MPavilion 2022 Uniform Design
2022 Uniform Design
by SAFA EL SAMAD
“I think of fashion design as architecture for the body”
Safa El Samad is a second-generation Lebanese Australian, who lives by the axiom that ‘the architect should be able to design everything from the city to the spoon.’ Or in this case—a utilitarian-inspired convertible apron-tote for the MPavilion 2022 uniform.
Safa’s design career has come full circle—from architecture to carpentry, to fashion, and back again. After completing her fashion degree, Safa started running her business, Soof, out of Schoolhouse Studios in Coburg. Soof invites people to bring in existing garments that are no longer loved, or are damaged, for repair through embroidery.
As the newly commissioned designer of the MPavilion 2022 uniform, we stopped by Safa’s studio for a peek into her practice and to talk about her design for this year’s staff uniform.
MPavilion: You are currently studying for your masters in architecture, but did your undergraduate degree in fashion design. What were your motivations behind the move from fashion to architecture?
Safa: I’ve always been interested in art, I feel like that’s what comes naturally to me. But I wanted to pursue something that was slightly more practical. So straight out of high school, I started the Bachelor of Architecture. But while studying I felt a disconnect from the tactile aspect of the design. I wanted to be able to not only design things, but be able to build those designs as well. So I ended up doing a carpentry pre-apprenticeship which gave me a greater appreciation for designers.
I found fashion to be the perfect marriage of both designing and being able to make those designs on a scale that was manageable. I went through the whole fashion degree and then discovered that I didn’t want to be a part of the industry—I didn’t want to be supporting this concept of clothing being disposable or the need to be constantly updating your wardrobe. I feel like there is already enough clothing in the world, and I didn’t want to be a part of the problem. With architecture, you can’t dispose of a building the same way. Unfortunately, they do, but not at the same speed as fashion. So now I’m back doing architecture!
MPavilion: Your journey in design has come full circle! In general, what inspires your work?
Safa: I love giving new life to old or existing things. I love painting old skateboards or finding weird objects like old metro cards to embroider. But I also get a lot of inspiration from my background, being Lebanese and the language itself, and from typography and words in Arabic or English.
In terms of actual garment making, especially with the MPavilion commission being a uniform, I’m inspired by making things that are practical. Particularly when it comes to women’s clothing, our ability to move freely in the world is compromised by the lack of pockets and impractical designs. An important part of the uniform is that there’s not much space at MPavilion to store your things, so you need to have it on your body. Creating a practical uniform became a part of the inspiration.
MPavilion: Can you talk us through the process of creating the uniform and your choice of materials?
Safa: For the uniform, I had a strict deadline and it wasn’t an existing piece that needed to be reworked. Making the uniform from scratch, I wanted to see what materials were locally available. I’m always going to go with the most sustainable option. In terms of composition, this year’s uniform is 100% Cotton drill so they are quite sturdy. Because it’s an apron you want it to be able to withstand daily wear and also have weight in the pockets.
MPavilion: This year’s utilitarian design has a big point of difference—it is convertible, functioning as both an apron and a bag! From a technical perspective, was this challenging to make, and have you made anything like this before?
Safa: I have made a couple of things like this before. I made a jacket that turns into a bumbag, you know how sometimes when you get hot, you wrap a jacket around your waist? This one just turns into a bum bag. I’ve also made another apron bag. It doesn’t assemble in the same way, but it was designed for students to wear in class to put their tools in and then be able to pack it up. Creating it is a challenge, but I enjoy the process of problem-solving. And there have been a few iterations in terms of how I put it together, I wanted it to be very easy to use.
I had a mentor for my first fashion job who I did a lot of pattern-making with. He basically showed me that if I can design it, I can make it and I carry that through with me.
MPavilion: Do you think being experienced in fashion, carpentry and architecture helps you with the technical side of designing multi-functional items?
Safa: Yeah, definitely. I think of fashion design as architecture for the body. I have not just the skills, but the knowledge of the different programs that I use, and it’s all related. Also as expressed in this year’s MPavilion design by all(zone), I think there are opportunities to be explored in the intersection of textiles and architecture and I hope I can contribute to these new technologies in the future.
MPavilion: The uniform design features different pictures which you have embroidered. What are they and what meaning do they hold?
Safa: On the front pocket, you have an early sketch of the MPavilion 2022 to go with one of the program themes this year, which is ‘Unseen Design.’ I think with a lot of design in general, you get to see the polished, final product, or you see these beautiful renders, but you never really see the early sketches. So to fit in with that theme, it is the unseen part of the MPavilion.
There’s also a map of Bangkok pinpointing where all(zone)’s office is located. And then it’s overlaid with the longitude and latitude of the MPavilion site, to kind of say that the architects are there, but they’re also here. And that fits in with the program theme of ‘Under One Roof.’ We also have the QR code which links to the program, it is a functioning QR code, but it’s embroidered.
MPavilion: A common thread in your work is embroidery. How did this come to be?
Safa: As an artist, I think of embroidery as painting with thread. I fell in love with the industrial embroidery machine at uni and became obsessed with the possibilities of textile designs I could create. I even enrolled in the honours program at RMIT to have access to the embroidery machine, but that was during 2020 and I lost access to campus due to the pandemic. I eventually invested in my own semi-industrial machine so I could continue exploring my love for embroidery!
MPavilion: Some readers may not know that you were also involved in the MPavilion 2021 program! This has now progressed to you being the 2022 uniform designer. What does this commission mean to you?
Safa: Honestly, since the early interactions to now, when I think I’m doing the entire MPavilion uniform, it just makes me smile. I’m so happy to be doing this because it’s exactly the kind of work that I’m interested in. So much effort and hard work went into the four uniforms for the ‘Order Up’ show hosted by Majed Fayad during the 2021 season. But it feels like that hard work paid off, that the public actually got to see it and appreciate the craftsmanship. To transfer that into this year’s MPavilion, just makes me so happy.
MPavilion: Well, we are very much looking forward to seeing the uniform in person at MPavilion 2022—and are excited to spot staff carrying their apron-totes through the gardens on their way to work!
MPavilion 2022 Uniform designed by Safa El Samad, worn by 2022 M_Curator Celine Saoud. Photography by Marie-Luise Skibbe.