The Academy of Art University thread that started on Tuesday continues today with a trio of students who relied on each other's skills to deliver a well-rounded and coherent collection.
Creating a fashion collection is no mean feat as you have to take care of various aspects and the entire process requires knowledge of materials and craftsmanship. Three Academy of Art University students decided therefore to team up and share their skills, presenting their joint efforts at the School of Fashion showcase during the latest edition of New York Fashion Week.
Teresa Field moved for her designs from the human body and in particular from graphic representations of human anatomy and musculature, mixing them with process sketches of H.R. Giger's "Alien"; textile designer James Thai burnt by hand his intricate illustrations of flora and fauna onto leather dresses, coats and pants, often working on each piece for more than 100 hours. Leah Aripotch added instead jewellery, accessories and embellishments such as head snake-shaped clasps, casting her pieces in bronze, brass and copper metals and giving the looks a sculptural edge.
Can you tell us more about your backgrounds?
Teresa Field: I grew up in Los Altos, a suburb of the Bay Area. For college I went to Stanford, and majored in Art History. My thesis there was on representations of women in modern art, specifically Paris and New York, in the 1907-1917 decade. I was so drawn to that time period because it was the first time women as subjects were given power and autonomy, firmly breaking with the canon and disrupting the male gaze. As corollaries to my thesis I took classes in clothing and body psychology, cultural anthropology, and women’s studies - all of which really fleshed out for me the significance and connotations attached to how women are represented, both in media and in person. Shortly after graduating, I started my MFA in Fashion Design at the Academy, focusing on womenswear. About halfway through the program, I took a break to work for Diane von Furstenberg in New York, but I’m now based in San Francisco.
James Thai: I'm from Danville California, I still reside in Danville and commute to Academy of Art University San Francisco; I will continue to do so until I receive my bachelors in May.
Leah Aripotch: I was born in Montauk, New York. Having spent most of my life in an area of historical significance to the art world, I had ample opportunities to be inspired and gravitate toward art. I spent a brief period of time studying painting in Savannah, Georgia, where I came to realize my love for sculpture. I then moved to San Francisco to attend the Academy of Art University. In December 2012, I earned my BFA in Fine Art Sculpture with an emphasis on metal fabrication for both sculpture and jewelry. In 2011, I won the award for Best Emerging Artist, as well as the award for Best Fabricated Sculpture at the 2012 Spring Show. I now work at my studio in Bayview, San Francisco.
What's the most important thing you learnt from your years at AAU?
Teresa Field: That as a designer you have to be able to defend yourself. You have to produce work that you are so proud of you’re able to stand by it, even when someone else tears it apart. There will always be someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing, so you have to believe at the end of the day that your opinion is the only one that really matters.
James Thai: The most important thing that I have learned from going to AAU is to explore outside your comfort zone and to really push yourself outside conventionality. It is difficult but highly rewarding.
Leah Aripotch: I think everything I learned from my years at Academy of Art University was crucial. Perhaps the most important lesson, though, was to appreciate the sheer magnitude of all the possible ways to create sculpture. I’ll spend my entire life learning and still not know it all.
Who has been the greatest influence on your career choices?
Teresa Field: My family has always been the greatest influence on my career. They’ve always pushed me to find something I really love.
James Thai: My sister Tammy and my brother in-law Jim have definitely been the greatest influence in my career as an artist. They have always been there and have been motivating me at a young age to pursue the arts.
Leah Aripotch: Of course, I’ve been unbelievably lucky to be surrounded by intelligent, talented mentors and others who give me great advice every day. But I think my career choices were really motivated by my own desire to become an artist and to spend every day creating art. What you want out of your life, or your art, or your career, often overlap when you’re an artist.
Can you tell us more about your creative process?
Teresa Field: I really love the designing part - preliminary silhouettes and shapes, development, details, illustration - and I actually love the construction part as well. The hardest part for me is finding inspiration. It’s just one of those things that can’t be forced, and that makes it extremely difficult to do on a set timetable. You have to find something that really inspires you, and you’ll know it when you find it. It might happen right away, but sometimes it takes a while. That’s why for me there are usually a few weeks at the beginning of a new collection where I get nervous and anxious and I question myself. I think that’s the great challenge of being an artist - you can never really explain how you did something the last time, so you can’t be sure you’ll be able to do it again. You just have to trust that you will. The more I do it, the more confident I get, and the better I’m able to reassure myself. But there are still moments of doubt.
James Thai: When I create there has to be an order of how I do things. I first explore as much as possible to expand my search for inspiration and then I'll draw and sketch many variations from that inspiration. Only after I have created a substantial body of work from this drawing process will I be able to start putting the pieces together to create the desired print.
Leah Aripotch: Once I decide on a design, it basically poses a problem that needs to be solved. Every technique and process that follows is effectively another step towards solving that problem, until it is complete.
How did you feel at showcasing your collection at the Academy of the Arts fashion show?
Teresa Field: I enrolled at the Academy because I felt like my dreams weren’t big enough. I was 22, and I felt like I should want to do something crazy and unattainable -you have the rest of your life to do something reasonable or normal! I chose the Academy because the graduate students have the opportunity to go to Fashion Week in New York, but it’s never a certainty that you’ll be chosen. So that was my big, crazy dream: to show at Fashion Week. Being there, in the tents at Lincoln Center, was the moment that I realized that I managed to make that come true. I’d been working for that moment for four years. It was unbelievable.
James Thai: I had the pleasure of working with a phenomenal team for this project. Everyone involved is incredibly talented and hard working, I knew that we all deserved to be there. The show itself was fast paced and exciting, and I really enjoyed it.
Leah Aripotch: It was a huge honor to showcase my work at Fashion Week, and especially to be showcasing with such talented designers.
Is there an artist/designer who inspires you in your work?
James Thai: There are too many artists who inspire me to list here, however, Alexander McQueen and Caravaggio are the ones who have influenced me the most.
Leah Aripotch: There are a lot of artists who inspire me. Too many to name, really. But I would say my hero is Tim Hawkinson. When I was a senior in high school, we went on a field trip to The Whitney Museum in New York. Tim Hawkinson had a huge show there. It was my first introduction to him. I was just blown away by the versatility and innovation of his work. Beyond that, it was just tremendously appealing to me on a personal level. I love his aesthetic, and I love his approach. His work has had a huge impact on my own personal expectations for my work, as any hero should, really.
What inspired your graduate collection?
Teresa Field: When I was first doing research for the collection, I was looking at India as a source of inspiration. I was reading a book that described India as this amazing convergence of opulence and decay. I just loved the juxtaposition of those words; they were so evocative. When I came across this elk skeleton while hiking I had the same reaction. It combined these seemingly incongruous things - beauty and morbidity - you just couldn’t take your eyes away. From there I was drawn to anatomical illustrations of skeletons and musculature, and eventually landed on process sketches from H.R. Giger’s "Alien."
Leah Aripotch: Obviously, Teresa’s collection had a large impact on my direction with the designs, both aesthetically and conceptually, but I was given quite a bit of freedom in coming up with my designs. The thematic focus of my collection is the figure of the snake with all of its ominous symbolic associations. My collection was also informed by a handful of scientific illustrations I came across in a botany textbook which were both beautiful and yet sinister at the same time.
Teresa, what kind of materials did you use to evoke your idea of human anatomy and musculature?
Teresa Field: I knew I wanted to work with leather. There was just something about the surface that evoked that smooth surface of bones. Ponte di Roma was really the only way to achieve a lot of the silhouettes, given that I was trying to eliminate seam lines but still have the clothes be tailored and form-fitting without being clingy. It also had a nice luster that contributed to the overall look as well. Wool cashmeres had the same quality. From there it was a lot about eliminating fabrics that would negatively affect that aesthetic. As much as I’m drawn to texture, I didn’t want to use anything that detracted from the smooth, lustrous quality of the inspiration images.
James, as the textile designer behind this collection, could you please enlighten us a bit about the techniques you employed to create the imagery of flora and fauna?
James Thai: All of the designs for the collection are called engineered print (a print that creates images) rather than repeat pattern printing. So what Teresa and I did was plan and place where my drawings would go onto the pattern piece. I would then transfer that information onto a screen and then print with a light gray onto the leather as a guide, and burn the leather from there. From the basic outline, I burned the detail by hand, with each garment taking anywhere 80-120 hours to create. Once the garment was assembled, I came back and touched up the pieces to correct for shrinkage after final assembly.
Leah, as a jewelry designer, did you find it inspiring or limiting having to complement another designer's collection with your own pieces?
Leah Aripotch: Actually, I found it incredibly inspiring to be collaborating with Teresa and James, but that’s probably because our aesthetics aligned in a very serendipitous way. I was asked to "do what I do" and that’s what I did. I think that’s the beauty of collaboration, and certainly the strength of ours was having three voices saying the same thing in a way but using different mediums. The snake was my own design, but mixing the snake with flora was a new direction for me based on concepts and imagery that James and Teresa had introduced me to.
Did you find any stages of your collaboration challenging?
Teresa Field: Honestly, I can’t imagine easier collaborations. Our aesthetics were all so similar, and Leah and James just worked so, so hard, and produced such mind-blowingly amazing work. Beyond contributing to the collection itself, collaborating really helped me as well: it was easy to get caught up in the construction of the collection, but to meet with Leah and James every week provided so much energy and anticipation - it really revitalized me and got me so excited all over again to see the end product.
James Thai: Luckily, no. I was so lucky to have a great team to work with. Teresa is super efficient and really sweet, it was like working with a friend that I've know for ages.
Leah Aripotch: I must say, the collaboration itself was a breeze. The whole experience was exciting and fun, and I enjoyed working with both Teresa and James tremendously. That said, having never collaborated with anyone before, I think the most difficult part for me was getting started because I was afraid to commit to something that my collaborators might be disappointed with. Luckily, that was never the case!
What plans do you have for the future?
Teresa Field: I’ve started working as the lead designer for a startup in San Francisco. It’s a small team and a young company, but it’s been such a great experience!
James Thai: I'm currently finishing up my bachelors in textile design at the Academy of Art and I'm working on an environmentally friendly piece for an upcoming RSA competition influenced by sci-fi and film noir.
Leah Aripotch: Now, I work in my studio in Bayview creating both jewelry and sculptures. My plan is to show and sell my work in galleries, as well as to take on custom commissions.
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