Former Crescent City resident and Jazz Fest crafts-area fixture Lorna Leedy returns to her old stomping grounds to show her handmade garments at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's Haute and Homemade this Friday, Dec. 9, and at Mallory Page Gallery this Saturday, Dec. 10. She's collected quite a few accolades since founding her label, Fancy Pony Land, in 2002, including features in Elle, Vogue Living, Lucky and LA Weekly.
Tell me about what your bandage dresses. They look almost like quilts. What technique do you use to make them?
You can think of it as quilted. I call them bandage dresses because what we do is import this tissue-thin voile from India, tear it into strips and cut it into pieces. We sew them together in a spiral pattern, overlapping, and create rosettes of different sizes and hand-drape them on a dress form. Each one is assembled and sculpted — it's very one-of-a-kind, very handmade skirts, tops and dresses.
How long does it take to make these garments?
Many, many countless hours. We take the fabric, deconstruct it, reconstruct it and build a dress. The process of sewing the rosettes is time consuming, and building the dress is an intuitive sculptural process. A skirt takes under 10 hours, and some of the dresses have taken me up to a month of full-time work. It's quite a process, but I love doing it, because compared to other applique work that is strict and perfect, it's much more loose. Each garment is different, and it's a process of intuitively putting colors and pieces together to find the shape of the dress.
Is the technique at all related to quilting?
Kind of, but I didn't come to it from quilting, although I have a family of traditional hand-quilters. I started doing it in 2002 when I was living in the desert in west Texas. Something about the landscape and the sediments started me in the process of layering the fabric. I've been told by my aunts that the rosettes are kind of like log cabin-style quilting, which is a square pattern. It's like that except exploded into a circle.
I'd wanted to be an artist since I was a little kid. In college, I studied printmaking and making handmade books, so I got involved with paper. A friend's mom gave me an old sewing machine, and I started sewing paper and making it into quilt-type assemblages, and it led to these garments that were, in the beginning, a lot more sculptural. ... I had always loved clothes and making things, and after I made a skirt with an actual gun and Western styling for a show called Guns in the Hands of Artists, it was an aha moment: I could make clothing as an art form. Making garments is such a three-dimensional kind of work, and you aren't just making a 3-D sculpture, you're making one that has to move on the human body. So that's the most exciting kind of sculpture, because it's animated by people.
What advice do you have for emerging fashion designers?
I always worked with people I knew and liked, and that's one of my big rules as an artist and small businesswoman. Just do what you love to do, and keep doing it no matter what. Eventually, success comes. I was fortunate to know people in the fashion world, and I really hustled, beating the street and meeting with people and doing whatever I could think of to get press. Another side is the lifestyle I was living made an interesting story. My husband is a park ranger, and for years we just traveled around the country and lived in national parks. So I was sewing wherever we were, whether it was a cabin or an island. The unusual lifestyle gave people something to write about.
What do you think of New Orleans' emerging fashion scene? What do you think it needs in order to grow?
When you're outside New York or LA, every fashion scene needs people to support the designers and buy the work, starting with the boutiques and down to the individual. There's a movement to buy locally, whether it's your produce or your housewares, and the same things go for clothing. You have the opportunity to think a little bit more and be deliberate in your choices of what you buy. You can buy something cheap that was made in China, or you can save your money and buy something special and unusual that's supporting an artist. I hope people start thinking of clothing as a conscious choice, as part of the whole structure of supporting local endeavors.
Leedy will show her work from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9 at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's Haute and Homemade. Tickets are $10 for museum members and $12 for non-members and can be purchased here or by calling 539-9650. She will also hold a trunk show, along with designers Amanda DeLeon and Andrea Loest from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mallory Page Gallery.