New York, NY
Starr Hagenbring is the freestyle graffiti artist of art-to-wear. Paints, embroidering, appliqué, whatever comes to mind and serves its role in her larger design are used to plaster Boticelli Venuses, bugs, skulls, spirals and swirls across sweeping backgrounds cut in fetching and sexy lines that hug one's figure and drape just so.
She comes from a theatrical background hybridized with painting, and the result is dramatic compositions that can feel like musical symphonies or fine art plastered across a jacket or form-fitting dress, like a mad scientist's laboratory. Jazzy is the term to apply here; extemporaneous, stream-of-consciousness, just ever so slightly reigned in from veering off into the realms of chaos.
Hagenbring sews her clothes from silk, which provide a suitable canvas for her paints that dance riotously across her surfaces. It is the extra depth provided by her embroidering that adds the magic touch, though. She uses the thread like an illustrator uses a pencil to sketch in details that flesh out her designs. Oft-times they are scrawls, scribbles seemingly furiously applied, but while they do stem from ad-lib they are not incoherent. Carefully accentuating parts of a dress or coat, they take the two-dimensional figures and patterns that Hagenbring painted previously and bring them out into the foreground.
Her surface design is augmented by a keen sense of what's cute and chic. Starr expects that the women who will be buying her work want to be loud and draw attention, and that is exactly what she caters toward. Petite, elegant, ballsy, in-your-face; she knows what works, and cuts and pieces her garments together in order to produce clothing which will flatter the body and show off the wearer. As attention-grabbing as Hagenbring's clothes are, her true aim is to elevate the wearer. And that goal she achieves in spades.
New York, NY
Mina Norton is a great experimenter with textiles in wearable art. Her background in painting gives her a structural approach to space, which is apparent from the designs and patterns she works into the surfaces of her luxurious garments. She has a passion for fabric which ends up with her trying out all different types of materials in her clothing; for many years she uses sumptuous chenille, which is made by taking two long lengths of yarn, and twisting them together via short pieces of yarn laid perpendicularly across them. The feel of this fabric is gorgeous, soft and silky smooth with a heavy body that makes it incredibly comfortable.
During her chenille period, she would piece together jackets, coats, and dresses from patches of fabric. It's almost like putting together a quilted rug, but shaped to fit the human form instead! It is easily apparent that a modernist influence expressed itself in these clothes. Abstract shapes and geometric patterns draw the eye's attention, then disperses it across the garment. A playful touch emerges with embroidered patterns that take what would otherwise be a predictable layout, and adds just a pique of curiosity.
This "Maker's Touch" is present in all of Norton's wearable art. Her most recent escapades have taken her into felt, which she uses as a canvas to directly apply her skills in painting. Subtle gradations from dark blues and blacks to gray and white ripple over the surface of her fabrics, again putting the eye into the role of itinerant nomad. But then, just there, is a little flag of red, standing out from the monochrome palette of the rest of the coat. That little mark is the sign of a conscious designer, and it is what raises Norton's beautiful handiwork to the next level.
Shibori clothing artist, Amy Nguyen, is one of a new vanguard of wearable artists. Combining traditional techniques with a decidedly new flare of fashion, Nguyen's work is reaches the summit of both creativity and technique. She plays with light and shadow, delicately illuminating and dispersing the viewer's attention across the garment and the body.
Nguyen's passion is shibori, a Japanese dyeing technique that yields spontaneity even as it allows for a certain degree of control. The textile is folded, tied, and then submerged into dyes; the only certainty in the end result is that the artist can assure that some sections remain free of dye. Repeated dyeing can increase the complexity of the piece's pattern, and yield endless variation.
Though silk is the most well known textile upon which shibori is practiced, Nguyen has branched out to using the technique on linen and wool as well. This merely increases the breadth of work available to her, upon which she continues to orchestrate her overarching theme. Layering of the cloth is similarly vital to her expression of contrast. Strips of silk or linen, each dyed with alternating patterns of dark and light, when put together form a sheer vibration of pattern. The black or deep grays, because of the dye bleed, shift into the white, and back again. The effect can be hypnotic when studied closely, and from afar yields sublime scintillation.
What makes a fashion aesthetic distinctive? Perhaps one may call this a style; a range of aesthetic elements that form a coherent whole, a gestalt which is greater than the sum of its parts. But what are the origins of a style? Tracing back, one will find at its heart imitation and experimentation. Always involving elements that have come before, thereof comes structure; always deviating from these elements, thereof comes variation. Through variation one may find elements that have come before, and thus similarities and coherencies take shape.
It is the exploration of the mystery, the experimentation, the untaken paths taken that have informed Pennsylvanian fiber artist K. Riley’s artistic evolution. With that came a very sound structure, as from the beginning Riley had a natural affinity with textiles. Originally from England, Riley’s father was recruited by Boeing, which resulted in the family moving to the United States in 1968. Her mother was a dressmaker, and Riley moved from making clothes for her dolls to making her own clothes as a teenager. This organic process led to her participation in fiber retail, also at a young age. “I took a year off after high school, before I went to college, and I started a retail business with my mother and my sister, where we made clothing and sold it,” Riley explains.
Riley mentions the flutters of trepidation she had when choosing the motifs to decorate her clothing. Detailing the beginnings of the Botanical Collection, she opines, “I’ve always been influenced by nature. As a textile designer, I love the patterns on butterflies. It started with that. So I got books on butterflies, looked at all the different patterns on them, and thought, well, everyone does butterflies. So I decided, I’ll do moths!, because I think moths are just as beautiful.” Utilizing insects, particularly ones with negative connotations like moths, was felt to be slightly risqué. “In general, if you tell someone that you’re drawing a moth and you’re going to print it on clothing, they’re going to be horrified,” Riley explains. “I like to find beauty in those things that others don’t find beauty in. And they don’t find beauty only because they’re not really looking.”
Huntingdon Valley, PA
Annina King comes from a background in costume design, and her passion is in the shape of the garment on the body, and finding ways of elevating the human form and expanding upon it in a complimentary fashion. Her clothing reveals her fascination with history, where elements from the past make their way to the present in a new incarnation. Corsets, cloaks, medieval style dresses all show their influence in her work, which uses textural fabrics rather than elaborate surface design to make them visually attractive.
Indeed, King focuses on the human figure as the canvas for her dresses. Layering of different textiles is used to reveal and conceal, with contrasts between dark, light and midtones causing the eye to travel across the body; always flowing, never standing still. Sensuality is a bold and core aspect of King's clothing, but with her couture the aim is not to create a fantasy for the viewer, an idealized but unrealistic static image, but rather force them to pay attention to the wearer's whole form, from head to toe.
When surface design does make itself known, it is in organic shapes which bear reminiscence to plants or the rolling waves; their ambiguity lending an air of mystery, complementing the Celtic vibe that emanates from King's clothing. Her aesthetic dovetails with the revived interest in Renaissance faires and Steampunk, which all harken back to a romanticized European past that serves as a nostalgic bedrock for Caucasians everywhere. However, as fae and playful as her work is, there is a robustness of fabrication and a conscious direction that takes King's garments above imitation. Though as enamored with the atmosphere, historical details and culture of the Dark Ages as many of us, she is seeking to instead bring an old style into the new millennium, and in doing so keep the past alive.
Saratoga Springs, NY
Have you ever wanted to look like a stylish vagabond? To put on airs over those who style themselves as your betters, but you know secretly you're above them all? Or would you rather just enjoy good clothing? Well, whichever way you lean, Cecilia Frittelli and Richard Lockwood make their livelihood from exquisitely tailored, handwoven garments cut along traditional lines but with that little patchwork twist which is quite delightful.
All the fabrics they produce are woven on both traditional and computer-assisted looms. The weaving process is exacting and time-consuming. The cloth is actually made from individual threads that are overlaid parallel and perpendicular to each other, over and over and over until the full length of textile is finished. The term for the vertical threads is warp; weft are the horizontal threads. The piece of fabric is run through the loom horizontally, so the length of the textile is always moving down the loom, like a conveyor belt.
A shuttle is used to pass the weft through the warp, making a layer. Then the weaver, in this case the inimitable Cecilia and Richard, operates a foot lever to reverse the two arms of the loom, which binds the warp and weft together. Then the beater, which is more or less a gigantic comb, is used to secure the threads in place. This process is repeated, with different colored threads being introduced to create the patterns that you see in the cloth.
So, when you see one of their garments, it was all started from one thread. Frittelli and Lockwood are also conscientious craftspeople, with all their fiber sourced from within the United States, with a special focus on ecologically friendly materials such as bamboo, hemp and soy. (Yeah, bet you only thought soy could be used for soy sauce!) The patchwork design of their clothing echoes this concern with no waste; leftover pieces of fabric, instead of being thrown away, are merged into new ensembles with care and attention to style and fit.
Cecilia and Richard are in love with the tailoring profession of old, and in the twenty-first century seek to carry on that thread of tradition which harkens back all the way to pre-Colonial England, and before even that. With luxurious, handmade fabrics, excellent tailoring and a timeless style, they keep that tradition a vibrant and living thing.
Chunghie Lee is the ambassador of bojagi, a traditional Korean quilting method that has been a past-time of rural women for a very long time. The technique came out of practicality. Leftover pieces of fabric from making clothes that would otherwise be discarded found new life as food coverings and gift wrappings, stitched together by hand into a pantheon of colors, sheer canvases that glow in the light. Like most folk traditions, innumerable women, artists in their own right, created works of beauty that now bear no name, no signature, nothing to acknowledge the craftsperson who made it.
Lee took bojagi in her own direction when she used it to make voluminous gowns, in the fashion of the Korean hanbok, which takes its place alongside the kimono and the qipao as the trinity of the most well-known Southeast Asian styles of dress. Luminosity is an integral element in her work, as the silk scraps used by her forbearers were transparent, which means backlighting these clothes causes them to glow with a gentle radiance.
Memory, recollection, and paying tribute to those forgotten are three themes which Chunghie is partial to in her more artistic pieces, including her vast fiber installations which are often memorials to those who were never remembered. Others are graceful cloth hangings which drape themselves languidly from the ceiling across the floor, with screen printings of bamboo and other motifs of the natural world.
Sometimes Lee moves to other materials, particularly when designing her clothing. Her felt jackets are spatial relationships between presence and absence; to whit, holes cut out of the cloth, which falls across the shoulders and freely swings from the hips like a bold crimson breeze. Really it's like a full-body, lightweight shawl, providing shelter from the sun and the wind while allowing the undergarments to show through. Lee is quick to point out that it is designed to be worn several different ways, serving also as a poncho of sorts.
In her passionate quest to bring recognition to the folk quilting technique of bojagi, Chunghie has hosted several international conferences in Korea over the past three years. Believe it or not, the Korean quilting method has a global fanbase, which Lee is tirelessly seeking to expand. In doing so, she honors her ancestors and her fellow craftswomen in keeping this vibrant tradition alive.
Felt is a difficult material to control. It is by its nature organically created, by the rubbing of fibers together, in a manner much like the creation of handmade paper. Shaping it, beyond cutting it into panels and sewing them together, is an exercise in using one's fingers to try and make a viscous material form itself into a straight line. In other words, nearly impossible.
Janice Kissinger's gift is in yielding to the felt, and letting it flow into the forms and textures that the medium is naturally prone to. Then she pushes it just that little bit further; still abiding by the material's innate structure, she creates ruffles and ribbing, creating delineation in the surface that takes the felt from its flat, velvety state and introducing all kinds of visual details that draw the eye up and down, in and out, following the bumps and crevices that make for a luxurious surface. Sometimes she dyes the fabric in a rippling gradient of colors, from autumn reds and deep earthen browns to forest lichen greens. With other garments she sticks to a simple palette, using bold contrasts and little embellishments to attract attention.
Many of Kissinger's clothes look like they're from a foreign country in their cut and drape, and that's because she is heavily inspired by the Indian subcontinent, and in particular the sari. That elegant garment, derived from one continuous piece of cloth that wraps around the body, has a timeless quality and versatility that she finds appealing. In deconstructing the essence of the sari, Janice comes up with endless variations; scarfs, wraps and shawls, dresses, jackets and coats, all finding some way of imitating that sensuous form which at once follows the curves of one's figure while also being able to envelop and billow freely as does an outer garment.
In this union of cultures, contemporary meets a foreign ethnic tradition, becoming a new interpretation made possible by our interconnected world. Kissinger takes her expertise with felt and hand-dyeing to create clothing with boldness and swagger.
Patricia Palson likes to make explosions. Not literal pyrotechnics, of course, but fashionable outbursts that push themselves right into your face. Palson caters to women who love to live loud and want the clothing to match. She does so with handwoven fabrics that she weaves herself, and embellishes each garment to make sure those who dress to express will be the center of every conversation.
Patricia has an eye for creating garments that have unique and well-draped outlines. Her consideration for the body, and the form that results from clothing that body, makes her work both contemporary and fashionable. A herringbone pattern jacket fastens neatly slightly off-center, with striped trimming that serves as a picture frame to keep one's attention on the wearer. Rounded lapels and hems serve to make the whole design seem to wrap back around itself in a visual tongue-twister. The whole effect, along with the sharp, clean lines, makes for very chic attire. Cute, easy to wear, but with enough flair that it can double as formal dress.
This innate sense for design plays into all of Palson's clothes. Some are canvases for over-the-top decoration; when Patricia uses highly colorful fabric, she keeps the garment simple and straightforward. When a dress or coat is more understated in embellishment (or even when it's not, as is the case in her Kaboom! jackets), she starts to experiment, with buttons, the drape and cut, how the hems are finished. With each one, a balance is achieved that keeps the completed whole from being overwhelming.
Susan Otterson creates clothes for the woman on-the-go; the traveler, the adventurer, the bon-vivant. There is a practicality in most of her work that combines a flare for adornment with garments made for warmth and movement. Hand-knitted ponchos, cozy sweaters, and swinging jackets (with pockets!) all make up a wardrobe built to be worn both for pleasure and for work.
Otterson has a thing for frills, as they are an easy way to add color to a dress or shirt without making them bulky or awkward to wear. She's also one for long sleeves, that engulf your hands and run all the way up to your fingers, knowing that on a cold day what one really needs is warmth and coziness.
Her hand-knitted fabrics are utterly sumptuous, soft and delightful against the skin, and are judiciously utilized for clothes she intends to be worn out in the elements. All her work is playful, but those that are designed for a less inclement climate use a variety of textiles that come from many different sources. Whatever catches Otterson's fancy, whatever may intrigue her and appear suitable for that dress or this jacket, is cut, sewn, and composed into a fashion both sleek and hip.
What makes Otterson's clothing so fun is the inspirations she draws from both contemporary and ethnic. An extemporaneous blend all her own, she makes use of wide, billowing pants, coats reminiscent of an English vagabond, cute long-sleeved shirts topped with a shoulder-hugging knitted blouse, sweaters embellished with flowing ribbons; everything feels like it comes from somewhere familiar, something traditional and nostalgic, and yet her take on it is fresh, genuine and stylish.