Tulle and Toile: The Origin Story
(photos courtesy Tim Soter)
The tale of ARTbutt began some years ago, when on a whim I decided to amuse myself and return to one of my favorite childhood past times, making miniature sculptures. When I was younger, the tactile repetition of rolling clay between my fingers became a sort of self-soothing meditation, and I often didn't know what I was making until it had already been completed. As an adult returning to the medium I again settled into this same groove, and without any planning or intention out popped a little rendition of a tiny human bottom. Without further ado it was promptly designated as...an ARTbutt. I made a few more, each with its own character and flourishes, and gave them away on very special occasions in extremely limited quantities. Through the years the ARTbutts became a metaphor within my community of friends and loved ones of something unique, rare, and fun.
Fast forward to a couple years ago when I landed at Rockaway Beach, NYC, right before the winter with only a few suitcases and a very annotated version of my studio. I had come to be closer to the ocean, but also to instill a sort of self-created artist's retreat in the hopes I would be more activated out in my isolated beach shack than had been possible in my Brooklyn apartment.
I set to task with the goal I had challenged myself with: to create something out of the hand-dyed fabrics my friends and I had made at my birthday party that summer. Holding up the small squares of fabric and looking around at my "studio," which consisted of the kitchen table, a home sewing machine, and a dress form, I decided I could probably make a decent pair of wacky underwear. This idea amused me as several years ago I had spent some time working at a men's underwear company, making very high quality, not-wacky underwear...
Perhaps because I needed an antidote to my professional fashion day job which required scaleability and consistency, I decided I would execute my designs and construction from a different perspective, approaching each style as an individual art object rather than a commercial fashion product. As it turns out creating hand-made underwear is a pretty gratifying endeavor--there are few things more satisfying than being able to design a style, create a pattern, and cut and sew a sample of something all in one day...
Through this journey, also similar in its tactile repetition to the molding of the very first ARTbutts, I began to reflect on the materials I was working with and the process of making clothing. Having a sustainability background prior to my career in fashion, I have always been interested in promoting slow fashion and exploring its potential. Many who work in the fashion industry share this view even without having backgrounds in sustainability--there is no denying fashion's impact on the environment and those that work in the industry see it on a daily basis. However the issue to me has always been how to bring this consciousness to the consumer, who is completely divorced from the process of making clothing and the many stops along its supply chain.Consumers are used to to seeing clothing that looks exactly the same, or is "perfect," giving the illusion that it is untouched by human hands (when in fact just the opposite is true...there are so many hands at every step of the process...) One of the biggest challenges of the sustainable fashion movement (among others) is to overcome the idea that clothing must look perfect. It’s still made by human hands, and has been made the same way for hundreds of years.
While it is important that we in the industry keep trying to do what we can...it is those who buy fashion that ultimately drive the markets and dictate the standards. The hope is that through connecting consumers to materials and the process of making garments, an understanding will develop that clothing can be something valuable and special that can last if taken care of properly.
Couture and custom clothing creates potential for this to occur. There was a time when everyone saw the materials before they were cut and sewn into clothing, knew the person who was making their garments, or could even sew themselves. This is where the idea of couture as more than just a automaton regular consumerist shopping experience comes into play...the beauty is in the process of making it--of which the customer is a part. It's the personalized aspect of the creative process, the intimacy between maker and client, the expression of not only creativity but of resourcefulness. You see the first pattern and first fit, and then often how that first sample needs to be re-fit and pattern corrections made before going into a second fit...I have since come to think of the inaugural ARTbutt shoot as a sort of first fit for the concept of ARTbutt…even some of the pieces themselves were initial protos made that very first night in Rockaway at the kitchen table. With limited time to spare, we used tulle head wraps in lieu of hair and decided to pull discarded muslins from previous projects to complete the styling (muslins are the precursors to sample protos in actual fabrics--also known as toiles if you are fancy, French, and have ateliers...) I have the sisters Olga and Anna Yatskevich to thank because if they hadn’t insisted on making it happen I would have never been ready. But sometimes you just have just try something on and see how it feels, whether you're ready or not! And sometimes it feels just right....