Clothing/Costume Design

When did your interest in clothing begin?

When I was around 16 something just clicked in my head as far as clothing design. Admittedly, it might have been a broader more inclusive awakening, but it involved clothing and design for sure. It was something that I just personally enjoyed messing with at first, experimenting with. Could you get away with patterned dress socks with sneakers and jeans if you wore three layers of collared shirts all of which featuring different colors and patterns? (The answer was a surprisingly passionate ‘yes’.) Stupid stuff like that. Was I pushing social and cultural envelopes as much as I liked to think I was pushing clothing envelopes? Yeah, probably. I’m not totally sure at this point that I was overtly aware of this combo, but I think somewhere in the back of my head I knew what I was doing. Mostly.

And then post-high school did you think on some level you’d maybe be pursuing clothing design?

Yes and no. At the time I was trying to figure out if I wanted to go to art school, a general university to pursue graphic design or a trade school to pursue industrial design. I also wanted to pursue playing soccer as much of my youth was spent investing in that activity on a very high level of competition. So, one of my choices was the Philadelphia College of Textiles & Sciences (now Philadelphia University), thinking I would switch my course study to Industrial Design when that major became available during my sophomore year. But because they require each incoming undergraduate student to declare a pre-graduate major I chose Fashion Design. Not exactly a stretch anyway considering my interests. This is where the story gets funny.

The undergraduate adviser was a fashion major who switched from industrial design?

No, but that would have been hilarious. She proceeded to say things like, “are you sure you want to declare that as your major for a whole year? You’ll have to be around other actual fashion majors… you know, some of which act kind of… funny. Are you sure you want to pick Fashion Design?” I about laughed in her face. But I didn’t want to appear disrespectful, so I chose to let her preposterously homophobic side comments slide off and just say, “yes… I’m sure.”

What?!?! She SAID that to you?! That’s unreal.

I know. It was shocking on a couple levels. First of all, who in the world did this woman think she was? Some incoming freshman adviser talking about gay people acting funny during their time spent studying Fashion Design! That’s insane, and I still laugh every time I think about it. Secondly, maybe I DID want to pursue clothing design… and who would be in that kind of guidance position at a school offering that as a course of study and SAY that to someone? That was the most insane part in my honest opinion. Just completely insane. She could have just said, “our Fashion Design program stinks, you don’t want to get involved in it right now. How about we just go ahead and sign you up for Art History?” Hahaha!

Hahaha! Very funny. So, did you end up attending that school?

I didn’t actually. In the end, even though they did have a good soccer team, I would be within a couple hours of my folks who were living in York, PA at the time, I liked Philadelphia as a city and the campus and course study were all to my liking, I decided to attend Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA to study Philosophy and Business.

Really? Was it because of that adviser’s comments?

No… I wish I could say it was… that would be crazy. But, no. Philosophy and Business… strange shift, I know. But I also have a side of me that enjoys imagining/trying to create a world founded on the large-scale good an entity like a business can do when guided by decent philosophically resonant concepts. That was my then-goal anyway. It still exists today, but I didn’t end up completing my course studies at ODU, so it never had the opportunity to play itself out as planned.

Did clothing design come up at all during your time at ODU?

Nope. I consciously put it on the back burner. I knew I’d come back to it at some point, just a matter of time and timing. It was alive in the clothing I wore, much like in high school. But, no, it wasn’t an active pursuit beyond that. Not yet.

At what point did you begin to actively pursue creating clothing?

I think that it is vital to mention at this moment in our conversation that I have always subscribed to the idea that there are certain arts and crafts, certain disciplines, certain physical arts, etc. that are best served as a means through which pure and hyper creative re-appropriation may take place. Clothing Design is one of those disciplines for me. So, with that said, I have always felt compelled to create designs exclusively via a puzzle-piecing, retrofitting and pre-owned/vintage/etc. chop-n-stitch process. But I can honestly say that my first attempt at actively pursuing clothing design wasn’t until around age 28 when I made the first HYPE IS DEAD t-shirt.

HYPE IS DEAD tee graphic

Talk to me about that piece.

The HYPE IS DEAD concept came from some thoughts I had on how much hype, as an energy, has a way of manipulating people in their basic everyday decisions. And because I am also a student of business, I feel I understand how it is being purposely employed to serve the needs of businesses and their drive to earn as much profit as possible. The exact phrase itself came from my thoughts on belief and how it plays a very specific role in the marketing of products and services… the main role, in fact. So, I thought how can I use that to kill the hype machine? How can I use hype to kill hype, in other words? There are such self-devouring mechanisms out there naturally, so I felt like I was also tapping into a paradigm that had historical precedence.

And from there you put the phrase on a t-shirt?

I did. But I wanted to do it in a way that spoke of the concept directly. Something so basic, so non-tech that it made its own statement about hype and about how it works. So, I decided to learn how to cross-stitch, bought the necessary tools and created the first cross-stitched HYPE IS DEAD t-shirt.

Did you intend the t-shirts to maybe spawn some kind of sociocultural awareness or movement?

I’m not sure I thought about it on THAT big a scale at the time. But, yeah, I wouldn’t have minded if that was a result. I would wear that t-shirt a lot back then… and keep in mind, it was just black thread on a plain white t-shirt, not at all a popular combo back then… and every time I would wear it someone would walk by me and say something like, “yeah, I wish” or “oh, please, as if” and other short blurts of exasperation. It was hilarious! One little t-shirt with HYPE IS DEAD cross-stitched on it made countless people have enough of a reaction to actually SAY SOMETHING as we passed each other. It was great. Really. And keep in mind: I chose to cross-stitch the words onto a dingy white t-shirt to give the design a very cheap, worn in, almost work-shirt aesthetic. Dirty collar and all. It’s hard to describe other than I felt as if it was doing what I had very much intended it to do: wake people up to the idea that hype is killable if you want it dead.

Like WAR IS OVER! (IF YOU WANT IT)… the John Lennon/Yoko Ono phrase?

Exactly. Actively project the belief first, it becomes reality second. It’s an old, old, old tale. As old as our awareness of consciousness itself. I hate hype, so I have a lot of energy in me to make sure it dies asap.

HYPE IS DEAD tee on model

Love it. That’s so awesome. Good luck with that.

Thanks. I’ve always said every worthwhile sociocultural movement needs a good t-shirt… hahaha!

Did you do any more with your newfound cross-stitching skills?

I did. I made another t-shirt using the phrase DON’T JUST DO IT. It was another attempt at taking down something I felt had gotten waaaaay out of balance as it related to its initial meaning. And by simply co-opting the famous athletic company’s slogan and adding the word “don’t” before it, it suddenly became for me a mantra in reverse, so to speak.

When you wore it did it get as much public reaction as the HYPE IS DEAD t-shirt?

Maybe more! I think it’s one of those things that just really resonated with people, and, yes, tons of people would either compliment me as we passed each other on the street or wherever or they would literally stop and ask me where I got it and we’d stand there and end up talking about why I made it. I’ve always thought clothing with huge logos and such on them as nothing but mechanisms to turn the human body into a human billboard, recognizable or even readable from great distances. But I’ve also never thought that that is inherently a negative thing. And in this case, with both the HYPE IS DEAD and DON’T JUST DO IT t-shirts I feel that that idea of positive human billboard was made manifest. Both t-shirts served to enliven the general public’s notion of just how present two very real, very potentially damaging sociocultural processes are in the contemporary dialog.

Did either or both ever become designs that you had produced on a larger scale?

No. I never truly intended that process, the cross-stitching process that is, to be a large-scale sustainable one. Not unless I was also completely willing to place a fairly hefty price tag on each individual t-shirt.

Hefty how exactly?

Considering each t-shirt would’ve taken approximately 2-3 hours to create… probably around $115. And I just couldn’t see myself asking that much for a t-shirt. And even while I was conscious that it was much more than just another t-shirt with some printed phrase or logo on it, it was in essence, functionally speaking, still just a t-shirt. Maybe one day when the timing is just right I’ll spend some time creating a short run of each design and offer them as items in a fundraiser for a well-meaning non-profit or arts organization.

Can you tell me about another project or clothing idea?

I design all the costumes for PB_TMOG, the art-theater performance group I co-creative direct with Seattle-based choreographer and movement artist Paige Barnes. I am also the music director, composer, performer/musician, environment designer and lighting designer. For the last two pieces we created for our Ayudapii series, The Collector (2/2009) and The Primitive (The Evolution of Need, Phase One)(11/2010) I was able to really explore some interesting re-appropriation concepts. The Primitive was especially rewarding considering how much time, effort and design focus went into each element of the costume. I think there was around fifteen separate elements that all had to work well together both technically and artistically. I wanted to push the Ayudapii (the invented species name for a movement artist whose vocabulary relies on their intimate and exclusive relationship with the space on or just above the floor) themselves into a timeless place, part unapologetically futuristic, part present moment but ambiguously either from another world or dimension or from a split in the evolution of humans at some random historic point in time causing the Ayudapii to exist now.

Sounds complicated.

It was/is. I’m not gonna lie. The Evolution of Need is a very engineered performance concept… very consciously detailed, narratively saturated and artistically layered. And I wanted the costumes to blow minds. I wanted everyone in the audience to have not only no idea which of the four movement artists they were watching at any given moment, but to become completely confused by all of it. And by including a purposely cut apart knit balaclava and custom ventilated goggles featuring a slightly prismatic red to orange mirrored outer lens I was able to almost completely create total facial anonymity amongst the four movers. It was a little creepy even to Paige and myself… and we know exactly who’s where and when they’re there. Hahaha!

Hahaha! And the rest of costume? Any standout elements for you that looking back on you are especially proud of?

I designed a thigh holster for a small fixed knife that each dancer wore. I customized a 10″ neoprene compression thigh band as well as a ballistic nylon sheath, created a way for them to weave together and then edited the existing sheath to accept and securely hold the small fixed knife vertically instead of its intended horizontal orientation. Once the entire holster was in place on each mover’s thigh it looked absolutely amazing. And the tail… oh, man… to get the tail to behave like a somewhat organically responsive extension was laborious at best. In the end, I was thinking about how cedar trees’ bark spirals up and around its center, giving them immense strength and flexibility simultaneously. And that was it… I realized the structure for the tail, the element that would enable it to behave responsively, had to be soft and inherently strong enough to both tightly wrap around the tail but also provide a meaningful amount of solidity. Elasticized cords were sourced, wrapped around the tails and presto!… success: a believable appendage. Designing the belt that would keep them on was another thing altogether! Haha! In the end, I was super excited about getting these ideas to transfer from my head to the stage with everything intact conceptually and functionally.

Any plans for current or near-future projects?

Absolutely. I have plans to explore the complete international modern history (and their subtexts) of function-first military clothing as it relates to the fine tailoring of mens formal suits and research and develop ways that the two can be woven together. Pun not necessarily not intended. I have a hunch that if the two are really examined, each for what they do best, then I will be able to find a way to borrow ideas from each philosophy and meld them into beautifully practical, poetically durable, handsomely utilitarian garments. These designs will be the first fully original garments I will have had constructed from scratch. The prototypes I might consider building from existing items, though.. for the sake of being able to rapidly experiment with different textiles, design combinations and features, if nothing else.

Sounds like you’re shooting for a new horizon of Classic.

Uhhh, yeah… that’s exactly what I’m doing. Hahaha! I like that… the New Horizon. I just might use that. I can’t honestly say that’s what I am aiming for conceptually. Even though I’ve had a near lifetime interest in clothing design, I am still very much an outsider as far as the number of designs conceived versus the number of designs actualized.

Do you see this ratio changing as of now… as of 2014?

I do. But I mostly want to ensure that whatever I feel is worth making it off the proverbial paper is truly worthy of existing, worth the resources, and serves some variety of unique cultural purpose. That, and working with as many different kinds of costuming projects as possible. I can’t express enough how much I enjoy developing and producing costumes for time-based art performances. It’s such a fantastic process, that of giving a new skin to the performer, to the human being.


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About WCS Art and Design

cross-disciplinary art and design