Your work draws heavily on practices of adornment. What kind of materials do you use, and do they have a particular meaning or resonance?
I use materials that generally have been given to me, collected by me via travels, objects that I wear regularly, or old artworks that I have felt were not resolved. As an artist I sense the richness in materials by providing them a new context. I am driven and excited by the idea of returning richness to an otherwise static material or overlooked construction process simply by presenting it in a new light.
You use dress as a cultural signifier, often in playful or contradictory ways, to refer to your experience as a Samoan-Australian. Do you think the idea of ‘traditional’ dress can be misleading, and how do you feel when the lines between cultural dress and high-fashion are sometimes blurred?
‘Traditional’ can be a blurry word. It has an historical and futuristic context. It’s also a broadly used label. I suppose the idea of ‘traditional’ dress being misleading is determined by how informed we make ourselves.
Inspiration is invigorating and cultural dress has inspired some incredible fashion collections and contemporary art. In 2012, Givenchy recontextualised particular patterns, silhouettes and embellishment of native African and Italian dress. The reinterpretation of both ‘the other’ and haute couture was just so synced—I think this demonstrated the true definition of what it is to be inspired. You find yourself looking at the collection and knowing there is another layer of aesthetic, but not quite being able to pin point what it is exactly.
As an artist, I understand inspiration can be triggered by many factors—images, senses, memory, culture etc. through considered research or fleeting experience. I find it fascinating when I look at anthropological objects and see the contemporary potential. Suffice to say, there is a distinction between ‘inspired by’ and ‘appropriation’.
For example, take Nanette Lepore: she and her brand were heavily criticised by the greater Pacific community in New York for using a very recognised Fijian masi pattern on a dress that the brand had called the ‘Aztec dress’. The dress was featured in a shoot called ‘Passport to Style’ and the caption stated the dress’ patterns were African. It outraged the community so much as it wasn’t really a garment that was ‘inspired by’ masi pattern, or that alluded to the designer’s appreciation of this type of pattern, but rather a direct application of a masi applied from edge to edge leaving little intellectual property in the designer’s court. A letter titled ‘Passport to Stealing’ was sent to the designer requesting it be correctly referenced. The petitioner also suggested it was more about educating the designer rather than condemning them.
I think it gets tricky when there is no homage paid or reference made. This can often reflect lack of research and creative method. I suppose if you’re going to anything, do it well.
What is your relationship to fashion; self-loathing, or self-expression?
Self-loathing – 10% (maybe 15%)
Self-expression – 90%
Where do you look for inspiration on matters of style?
Anywhere really. Although in most cases inspiration finds me without much seeking. I’m inspired by attitude (I people-watch quite a lot, especially in other cities).
What is your most treasured dress-related object or memory?
I’ve a few memories (not that treasured). My winter school uniform, enforced by my primary school in Sydney. It was a long sleeved, button up blouse, with a tie that needed a Windsor knot and a tunic that went over the top. I remember when we moved to Brisbane I was mortified at how unrefined it was that my new school wore the same uniform the whole year round! I mean, no uniform to signify the seasonal change?! Then winter came and I understood…
I also have a metal one-decade rosary bracelet that my mother bought me from the Parish church shop in Apia, Samoa (her father helped build this incredible historic church in the centre of town). It cost 8 TALA (AUS $4) and the generic metal has darkened as it’s been worn—it’s very beautiful and it reminds me of her.
Give us three words, people or places you associate with Queensland fashion…
Pattern – I think Queenslanders do pattern (and colour) very well.
Is there such a thing as a distinct Queensland style?
I don’t know. I think many Queenslanders have a similar sensibility in common—we dress for our climate in our own individual way. It’s eclectic, changing, but also has an exciting history of pioneers in this industry.
Published in Issue 7, on November 19, 2013.