marchioness > digital > Elisa Trombatore: Feminism Can Be Pink
Interview by Jasmine Kee —  Edited by Jessica Fynn

Elisa Trombatore: Feminism Can Be Pink

© Dreaming Eli by Elisa

Elisa Trombatore is the rising star of London’s fashion scene - the future of fashion in both context and aesthetics. She is also a lovely person and somewhat of a kindred spirit. Her first and enduring fashion love is, like me, famed fellow Central Saint Martins’ alumni, Alexander McQueen, and she too grew up thinking Mulan (despite the modern paradox of problematic Disney princesses) was nothing other than “fucking cool!” 


Having recently graduated with an MA in Fashion Design from Central Saint Martins (a fashion school unparalleled in terms of notoriety) London-based Trombatore’s stunning Graduate Collection - impressively supported by the Isabella Blow Foundation - was showcased at London Fashion Week 2021. An instant hit, it featured in several international fashion magazines, from Vogue to i-D Italy, and acruid the attention of many celebrity stylists. She has just released her Womenswear Spring/Summer 2022 lookbook, and is in the throes of preparing Dreaming Eli’s Autumn/Winter ‘22 campaign when we speak. 


Trombatore’s goal is to empower women through design - an obsession that stems from her Sicilian heritage and experiences as a female of an equally passionate and submissive womanhood. Through intricate silhouettes, layers and textures she challenges female stereotypes and demonstrates the power and beauty of contradiction inherent in femininity. What she has to say about the colour pink, in the context of her work and in general, opens up into what is undoubtedly the most interesting conversation I have ever had with someone about femininity in fashion design and feminism - topics close to her heart. 


Dreaming Eli is a reflection of Trombatore’s own identity as a fierce, bold, ambitious woman who is also girly, delicate, sensual and pink-obsessed. “For a woman to be strong, she has to dress in a man’s suit, but why can’t a woman in lingerie be strong? [...] Feminism can be pink”, she states; and she is right.


Tell us about your Graduate Collection and Spring/Summer 2022 lookbook?

The lookbook is a development of my Graduate Collection. The goal is to empower women and work around stereotypes. This past year, I have started using lingerie to communicate this, from the construction to playing around with body-line and shapes. This is an important part of my work which my last two collections have revolved around. Colours are pretty much pinkish - they remind me of a girlish world but also they are pretty subtle tones which helps me a lot (when designing) because I have a lot of complex silhouettes, textures and layers. Not having bright colours helps me to focus and not have too much going on. This has been the vibe for both my collections - one has developed into the other. I also work alot with my hands because I feel it is important to give a crafty feeling to fashion, so everything is pretty much handmade and we work a lot with different textiles.

What inspires your collections and your practice?


I take inspiration from Victorian decadence, so corsetry and dramatic draping, but everything is backed up by this idea of taking the conception of what the female body "should" be, and “should” look like, and taking power and control from it. Bras and corsets are things that have been used to restrict women in society and fit stereotypes. The second-wave feminist approach would be to tear this apart but the brand's approach is to actually use these means as a way to empower. I also try to combine all of this with a sporty approach; so using technical fabrics, hoody shapes and silhouettes - mixing it up to give a more contemporary approach to the Victorian world. I use a lot of textiles and try to express these feelings through fabric.


Do you wear your own designs?


Absolutely. I am also a pole dancer so I definitely wear my corsets, but gym wear is still one of my favourite things to wear. I guess that's where the sporty part comes from. When I go home to Sicily, I can probably wear two things from my wardrobe. That's it [laughs].


Where does your personal style come from?


I have loved the colour pink forever. I wore pink and lingerie inspired clothes even before they were a part of my designs and a way to connect with my work, because before they became part of my style they were an important part of my life. The first project I did at CSM was the 'alter-ego project'. That's where everything changed and I started connecting my style with my work so much more. Back then I was a very subtle Sicilian girl and [laughs] I lived for three weeks as Barbie - blonde wig, high heels, pink latex - very trashy.


How would you describe your time at Central Saint Martins?


CSM was great because it pushed you to put on a look everyday. It challenges you to express which is what we should do. It pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and that felt empowering. This life of pressure with what to wear is also kind of stressful, but if I have to think about the past five years that I have been in London and the moments where I felt really empowered, it was always walking through those corridors.


Your collections demonstrate the power, danger, and beauty of contradiction inherent in femininity. Where does this interest in female empowerment come from?


Unconsciously, I think this started when I was a teenager living in Sicily. There is such a huge social gap there and you see that some women still can’t go out without a man. I didn't really grow up in a family like that, I have to say. My mum, she always worked, which is something big for Sicily. She also goes to the gym and is pretty independent but even she had to give up her dream job because of family. This concept of settling down for women is something that always bothered me so much. Then again, it is all about (your) personal life and I guess I make some stereotypes in my own life too.


Your goal is to empower women through design - can you expand on this?


The concept of dressing your ideas and expressing your personality is something very empowering. Lingerie (for example) relates to the idea of sexual freedom, and using your sensuality and sexuality as a woman not to play along with a social stereotype but to take control of your life. For me, pole dancing is the same thing - being able to use your own sexual and sensual power not for men, not for women, but just for yourself.


You have spoken before about the fact you "believe in (the colour) pink"- what are your thoughts and feelings behind this sentiment?


I have always been in love and obsessed with pink since I was a kid. I've also always been obsessed with the idea of a woman who is very ambitious but also decadent. Coming from Sicily, which is sadly very closed-minded, I grew up around women who were super passionate and super loving but who didn't know what ambition was.


Usually when you say ‘pink’ you are saying ‘feminine’ and ‘girly’ and everyone thinks of something weak. So when I was eighteen, my idea was to mix up these stereotypes and move to where something pink can be something extremely powerful and empowering. This is the very idea from where Dreaming Eli begins. The idea is to present a woman who is both romantic, feminine and girlish, but also strong, fierce, bold, sexual and sensual. I'm always playing with these different stereotypes. I realised that for a woman to look strong she has to dress in a man’s suit. Even in school they would say, ‘look at this catwalk show. The women are dressed in suits - this means they are “strong”, but why can’t a woman in lingerie be strong?


To me your designs fit more with the concept of lipstick feminism rather than the ideals of second-wave feminism - would you agree?

One hundred percent! I started defining myself as a feminist during my MA, one year ago, because before then what I thought of as feminist was second-wave feminism. I would agree with the ideas but not the means. The idea of presenting feminism in a different way - that feminism can be pink - this was one of the first approaches that I had to feminism.


Fashion is so powerful where it can get to so many places. We have such an important tool in our hands, that we can use to promote a different type of feminism by showing that you're not a bad feminist if you like the colour pink or wear make up. In the end, feminism should be about being free. I love Disney princesses and I know they are not considered a good example of feminism, but I grew up watching those movies and I still believe in female empowerment. These stereotypes are everywhere from when you are a kid, but the great thing to me about fashion and art, which to me are the same thing, is that they speak a visual language to all kinds of people anywhere in the world where a feminist book might not.


How do you feel about femininity in fashion and fashion design?


I feel that fashion really relies on stereotypes which I find very annoying. I spent years at university analysing catwalk shows and finding meaning in that a woman dressed in a man's suit is strong; but I think in the last few years this has started to move forward, and in the direction that I am trying to go. I think this growing trend is all related to body acceptance and inclusivity where stereotypes are loosening up a bit. Fashion should be forward-thinking because it affects so much of society at the end of the day - aesthetically, in colours and in trends.


What does Dreaming Eli stand for? What do you want it to achieve? 


If I had to pick a word I would pick ‘female’. Dreaming Eli is about my experience of the world as a female. The dreaming part kind of started as a joke, for me, because people would always say that I was dreaming too high - calling me girly because I was dreaming too much and not dealing with reality. Dreaming Eli is about this attitude, which to me is the same thing as saying ‘pink’, ‘feminine’ or ‘cute’, but it's also about my desire to be ambitious in life. It’s this powerful woman, but she is also dreaming. I want to present a strong woman in a way that is considered stereotypical but doesn’t communicate those stereotypes.

PHOTOGRAPHY Sasha Svanner STYLING Brando Prizzon CASTING DIRECTION / PRODUCTION Pupperbitch MOVEMENT DIRECTION Saint Eve HAIR Elle Page HAIR ASSISTANT Kristian Szalay MAKEUP RougedMilk MAKEUP ASSISTANT Andrew Ashton NAILS Shaniya Purchas DANCER Emily Bradley JEWELLERY Justjjjjewelery

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PHOTOGRAPHY Sasha Svanner STYLING Brando Prizzon CASTING DIRECTION / PRODUCTION Pupperbitch MOVEMENT DIRECTION Saint Eve HAIR Elle Page HAIR ASSISTANT Kristian Szalay MAKEUP RougedMilk MAKEUP ASSISTANT Andrew Ashton NAILS Shaniya Purchas DANCER Emily Bradley JEWELLERY Justjjjjewelery

press to zoom

PHOTOGRAPHY Sasha Svanner STYLING Brando Prizzon CASTING DIRECTION / PRODUCTION Pupperbitch MOVEMENT DIRECTION Saint Eve HAIR Elle Page HAIR ASSISTANT Kristian Szalay MAKEUP RougedMilk MAKEUP ASSISTANT Andrew Ashton NAILS Shaniya Purchas MODEL Tameisha Edwards JEWELLERY Justjjjjewelery

press to zoom

PHOTOGRAPHY Sasha Svanner STYLING Brando Prizzon CASTING DIRECTION / PRODUCTION Pupperbitch MOVEMENT DIRECTION Saint Eve HAIR Elle Page HAIR ASSISTANT Kristian Szalay MAKEUP RougedMilk MAKEUP ASSISTANT Andrew Ashton NAILS Shaniya Purchas DANCER Emily Bradley JEWELLERY Justjjjjewelery

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What are your personal feelings on the fashion industry at present? 


It's hard to answer this question. It's a very complex thing for me. It's not about rebelling because if you don't play along, where are you going to go? We are all good at criticising the fashion industry, and I could go on about inclusivity and how it is fake inclusivity and how actually I am very much about body acceptance and am not necessarily a fan of how the fashion industry deals with that.


It's not about taking a one block pattern and making it big because that's going to feel weird on a size fourteen body. Inclusivity and body acceptance are about taking real measurements and looking at real proportions and designing something that works well for that body. It's not about making things large or small because the block patterns that the industry starts with are for specific proportions. Inclusivity isn’t showing plus size to show that I can do plus size - as a designer you are just going for the easy option. It's about starting with the design and dealing with the problem from the roots. 


I have the same problem with mass production. I have always believed in the made to measure system - taking the body, the measurements and designing for that; but then on the other hand it wouldn’t be fair for me to say I hate it all. I am part of the fashion industry, we all are - even the school that pushes us to rebel against the fashion industry, they are the fashion industry. So I don't believe in being a total fashion outcast - you kind of need to play a role to change things from the inside. It's a tricky balance.


You have said previously that watching movies from overseas as a child in Sicily made you question concepts like stereotypes and women's empowerment. Are there any specific female creatives who inspire you? 


The person who comes to mind in this moment is Audre Lorde, and her description of this wild, dirty and dangerous womanhood. That feeling she describes with her work gave me a hunger. Also, Disney Princesses because even though they all had their downsides - Mulan had to impersonate a man, Ariel had to stop being herself and Cinderella was waiting for a man to save her - what I looked up to them for was their strength and determination to do whatever it takes to get what they want. We do have to remember that these movies go to kids, but as a kid I wasn't thinking she was losing everything for the man she loves, I was thinking she’s fucking cool. 


Are there any designers past or present whose work has influenced yours?


I love lingerie inspired works, like designers Charlotte Knowles and Thierry Mugler. I am in love with that world - totally obsessed, but my first crush as a designer was, and will probably always be, Alexander McQueen. There is such poetry and layering and a lot going on there, and I relate so much to the idea of having to scream louder so that others can hear you. My philosophy is always more is more. Always.


How does the Italian fashion scene differ from that of London? Do you have a preference? 


My problem with the Italian fashion scene is its conservatism. I feel there is still not a lot of space for young creatives; but I love and respect the concept that Italian clothes are made very well. I did my BA in Milan, and I loved that we were taught how to make things beautifully. This is something that is lacking in the UK, but there is such a newness to the London fashion scene and the possibility to do and be whatever you want. Italian fashion has such a great history and super strong traditions, but sometimes we tend to be too attached to those traditions. We need space for newness.


London is a city where you can walk down the street looking ‘ridiculous’ and no-one will bat an eyelid because everyone else is doing the same. Does it inspire you when you see other people being so authentically themselves? 


One hundred percent! I fell in love with London for this reason - the freedom to express yourself. I don't think I will ever go back to Italy because I couldn't live in a place, again, where people stare and judge you. Here, you can do and be whatever you want which fits perfectly with the idea of my brand. Fashion is still a very luxury industry and I do think that is an important quality.


What is the hardest thing about running a brand today?


How inexperienced a fashion design student actually is when we finish school, because what you actually do when you graduate is not designing, it's doing so much more - production, marketing, public relations, and you have no idea where to start. You graduate from a school with very strong creative people but the business side of things you have to find out for yourself, which leads to the second problem, money. If you don’t have the budget for a team you have to do everything yourself, and it is really hard because there is no support. You need clients to get the prizes and the funding but how are you going to get the clients if you don't have the money to go through production? You have to believe, have patience and stay determined because you are pretty much alone and poor [laughs].


What would you change in the fashion system if you could, and what would you keep?


I would change the way the design process starts regarding body shapes and inclusivity in general. I love how the fashion industry is extremely connected to art, dance and performance, and how fashion can be a means to keep these connected. I always try to present my collection with performance and fashion together - I used to pole dance to do this. I would also keep the traditional catwalk show because there is something really, truly, insanely magical about those.


What is something that excites you?


Looking at things - the moment of inspiration, there is a lot of excitement in that. When your mind starts building upon the visual image that you have, that is the best part. When I have that idea I write it down straight away, then I draw from it and then I create it, and then maybe I will develop that in my next collection.


Do you have a life philosophy?


More is more - in art, in life, in love, in everything.  

© COLLECTION Dreaming Eli  PHOTOGRAPHY Sasha Svanner  STYLING Brando Prizzon  CASTING DIRECTION / PRODUCTION Pupperbitch  MOVEMENT DIRECTION Saint Eve  HAIR Elle Page  HAIR ASSISTANT Kristian Szalay  MAKEUP RougedMilk MAKEUP ASSISTANT Andrew Ashton  NAILS Shaniya Purchas  MODELS Georgia Patten & Tameisha Edwards DANCERS Emily Bradley & Emily Suzuki  JEWELLERY Justjjjjewelery