Interview with artist and designer Skyler Brickley
Make it last writer Camilla Engström visits Skyler Brickley in his studio in Brooklyn to ask about his fall 2015 ready to wear collection.
This is your first collection. Would you mind telling us a little bit about it? What inspired you to make it?
– As an artist, I have always been interested in the way things are made. My artistic practice has always contained some aspect of solution-making or approach-building. This collection was no exception. I’ve never worked in the fashion industry. I had no idea how to get from an idea of a jacket to that jacket hanging on a body. That challenge captivated me, and it turned into a project several years in the making.
Where was it made?
– Everything was physically constructed in the garment district in New York City, with a few of the prints made by me here at the studio. But most of the fabrics were imported from Italy and Japan.
You decided to work under the name Gainsboro. Where is the name from?
– Gainsboro is the name for the color gray, from a computer monitor color scheme called X-11. It is also phonetically similar to the 18th century English portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough. I liked that it referenced a historical artist in a not-so-direct way.
Do you see your designs as a part of your art practice?
– Very much so. I am not a fashion designer. I’m interested in fashion in light of it’s cultural and economic structures. I’m not interested in contemporary fashion enough to be a fashion designer. I consider what it is I am doing to be more in line with an artistic practice than that of a fashion designer. That being said, I do want to sell clothes, and continue to make them.
How are the two practices different?
– It’s difficult to parse out the differences because the creative aspect of both seems to overshadow their respective aims. I will say that fashion seems concerned with consensus. I read Women’s Wear Daily every day, and it seems there is a continued interest in defining a particular moment, whether it’s the 90s, or silhouettes from Paris Spring 2015. As a designer, I imagine you have to be thinking about that too. As an artist, you’re not so much attempting to set a direction, or to operate within the direction laid out at that moment. If anything, you’re trying to avoid that, although, of course, most group shows are trying to coalesce themes into a digestible discourse for a public audience. As an artist, you can’t get caught up in that. You just have to make what you are going to make, and hope for the best.
Will you make collections every season or will you work as most artists and release the collection when it is ready?
– Putting together an entire fashion collection is, as you know, incredibly difficult and expensive. It requires a team of dedicated and knowledgeable people if you’re going to do it properly. I don’t have that kind of leverage. I love the idea of doing both. And of course there are designers who work for multiple labels simultaneously, so I believe it is possible. At this point, for me, however, that is not realistic. I’m thinking about ways around this limitation. I also need to dedicate time to other non-fashion projects. Ironically, this is most likely what will keep me involved with fashion over the long term.
As someone known as an artist, how will you describe this new direction to your collectors?
– Artists are doing more and more disparate things, and I think collectors are becoming more comfortable with that. It is confusing, though, for some people, and finding the right way to frame the conversation has been a challenge. I feel it will make more sense the more my work reflects this other side of my practice.
Are you afraid of how it will be received?
– My responsibility is to make my intentions as clear as possible. Their reception will reveal the extent to which I was successful in that regard. In that sense, yes, I’m concerned with how it will be received, in that I want to communicate.
Do you want them to buy your clothes as well?
– I don’t think the same person who buys my sculptural work would necessarily want to wear Gainsboro, but I could be wrong. I guess I’m imagining a younger, less economically comfortable individual. That being said, the clothes are expensive. It is a luxury brand, so maybe there will be some crossover.
Who do you see wearing your clothes?
– In fashion, people are always asking, “Who is your girl?” This question, while I understand that it seeks to identify who your market is, seems to be somewhat untimely, at least at such an early stage for a brand. Can I really know who is going to wear these clothes? Is it really the same person every time? Can I predict with any degree of accuracy what magazines she reads or where she shops? What if I’m wrong?
What scares you the most getting into fashion as an artist?
– Not being taken seriously as an artist.
What excites you?
– Not being taken seriously as an artist.
What is your goal as a designer?
– To make New York runway shows interesting.
What does a typical day to you look like?
– There isn’t really a typical day for me. It depends on the projects I’m working on. One day I’m mixing oil paint in the studio. The next day I’m going to fabric meetings in the garment district. And on Friday I might be doing a photo shoot or PR. It’s all over the place.
How important is quality to you?
– Quality is where this all began really. It is probably more important to me than anything else, quality and also fit.
Is sustainability important to you as a designer? Explain.
– My approach to sustainability is simple—make a garment that is so well-made that it never gets thrown away. Make it last! Period. When you wear out an elbow, you put a patch on it. Wearable garments should never end up in the trash. There is always another use for them. This is how clothing used to be worn. Clothes, like paintings, were made to last. Why not make a dress desirable enough to be handed down between generations? I can’t think of a more sustainable garment.
How could the fashion industry become more sustainable?
– So many ways! Fashion is so incredibly wasteful. For one, globally recognized standards could be set on production practices. There are many organizations that do this, but they are fractured and disorganized. How about one umbrella organization that unites these verifiers so the consumer can make a fully educated purchase. Two: Sweden, Spain, Japan, and China perhaps (although this would be a hard sell) could pass legislation to cap water use and waste product from their respective global giants H&M, Zara, and Uniqlo. These brands, and Forever 21 are the worst possible thing for fashion. Why is this ok? Why are we ok with having our leather and other fabrics dyed with toxic petrochemicals? Why are we not objecting to a 30% waste stream from these companies? Unfortunately, it is the consumer who is fueling these brands because what appears to be the lowest price. But that consumer-manufacturer dynamic is so troubled and so complicated. I could go on and on. In any case, it can’t just be Stella McCartney that is doing sustainability. And you can’t just “upcycle” or do “organic cotton” either. You have to look at every step of the production chain, and ask: is this sustainable, and ethical, in the truest sense of the word?
Name one artist and one designer that inspires you.
– Mike Kelley and Helmut Lang. The retrospective at PS1 last year had a profound influence on my thinking. I’d never looked carefully at his work before. Helmut Lang for his utter simplicity, his lack of pretext, his unerring taste.
How is art and fashion similar? Rei Kawakubo said once when asked to define the difference between art and fashion “Is finding a difference so important, really? Fashion is not art. The aims of fashion and art are different and there is no need to compare them”. Do you agree?
– Yes, I do agree. I think it is easy to conflate the two because they both fall under the heading creative practices, but in the end fashion is about selling clothes. It is a business. Fashion will always be trying to become art (Look at the recent spate of fashion shows at art museums at the Met), for some reason, to gain some sort of cultural credibility it believes art possesses. And art will always be struggling to avoid it’s inevitable regression into design.
Where can we see more of your work?
What are your goals for this year?
– I would like to find a retailer for Gainsboro. That will take it out of the realm of “is this art” and into the realm of “is this a successful business?” I would like to do a runway show, hopefully this year, and also a show of some new paintings, sculpture, and videos I’m working on.
What else are you working on?
– I’ve been working on a series of podcast interviews with artists called “Off the Wall.” As I mentioned, I’ve been painting again, making figurative paintings about, loosely, identity in fashion. I’m also in preliminary conversations with a few artists about opening an exhibition space in Los Angeles.
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