My first exposure to designer Andrea Loest was her dresses. Hand-dyed, cotton garments with minimalist silhouettes that belie their complex construction, their pieced-together texture is reminiscent of quilts or body armor. If Laura Ingalls Wilder and Mad Max had a daughter, this is what she'd wear to prom.
When Loest approached CUE with a colorblocking concept for the fashion spread, I jumped at the chance to work with her and feature one of her dresses in our pages. The spread will be published in our Aug. 14 issue. Here's a short Q&A with Andrea about her art, colorblocking, and what makes the New Orleans fashion scene so special.
You started out as a painter. How and why did you become a fashion designer?
I've always made clothing, since I was 6, but it was always part of an art practice. While working on painting at the University of Iowa, I was doing performance art and costumes that involved the same methods. I'd always been drawn to cloth and collage, and the clothes were what people loved the most. I came to New Orleans in 2002 and was doing a lot of performances (collaborating with Dennis Monn and Fifi Mahony's) at venues like One Eyed Jacks and The Mermaid Lounge. I needed a way to support the art practice, so I made a ready-to-wear line out of the costumes that were more wearable and easier to sell. I still continue that practice, but I'm doing runway shows now as opposed to performance art.
How did your Fair Fit collection of dresses come about?
That dress is derived from my thesis project. I went to the Art Institute of Chicago (for my MFA) for fiber and material studies from 2008 to 2010 during my post-Katrina displacement time. I was exploring more performance and interactive work and making these large, retail-style installations where the parts of the dress were hung up inside a space that looked like a store. I made these patterns that I broke into puzzle pieces. The whole idea was it would explore tailoring and be democratic: people could customize a dress based on how they think it is wearable. I really loved that pattern system I made, the stitches, the rawness of the edges.
What can you tell us about the collection you'll show in the fall at NOLA Fashion Week?
They take the silhouette of a French Regency look. They're very classic in that heavily ornate French tradition: they have a corseted bodice and a flowy skirt. However they're pieced from parts of an installation I made, and they have pieces that reference patterns. I put on scraps that are hand-dyed, and then I remove the color in a process that makes a blackout image. I'll take pictures of New Orleans architecture and silkscreen that into the fabric. So it's like looking at the crazy brick walls with the peeling paint that is just beautiful and complex.
Colorblocking is huge in fashion right now. Any tips for people who want to play with color in their wardrobes?
The key to colorblocking is actually limitation. People think I'm wild, but I choose three consistent colors in a collection. First, I try to pick a happy color. (I ask myself), "Which color do I really feel this season?" Last season it was pink. Then I pick the color that complements it. Usually, that's the color on the other side of the spectrum. So I chose to work with a gray-blue, a mysterious, moody color. So then you pick one of your totally basic colors. You could put black and still feel like you are really colorful. The main thing is being aware of what the color communicates. We are responsive and read colors like any other language. We read the symbols we put out. So make sure you pay attention to how the color resonates with you and work with three colors you like the most, and mix and match.
Why did you choose to come back to New Orleans after designing in Chicago? What does our scene have to offer?
There are so many designers working with different methods of production, and when you think about the ethos of the designers, they're all so different. We're fortunate because our fashion scene is really trying to grow. When other markets look at us, I think they are envious of the way we get to make our own system. It is accessible. I can't believe I get to do a runway show. That’s amazing!
Prosperity grows in the city when we figure out how the arts are supported, and it has to be financially. If we have that, other markets really want in. Whats cool about New Orleans is we are actually building that right now, and we're at that crossroads to figure out how it gets supported financially. We're in that growing phase, and we're so lucky these new structures allow us to be a new city and a very old city. I have the freedom to build my own way of being in New Orleans. It is the only city right now in America that is established, while at the same time, you don't know what it is going to become. And that’s what I am really excited about.