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In conversation with Florentina Leitner

“I want to bring people back to when I was 11 – we used to lay in the grass, pick wildflowers and try to catch tiny frogs with our bare hands”

Welcome to Paris Fashion Week! Our first stop is Florentina Leitner’s pastoral world inspired by the 1975 film classic, Picnic at Hanging Rock. Guests were seated on tiny picnic cloths, marvelling at the collection from a (real) grass ground. The indoor meadow was soon filled with models wearing vibrant red shoes reminiscent of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, prairie dresses, carrots adorning their hair, high socks, and beaded bonnets – all clear references but infused with Florentina’s signature sexy and girlish twist. The showstopper: a blood-red balloon dress, clearly heavyweight, yet floating around the model. And on our wishlist: the drop-waist pink skirt.

Congrats on the show! Can you tell us about this collection? What was the inspiration behind it?
I was inspired by details from the garments in the 1975 movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, and mainly by the eerie atmosphere of school girls disappearing on a summer day. The collection includes delicate lace fabrics mixed with “rocky” and edgy vegan leather pieces, clashing with bright red tones and soft pastels. Combined with the strong focus on print and textiles, I wanted to create a picnic collection for cool girls.

What is your favourite piece in the collection?
I love the black crocodile optic leather jacket with our pink flowers, but one of the lace skirts with 10,000 ruffle details is also a piece that is dear to my heart.

You’re a designer who uses distinctively feminine elements, colourful flowers, ruffles, soft materials… What do you love most about women?
The sensuality but also strength of women, I love to see emotions in people and discover different characters. Dressing and clothes are a great way to express feelings and build character.

Would you consider doing menswear at all?
I started in my early school years with menswear. They were very flamboyant but I loved working with all those boys around me on fittings and getting inspired by them and their styles. But I think I just tend to dress women more, as I can relate to them better.

You studied at the Royal Academy in Antwerp, where you’ve undoubtedly been surrounded by great creatives. How would you say your design practice has been influenced by the Royal Academy of Antwerp?
They told me a lot of things NOT to do, haha. I used to study knitwear, and my academy teachers told me ‘Florentina, we know you can knit, so we do not want to see knitwear anymore, try something new.’ It is great to get the chance to go out of your comfort zone, try new things, and work with new techniques. That is something I definitely learned at the academy: try and fail, but also try and succeed.

After your studies you worked with Dries van Noten. What’s the most important thing you learned during your period there?
I think to work in a team? It was never really asked from me before! Also, when we were a small design team at Dries, it showed me how many different departments and people it needs to run a fashion brand.

Which other designers influence you the most?
I’ve always been and will stay a big fan of Miuccia Prada <3

Your clothing, campaigns, and overall aesthetic often feels like a nostalgia to girlhood! What was the best part of your childhood? Are there any parts of it that influence your designs?
This brings it very much to the point, and is what I would like to show with fashion, you do not need to be young to FEEL young. I want to bring people back to when I was 11 in my pleated skirt uniform and knee socks on after school – we used to lay in the grass, pick wildflowers and try to catch tiny frogs with our bare hands.

I remember the Antwerp meme department IG account was always making fun of ‘adding ruffles’ to designs. As a designer with a distinctly femme approach – what’s your response to femininity not being taken seriously as a design choice?
The account was actually started by one of my classmates and just “really” started when the pandemic hit and we just finished our Master’s. I don’t think they meant to offend anyone, but during Covid people got bored and needed some fun and to smile about each other’s struggles. I don’t distinctly remember any ruffle memes but I do know the account holder has a preference for darker, more masculine fashion (Rick Owens, Ann D., Givenchy,…) but that doesn’t mean that there is no space for other styles. I think you should take your work seriously, but if you feel offended by every meme or start to doubt your designs all the time, fashion might not be the industry for you. You need to make decisions and stay true to them, and if those choices mean ruffles, good for you, as long you make it work and sell it and live it, I believe it has a right to be there.

What would be a dream collaboration for you?
Adidas 😛 I love a sporty brand collab and merging styles. Also, I love wearing tracksuits he-he.

If you would have been doing anything else but fashion, what would it be?
I always wanted to become a movie director, so I guess I would have studied film if fashion hadn’t worked out for me.

Are you going to any shows this fashion week?
I hope I can visit some of my friends shows (Kasia K., Maitrepierre, Didu,..) but I fear I might miss them because I’m too busy with my showroom. I did go to menswear SS24 and really enjoyed LEO’s show – it was a show in a party bus driving through Paris.

What are the best and worst parts about PFW?
Best: seeing friends, having dinners and meeting amazing people from all over the world all the time. Worst: It is actually really exhausting and when I am back in Belgium I often get sick after, because you’re constantly working very long hours and forget to take good care of yourself, but this season I started taking lots of vitamins a week before 🙂

What’s something that you can’t live without?
For the moment my boyfriend, hehe. He gives me a lot of strength and just takes very good care of me 🙂

I know you often use film as your inspiration! Can you recommend us a good movie to unwind after the madness that is PFW?
“Picnic at Hanging Rock” 😉


Words by Pykel van Latum

Photography by Michael Geertzen