Fashion and Design Guru Rose Apodaca on the California Design Biennial
This weekend kicked off the fourth annual California Design Biennial at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Rose Apodaca, former WWD West Coast editor and owner of the home design store A + R, is the curator of "Fashion," one of the biennial's five featured categories. Her batch of designers includes jeweler Annie Costello Brown, who Stefano Pilati of YSL tapped for a fall collection last year, Alexandra Balahoutis of Strange Invisible Perfumes, the biennial's first-ever beauty entrant, and Gregory Parkinson, who just learned that he is a 2010 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist. After months of planning and development, Rose took the time to tell PAPERMAG all about the event that she's so proud of.
Tell me a little bit about the process that goes in to picking the designers.Traditionally, a jury would determine which artists would be showcased, but this was the first year that the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) decided to have an individual curator for each section. There are five sections: industrial design, graphic design, transportation, architecture, and fashion. Back in January, we started discussing possible themes for the show, and the various challenges that we're all living with everyday came up: the economy, the environment, and social crises around the world. So I came up with the title "Action/Reaction," the idea being, how are designers across all categories reacting to these challenges at this especially trying time in history.
There's been a wave of designers, even dating to back before the recession, who are really reconsidering the way that things have been done for so long. They're getting tired of the idea of "fast fashion," and these designers have taken a step back and are creating responsible lifestyles for themselves. They work out of home studios, they employ local craftsmen to produce the goods, and they're really changing the way they bring the clothes to market. In terms of choosing the 11, they're quite a diverse group in terms of aesthetic, but they are tied together by their approach of designing and producing their goods.
Are any of the designers new? Is it any of their first times being showcased?
Well, many of them come from a corporate background and have worked for the big fashion companies in the past. They're not household names, but some of them have been in the game for twenty years. Like Michael Schmidt, who continues to design for Cher and Debby Harry, and now for Rihanna. They're definitely "secrets," or relative unknowns outside of the music industry and certain fashion enthusiasts. I chose 11 designers that had not been showcased in any previous biennials. The biennials certainly have been a first time public platform for many fashion designers over the years, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte being among them.
So yes, this is the first formal showcase of their work and bringing the spotlight on them. In fact, Gregory Parkinson, one of the 11, has just been named a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, but he's had a cult following of clients for the last decade. One thing I hope the show accomplishes is that it will shine a spotlight on the craftsmanship and the process that's involved in production -- these designers really get their hands dirty -- so many of their things are made by hand.
You say that this year's show is a little more "theatrical" than in the past. Are there any pieces that you find particularly fascinating?
It was great working with the designers since so many of them have a background in staging sets and interiors. Raven Kauffman spent three full days installing this very large lacquered birdcage. Inside, there are Swarovski crystals and LED lights, so it's kind of like a beautiful wonderland. Inside the cage are some of her jeweled clutches and feathered pochettes, with others flying out across an eight-foot span. It's just magical. Michael Schmidt has four mannequins suspended from their heads, I call them the "disco balls" of the show. One is wearing Madonna's Swarovski crystal boxing robe, one has the metal fish scale outfit that was made for Fergie, and another has Debby Harry's long black gown that has 3,500 razorblades hanging from it.
In your opinion, what makes California design different from New York and other cities across the country?
California has always had a very maverick spirit in terms of individuals dressing how they want to dress, and designers create clothing that reflects the experimental lifestyle that goes on here. I think that New York is the capital of the universe of fashion -- the great marketplace -- but Rick Owens once said something very poignant to me: "I grow my apples in California and I take them to New York to sell them."
I believe with the Internet, consumers are trying to find things off of the beaten path. New York is such a giant pond, that for anyone to standout -- even if they're incredibly talented -- it's kind of a miracle. By not going the conventional route, these designers have been able to build really healthy businesses for themselves, and when they get recognized by the media or by the museum, it's just a cherry on top of the sundae for them.
The show runs at the Pasadena Museum of California Art until October 31, 2010.