Eli Effenberger. From fashion to dolls

18 January 2015


There have been a number of ITS fashion finalists who later in their careers abandoned fashion design to embrace new creative fields. In most cases we’ve seen them specialize in accessories design rather than jewelry design. Niels Peeraer for instance, a 2010 fashion finalist, is renowned today for his amazing leather accessories. Heaven Tanudiredja instead, now an established jewelry maker, had already started shifting when he was selected – his second time – as a finalist both for his fashion and jewelry designs in 2007.

But no one at ITS ever changed so radically as Eli Effenberger, a student at the prestigious Hogeschool Antwerpen and winner of two awards at ITS#FOUR in 2005, the Maria Luisa Award & the Special Jury Prize. The Israeli-born designer today is mostly known by her pen name Marmite-Sue. She turned her back to fashion design to become the most incredible doll maker we know of. Her fascination for dolls and their idealised idea of beauty began very early and was already visibile in her ITS fashion portfolio, a true piece of art since Eli is incredibly gifted in drawing and painting. Every single sketch page in that portfolio – one of the treasures of our ITS CREATIVE ARCHIVE – is simply breathtakingly beautiful.
Eli’s decision to leave fashion design and focus on her true passion was nothing shorter than abrupt, and for a long while the only thing we knew about it sounded more like a legend: apparently she had literally disappeared overnight, leaving her fashion collection behind not to be heard of again. We never stopped following her work and have a strong respect for her decision, for the strength she demonstrated in pursuing her dream. But we will leave the story to her own words, since we had the great pleasure of hearing from her after quite a long while and asked her a few questions about here artistic journey.

Can you tell us about how you became, artistically, Marmite-Sue? When did you adopt this pen name and why?
Marmite-sue was just an Alias name I used online when uploading my portfolio to sites like Myspace and later Facebook, which I used as stages to showcase my art work. After a while I was more recognised with the Alias than with my own name, so it just sticked. I think I also used it perhaps to allow myself to start a new page when I quit my studies. This could be part of it as well.

You went from fashion design, to analog and digital painting and finally to the creation of handmade articulately jointed art-dolls. Basically you kept your concept all the way, but what made you abandon fashion design to gradually evolve in such an incredible doll maker?
I have been drawing/painting since childhood, but my interest in the human body and beauty made me choose fashion as an artistic expression when I decided on a field of study. I loved designing clothes, but somehow always felt there was also something not entirely satisfactory to me, by focusing on clothing alone. It was the tension between clothing and body, the silhouette and line that made the final look beautiful. And that was extremely interesting to me. Yes, a silhouette could suggest a better proportioned body and improve the beauty of a human being. But beauty did not end with that alone, I thought. A certain type of beauty could be suggested at times not just by correcting the human silhouette but by exaggerating it and distorting it. This made me think about the mechanism of what makes a body or face beautiful, and I always felt I wanted to keep exploring this.

What is it that we humans would have liked to be or look like? What is this alien creature called “beauty”, that we all strive to become?
I felt that I had to first find out the answer to this particular question before making clothes.
During my third year in Antwerp I began thinking of the doll as of our ideal self. I felt it was the perfect starting point for my research since the doll has the basic shape of the human body but it is also an object, it is art, a product of human ideal imagination. I felt dolls could tell us all about what beauty is, since they represent its idealised image. They offered me great freedom to explore as I would not be limited to the clothing but could design all parts of the final look/beauty, without being attached to the strings of what society dictates in regards to clothes and body. For my ITS#FOUR collection I created a doll suit that could be worn by a human though remaining a doll in its own right, without the actual need for a body to be beautiful. By doing this I felt extremely free. A doll was a free stand alone canvas for me…

What’s the major difference you perceive between the ITS Eli Effenberger of 2005 and today’s Eli Effenberger?
I think that at the time of ITS I was a very confused person. I loved fashion, and received such a great confidence boost about my ability when I realized I was an ITS finalist. But perhaps, at that time, I also happened to realize many faults in my own character that would stop me from finding a path in the fashion world. The contest gave me the great opportunity of getting in touch with the industry for the first time. I got to meet with the press and give interviews. It was an overwhelming experience for me. Here I was, with this incredible opportunity at hand, something any fashion student would have loved to receive. But I was feeling a barrier…
Since I am not good at talking in front of people I was fearing I would have great trouble dealing with the “social” side of the fashion world. I began worrying I would ever find a place in this industry allowing me 100% time for creation without requiring this social interaction that took such a toll on me.
Today I cannot say I do not miss making fashion entirely. But I feel that I made the right choice given my interests, my personal character and since I find doll making extremely fulfilling.

What have you gained in all these years? What have you lost?
This is a difficult question… I think I gained confidence, and perhaps (hopefully) gained a stronger voice as a creator. As for loosing, I cannot say, but it`s my personal belief that whatever I let go of was something that probably I could not pursue at the time. Letting it go must have allowed me to pursue something else. So I hardly think of anything as loosing.

Is there an artist or professional you would have loved to meet but never had the chance up until now?
When I was in my teens the person I wanted to meet the most was Walter Van Beirendonck and I was so lucky to be one of his students. I`m one of many he inspired to follow their dreams. Doll maker Koitsukihime was an inspiration when I started making dolls. I was so lucky to be able to meet her last year. But someone I haven’t met yet? There are many artists I admire and would have loved to meet. one would be Peter Carl Fabergé, the early 20th century jeweller/designer famous for the Fabergé eggs. Or fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, film maker and mangaka Katsuhiro Otomo, 3D painter Ray Caesar…

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