katell Gélébart) memoir
Autumn in Kharkiv – An excerpt from Chapter 12 entitled ‘Ukrainian partnership’
Fashion made from trash? – Moments in Kyoto, Milan and Hamburg
Le Conquet – Growing up in Brittany
Aesthetic and Creative Eco-Design – Samudra’s life as an eco-designer and environmental activist
Samudra (Katell Gélébart), originally from Bretagne, France, studied Scandinavian languages at Paris University. Self-taught and passionate about reusing since childhood, she opened Art D’Eco, a tiny eco-fashion boutique in Amsterdam. She has travelled to Denmark, India, Australia, Ukraine, working with local people and staying long enough to inspire them about new ways of living lightly on the earth.
In 2007 she took sannyas in Pune and, in 2012, she won the Kairos Prize and last winter she published her memoir ‘The Freedom of Having Nothing’. katellgelebart.com