(Ramblings on creating, featuring jazz)
In this past week, I’ve been watching the Netflix series ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’. I didn’t know what to expect, just saw it there and thought ‘ooh that sounds interesting‘. I really enjoyed it. The whole story is really focused on Andrew Cunanan, Versace’s killer. I was gripped from the beginning. Darren Criss is amazing! (And I just discovered his website with tons of cool projects; I’m an even bigger fan now!) But it was the final episode that really grabbed me on a more personal front. Without giving too much away about the show; the juxtaposition of Cunanan’s Father’s parenting approach versus Versace’s Mother’s was expressed in earnest.
While Cunanan was told that to be successful, you needed to be ‘special‘, Versace was encouraged by his mother to work on his passion and was told that success comes from working hard. While it seems Cunanan’s fire burned for being remembered in life, for being special; Versace’s burned with a passion for clothing, for design, self-expression and for dressing women in clothes that made them feel a certain way. One seems selfish and egotistical, the other in service and free of ego, simply natural and even essential. Versace’s passion inspired me. His humanity inspired me. His desire to create inspired me. OK, this was just a Netflix show and we can get into all the facts and fictions of it all but this was an important take-away for me; that being yourself, following your passion, whether you reach your definition success or not, is the true path for us all. If you do follow it, I believe your version of success will follow, for while we are looking into the beauty of our dreams and framing the world with our biggest loves in mind, we bring the best of ourselves out and to the world around us.
“All Roads Lead Back To Jazz”Iris Apfel (Accidental Icon; Musings of a Geriatric Starlet)
I finished watching the show and immediately took out my sketchbook. I didn’t have any wild, creative designs in mind, I just wanted to draw, to create. I’ve been thinking more and more lately about this part of me that longs to create and share. I coincidentally picked up Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon at the library the other day, mid- Netflix season, unaware of the connection but open to finding something fun to read. And fun it is! The book itself is beautiful, the paper is glossier than any book I’ve put my hands on. It’s a wonderful mix of photos and colours, fashion and style and musings from the inspirational woman herself who discusses life as a ‘geriatric starlet’ and her story so far. Her passion for textiles and fabrics rang loud in me. Her words on improvisation, ever a topic in my life, shone a light on her approach to creating and to my surprise there’s a significant nod to jazz throughout the book as Iris herself was a fan of the music and the movement it created. It drew a smile as I often think of the balance of structure and improvisation not only in music but in how we create in any medium and indeed, in life as a whole.
Image from Iris Apel’s Accidental Icon; Musings of a Geriatric Starlet
As a kid I often donned outfits made by my mother; a lilac dress with white polka dots and a frilled skirt. I had one in yellow too, if I remember correctly. I also recall the cute little baby bonnets she would crochet with a fur trim. They were beautiful. She made curtains for our bedrooms from bedsheets and made pillow cases to match. She’s always been really creative, especially with interiors. Just last year she recovered the sofa at home; turned it from cream, suede into grey, tweed.
I guess it became normal-place that my Mam could rustle up something from her mind and her hands. She used to make my dance costumes too. One outfit I particularly remember was my disco dancing costume. I felt like a star in that! She took a leotard and cut it down the middle so it was a belly top and briefs. She elasticated both ends that were cut so they clung to my tiny body again and sewed on layers of pink and purple satin. A bright, cerise pink and a deep ‘Cadbury’s- chocolate’ purple. I think it’s still in our attic somewhere!
It made sense I suppose, that learning to use a sewing machine and having my own ideas for making things would occur naturally in such a household. I was always interested in making things. For Christmas I’d rather have had some jewellery making kit or clay over most dolls and toys of the moment; unless the doll herself made things or had some cool tricks, like Sally Secrets who had a hidden notepad in one shoe and an ink pad in the other!
As a teen I’d make some things; a top for going out with my friends, the ‘Jasmine’ outfit, for Halloween. (Jasmine from Disney’s Aladdin movie) I got so much enjoyment from creating things and since my Mam had years of experience and knowledge, somehow I just knew where the fabric stores where, which one was the cheapest, which one had the biggest variety. I just grew up with it. So, by the time I was working and earning my own money, around 15 years of age, there were a few things I would spend my money on each week; music and fabrics. Both brought me such joy and wonder.
Sometimes I’d pick up a 5 CDs for €20 deal. Artists I knew and didn’t; maybe I’d heard of them and become curious. I’d also pick up some fabric, or an accessory to customise something I already had. It’s a special feeling, making something that fits your body exactly how you would like it; draping and framing where you wish, concealing where appropriate and putting together pieces that you don’t see in the shop.
I liked to draw clothes, design them. My drawing skills leave a lot to the imagination! But I would ask my brother for some tips. (He’s an incredible artist whom I could talk about all day… and I will do that some day.) He’d draw a template for me and I’d use this to trace or to take perspective from when I ventured into it on my own. I didn’t practise too much, I just wanted to get the idea from my mind onto the paper. Getting it from paper to body is a whole other thing.
I decided I’d design and make my dress for my debs in 2004; with my Mam’s help, of course! She had made my communion dress 10 years before which I still have somewhere and tried to fit into it until I was around 12 years old, before my body started becoming more of a woman’s and less of a child’s. This was a factor too; my very feminine body. Of course. It was my canvas. I wanted a plunge style neck that would come in at the appropriate place on my waist to flatter and not over-accentuate my large bust. An empire line would be ideal but the back would also have a low line so I went about trying to design something that would be structurally- sound and not cause any unexpected incidents in the boob department! None of this was learned, it was all intuition, play and information I’d taken from the world about gravity and angles and how fabrics hang on bodies. It’s still not learned. I just follow the idea, the moment, the fabric and the occasional You Tube video. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Again, the balance of structure and improv works well here. As does the approach to play.
A couple years later, my dear friend Claire was studying event management and, as a project, she and some college mates put on a charity event in aid of Oxfam. A few designers were picked, some from NCAD (National College of Art and Design). Claire invited me! I never really had much of a conversation about it with her since but I’m still really honoured that she reached out to me. Especially since, for me, this was all ‘just for fun’. The brief was this: Oxfam would donate a bunch of clothes and the designers would be invited to come in and take whatever clothes they wanted to work with. With this palette, we would recreate clothes that would be modelled at a charity fashion-show. Amazing! And maybe, this grew my love of up-cycling and repurposing. I also got to perform with my band at the event which made it extra cool!
I made 4 outfits; one cream, cotton, maxi-dress was cut short and tie-dyed for a sixties style, hippie inspired, mini-dress and worn with a cork beaded necklace. Another outfit; a brown leatheresque jacket was turned into a skirt and a cream cotton poncho turned into a square neck vest with button detail down the front. I also made some crazy looking disco outfit which was a purple, strapless jumpsuit with multi-coloured, flared bottoms made from an elegant body-con dress and boho style skirt, respectively. It wasn’t worn on the show! Either because it was just too ‘out there’ or it was too small for the models, which Claire politely told me. I don’t mind which one was true! The forth… well, I can’t quite remember what the forth one was.
Let’s talk about improvisation for a second…
At college I studied jazz performance. I wasn’t a big jazz fan before I went. I liked the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, Dave Brubeck and loved other contemporary artists inspired by jazz like Norah Jones, and soundtracks from shows like Chicago that had a big band vibe and some swing influences. These were probably my baby steps into the genre. I just wanted a great education in music that would bring me closer to the career I wanted as a singer and musician. It also seemed like fun, freedom and a bit ‘mathy’, which I enjoy in such abstract ways. One of the main focuses of jazz is improvisation, a concept that I have been absorbed in for some years now. Ironically, learning how to improvise can be a tedious task. (Because you actually have to learn your instrument inside and out and upside down in order to be a ‘good’ improvisor… or so we are told. And that makes sense!) I worked at it, I still do, I’m not where I’d like to be yet, it’s a process, I enjoy it!
It wasn’t until 4th year of college that we had a ‘free-jazz’ ensemble. The focus was less on harmonic and rhythmic improvisation, although that existed in the context, of course, but now we talked about things like ‘extended’ techniques; using the instrument as if it were another instrument; making sounds over phrases and melodies; creating atmosphere and colour. I loved this. It felt like a whole new approach to improvising, a new palette. Primitive and intuitive and therefor understood, somehow. This concept grabbed me so much that, 2 years later when I continued to my masters education at Berklee College of Music, I based my thesis on improvisation, learning (or unlearning), vocal freedom and embracing discomfort.
This is often how I see creating, why I create; it’s realtime processing and expression of a feeling. Then, bringing to it the stage is about accepting the person you are in that moment and giving honestly from there. OK…. this seems like a tangent. But, improvisation has, in some way or another, become something I actively pursue in life, as we all do; in music and in creating, in general. Sometimes I draw an idea and go from there; sometimes I just put the fabric or instrument in my hands and go. Sometimes the drawing is there as a template and I roll with whatever change comes up, not fighting too much to achieve what is on the paper and rather, go with what comes naturally in that moment. It’s often different to it’s first draft, often it’s better. Improvisation, as a process, has and continues to teach me so much. It has been teaching me a method I would adopt for much of my creative process, without my even realising. Or maybe it’s always been there and I just recognise it as improvisation having contemplated it from another medium.
A crazy thing happened when I went to college to study music. I foolishly decided that, there would be no more time for making things now. I had to focus my energy on making music and work on that craft. Don’t get me wrong, this was valid, even necessary but, not sustainable. I reserved most of my making in terms of fabrics for my musical performances. I also started to make jewellery. These were smaller projects, didn’t take up too much space and I could complete something in one sitting. I also harboured feelings that this hobby was a childish one, something I should grow out of for whatever reason. But the longing always stayed and, like any form of expression, suppress it and it will come find you!
Art Versus Necessity
Like many artists, I think about the creative process. I think about our efficiency as artists. I think about art versus necessity and how we can do what we do with the best possible practises and concern for our environment, our planet and humanity. I remember stumbling across an interview with Esperanza Spalding ahead of her Exposure album recording (77 hours of recording LIVE from the studio and streamed online. What a feat for an artist and a feast for an audience!) Her genuine concern for how we treat our planet reached me. She is an artist I adore for her humanity, creativity, work ethic and music. This was probably the first time I had heard a contemporary artist make such a statement regarding our planet and how we might apply our skills to new issues seemingly unrelated to our profession. There are definitely some things we can do in the music community to lessen our carbon footprints, for example. While planning a tour for this upcoming Spring/ Summer, I am attempting to create bands in each country I visit to avoid the necessity for a group and their instruments to take up airspace. It’s a small effort but it’s something. Plus, I love the idea of playing with musicians in their native country, speaking their native tongue. That just excites me. Baby steps…
“It is your moral obligation to make the world a better place.”Genevieve Bell, Wired For Wonder (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbdLvtNzRNg)
The fact that textiles accounts for the second biggest pollutant on our planet makes me wince. I want to create big, elaborate things of beauty and wonder but I worry about adding to the second biggest problem our world is facing in terms of pollution. I think about necessity, designing for necessity, creating things we need, things we can use and reuse, still beautiful but also with purpose. I think too about the function of art and why making something beautiful is not a selfish or frivolous endeavour. This world needs beauty. We need beauty. We need art; for what have we got to feast our eyes upon if not beauty, natural or manmade. Wouldn’t it be nice to put something beautiful in the world rather than something damaging?
Some things we can do to lessen our textile pollution
Donate your unwanted clothes
There are plenty of charity stores looking for your donations in order to raise funds for a very worthy cause. They’re also great places to shop for some pre-loved items!
Customise/ mend/ up-cycle your clothes
Many a video exists on YouTube to show you how to mend your clothes, add some embellishments and even turn them into a brand new piece. But why not grab a couple of things, imagine up a garment and improvise!
Have a naked lady party!
I first heard of this in Portland, from my friend Kaleen. The idea is that you bring your unwanted clothes to a party, gather some friends who will do the same and put all the clothes in the middle of the room. Then play dress up! Take what you want and donate what doesn’t go to a new home. Now you have a new wardrobe and loads of fun with your friends. You don’t HAVE to get naked, of course… only if you want to!
Take up space
Let’s do something about the disposable nature of our clothing, shall we? A walk into most high street stores will present an abundance of cheap clothing produced from manmade fabrics with a relatively short life-span. We buy, we wear, we bin. But if the standard changed in the industry I think we could have a better quality product for a similar price with a longer life span. Certainly if the standards changed, stores that produce large amounts of product with little care for the ‘after-use’ would be encouraged to think differently. Maybe even a tax to these stores could promote the same effect.
Buy second-hand/ Vintage
Check out Vintage stores who sell clothing per item or per kilo. It’s an affordable way to shop. You can get some great, unique, vintage piece while rehoming a preloved piece.
Champion the cause
H&M have a great recycling initiative. Customers are encouraged to bring their bags of unwanted clothing to their local store where they will receive a €5 voucher on future purchases. Their strategy is to have 0% of these donations going into landfill and are instead reworn, reused and repurposed. You can read more about it here.
ReCreate is an amazing social enterprise located in Dublin 12. They salvage clean and reusable materials from businesses and distribute them for creative reuse. Memberships are affordable and the workshop looks like an absolute playground for creatives.
Make your own clothes and think ‘eco- friendly’
It might sound daunting but it can be a lot of fun. Fabric stores have a huge selection of fabrics from natural fibres you can choose from to make something personal. Thankfully, there are continuous supports and initiatives for the sustainability of manmade fabrics too so they are improving all the time.
Use what you know
Use what you already know and apply it to new issues. The answer to all of our questions already exists. Chances we have them ourselves! Think creatively. Improvise! And while we’re still figuring it all out, let’s have fun shall we? The questions will change, the necessity will evolve into something else but if we do what we can in the moment, I think we’re making a good step for our future.
Cre8.Recre8 is my own project. An Instagram page for the pieces I create and recreate; some from preloved items, some with a nod to sustainability. The pre-loved and new meet to create their own story. A range of crocheted cotton neckwear; jewellery you can wear and wash. I will be adding other projects to the page as they come along, plus some inspiration on up-cycling and reusing.
I guess really, I’m looking for a balance between what we put into the world and what we take from it. I’m concerned for the things we create and are responsible for. In a time when we need to make major changes to tackle problems that we ourselves created, I’m curious what we will learn from it all. How will be move forward with more caution and still approach art as we should, with wonder.
I think this is one of the amazing things about music, it’s intangible until we make it into a product. It’s a feeling expressed through vibrations; a self-sufficient eco-system using emotions to create something relatable, sharable and it reflects back to us what we care about. A universe of it’s own and the universe itself.
If you’ve made it to here, you’ve beat the short attention span epidemic gripping us all. Congratulations! And thanks for reading my ramblings. I’ll be rambling some more here in the future. Please feel free to stop by if you enjoy this stuff and say hi in the contact tab or on social media. I’d love to connect with you.