Interviews

ALICIA IN WONDERLAND

Everything begins in my imagination… I have always had my own wonderland!”

Polish-born Alicia Stanska is a rarity in any industry—an accomplished designer and artist producing a saleable commodity without compromising her heartfelt values. A freshly minted extraordinary blend of couture craftswoman, master embroiderer, and performance artist, she produces sumptuous one-off garments that are treasured by those fortunate to own them as works of art.

Not only does she go to enormous lengths to meticulously handcraft her garments, she scrutinizes the credentials of every supplier before she uses its products, only cooperating with those that respect employees’ rights and abide by the rules of fair trade.  Fortunately Swarovski, with its ethical principles (the Swarovski Waterschool’s international water-conservation quest, lead-free crystals, laboratory-grown diamonds, and human rights initiatives) counts among them. So how and where did this principled journey start?

“I was born in 1984 in the small Polish city of Slupsk. My father was my earliest inspiration. From cooking to rebuilding the house, we did everything together. He even showed me how to stitch. I designed my first dress when I was 14 years old.”

As a child, Alicia recalls discovering an American movie starring the ever-optimistic, fictional character called Pollyanna, and falling in love with the allure of crystals on the spot. “Pollyanna collected them to make beautiful light decorations,” she explains. “From that moment, I started looking for crystals.” A little later, she came across Swarovski crystals, and has been using them for twelve years. All her embroidery techniques—from Japanese and French to traditional Polish—involve crystals, to give her designs “a mystical look.”

It seems that television provided a regular portal for the curious-minded young Alicia to access outside cultural influences: “I was inspired by musicals and costume movies, and I remember seeing a TV show about Maison Lesage. I told my mother I was going to go there—and I did!” But first, on her parents’ insistence that she find a safe occupation, she studied business administration in London. After that there was no stopping her, and she packed up and left for Paris and the Ecole Lesage. Currently, she’s about to finish a course in criminology, to which she says she was drawn thanks to her art project, Embroidery with Mission. “It’s about human and animal rights in the 21st century. I’m against the exploitation of labor, and cruelty to animals in fashion and the cosmetics business.”

The idea of combining her passion for social justice with her art occurred to her in Paris in 2013. Alicia’s singular vision saw her traveling through major cities performing what were dubbed “silent lectures,” which saw her embroidering live in a closed cage to raise awareness of exportation of labor in the fashion industry. Her installation had such an extraordinary impact that she was invited to perform at La Basílica Galería in Barcelona.

For her latest project Alicia is partnering with Swarovski to create the One Dress Show, a sculptural gown incorporating an eye-popping 35 kilograms of embroidered crystals designed “to show the dark side of gold—power, greed, and money.” This astonishing feat has taken many months to craft and will be finished by end-September. “I want to make the point that handmade, high-quality fashion takes time, and it’s unrealistic to expect eight collections every year.”

She currently commutes between Warsaw and Paris. “I create designs in Poland, and my foundation through which I promote craftsmanship and art are based there. Work and fashion are in Paris. I’m still looking for a place to settle!” With her questing approach to life, it may take a little while yet for this mercurial talent to stand still.

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