Bringing the Fantastic to Fashion: Interview with Designer Kristin Costa
One of the highlights of my evening at the Steampunk Anachronism III Visit to Edo was attending their fashion show. On the main stage, backed by a pulsing beat, models brought to life the kabuki-inspired fashions of Kristin Costa. Costa is a twenty-five year old visual artist and fashion designer whose work is deeply inspired by the psychological, the fantastic and stories of the past. I sat down with Kristin after the show to ask a few questions about her work.
SK: So how do you describe your fashion?
KC: I usually describe it as fantasy-costume fashion hybrid and I usually start out with a concept that is psychological more than visual, and that leads to the visual later.
SK: When did you get started?
KC: I started making clothes when I was in pre-school… then I started making clothes for people. I went to clothes for fine art, I didn’t take any fashion classes at all. WHich I think kind of helped me keep an open mind. I think a lot of the fashion students, they knew all the history and they were relying on it a lot more whereas I kind of relied on my imagination. And I found when I collaborated with people who didn’t know what they were doing they were more creative, they didn’t know how hard it was going to be!
SK: How long have you been doing this now?
KC: I’ve been doing my own fashion shows and making lines like this since 2005, so a while I guess. Sometimes it was for school, sometimes it was for art galleries. I’m finally making lines that I can market online and at fairs and different vending things. I think I’m vending a cheerleading event in October!
SK: Who normally is the market for your fashion? Your fashion seems like it would appeal to a niche audience.
KC: It seems that way! I try to do a little bit of both – like in the show you just saw. I had crazy sleeves on but then there’s this dress which I just wear out. And people just talk to me in lines and ask ‘oh my gosh, where did you get your dress?’ If I did just regular fashion I would get bored so it’s like i have to on each model – this is my own control kind of thing – because I can go nuts and then it would just be wearable art. So I wanted to mix things. Wearable art is very hard to make money off of, so every model has to have one marketable wearable object and then they can have one crazy, art piece-y thing to make me happy. There has to be a balance and I think I’m finally starting to find it.
SK: It’s interesting, you use a term “wearable art”. Is that how you see your work?
KC: I try to, yes. My first love is painting so for a while I was making a lot of corsets made of canvas and painting on them… I try to view it as wearable art. It can be costume, I don’t know. Whatever people want to generalize it as, but wearable art is my favorite terminology.
SK: So you said before that you come up with a concept beforehand. Is there a concept that overarches the collection we saw earlier?
KC: The collection we saw earlier was supposed to be vaguely kabuki based, and I say vaguely because it was a mix of a bunch of different collections that I’ve done. There was stuff in it from my birdcage collection, which was all silver, green and black and with wings and stripy. It was called “Caged” and it was visually about birdcages but on a deeper level it was about entrapment and protection and people kind of caging themselves off in order to protect themselves or people who were trapped trying to get out. There was stuff from my “Monsterous” collection. Outwardly it was about monsters but upon making it, it was about inner monsters and how the innocence and the inner monsters are sometimes intermingled. My next one’s about mimes but it’s about breaking out of invisible boundaries and it’s going to be called “Glass Box”.
SK: Someone mentioned that you have a show coming up during Fashion Week! Have you done [Fashion Week] before this year?
KC: Last year I did Fashion Week. I’m not at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, but I produce my own show during Fashion Week in the vicinity of the fashion shows. If people come see it and I can publicize it… “The Glass Box” is going to be what I’m showing. I do a new line twice a year, once for spring fashion week and one for fall fashion week. This is the spring/summer 2012 line.
SK: And you said you have begun marketing more online?
KC: Yeah, I’ve got an Etsy shop and I’ve been trying to get things into boutiques so soon I’ll have a good relationship with… smaller boutiques at the moment. The steampunk crowd seems to embrace me a lot and so I’m not going to put that down. Any steampunk thing wants to put e in the shop, I’ll do it. I don’t see myself as strictly steampunk, I go really wide of that, but I’m happy that I’ve been well received.
SK: You said before that you were a fine arts major. What is it about fashion that drew you to this medium?
KC: My answer is coming from the fine arts perspective, most of my paintings have drapery and human beings in it. What made me focus on it was that my fashion shows were way better received than my painting shows, and I was able to gain an audience and let me make more money that way… I screen print now to add something to the collections, and that equals painting sometimes.
SK: I ask this question to a lot of people that I interview, but has there ever been anything you’ve wanted to costume and that just seemed too daunting? That one that you’ve got building up in your back burner that you’re thinking about what to do?
CK: I’ve got a lot of things on the back burner. I guess daunting… there is a collection I wanted to do and I think it’ll be difficult for people to receive. I wanted to do a collection called “Bitter Skin” that’s all about ailments, and people feeling limited, about like wounds. I was going to make a mastectomy dress, I was going to make a series of suicide dresses. It would all be flesh colored and blood and bruise colors, very much be trying to take these things that are only horrible and make them into these precious artifacts. Like, if the blood would be portrayed with glass beads, it would be a curiosity. It wouldn’t be a celebration of sickness or anything, but I feel like I could probably make that. It would take a lot of time because I would want a lot of detail and it would take a lot of energy and emotion to put into that, but I think it would be daunting to figure out how to show that to people. That would be something I would put on a mannequin in a gallery show because it would be too much to ask a model to do. I also don’t really want to go there because it would probably become too personal… I like vague psychologies rather than getting too personal. Like everything I do is really personal, but I think that would be too raw.
I’m going to get into something that I put in a lot of my artist statements: “It’s easier to tell the truth when you’re on the stage in a mask.” I notice this with models, like if they’re shy I will often times put them in a mask and they’re less nervous that way. I guess the most concise way to say it is it’s easier to tell the truth if people think it’s all an act. If I have a show about birdcages and everything is these birdcages, yes its’ about something very personal in entrapment and breaking free, all these emotional things. But it has the veil of birdcages and all of these visually impressive things. If I did something and it was just about these ailments, it would be very straight forward and it wouldn’t have anything to hide behind. So I guess that would fall under the description of daunting.
SK: It certain sounds like it. It also sounds wonderful.
KC: Well yes, eventually it will happen!
SK: How do you see your art, if you were to describe it to people?
KC: I think I would want it to be described as inter-disciplined. I kind of like people to know that I have more than just a sewing background. I like for people to think of it as fine art rather than just fashion you can get in a store. To me, it elevates me and I hope it elevates other people when they see it or that they feel some excitement in it that they don’t feel from a pair of jeans. I’m trying to exceed the jeans!
Kristin’s fashions are indeed a gorgeous mix of the wearable artwork she described and some pieces that would bring the deep sense of personal exploration to everyday clothing. Costa herself was in the fashion show in a black draped dress with grey patterning that could be found in any couture shop around, while some of her other creations make their home in a more fantastic realm of fashion. Still, each piece brought a stark image to the stage that could not be ignored, proving Costa’s vision is both eye-catching and inspired. Her Fashion Week show, “Glass Box”, will be going on during fall’s fashion week, with more details to come about the event posted up here and on her Facebook page. She also keeps a blog where folks can follow her works at numerous other events. I look forward to seeing more from Kristin in the future!