Born in Mödling, Vienna, womenswear designer Florentina Leitner spent much of her childhood in nature talking to her imaginary fairy friends. This fantasy play also took the form of dress-up in her big sister’s designer wardrobe — glitter dresses, fur coats, kitten heels, and puffy Moncler jackets still inspire her today. At age 13, Leitner began designing, and by 14, she enrolled at the Vienna Institute of Fashion, where she specialized in knitwear design. After her second year, her dreams of becoming a movie director were eclipsed by her ability to create stories and characters through clothing.
After graduating at 19, Leitner wanted to expand her horizons past knitwear and decided to study fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp (RAFA). Over the years, she developed an aesthetic that is unmistakably her own — elegant, playful and bold with a penchant for abstraction and deconstruction. Leitner uses sketches, mood boards, fabric samples, photos, and short fashion films to help bring her stories to life. Last month, Leitner completed her Masters at RAFA with her graduate collection ‘Midnight Vertigo.’ This story begins, as most of hers do, with a movie. Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller ‘Vertigo’ (1958), Leitner tells me that she is drawn to its graphical language, particularly the main character’s nightmare scene.
Scottie has acrophobia or a fear of heights, and as such, he often experiences vertigo. Interestingly, Hitchcock illustrates this using tender imagery, flowers and bright colours. “I wanted to capture the same feeling of beauty and fear in my collection,” says Leitner. She likens this ‘beautiful nightmare’ to living life in lockdown during the pandemic; “…in such dark times there’s also beauty to be found.”
It’s a wake-up call for the world, especially the fashion industry, to slow down and prioritize quality over quantity, whether it’s personal relationships or habits of consumption. “For me, two collections per year is enough,” Leitner says. She’s practiced sustainability on a smaller scale in the past, but this year, she took upcycling to the next level. “I used a lot of old clothing pieces from vintage shops and cut my patterns out of them for linings of gloves. I also took out the inner lives of garments for shoulder pads, zips and buttons,” she explains.
Dresses, evening gowns, jacket sets and leotards come together with spiral and semi-spiral structures, printed in a mix of optical illusion art, florals and checks. Furthering their standout quality is a footwear collaboration with Skua Studio. The heels, made from epoxy, match the same craftwork as the spiral handbags. Other accessories include a capsule collection with Komono eyewear for a Peggy Guggenheim POV, as well as faux fur hats and mesh feathered headscarves made by classmate Sassa Ann van Wyk.
Instead of designing with a particular customer in mind, Florentina Leitner hopes to attract like-minded young women, following their dreams and staying grounded even in dizzying circumstances.