Words Christine Løth
Photographer Madara Freimane
Originally featured in our fifth issue on “Authenticity”
There is Nothing More Intimate Than a Piece of Clothing
Moving from zone 2 to 3, I find myself checking in and out of countless social and online profiles, while checking my own emails, texts, posts and status updates in rush hour I am on my way to meet the London-based American artist Amy Revier, who is known for criss-crossing the boundaries between art and design. In my flow of updates I check Amy’s webpage for any news or new designs, only to find the text: “Making new work, see you soon.” Slowness is a mindset and a reaction to our obsession with newness. We’ve started to take note of the slower process, the sustainable process, the history, and the craftsmanship. A shift from quantity to quality. That’s how Amy lives and breathes and in a way becomes the new realistic mirror for the lifestyle we should all aspire to, and boy, did it make me long for change.
Amy tells me about her years travelling the world as I meet with her in her charming apartment and studio in Highgate on a sunny spring day. I’m instantly transported from the hectic mid-zone life to what feels like a quiet and idyllic cottage in the countryside. Her relaxed, sympathetic, and welcoming attitude isn’t found everywhere in the fashion industry and as she serves a pot of green tea and a plate of beautifully arranged fresh fruit, we sit down at the long white dining table. Dominating the living room, as a sculpture in itself, is a traditional Swedish style floor loom. “When I think of my life in London, I think of this completely green place or it might be that I have curated my life in that way. I have completely fallen in love with London and I think it sort of has to do with seeing its green side.” A speedy talker and energetic thinker – I barely need to interrupt her with a question or a direction. There is a natural narrative in her persistent flow of words, finding meaning in some of her early memories. “I was like a crazy woman,” she confesses, as she looks back on her early years at Art School. “I’ve been running so many things since I was in school: Committees and visiting artist programs, while at the same time creating work and taking graduate classes in Art History.” Amy grew up in Austin, Texas, where she received a BFA in Fine Art and Art History and later in 2009 was awarded The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program to study in Iceland for a year:
“It was the time for me to not actually do anything. To be sort of rebellious, to just be and absorb things.”
It was right after the big crash and, “It was a spectacular time to be there. People were real as the entire economy had just been stripped down.” Before moving to Iceland, Amy was working around sculptures and challenging the intersection between art, performance and craftsmanship. She was making these body wraps and sort of ritual coats and head-wraps, while playing around the notion of abstract travel. Thinking of objects that wrap and protect you, she was creating work inspired by wooden, beautiful cradleboards – originally used by hunters and gathering tribes – fitted on their backs for infants to spin their first life on.
“Now that I look back on it, there are a few objects that I can point to and see exactly why clothing became rational to me”, particularly the German artist Rebecca Horn, who did a lot of performance work in the 60s and 70s. “She covered herself with these sort of fettered headdresses and really sort of strange suiting. So things like that really got me into the idea of taking sculptures as a performance, using the body.” Performance became a way to be more intimate with the material – to dig into its structure and create sculptural shapes.
Coming from the art world and working with textiles is a struggle. The material is too loaded in the concept and history of labor and female domestication. “I was playing with this idea and having a really hard time, just internally. I was able to make sculptures, but I was so in love with beautiful thread and silkworm cocoons and this sort of raw material. I thought the idea of using lines to build things was amazing and I was trying to work secretly within this to try to figure out a way of getting it out of its category.” Moving to London in late 2011 was an experimental time for Amy, before finishing her first collection in 2013. “I didn’t even know that I was going to make garments back then. I was in the studio playing around and making stuff.”
It all sort of happened through a conversation with a former Dover Street Market buyer about the sad rush of time and what a shame these designer pieces were now on sale. “So we were talking about these things and how sad that is and they asked me what I did and I said, “Well I am developing something. I make, kind of, sculptures, but I might be weaving garments. I am not sure yet.” Two weeks later and completely out of the blue, Amy received an email from the DSM buyer, who wrote: “You know, I had a feeling about you, you said you were working on something. If you happen to make a garment maybe come and see me.”
Suddenly it was quite simple. These sculptures that she was working on just needed to be transformed into wearable materiality for the body and that would allow her to make a living from it, as people are willing to invest more regularly in clothes as opposed to if they were collecting her work as an artist. They would buy her work as an artist maybe once a year, whereas these same collectors would buy her work as wearable pieces four to five times a year.
“There is always the feeling when you come from the art world into the fashion world of, wow, I can’t do this. This world is so different, but who’s to say that I can’t make things as one-offs just as you would with sculptures. I could never dream of doing this and having 18 looms in a system. I don’t want to live that way. It is about keeping it really simple, just as you would, having a studio as an artist making work”
And in that sense it wasn’t really a hard transition and didn’t feel as if she was compromising herself as an artist. The value of a work of art is only lost when it is mass-produced. Call it curated fashion, with a philosophy of providing unique pieces as one-offs. “I still see myself as an artist, I am not a fashion designer. I don’t really care about fashion and trying to only just have a pinky nail in that world and the rest of it stays in the art world. That’s the world that I strive in and appreciate, but you don’t really have to be in either world, you can be in this weird other world, where there are no rules.” Talking with Amy about her vision, inspiration and thoughts on her creative process there seem to be two themes running throughout every expression: performance and caretaking. I ask her how these pieces might be added to everyday performances of people. “Some people call them cocoons, which is a huge compliment. The most exciting thing for me, which is completely unexpected, is that I have developed collectors. I have one woman who has 22 pieces and another man in Hong Kong has 12 pieces. They really collect these pieces and you start developing relationships with them. One thing that has always struck me is that they feel loved and they feel incredibly special in the clothes.”
She talks about clothes as a form of nourishment and hopes that is how people utilize them. It has to do with the textile and the drape that really encompasses you back to the wrapping and protection idea from Amy’s early work in Art School. “ Performativity I don’t know – there is this whole discussion around if you wear clothes or if clothes wear you. I think the fashion world likes to say that you wear clothes, but actually I think clothes wear you. I think clothes transform your entire personality based on what you put on your body. They make you feel a certain way. Clothes can mould and shape someone’s soul and completely change your performance. That is why it’s exciting to me.”
Amy keeps in contact with her clients, or collectors as she calls them, building relationships, even offering to mend anything that might fray in the future. “It’s really a pleasure to have relationships with the clients the way that I do. A lot of them have been with me since the very beginning, so as an art collector, they really see you grow and they completely understand what you are doing. The other amazing thing is that business wise you are making one-off garments and you are selling and working with stores, but occasionally you need to do a few direct sales. Most people in my position have a really hard time with that, because they have to sneak behind the store’s back to sell the same coat that is in the store to a direct client and they have to ask them to not mention it to the store. I don’t have to do that. One of the reasons is because each piece is a one-off. The stores that I work with know that I need nourishment just as I nourish them.” Amy works single-handedly, weaving four to five garments per month. “My background isn’t in fashion and textiles. I’m a self-taught weaver and somehow have confidence doing this stuff naturally.” All the materials are sourced from Japan, Kyoto-based spinners, most of which are hand-dyed and limited stock. She first started looking for local suppliers in the UK but it all looked too much like yarn.
“I don’t want yarn, I want lines. I want interesting materials and I wouldn’t weave if I didn’t have the right material. The material that I am working with from Japan is really innovative and at the same time incredibly traditional in line with their culture and their aesthetic.The colors that they dye are just gorgeous.”
They have over two hundred different kinds of materials from linen, fiber bass, ramie and interesting mixes with paper yarns and gorgeous cotton that doesn’t look like cotton. “I tend to go for the weird ones that don’t look like yarn, but the more sculptural ones and what I have found with hand woven clothing is that the textiles are a lot more successful when they are not super soft.” Winding and weaving is done in the traditional and authentic way on a big Swedish style floor loom. The particular yarn is set at a certain thickness determined by the inds per inch depending on what specific kind of textile she wants. She often uses the same warp and weft as simplicity is key in creating her timeless garments. Warp strings are running along the loom, as the fundamental bones of the textile, whereas the weft is what Amy sits with in the back weaving and creating an interlocking grid.
“It’s almost like an elegant dance, which brings in the element of performance, as I am one with the loom while weaving.”
The fabric finally emerges after two weeks “Once it is washed and dried, you have this rectangle to play with and I often need to take a day or two to figure out what it wants, what kind of personality it has.” She drapes the wrap over herself to get a sense of the shape and form, while discussing designs with her tailor. The studio is for building textiles and thinking about ideas, and the clothes are then made in North London. Every garment is hand stitched, underlining the craft of working with your hands. “It’s a really nice feeling for me to actually send it away and I know that it is in such good hands and when is comes back to me it this new thing. He has transformed it into an object that has been built.” The slow movement emphasizes the design process, rather than the end product, allowing Amy to put creativity first, which results in long-lasting products through craftsmanship. Even the garment dust bags are one of a kind, with illustrations done by her friend and artist Nathalie Northrup.
“It is all about not compromising. One of the ways I survive is because I choose extremely expensive materials, take three weeks to make the garments and have them hand-sewn – even when it comes to the dust bags. So everything I do is really expensive, which means that I don’t need to sell hundreds of garments a month; if I sell four or five a month I’m okay. I’m not making tons of money, but I am doing what I want to do, and for now that is the goal. It is totally a lifestyle, being okay with making just enough money to make more garments and fuel my studio practice. Also you would have to have a hot philosopher boyfriend that can pay your rent otherwise I don’t know what you are going to do. I think that people should talk about this stuff, like how you survive and be honest about it. I’m supported by an amazing family that got me this new loom when I needed help and I have now paid them back, but you need to have a lot of support.”
“This is my third year now and what I am interested in is peeling back the layers and actually digging deeper. Close the door and become more and more secretive, not in a contrived way, but just to make really good work and to realize that people are collecting these garments. You need to keep those people interested. Let’s make better things and let’s do things that you would say you didn’t have time to do. So I am actually going to go slower.” My cup is empty; we’ve been talking for almost three hours and this inspiring lecture has come to an end.
“I invested in those clothes and they invested in me. Developing your identity using clothing in a really intimate way. There is nothing more intimate than a piece of clothing.”