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Oma Gertrude by Joseph William Raidt

A visualisation of my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s

Since a young age, I have always had problems with communication. First, it was speaking, later it was speaking about my problems, societal views and the norms which I did not agree with. When my interest in fashion first began, I quickly realised that I could use this medium as a tool to help me to express my views of (and to) the world. Acknowledging that I could visualise my thoughts into something that could speak by itself, personal themes and topics I need to talk about in my life have become concepts. In taking these topics — which were far from fashion — I have been given the opportunity to experiment and make things unrelated to fashion into something wearable. 

In my latest project, my graduation collection ‘Oma Gertrude’, it was my ambition to use fashion as a language to communicate with my grandmother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Seeing Oma Gertrude’s condition, the project started to strengthen our relationship by learning to reconnect and help me understand her way of thinking. Taking her past occupation as a seamstress into account, and the way she still had these technical abilities, we found a common ground for communicating. She was knitting every day, something which I found triggering, as it is a technical act that she hasn’t forgotten. I asked, ‘How could she forget names, how to cook, social rules and any realization of time and place but could still know the technique to hand knit?’

I decided to undertake an experimental workshop with her. By allowing Oma Gertrude to become the main conductor of the work, she was given the freedom to put together disassembled clothing items according solely to her altered perception of right and wrong. No one would interfere with her choice. This led to the breaking down of typical social barriers within clothing. Her ability to create without remembering the “correct” way a garment should be constructed fascinated me, building a base for us to continue having conversations about the craft of making in a “not-so-fashion” fashion context.

These notions were the starting points for the visualisation of my grandmother’s Alzheimers. In using my grandmother’s clothing, curtains and tablecloths, my choices of fabrics allowed textiles to embody a collective memory. Imagining how she interacted with the furniture and objects in her home when she was alone. Household items which are obvious and simple for us to identify and use – whether a washing machine or a water jug – had become foreign to her. Redefining garment construction, and moving away from idealistic patterns, this collection realises the absurdity of wearable objects as garments and blurs the line between what’s fashion and what’s not.

Oma Gertrude by Joseph William Raidt

Photographed by Sophia Beckmann