Fashion is notorious for its astounding impact on the planet. Clothes are discarded within a few months in favor of the latest trend, cheap, synthetic fibers send harmful microplastics into the oceans, and waste from wealthier nations is often shipped to countries without additional resources only to pollute the local environments. As some designers try to steer the industry toward a more ethical, sustainable future, materials are often front of mind, including for Zena Holloway, who recently released a collection of garments and objects grown from grass roots.
Inspired by the sprawling, delicate shape of coral, Holloway creates soft, textured dresses, collars, lamps, and mobiles from wheatgrass seed. The plant sprouts over the course of about two weeks in beeswax molds. As it grows, it produces its intricately woven root structure, which the designer guides into specific spaces or allows to expand into large, sheet-like forms. Entirely compostable, the material is “both reality and metaphor, aiming to expose the beauty and vulnerability of coral and to champion ocean conservation,” and has the potential to be sewn into clothing or shaped into other functional goods.
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Softness is often mistaken for weakness, and simplicity for lack, but Chiron Duong’s 365 Days of Ao Dai series holds the history of this Vietnamese tradition in full texture.
According to Duong, “Vietnamese Ao Dai is not only a kind of national costume but also contains a rich history, cultural traditions, aesthetic conceptions, national consciousness, and spirit of the Vietnamese people.” The garment’s capacity to “contain many memories” is most obviously captured by multi-bodied portraits, such as photos from days 183 and 208 that indicate unfolding stories. There’s also a ghost-like vapor resting upon each of these works that not only captures the grace of the gown but also how it embraces the body. In each photo, there is a presence that lingers.
Duong writes, “Through many changes of society and times, the Ao Dai has always been a beautiful symbol of the national culture, the pride of Vietnamese people.” In images from days 190 and 192, in which the figures are seemingly still but their arms and objects flutter, it is unclear whether the movement itself is fast or slow. It is clear, however, that these multi-realm beings capture the discreet and secret elements of time language. Earthy and ethereal colored portraits evoke feelings of land here long before this moment and lasting long after it shall part.
Most of Duong’s portraits are also characterized by mystery. Subjects, similar to those in photos 198 and 185, are hidden behind another image, a fabric, or an object. Viewers are not privileged to her gaze, only visual suggestions and the relationship of bodies to one another as seen on day 184. In many traditions throughout history, to be hidden or veiled is an act of reverence or a sign of great beauty. This has proven problematic as a trope when pertaining to women and femmes, but Duong’s obscurations arouse a hint of magic in the peek of color beneath the gown, the outline of distinct facial features, or the strong posture of a subject gliding through a scene.
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“When we spend a lot of time in a place, and if we are paying attention, a kind of intimacy develops,” says Jeanne Simmons. The artist, who’s based in the Pacific Northwest, grounds her practice in this sense of familiarity and ease with her surroundings. “We come to know the plants that grow there and the critters that roam there… We may even begin to feel that we ourselves have become part of that place, and it is this feeling that sustains and inspires me.”
After gathering natural materials like branches, wild vegetables, and bark, Simmons constructs garments that intertwine her own body and those of others with the landscape and obscure the distinction between the two. In one work, a full skirt made of Queen Anne’s Lace trails from the artist’s waist and blends with a meadow, while another piece braids dried vegetation into a model’s blond hair, developing a feet-long braid that appears to emerge from the ground. “Grass Cocoon” is similar, twisting locks into the material and swaddling a figure’s body in a sheath of green. “This is how I celebrate and deepen my connection with the natural world. I suppose I have discovered that the best way for me to become part of the landscape… is to wear it,” she shares. “It is also, at least in part, a lamentation for the catastrophic loss of that connection that we are witnessing in real-time.”
Simmons has several works in progress at the moment, including a kelp shroud and fennel gown, and is collaborating with director and producer Ward Serrill on a film about her practice. Keep up with those projects on her site and Instagram. (via Lustik)
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A new series of paintings by New Hampshire-based artist Shawn Huckins (previously) proposes thinking about how we wear clothing and textiles in a fresh light. Dirty Laundry continues the artist’s interest in re-interpreting 18th- and 19th-Century European portraiture, an artistic tradition steeped in symbolism and subtle commentary about wealth and class. The garments donned by the subjects of painters like John Singleton Copley or Adriaen van der Werff reflected their status and sense of self through apparel and accessories. Jean-Léon Gérôme’s depiction of a Bashi-Bazouk, a soldier of the Ottoman Empire, is a prescient comment on the nature of clothes and uniform, as those enlisted were often unpaid and dressed in a haphazard mix of pieces they acquired while on the march.
Huckins puts a playful, contemporary twist on the notion of expressing one’s identity through fabric by obscuring his subjects’ faces almost entirely, prompting the viewer to consider what it means to be cloaked or exposed. The artist recreated the compositions in the studio by draping a model with a variety of garments, mimicking the direction and temperature of the light in the original works in acrylic paint.
With their faces covered completely, the sitters are identified only through objects such as a string of pearls, a beloved dog, or a handful of fruit. Huckins says in a statement that “anything more that might be known about these people remains hidden beneath piles of cloth and clothing so ubiquitous it could be our own.” Utilizing modern fabrics like buffalo plaid or gingham, the artist considers how we all dress to convey information about ourselves.
Dirty Laundry is also the title of the artist’s upcoming solo exhibition with Duran Mashaal Gallery in Montréal, which opens on June 2. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram. (via Creative Boom)
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Cats are known to wedge themselves into tiny spots and generally treat people as human jungle gyms, and artist Hiroko Kubota (previously) translates that lack of spatial awareness into her tiny embroideries. Stitched onto collared shirts, the Nara-based artist’s portraits are cleverly placed to depict furry faces peering over the edge of a pocket and sometimes, attempting to climb out from their garment confines. Since she started the designs about a decade ago, Kubota has embroidered hundreds of characters, each with their distinct personalities and mischievous expressions.
This spring, Kubota is participating in an Osaka cat event with photographers and other handcraft artists and is planning a solo exhibition this fall. She’s paused international commissions for now, but you can stay updated on her work on Instagram.
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Iris Van Herpen (previously) continues to blend fashion and science in her collection of dizzying garments that explore the fragility of marine ecosystems. Earthrise, which debuted at Paris Haute Couture Week on July 5, is comprised of 19 gowns teeming with the Dutch designer’s signature layers and structural flourishes. Exquisite and elaborately constructed, the garments seamlessly merge aquatic motifs and colors into a dynamic collection focused on preserving the environment in both aesthetic and material.
Five of the designs, including the hand-cut gradient dress shown below, are made entirely of recycled plastics sourced from Parley for the Oceans (previously), which is working to protect the planet’s bodies of water from pollution and further degradation. Other pieces in the collection are the product of collaborations with artists like Rogan Brown (previously), who brought his laser-cut reliefs resembling coral reefs and microbial structures to the lace-like gowns, while Casey Curran (previously) produced kinetic stripes that ripple across one dress in a mesmerizing blue-to-white gradient. Artist James Merry (previously) is responsible for the futuristic metal jewelry, while Eichi Matsunaga created the long, bulbous nails designs.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.