Christian with an E

Fashion History

A few weeks ago I did an interview with the Creative Independent. It came out last week and you can read it here.

I always hope people will find these interviews inspiring in the same way I found the work of John Waters or anyone in the NY punk scene of the late 1970’s. I was in love with the idea that these artists didn’t wait around for someone to teach them filmmaking or how to play the guitar, they just did it.  

I can remember exactly where I was standing when I made the decision to become a designer. It was 1999 and I was waiting for the walk signal on the traffic median at Houston and Allen. I had been telling a friend about an idea I had for a dress and she asked encouragingly, “Christiane, why don’t you become a designer? You always have so many ideas for clothes.”

Creating clothing seemed like a concept completely out of my reach. I had gone to college for one year for photography and had only sewn a few times in high school, once in l Home Ec. where I had sewn something along the lines of a stuffed, fuzzy football and another time in an extra curricular sewing class where I managed to sew a pair of polka dot shorts backwards. I had always had an intense interest in fashion but I thought maybe I should be a stylist.

I think the concept of making clothes all fell into place once I changed my thinking about what it really meant to make them and how for many centuries people had to make their own. It’s fascinating to view garments from the past. I’ve been especially captivated by the clothing they found on Ötzi the mummy found in the Ötztal Alps that dated from between 3400 to 3100 BCE. Fragments of his grass cloak as well as a hat made of brown bear fur still exist. It makes you wonder how they looked at the time they were created, the methods used to assemble each piece and if the materials used had any symbolic meaning? It just totally blows my mind. I could go on for hours into the deep depths of fashion history.

One note I will add is that looking at clothing from the past really makes you think about how it’s made. There’s a tunic that I always make a point of seeing in the Coptic Christian section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Viewing this piece always makes me feel a little bit light headed because I become so overwhelmed by the innovation that had to exist to make such a simple garment. How did Ötzi go from wearing a grass cloak to someone coming up with the idea to use the flax plant to create yarns that could eventually be woven into linen? Not only that but what was the process for weaving the fabric and what plants were used to dye the yarns used to create the ornamental design?  

As well as looking at historical examples of garments I began to think about the women in my family and how they sewed, tatted, knit and crocheted. My great aunt Lucille who smoked Virginia Slims, drove a Monte Carlo and lived in a trailer park had during her most dire days made winter coats for her kids by taking apart an old one of her own.  My Great Grandma Juanita didn’t have a bath, hand or face towel that wasn’t tatted on the edge or a roll of toilet paper that wasn’t covered by a kitschy crocheted doll.  It’s also very likely that the envy I felt for the incredible Halloween costumes my Aunt Kris made for my cousin Brian heavily influenced my own designs, including a superhero from space that looked like it had been inspired by the wardrobe from the 1979 cult classic, Buck Rogers.

As I written this I’ve realized that it’s my love for history and the ability to tell a story through clothing and textile that has probably had the biggest influence on the way I create. It’s the inspiration that sends the bells ringing in my head, slows my breath and makes my exalted heart pound.