Sunday, October 17, 2010

Christel Highland’s biased line

Do you think about what you wear? Do you realize how you “dress for a part”? The designs you place upon your body communicate. What’s your current favorite article of clothing in your wardrobe? Mine’s a Barbour jacket. What I like about it is its simplicity, handmade quality that has an element of posterity. Someone once said to me once that a Barbour’s the only coat you’ll ever need.

Christel Highland shared her design process with me in her studio recently. When I arrived, I knew little about fashion design (apparent here by my choice of jacket). I came away with a few answers and many more questions.

Christel, assisted by her friend Laura Brody, is developing a new line of clothing in a studio on the 4th floor of the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center in the Crossroads. Watching these two artists create and explain the vocabulary of their art form while cutting, assembling, and ironing made me think about architecture. We shared that idea of artistic kinship and Christel agreed that clothing can be likened to a created space of color and texture that rests upon the body.

Like architecture, from the concept of design to the finished artifact, the process of communicating via patterns and sketches, selection of materials, attention to detail, building, and adjusting, the art of fashion has as its purpose the expression of beauty in its relation to people. Art makes you feel, after all.

Experience informs art. While discussing her experience and appreciating her sensibility, she shared the progression of her life’s portfolio not just in physical form (I slowly paged through her book of designs and photographs) but in an interesting narrative of conversation. She began her work by simply learning the elements of the trade; cutting, sewing, pressing. She designed costumes for the theatre. For a time, Christel created vestments for women who served as pastors. She drew and made embroidered religious symbolic designs. Along the way, she learned the nuanced art of interacting with her customers. After all, fashion designs are for people.

We forget that human element of this art perhaps as we look at clothing. But when considering how this flowing fitted architecture must properly fit and move on people, I learned that fashion design suggests a great deal of intimacy. Art feeds the senses…think tactile.

Laura Brody loves to design by draping. Christel designs from sketchpad to pattern. Their backgrounds, experience and techniques, combined with their friendship made me think about the thought that goes into making clothing and the craftsmanship required to do it well. This day was about process, patience, and concentration. There’s a line in the making, flavored with an appreciation of American Western clothing, informed by time in Nashville, on film sets, in theatre, performance art exhibitions, Los Angeles, St. Joseph MO, Christian rituals, schools of design and stark purpose-driven clothing factory time.

I have no pictures of the line to show you yet. I’ll share when it’s time. But this is the kind of time that defines the energy and emotion of art; time in the studio, doing the very hard work, thinking ahead by doing in the present tense, knowing that cutting on the bias is risky, knowing that from risk comes beauty. Consider this part one of a multi-part narrative. I’ll ask Christel when we can have a peek at her creations. Note to self…Pistol Threads by Christel Highland.

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