Friday, January 18, 2008

Dress for Kara Maria's Art Show

This latest VAGADU collection is way ahead of the game, thanks to lessons learned from Mazura last May and the Rex Flodstrom Show in Chicago. In neither of these previous collections would I have imagined having a prototype dress for the collection done this early in the process, but it's happening and it's exciting!

This dress to the left is called "Ducky". It was originally created for Kara Maria to wear at her art opening this past January 19th at the Catherine Clark Gallery. However, due to the pressures of the show she was too busy to have a fitting so I ended up wearing the dress to her event.

So far I have gotten a lot of positive feedback on "Ducky" and since it is a one-off I thought I would indulge our audiences with how this dress was conceived which will also give a good idea of similar concepts that will be going into other pieces of the collection.

First, one of the many themes Kara explores is the clash of Middle Eastern versus Western cultures. Therefore, like Kara, I would bring together symbolic design elements from both cultures to create a simple frock.

As I was researching Muslim clothing I was surprised to find that there was a whole exciting world of clothing bursting with festive colors and garnishes.

For instance, I was surprised to see the vibrancy of colors and embroidery in this Palestinian wedding garment (the red dress), and if I hadn't known it was middle-eastern I would have assumed it was Guatemalan. In the darker dress which is from Yemen, the intricacy of the embroidery is not just decorative but is used to tell a story, in this example depicting the tree of life.

As I was designing "Ducky" I knew it needed to embrace the sensibilities of Muslim simple structural design, together with the heavy textures, and ornate embellishments with a modern twist. In other words, a fusion of East meets West meets Kara Maria...and you get a dress!

The general shape of "Ducky" had to be very simple. I chose a trapeze style mini dress because of its straightforward, elementary form. Next, I chose to highlight the typical Muslim neckline ornamentation (as seen in the red garment), but I would alter the shape of it to link it to Kara. I chose to outline a falling duck because Kara's work often explores flight, either by birds or planes. In some of her works the bird no longer can fly and is falling. Like in the painting here, where the duck looks like it has been shot down.

The colors, fabrics and textures of the dress were all inspired by Kara's painting called "The Babylon Lottery" (as seen below). I loved working with this artwork because of its multi-textural exploration. The combinations of a of watery paint foundation, topped with bits of realism images, folded in with streaks and drips of thick paint, frosted with crisp tile shapes allows for endless possibilities for clothing construction.

"Babylon" is thematically purple and grey, so after choosing the initial colors I decided to work first with the Muslim inspired tiles to start the decorative process. Influenced by the shapes I made an abstract version of it that works its way around the collar of the dress. Then I used a decorative stitch around each of the "tiles" and collar to infuse the "traditional/ethnic" feel to the garment.

Lastly, for the side panels I tried to emulate the painting streaks that roughly work themselves throughout "Babylon". Using fabric paints and water, I streaked the different colors throughout the fabric. When dry, I flipped it to the wrong side and noticed that the way the paint had dried underneath was much more expressive and ended up useing the reversed side for the final product! Unintentional genius is always welcome....

I wore it to Kara's opening reception at the Catherine Clark Gallery last Saturday. It was a wonderful show with fun and interesting people. The space was beautiful and seeing lots of Kara nicely hung in one room was a real treat. It was the first time for her to see one of the clothing pieces and she loved it. The response from the other gallery goers was also very positive.

If you get a chance, check out her show which will be hanging until March 1, 2008.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Workshop 1: Dying Fabric

This week, the team and I got together to do our first group project which was to attempt to bring elements of Kara Maria to fabric. This was also our first opportunity to work together as a team and get our creative juices flowing.

We did a couple different styles of dying. The first most obvious was a technique that emulates Kara's process when she begins a painting. We wet muslin fabric (very similar to canvas used for paintings) and then started applying to it varying consistencies of silk screen paint. The wet fabric caused the paint to bleed and travel through the fabric in random ways and after applying several layers created visual "depth" to the surface. This was a fun process to experiment with because this is how Kara begins almost all of her paintings. Instead of fabric paint she uses acrylic, and once she creates the perfect "cloudiness" effect she seals the unprimed canvas and begins the figurative part of her artwork, where she applies other techniques to the canvas which results in a collagesque or mixed-medium feel to the artwork (although it is purely acrylic on canvas).

The second type of dying we played with was batik (dying fabric using special dyes and wax). Angela is a lover of this process and so under her guidance my kitchen became a lab for the night. What seemed pretty accessable, batik turned out to be more involved than seven girls in a small San Francisco kitchen could easily handle. Fortunately, despite the challenges, we were able to make some basic designs with the wax and and it also allowed us to compare the different ways each style of dying interacted with the fabric.

At the end of the evening we divided up pictures of 16 of our favorite Kara paintings that Alix and I had organized into color movements.

Then it was time for a homework assignment. We divided up pictures of 16 of our favorite Kara paintings into four groups based on color movement and each girl picked a group. The homework was make 50 sketches of clothing designs. I directed the girls to combine inspiration from the paintings and lessons learned during our dying exercise to find other techniques of fabric manipulation beyond dyes. These could include applique, or mixed media-- for example creating a collar out of old thread spools, or using embroidery, etc.

We also defined the rules of creation. One, we will focus on the beauty of Kara's work. Her angst and dark commentary is important to explore but not to wear. Vagadu brings beauty and positivity into the world and hopes that the garments bring people joy, not fear.
Two, we will avoid the obvious. Some of the bold graphics within Kara's work are easily--too easily--incorporable into clothing, we want to dig deeper and explore lesser seen themes. Three, restrain from couture dresses. Everyone wants to design the "dress" and as designers we will always be drawn to it. These days, there are very few occasions to wear mega-dresses and I want to see practical items become wearable, common-day other words, make the ordinary, extraordinary!

In a way, these applications are relevant not only to the Vagadu project but our everyday life. You set boundaries and limitations on how you go about your day. You pick and choose what to focus on and what to leave out. And if you are daring, you take big chances and you decide to stand for something beautiful, to create something that shines like your heart. And before you know it, even the mistakes and messes become precious. Take note of my sink after the dying party. As they say, life imitates art.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Meet the Collaborators

Yeah! The new team has finally formed! As usual, I am blown away by the enthusiasm and excitement by the new ladies who are going to make the Kara Maria Collection a blazing success.

In no particular order....

Milan joins us all the way from University of Cincinnati to do a full-time internship. Lucky for her and us, she is here to spend all of her time dedicated to the development of the collection. Milan has a wild sense of creativity that is playful and mystical. In a Milan-centric world we would all be fantastical creatures fully bedecked and bedazzled. To the right is one of her sketches inspired by the fairy tales from the Czech Republic.

Alix has a BFA from the Academy of Art Alix which means that she has the skills and talent to pull off Vagadu's most wild designs. Born to paint, Alix is a an artist turned designer. Her style brings us classic shapes and lines, eclectic sensibility with a gypsy twist. She is a perfect match for Vagadu because her own designs are already very conceptual. The picture above is part of a collection she created inspired by "Tokyo Rose". Tokyo Rose was imprisoned for 10 years in Japan for treason being a translator at an American radio station in Tokyo during WWII.

Sherry brings a contemporary element to the team. Her sense of taking popular culture and transforming it into very current with-a-twist clothing is remarkable. I also knew we would get a long right away when she confessed her love of vests. It can be an obsession for some (like me). To the right she shows off her passion for nail art, which again is a contemporary form of self expression that continues to evolve. Maybe our dancers need to have original Kara Maria inspired acrylic nails! Hmmmm.....

Megan is a sewer with a passion. She has taken the Fashion Degree at SF State and has squeezed it for as much as she can. From a program that is more focused on merchandising, Megan has taken the opportunity to create and excel as a designer with innovative and creative ideas without strong support from the institute. When she came to the interview she brought a dress made out of deflated street-bike tires. It was totally crazy and brilliant. After seeing that I knew that no request I could possibly make would make her flinch. The photo to the right is one of my favorite of the designs she showed me. It is a dress where she cut the flowers out of the fabric and made the blouse portion from a strategic applique process. Just lovely!

Angela is as bright as the colors she chooses to work with. Her designs are exuberant, retro, flamboyant and decadent and at times almost like Versace on steroids. Not only did I know she would be fit because of her wild flare, but also her knowledge and passion for dying and manipulating fabric. She knows all the different techniques for changing color and texture of the cloth. Since the Kara Maria line will be very textile design heavy Angela offers us the skills we need to create what we desire. The bright colored photo to the right is one of her hand dyed batik prints.

Reemah is a woman who will try anything. She is the first person to bring in undergarments as a portfolio example. She has been studying how to make lingerie and nightwear. Since Kara Maria has a heavy pornography element, it is possible that we would make some creative slips and boxers. With Reemah's ability and experience in this realm I feel comfortable proceeding in areas never explored yet with Vagadu. To the right is a picture of some of Reemah's other creations besides sleepwear.

What a team! Thanks to the talent and inexhaustible creativity, this next Vagadu line is going to knock people's socks off... be prepared!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Spring 2008 Artist Announced!

I am delighted to announce the muse for the next VAGADU collection. San Francisco's own Kara Maria. More details to be found out about her at her site:

First, I was drawn to Kara's work through her unabashed use of bright colors, bold shapes and abstract themes.
But slowly, I realized that her style of pop-graphics, cluttered scapes and cheery and cheery tones had put me in trance, and I was actually finding some heavier political messages. Don't let the Rainbow Bright palette fool you, Kara is exploring intense elements of our society where war, oil, destruction of our planet and porn are fed to us through a glossy filter of mainstream media.

Her art shocks and disturbs and for a moment I thought I might not be able to work with such dark energies. From Rex the king of Zen, to Kara is a leap in the opposite direction. While I want to be true to her work, my own differences of artistic expression is to extract the positive aspects of her art that appeal to me, that I would want worn around my body. For instance, I love the way she manipulates paint, from watery spreads, to drips, dots, splotches, gloppy smears to faint markings. I also enjoy certain reoccurring shapes, the birds, planes, and the Islamic inspired tiles that grace many of her works.

The dancers and performers I believe will have a lot more space to explore Kara's angst and juxtaposition of guns, and oil tanks, of naked women and women in burqas.

On another positive note, the Kara Maria collection is also going to be the first time that the whole process will be visually documented. It helps that she and the whole production crew isn't 1,000 miles away so as each element of the show gets put together, the clothes, the dance, the music, the stage--we will be there documenting the process.

Except for the food. Chef Efrain Cuevas will still be bringing us his delicious treats, but he will send us video via Chicago as he prepares for the big day.

(More information on the next show is forthcoming. Save the date of May 3rd!)