(To read the original German interview, click here.)
April von Stauffenberg, 47, was born in North Carolina and has been living in Berlin for the past twenty years. She studied English Literature, but because she set out to do nothing less than change the world, she became an art critic, curator, and journalist. She has written travelogues ("I booked a flight to Marrakesh and told my daughter we were going to look for flying carpets in Africa") and posts as a slow-fashion activist on her own website helloaftermarch.com. She also writes as a critic for the leftist German newspaper TAZ.de (under her maiden name “April Lamm”).
She calls herself a “fashion wild child.” Last year, April founded her fashion label "After March.” By using the men's shirts she finds in second-hand stores, she designs recycled shirts: cool, almost couture. Often you can see April, who posts a sort of ironic selfie-diary on Instagram, attempting to flee reality, with the wings of the shirts she makes, she says with a wink.
ICONIST: You design shirts with amputated arms, or you could say a sort of cape - how would you describe them?
April von Stauffenberg: Although I am a fashion revolution warrior of sorts, I never set out to make amputated sleeves. To the contrary: they are wings! I wanted a shirt to whiz over to the dance floor after a dull meal. Call it the John Travolta effect.
ICONIST: How did you come up with the design?
Von Stauffenberg: I was playing around a bit with an old men's shirt, thinking that anyone should be able to do something like their own Vetements or Balenciaga shirt, at a cost which is a lot less than a heart attack 1250 Euros! Do-it-yourself energies were coursing through my veins. I cut two shirts and got all Edward Scissor handsy, and I made mistakes! Voila, I had a shirt with arms that could also be wings.
ICONIST: You say you're a fashion addict and yet, like the designer Vivienne Westwood, you are an adherent to the buy-less campaigns. How does it fit together?
Von Stauffenberg: After seeing this movie "The True Cost,” where a factory worker in India had to give her daughter to her parents in the country because the toxicological burden in the factory was too great a risk for her as a mother, I became really disgusted by my own shopping addiction and became a campaigner among my friends. At the same time, I did not want to take the fun out of our love for fashion. So I looked for a way out. I love vintage, but I wanted to make something exciting out of it. And since I had nothing to wear (in the 57 blouses in my closet that I counted this morning), and didn’t want to support exploitation, I started playing with men’s shirts. The pictures I took of my shirt games were well received on Instagram. Quite honestly, the likes of Instagram are an addiction— I’m like a drug junkie.
ICONIST: You call yourself a "fashion wild child" and "slow fashion hero.”
Von Stauffenberg: Yes. With a wink, of course. There is a quote from Ghandi that I love: "Be the change you want to see in the world.” It used to be that in being a sensitive consumer, you were damned to wearing tired colors, unsexy burlap, or boiled wool. Today you can wear “Wonderwoman" lycra — assuming it's vintage, of course, and has been hanging in your closet for 20 years, which is the case with my lycra anyway. "Slow fashion" should be the rule and not the exception, right? In other words, in wearing "fast fashion,” without being aware of it, you often have blood on your hands. I don’t want to support a system that allows slave labor.
Iconist: What is it that you want to change?
Von Stauffenberg: Paradoxically, I used to think that I was doing something good in buying up anything I could from the sales at Zara. I thought, well, at least I’m saving it from the garbage dumps in Africa (i.e., from ruining their local economies). Zara was my "crack" ; shopping there was my crack fix. I was absolutely addicted to H&M and Zara. After seeing the movie "The True Cost,” as I said, my worldview of fashion changed completely. Unfortunately, sustainability is such an overused word, but so important —and what does it really mean? For example, we have to stop that stupid avocado craze. The rainforests are being cut down so that we can feed our frenzy for superfoods year round. Don’t get me wrong. I love avocados, but I try (and fail!) to eat them only from December to February, when they are ripe in Spain. Like plastics, packaging, polyester: they are my enemies.
It is quite possible that fashion, as currently the second biggest cause of environmental pollution, will in the future become a pioneer of global environmental change. Anyway, I buy the shirts for After March at local thrift stores here in Berlin, be it from Paul Smith, van Laack, or even Gucci. Often the shirts are unused deadstock. Some are really like brand new and the extra buttons are still attached in small plastic bags, and many that are from Germany are marked with the Oko-Tex 100 labels, or Made in France, Italy, etc. Not that I am a nationalist at all, but at least we know that the workers were properly paid to make these vintage shirts. No slave labor.
ICONIST: Getting dressed is a necessary but, in principle, harmless everyday process. When did clothing become “fashion” for you?
Von Stauffenberg: When I was little, my Grandma Simpson copied clothes that we had seen together in the chic department stores - in my homeland (the country that elected Obama). My uncle owned the most fashionable store in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The love of fashion is in my blood, so to speak.
ICONIST: Why men’s shirts for women? Was it a gesture of emancipation or do you have something against blouses?
Von Stauffenberg: When you go to vintage stores, you find amazing men's shirts with classic cuts. In the sprawling women’s section, however, there are these horrible designs and they’re mostly made of plastic crap. What hurts the eye usually hurts the environment as well.
ICONIST: How suitable for everyday use is the design— what to do you do with that wing-sleeve when washing dishes, for example?
Von Stauffenberg: My shirts are for women who DON’T do dishes — as a protest. She who cooks need not clean up after dinner! When cooking, of course, those wings are anything but useful: you simply slip your arm back in. Glamour is optional.
ICONIST: Who are your fashion icons?
Von Stauffenberg: Maybe Katharine Hepburn, who made trousers for women possible. Fashion became really fun for me when I could use it to rebel against my mother. She was always dressing me in such a fussy way. I secretly wore tie-dye t-shirts and temporary tattoos —especially on the day when school photos were being taken.
ICONIST: How would you describe your style today?
Von Stauffenberg: Harmless! But as I say that aloud to my girlfriend, who is sitting with me in the café now, she laughs her head off. Apparently, I am deluded. So I give in and say, “Okay, okay, so maybe I'm the back-up singer for Donna Summer," and she slams the table with her hand and says, "YOU ARE Donna Summer!”
ICONIST: Do aristocrats have their own style?
Von Stauffenberg: Of course they do. I love it when they wear Grandma’s Chanel to Aldi. It’s better to wear a mothball classic than cheap polyester, which was made with slave-wage labor!
ICONIST: Till Lindemann, singer of German band "Rammstein" once said that he can recognize a German from 500 meters away. Is there German style?
Von Stauffenberg: You would think it’s functional clothing. Think of people in pants with too many pockets in the organic market. But in fact Karl Lagerfeld and Jil Sander and Helmut Lang are true icons.
ICONIST: To what extent is American fashion visible in your own style?
Von Stauffenberg: Well, let’s just say that I’m not afraid of wearing a baseball cap with an evening gown.
ICONIST: For many years, you were an art critic. In your opinion, which gallery owners are the best dressed?
Von Stauffenberg: Philomene Magers, no doubt, who is always in the latest Prada, which I’m always pining for. And the best-dressed men I know are wearing bespoke Saville Row shirts and the best cashmere sweaters without being in the least bit stuffy. But I also curated a bit and I once worked with a great team of architects for the Schirn Kunsthalle, including Etienne Descloux. For me, he is the best dressed man in Berlin, because he dares to wear a lot of the designer-team Bless.
ICONIST: Is there anything that you forbid yourself from wearing?
Von Stauffenberg: I never forbid anything. Even the ugliest sweater from the second-hand shop (to which my friend screams "NO"). A few weeks later, she’ll be saying that I look like Donna Summer.
ICONIST: Is there any particular piece of clothing that you are dreaming of now?
Von Stauffenberg: There’s this Celine coat I am dying for but there’s no way I can rationalize it, no matter how much I love Phoebe Philo. I've even thought about exchanging my car for it. But then I remember that I would have to buy a car first.