Interviews / Writers

Balancing the Grind With Marella Campagna, Fashion Designer & Author

Marella Campagna is a London-based, Italian fashion designer, writer & researcher, who has just released her autobiographical debut, From Blank Canvas to Garment: A Creative Journey of Discovery.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

People frequently ask me what type of creative I am, or in specific what do I do for a living. I create “theories”, and I like to draw, write and play around them!

I spent the majority of my life by reading, writing and manipulating fabrics, exploring and investigating existential concepts, like fears, death, memory and the symbolic world of our subconscious, embodying each time different perspectives and points of view. My humanistic and classical background forged my inquisitive mind, while instilling a constant need to learn, discover and dive deep inside things.

After a period during which I seriously considered to become a literary critic, probably due to my obsessive infatuation with Alberto Asor Rosa, writer, Emeritus professor of Italian literature and critic, I decided to embark in a slightly different adventure, equally creative, but more physical. I underwent a BA in Fashion and I worked for several years in the industry, as a womenswear and accessories designer, in Milan (Italy).

Despite the strict commercial logics of fashion, I always nurtured and respected my intimate, honest attraction and interest towards a type of fashion more conceptual rather than trendy. For this reason, at some point I decided to invest in myself, once again, I moved to London to attend a Post graduate course at Central Saint Martins school, deepening some hidden, dormant aspects of my creative components.

At the end of the course, an unmissable opportunity knocked on my door, after a pleasant and very inspiring meeting with Emeritus Professor and Anthropologist, Ruth Finnegan, on a train.

Probably submerged and overwhelmed by all my detailed stories, about fashion, garments and the vivid love I have for it, she offered me the idea of and possibility to write a book about my working field, retracing all the necessary steps within my creative process and psychological dynamics involved in it. Not only has this represented a true moment of happiness, but also a turning point in my career. Finally my true passions, found a way to merge, together.

While writing my book, I came into contact with subtle intimate complexities, that for so many years manipulated my creative flow, so I decided to deepen the subject and focus my attention on creativity and psychological studies and research.

The book, called From Blank Canvas To Garment: A Creative Journey Of Discovery (Balestier Press) suddenly became a metaphor of the journey that a creative pursues towards their still undisclosed psychological traits and dynamics, that will lead them to finally master their own imaginative process. A kind of “Blank canvas story, that turns into a garment”.

After its release, I decided to pursue my creativity studies as a researcher, with a Master in Psychology of Creativity, Neuroscience and Neuroaesthetics, due to start this Autumn. At the moment I am a full-time writer, creative and independent researcher, running workshops in European Fashion Universities, helping students to unleash their creative potential and unique personality.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Since I am working on several different project at a time, my working life routine tends to vary according to deadlines, meetings, workshops and things to prioritise. Generally speaking, I work 10-12 hours per day, and I really enjoy it.

First thing I do in the morning is a 15 minute high intensity interval training session, then I indulge in a home-made cappuccino, coffee, and infusion, and three cups of warm water, while reading daily news, upcoming exhibitions or searching for inspiring artist’s work.

I dedicate a couple of hours to my social life, checking my phone, answering texts, and uploading stories and Instagram contents, since I generally work till late at night and I leave my phone out of reach, in order to concentrate. This is a kind of pattern I developed over the years, and tend to repeat every single morning, before going into the core of my work.

Apart from that, every day changes. When I work on research, or developing workshops or lecture contents, I tend to focus on the goal, first, I do a brainstorming, to collect different ideas and perspectives. Once set the topics and area I want to cover, I create a list of key points, I deepen these aspects reading papers or books, I take notes, question and evaluate ideas, then I start to write the contents.

If I have to focus, on the contrary, on a type of personal project, such as a book, a painting or a garment, I generally begin from a research phase, that could be visual, such as pictures taken, or artworks, books, etc, or could be also conceptual, in this case I spend some hours thinking, and consulting my sketchbooks and notes.

Ideas generally come spontaneously, the only thing is trying to nurture my mind on a daily basis with different sources of stimuli, while granting it the right time to process data first, and then dive straight into the process. According to this, when I start a “creative phase”, I tend to dedicate it the entire day (and night sometimes!), since it is so crucial to stay focused and concentrated without any interruption.

For this reason, I generally plan my weekly working routine, concentrating meetings, planning, and lecture and workshops together, whenever I can, to leave the remaining days for creative projects, that need a sort of “lockdown”.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yes, and even if at the beginning it felt very difficult to accept it, taking into account my fashion background, which implied teamwork and a specific physical workspace, I am now appreciating the benefits and positive effects of working remotely.

It allows me to travel a lot, and to stay on track with my personal and research projects, while carrying on with other activities, such as workshops, lectures and meetings. When I travel both for work or in search for inspiration, I bring a large and heavy suitcase with me, with my books, papers, sketchbooks, PC, camera, folders, pen, pencils and agenda, and start each day from a different perspective and place.

During Spring time, schedule permitting, I like to go for a couple of weeks with my partner, to the French Riviera, and stay in a nice house by the beach, and work from there, caressed by the seaside breeze.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Since the boundaries within my work and private life are so blurred, to me finding a balance means feeling satisfied, inspired and positively motivated to push myself even further. My work and my approach towards it, have always been a kind of projection and extension of myself.

Sometimes it feels a bit overwhelming, but in that case I opt for slowing the work-rhythm down a bit, or taking a day-off, deadlines and meeting permitting, during which I spend quality time in thinking, reading, walking, meeting my friends and colleagues, or drawing, to re-establish a sense of clarity within my mind and decompress.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

Studying and deepening some aspects regarding creativity, I discovered the positive impact that self-awareness has towards an individual’s mind. Meditation, daily walks or workouts, self-reflection, self-questioning and reading helped me along the way to boost my performance, both personally and professionally.

I am also an advocate for “Resting rather than giving up”. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed, uninspired, and it is completely fine to put a pause to our relentless working schedule, and indulge in a kind of “state of void”, allowing our brains to silently process the data collected so far, and to finally come up with brand new connections.

Last but not the least, I have always surrounded myself with caring, inspiring people, and I dedicate a couple of hours daily to fruitful talks, and opinion exchanges. I strongly believe in the power of sharing and communicating, that in my case helped me to stay motivated, and expand my knowledge, interest and perspectives, while mutually nurturing our natural need to belong.

6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Sure, I am a heavy reader! Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities for its semantic sensitivity, and the warm oneiric space recreated in this book, a kind of psychological multi sensorial journey through the author’s mind. You can almost feel the places described, within yourself, you can romanticise them, and experience their multifaceted parts, a true masterpiece!

  • Pirandello – The Late Mattia Pascal – one of my true loves!
  • Dostojesky – Anna Karenina, the characters, beautifully presented and described in their psychological complexities, traits, and humanity, emerge from the book pages.
  • Shimamura and Palmer – Aesthetics Science, for those who are interested in discovering what is behind our phenomenon of aesthetics appreciation.
  • Teresa Amabile – Psychology Of Creativity, disavowing common misconceptions and myths around creativity, investigating it throughout a sociopsychological lens.
  • David Bohm – On Creativity

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

I read something new everyday, and I spend quality time discussing and interacting with people I love and value.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I would be more than curious to get some insights on Frida Kahlo’s and Louise Bourgeois’s work-life balance, to discover how different working pattern influenced and impacted the creative flow of these inspiring women.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I do believe it is essential to find a personal dimension of satisfaction and fulfilment in both of our working and private life, that derives not from the alternation of them according to a stressful schedule, but rather from the interrelation of their parts, based on personal needs.

For this reason, I tend to encourage myself first, and then other readers, to detect which things, or habits, on a daily basis, are fruitful, and help you to be happier and more productive. Our mind tends to absorb specific inputs we send, that can be easily translated into fruitful patterns.

So, if there is something that elicits a sense of positive commitment, engagement, inspiration, that has a positive effect on our psyche, or helps you to overcome a creative block, you should acknowledge it first, and rely on it.


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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.