After starting out in the fashion industry in Hamburg and Munich, winning first prize at the Hugo Boss design competition led to a number of years at the company´s headquarters in Metzingen. This reinforced my interest in menswear. In 1994 I joined Vivienne Westwood in London, starting as studio director for her Goldlabel line of womenswear. In this capacity I was responsible for developing prototype patterns. I went on to develop her MAN menswear collection and then ran that line as designer and production manager until 2002.
Starting in 2000, I began teaching as a visiting lecturer at the master´s program menswear at the Royal College of Art, London. In 2003 I joined the University of the Arts Bremen where I´ve held the chair for model design, pattern design and CAD at the integrated design department ever since.
As a researcher, I´ve worked on the origin, evolution, the craftsmanship involved in, as well as on the meaning and contemporary interpretations of the suit in menswear. Topics such as tailoring, dandys, uniforms, sportswear, gender, as well as influences coming from womenswear come up for documentation and practical interpretation in my inquiry. The results bear on my teaching and university projects of mine such as the recent publication Der schöne Mann – Das Magazin.
As an educator, I focus on researching the human anatomy and motion sequences. Knowledge of ethnic and historic clothing, as well as textile materials provide information on appropriately processing different kinds of cloth and to create patterns. This kind of comprehensive research leads my students to solid concepts and eventually unique, individual styles of design.
I approach model design as an open, three dimensional method working first on the bust before progressing to fitting on the dynamic, moving human body. This process confronts students with the tensions created by the interactions of materials, volume and movements, challenging them to develop their own solutions and principles, and finally has them create their own designs with a firmly established sense of style. As forms are understood to be open for shaping and interpretation, students learn to appreciate the creative tensions between clothing and the human body.
Menswear is a premier focus in my work as a teacher and aesthetic researcher. Growing out of art history, this interest has to be regarded as a distinct academic field. Traditions of craftsmanship, sociocultural developments, changing role models, as well as the interaction between menswear, womenswear and delimitations of gender provide rich material for the research into and the design of mens´ fashions suitable for our times.
In 2005 I took over as art director for the annual, interdisciplinary opera project we stage together with our colleagues at the music department. I also supervise fashion presentations we stage in cooperation with external partners and fellow teachers here at the University. Finding an appropriate platform and presenting their own works in public helps young designers to develop their power of judgement and strengthens their powers of stylistic expression. The presentation formats we employ vary widely and range from a fashion show at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg to an intermedia performance such as In Between and to experimental video projects.
I grew up in the Black Forest near the French border and studied fashion design in Hamburg. During my studies, I started to work for renowned fashion houses in Hamburg, among them Jil Sander and Joop!.
From 1995 to March, 2002, I was a professor for fashion design at the University for Applied Sciences and Arts Hannover. After moving to Bremen in April, 2002, I´ve been teaching integrated design with a focus on experimental fashion at the University of the Arts Bremen. In November, 2005, I organized the symposium “Fashion Body Cult” together with art historian Elke Bippus. In 2007 we published an accompanying German/English volume under the same title with Arnoldsche Art Publishers.
I collaborated with Dr. Andrea Sick, professor for media theory in Bremen, for a second fashion symposium named “Out of Order – Disruption as a Principle” that we staged in January 2010. In 2011 I published an accompanying English volume under the same title with Arnoldsche Art Publishers.
Covering our bodies is an essential need on the level of eating, drinking, communicating and seeking shelter. Clothing is our second skin. As a teacher, I examine the ways clothing becomes fashion that people accept as an identifier. This leads to an intense focus on physical expression and the perception of the body. As clothing is defined by its function and use, fashion always sends signals with a deeper human meaning. Fashion is a semantic system of interpersonal communication and of individual expression. My students therefore have to work at understanding the basics of human communication and to use their insights for designs of their own.
The human figure and our desire for perfection are important themes in my work as well. Experimenting with physical shapes and developing ever new possibilities of expression helps students to go beyond established patterns and inspire them to work on a fashion architecture that might even lead to new functions.
The language of today´s fashion is limitless!
Fashion has grown into a multitonal, complex phenomena facilitating interpersonal transfers of information, bridging gaps between genders and generations, identifying the universal in the individual and the collective. Clothing, jewelry, hair styles or cosmetics now are just primary aspects of fashion´s many tools. Bodybuilding, bodyshaping, bodyforming, body ornamentation such as tattoos, piercings or brandings transport deeper layers of the self to the surface. The last remaining taboos involving pain and ugliness have fallen. My hope is, that fashion will survive as a genre—as a fashion that will provide us new looks without crippling us permanently, as a means that enables fashion freaks to express a new ego, a new personality, a new consciousness on the spur of a moment. Our goal is to develop fashion for real people with real biographies. We ´re not inspired by the current, anorexic models strutting down runways like interchangeable dolls. And they don´t inspire the designs of our students. We set our unblinkered aesthetic sights on the human body and the complex worlds it inhabits.
If one compares the philosophy of, say, the cult label Prada with the ideas and wishes of our freshmen students, the world of unattainable luxuries simply evapo-rates. Today´s twenty-year-olds live on a totally different planet. Their world turns around themes such as identity, belonging, the environment, mobility and other issues with direct implications for their everyday existence. It hardly needs to be said that these are not the classical themes inspiring collections. The students at our seminar for integrated design are interested in abstract topics that lend themselves for the development of individual expression.
Our students hail from all over the world. They intern at companies and theaters, spend parts of the education abroad, in Helsinki, New York, Paris, Milan, Madrid or even Sydney, Australia. Many find good positions as assistants in all parts of the apparel industry or strike out on their own after having finished their education with us.
September 18th 2014 at Fashion Institute of Technology NYC
My Life with Charles James at the Chelsea Hotel
Homer Lane and Dorothea Mink
Ursula Zillig studied fashion design in Trier, Madrid and New York. She then pursued an international career in the garment industry and taught at the University of the Arts Berlin. In 2005, Zillig became a professor for "Unique Designs and Programs" at the Fashion Department of the University of the Arts Bremen.
Designing clothing and products with a physical relation to the human body by using experimental, as well as graphical methods; development of programs and fashion lines including their introduction to markets; projects within and in cooperation with neighboring fields such as textile design, textile interiors, store design/visual merchandising.