“I can’t imagine living or even working in an empty white room,” says the designer Anna Heinrichs from her studio in Munich, Germany. “A love of detail is love for a full life.” Her maximalist sensibility also manifests itself in Horror Vacui, a women’s wear label she founded in 2012. “It’s a Latin expression which describes the human instinct to decorate, the urge to fill a vacant space with all kinds of details,” she notes.
Vibrant sleeping gowns (for day and night), airy tops and oversized shirt-dresses in patterned silks and crisp Egyptian cottons are bedrocks of the brand, which stemmed from a simple style conundrum. “I wanted a pair of well-made pyjamas in Liberty London Fabric that had all the traditional details, from piped button holes to boutonniere loops,” Heinrichs says. “But that didn’t exist, so I decided to make my own.”
At the time, Heinrichs had no formal design training, having studied law at the University of Regensburg in Germany and the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. “My time in Milan reminded me of my true passion, which was design,” she says. “I was exposed to this wonderful world of architecture, fashion and even product design,” she adds. “But I didn’t have the courage to make a change then, so I finished my degree and started working at a local law firm in Munich.”
Coincidentally, during that period, her mother founded a small sewing mill in Ukraine, which specialised in producing traditional Bavarian jackets and Loden capes, or German shooting coats. “I would go there and create variations of the pyjamas with my mother and the seamstresses, who were highly skilled,” Heinrichs says. “I was fascinated by their craftsmanship.”
Word of Heinrichs’s plush pyjamas spread. “My friends, their mothers, their mother’s friends — it grew quickly,” she says. “It was at that moment that I realised I could develop the idea and grow a brand of my own, so I quit my job and applied to show at a trade show in Paris.” Her confidence grew after receiving a call from Christiane Arp, the editor in chief at German Vogue, who asked if she’d like to take part in an initiative for emerging designers called Vogue Salon. “Christiane told me she thought I could do far more than just pyjamas, so I did.”
In order to grow the collection — which then just comprised one classic button-up cut for women in varying Liberty London Fabrics — she delved into the history of Bavarian dress. “I became fascinated by nightgowns of the 15th and 16th centuries, which were worn by aristocrats in order to protect their organs from the cold,” she says. She translated the idea simply at first, crafting long shirts with prominent collars. “Then I let loose and they became far more elaborate, with fabric-covered buttons and scalloped hems that give the impression of lace.”
Portrait paintings depicting historical garments also proved influential. She cites two works by the French impressionist Frédéric Bazille, “Family Reunion” (1867) and “The Pink Dress” (1864), as “great discoveries.” “People put so much effort into their garments back then, so I always think about how I can distill that approach for the present day,” she says. “I sketch, source fabrics and then describe how the garment looks in my mind to my pattern cutter.” Notably, each item is made with a “one seamstress, one garment” policy, to ensure greater attention to detail.
Heinrichs defines the Horror Vacui customer as “someone who appreciates the full life and likes to dream.” The upcoming spring/summer 2018 collection — which is available to pre-order online — features palazzo pants, a slip dress with superfine drawstrings that allow it to be styled in numerous ways, and a bow-tie blouse with puffed sleeves, all invigorated with fanciful prints and a flourish of embellishments.
Though the line is inspired by classical nightwear silhouettes, Heinrichs’s interpretations couldn’t feel more contemporary. “The pieces are easy, playful and versatile; you can absolutely wear them inside and out,” she says. “I’m looking forward to where I can take the story next.”
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