As a fashion consumer, Petra has a multi-sensorial connection to fashion because she was exposed to it at a very young and impressionable age. In our adolescence, connections are formed at an elementary sensory level and we learn primarily by what we see and hear and touch. Such was the case for Petra. Her earliest recollections of fashion were of the garments that came through her father’s photography studio; the sounds the fabrics made and the way the fabrics looked in movement.
“My father was a photographer and when I was very small I grew up in the studio. Every Saturday the weddings came in and these women showed up wearing these amazing clothes. There was this long hallway and at the end was a chair where you could sit and wait for the photographer, so they would come wearing these garments, their wedding dresses, and they would go through this long hallway. There was this little door that you had to open and I was standing holding this door and they would walk past me toward the studio and you could sense the noise of the garments as they walked past and it was exciting. I could see these beautiful garments and how they would move over the floor and the noise they would make. And they looked like kings and queens.”
“There was one particular picture I will never forget. This woman she had this veil and my father draped the whole veil over the floor, so this woman was standing like in a cloud and I will never forget that. That was it, this cloud, it was like wow.”
“My mother was a tailor and she made us the clothes that we wore and I love that. And when she had the time she made clothes for herself. So I grew up with a sense of cloth and clothes and that is how I feel when I think about fashion - these images of this woman standing in the cloud and my mother giving me something which I could wear that I could feel like a princess in.”
Petra’s connection to fashion further evolved through the storybooks she read where the similarities between the fairy-tale illustrations to the women who entered the studio exposed her to the magical metamorphosis of fashion.
“People tend to underestimate illustrations, but this is Sleeping Beauty and with her garments I was completely stunned. This was the main dress that I loved as a little girl. That dress with the blues, the brown, the colours, I could stare at it for ages.
Another thing that I think is closer to the idea of fashion and how I perceive it now and how I look at it is with Mary Poppins. When they jump into the picture and they come out like they do. That, for me, is what fashion is. You jump into that and it’s not that you’re part of a different picture, you are the picture. That, for me, was the dream per se, and this is how fashion empowers us. If you are unconfident and then wear Versace or something, suddenly you are different. You walk differently. You behave differently. Maybe you talk differently. This is the transition you go through. Clothes fashion and what it does for you, it can shift your identity in many ways. It suddenly questions your idea of ‘me’, I am an entity which I control, and there’s the inner core and then there’s the surface and the surface is just the surface. But no no, it’s not, the surface can really hit your core and the core might be delicate and there’s a transition that takes place. It’s not this kind of stiff materialized me, and fashion shows that, that our inner self is more permeable and not so compact and closed off from our outer self than we think.”
(Conversation with artist Petra Stueben.)