Mongrels in Common – Uniting the Disparate



The Berlin fashion label, Mongrels in Common, is made up of the designer duo Livia Ximénez Carillo and Christine Pluess. The brand’s name alludes both to their multinational heritage and their creative common ground. The duo is known first and foremost for the blouses they design, especially their signature piece featuring special fasteners: stylish slim rods, finished either in silver or gold, take the place of traditional buttons. At the Berlin Fashion Week, Livia – who is of German-Spanish descent – and Christine – a Swiss citizen with Peruvian roots – will display their latest collection, which typically fuses two seemingly incompatible elements. For the 2013 summer season, the elements chosen are mods and baseball.

Heavy clouds incessantly drizzle down droplets that are only an infinitesimal fraction away from turning into snow. It's been days since anyone has caught a glimpse of clear sky over Berlin, and the few people sighted outdoors are taking the shortest route from one sheltered area to the next, heads tucked deep in their hoods. The situation is no different on Tieckstrasse in Berlin Mitte, but behind the glass door at number 29, bright lights shine and four women are hard at work. A little mongrel that goes by the name of Betty runs up and down, barking excitedly as we enter. We're welcomed with a cup of tea, though this does nothing to conceal the tense, hectic atmosphere. Two young seamstresses work quietly in the atelier at the back of the studio, only occasionally exchanging terse comments. In the front of the studio, several electronic gadgets are vying for attention with beeps and whirrs. The days until the Berlin Fashion Week can be counted on one hand, and preparations are heating up accordingly. "There are two lives," Christine grins, "one is life before, and the other is life after the Fashion Week." At present, it’s life before, meaning: inviting buyers and press, supplying VIPs with fashion items, replying to enquiries and emails, finishing up the last pieces, organizing photo shoots, delivering the summer collection ‒ and so on, and so forth.

Fashion is a demanding business, a demanding job. Only those for whom fashion is an overwhelming passion manage to stay onboard.

Livia started working in fashion directly after graduating from high school. Christine, who is a few years older, joined at a later stage and from a different starting point. Their paths crossed while they were attending the ESMOD School of Design in Berlin. Both women share a life-long passion for fashion and they loved needlecraft already as children. Christine tells us, "We were both brought up quite strictly and our parents felt we shouldn't become accustomed to luxury items early on. Which is possibly why both of us started adapting our clothes ourselves or even tailoring things at an early age. We even preferred sewing our doll's clothes ourselves instead of making do with the outfits they came with."

When I was little, I always wished for a machine that you could type something in on one side that would then pop out ready-made on the other side. Now, we ourselves have somehow turned into these machines.

In the meantime, their goals have become less abstract. Christine says her wish would be for "every self-assured, design-conscious woman with a flair for fashion to have a blouse by Mongrels in Common in her closet." And Livia would like to present their brand at an international Fashion Week soon. "We're working with a distributing agency in the US right now. That would really be a dream-come-true if we succeeded there."
Betty's excited barks in response to the mailman ringing at the door brings us sharply back to reality. As Livia goes to get the package, Christine praises the dog. "It's not just in the animal kingdom that mongrels are hardier," she muses. "A crossbreed automatically has to be more flexible. Wherever you are, you're always a foreigner and you don't really belong. You unite two cultures that are extremely different, if not incompatible." To illustrate her point, she shares an anecdote with us about her last vacation when she and her boyfriend visited her family in South America. Having been raised in Switzerland, Christine has a European mindset, "sort of emancipated, but without making a big thing out of it." Yet, she knows she changes as soon as she sets foot in South America. "There, along with the other women, I jump up after dinner to clear the table and help with the dishes because that's the way it's done there." On her recent visit, Christine's partner stood up to go and make himself a sandwich. Under the eyes of her shocked grandmother and aunt, Christine quickly got up to do it for him. "And while I was making his sandwich, he just looked at me and asked me whether I'd gone entirely crazy." She laughs. "That's what I mean, you incorporate two separate halves and, for the outside world at least, one half of you is never what they expect it to be. Learning how to deal with that is what makes you flexible and strong."

What is true for all mongrels – the fact that we all carry two cultures inside ourselves – is what brought us together. It connects us and is reflected in our brand name.

The name, however, is not solely intended to convey that both designers are, by their own definition, crossbreeds. It also refers to their collections, which always incorporate contradictory elements. Sometimes female and male components are contrasted while, at others, an intentional clash is created between subdued and flamboyant colors. Based on the principle of uniting what is essentially different, Livia and Christine always invent new stories to serve as a leitmotif throughout their collections. "It helps us remain true to ourselves," says Livia. "In any case, the story is a large part of the creative process. If we didn't want to tell a story with our work, we might as well be employed in industry." With that they both slide off their bar stools and pick up their work again. Outside the drizzle has finally turned into snow.

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