The Academy of Art University Special continues today with a collection by a graduate duo, Rachael Sansom and Chelsea Levinson. This interview was originally done for Zoot Magazine.
Painter David Hockney is famous for his realistic style and vibrant colours that often infuse a sense of optimism and joy in his work.
Inspired by his work portraying life in Los Angeles in the '60s and the '70s, Rachael Sansom, BFA Fashion and Textile Design, came up with a sun-drenched collection in which eye-popping colours - from electric blue to bright orange, yellow and green - borrowed from paintings such as “Large Interior” prevail.
Sansom's collection was completed by elaborate knits by Chelsea Levinson, BFA Knitwear Designer, that added dimension and texture to the collection.
Can you tell us more about your background?
Rachael Sansom: I am from Folsom, CA, in Sacramento County and I attended community colleges there for two years before I came to the Academy. It was a great experience because my teachers were amazing artists and my classmates were very inspiring. I played violin in orchestras growing up and during college, and ran cross country in high school which helped shape me for what was to come.
Chelsea Levinson: Originally I’m from Las Vegas, Nevada. I always loved making things but never seriously considered it as a career path. After applying to several colleges, I realised that I wanted to go into fashion design. Unfortunately at that time it was too late to apply for any of the New York schools, but it all worked out because I ended up at AAU and it's been really great. I discovered knitwear design, which I found out could be my major! I love the more hands-on approach to design that comes with creating the actual textile in addition to the garment itself. Also, I love San Francisco so much and I’m glad to be so close to home.
Who has been the greatest influence on your career choices?
Rachael Sansom: The greatest influence on my career choice was walking around the mall looking for an obligatory prom dress and realising that I hated everything and had a certain point of view that was not being represented, even though at that time I did not necessarily know what it was and didn't care about prom dresses in the first place. The desire to shed these feelings of negativity and frustration at the banality and stagnation that is apparent in so many places was strong at the time and it's still strong now. It makes me want to have a career that changes this environment while being surrounded by other people who aspire to do the same. Christian Lacroix is my favorite designer, and without seeing his work years ago I do not think I would know of the magical potential that fashion can have. Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen were also early influences on me because their passion radiated from everything they did, and were full of innovation and exquisite ideas.
Chelsea Levinson: I really admire independent designers such as Annie Larsen of ALL Knitwear. I’ve always imagined myself starting a business of some kind and I love how Annie found her niche (colorful jacquard sweaters in many variations) and ran with it. If I don’t find a job right away, I’m going to start making and selling sweaters and/or accessories. The greatest influence on my choices, though, is definitely my family and friends who are so endlessly supportive of any idea I have.
Can you tell us more about your creative process?
Rachael Sansom: My creative process is an exploration into how to make something that is really inspiring me at the moment into something tangible, different and exciting. It usually begins with me being obsessed with something, and ends with having been able to minimize my distractions about other new obsessions in order to finish the project on time. I become pretty reclusive during this process, especially when working at school, for I just like to concentrate on what I am making, everything that is inspiring me at the moment, and not a lot of extra things.
Chelsea Levinson: One major thing I love about knitwear is working with yarn. I spend a substantial amount of time at the beginning of any project first working out the colour concept and then finding the right yarns. Usually I pick way too many and they naturally get edited down during swatch development, which is the next step. I do visual research - this step actually comes before the yarn selection - which enables me to envision textiles when I look at the images. Then I spend days or weeks or months, depending on deadlines, in front of a knitting machine developing swatches. From there I begin to design garments. Sometimes I have a garment in mind before making the swatches but usually I let the textiles inspire the garments.
How did you feel at showcasing your collection at the Academy of the Arts fashion show?
Rachael Sansom: It was really exciting and inspiring to show my collection at the fashion show because the annual event is always really professional and thorough. I got a lot of positive feedback after the collection from my family, peers and underclassmen that I work with, so that was great. One of my favorite teachers, John, told me how much he liked it and that meant a lot to me. People liked the colours a lot, which is something I will always use because they make one feel happy and alive, if not a little jolted. I'm hoping to send a sort of package of imagery and illustration of the collection after we get it shot to my favorite band, Portugal. The Man. Their most recent album, specifically the song "Share With Me The Sun", was really inspiring to me while making it and had a creative impact on the collection, so hopefully they will like it!
Chelsea Levinson: I was so happy and proud to be picked for the show. It’s something I’ve been working towards for the past five years. During the show I was so nervous and excited. I was having heart palpitations until after our collection walked. Since the show, I got so much positive feedback from family and friends and even from people I haven’t met before. People keep asking me to make them things, which is really flattering.
What inspired your collection?
Rachael Sansom: This collection is predominantly inspired by topiary gardens, which I have always been fascinated with. I had just gotten back from visiting the Met in New York City over summer and a David Hockney painting there really moved me, so I became enamored with him and his work. The two fit together because a lot of his work from the '60s and '70s features landscapes and garden foliage, along with interesting characters. So, this story kind of formed about a bunch of my favorite, underdog artists like Hockney, John Waters, Kurt Cobain, and Tyler, the Creator hanging out together at a really cool, vivid garden party, if they wore women's clothes of course!
Chelsea Levinson: I used Rachael’s collection as a starting point for designing the knits. There was already somewhat of an idea of which garments from her collection would be knit so I used her printed textiles to inspire some jacquards and did my own research on gardens also.
Did you find any stages of your collaboration difficult or challenging?
Rachael Sansom: We came about to collaborating together after Week 7 of the Fall semester, during Pre-Collection judging. The fashion directors thought that the direction my collection was going in would greatly benefit from having knitwear, as it was already very textiles-oriented. I am so happy they did, because I really enjoy knitwear, along with the addition of texture and pattern it brings. There were definitely challenging stages of the collaboration, because we operate in two totally different worlds, both technically and aesthetically, but luckily there was enough overlap to make it work. Plus, I think our differences made the garments stronger in the end because they created balance and brought new techniques to the collection. What I learnt most from senior collection came from this process of working in a partnership or team, especially when separate skill sets are involved. I learnt that there can never be enough communication, and compromise has to happen or else you will go insane and risk not finishing.
Chelsea Levinson: I had submitted my own collection around October and, after reviewing everyone’s work, the directors of the department put us together, I think because of the different patterns/textures we both used in our collections. The thing I found most challenging about this was coming into the project after so much had already been planned. I was able to design the knits but there was already an idea of which garments I would be making. It was also really difficult to find yarns bright enough for Rachael’s colour story. I don’t usually use such saturated colors so it was a challenge at first but I ended up becoming obsessed with bright orange. Now everything looks super desaturated to me, even when it’s actually bright for normal standards. Overall, working with Rachael on this collection was a really enjoyable experience.
What kind of materials did you use for your collection?
Rachael Sansom: I used all cotton fabrics, including organic cotton twill, poplin, and voile and cotton pimatex. I also used water-based pigments for my silkscreened prints, and a chemical mixture for the discharge printing that removed the red dye from the striped fabric.
Chelsea Levinson: I used whatever yarns I could find in the colors I needed. I mainly employed cotton and bamboo. Everything was ordered from New York or found in the yarn closet at school except the neon pink Lurex which was ordered from France.
What are your future plans?
Rachael Sansom: My future plans include going to Paris in the Fall to study at L'Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne for a year, for I was fortunate enough to be chosen for one of the Sister Cities scholarships at my school. I hope to intern at Jean Charles de Castelbajac or Kenzo while I'm there, and my dream is to work for Henrik Vibskov within the next couple of years, as he is multi-talented and represents everything I think fashion should be. It would also be amazing to study in Antwerp, but as much as I love being in school, I am at the point in my life where I just want to step out into the real world and learn from everyone, everywhere.
Chelsea Levinson: I hope to find a job as a design assistant. However, if that doesn’t work out immediately, I plan to sell items I create both online and in local boutiques. Eventually, I would like to get my Master’s degree. Of course, I will always continue studying knit techniques to further my knowledge of the craft.
All images by Randy BrookeMember of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos