Zoetica Ebb

Costume Studio Demo Artist Jessica Rowell

Jessica Rowell will be in the Costume Studio demonstrating free-form costume design January 28−29 and February 11−12

Holly Nordeck: What will your demo look like at the DAM? What can visitors expect?

Jessica Rowell: My demo will include periods of independent study where I work in a free-form method designing directly onto a dress form as well as machine sewing and possibly beading or embroidering. Visitors will have the opportunity to participate collaboratively in a community-created garment that will start as a work-in-progress and will continue to collectively evolve throughout my demo-ing process at the DAM.

Visitors can contribute to this creation by utilizing a variety of provided pre-cut and pre-fabricated textiles and notions, which can be layered over and built upon the garment’s foundation. I will also be showing select garments from my collection over the years in a display that incorporates visual images. The installation will touch base on the styling and art direction areas of my work and how a garment can translate digitally on camera.

HN: Can you describe a little bit about your aesthetic?

JR: Adaptability is a key word in my aesthetic as I appreciate bridging obstacles with creativity. I have a strong inclination toward the avant-garde, the undefined, and enjoy working within the gap or grey area of what is typically classified as costume and what is classified as fashion.

In my aesthetic I like to project a strong sense of the unknown or an enigmatic quality and find beauty in the functionality of works that can support multiple narratives or visions contingent on the depiction or interpretation of a world or environment created around the garment I make.

Victoria Rowell
Victoria Rowell. Photo courtesy Victoria Rowell.

HN: How did you get started in design?

JR: Self-expression was an outlet for me as a teen, and clothing alterations became frequent in my wardrobe. Japanese street fashion, subculture, anime and visual kei artists, also influenced me. I started designing character costumes based on sci-fi, fantasy, and anime characters, this later expanded into original character designs and then extended more toward avant-garde costume and fashion designs originating from my own vision.

There was a frame of time where I worked exclusively on stage costumes for nightlife entertainment and alternative fashion. Traces of my beginnings within design are absolutely present in my current work, just interpreted in another way.

HN: Looking over your work and bio, how does traditional artmaking influence your work?

JR: Traditional art largely impacts my work as a designer, as my background originated in painting. Similarly, I treat my work as a designer much like a painting or even a sculpture. A majority of my original designs start out with a basic foundation or “canvas,” which I then create upon, and akin to a sculptor there are some garments that have been built upon and shaped through multiple layers where the foundation has become hidden.

As a child I always loved art museums and galleries and later studied art history. I find great inspiration in artists working with media beyond fashion or costume design. I feel that I’m able to use colors and textures more freely or in an otherwise different method due to experience with painting and traditional art. The influence is persistent regardless of intention.

HN: Can you walk us through a little bit of what your process looks like?

JR: I keep a vague concept or thought in mind and a color palette; this is where my process starts. My approach is different when creating character work, this is when I tend to do a lot of research and involve more expansive thought processes in my pre-planning. From this stage onward I’m in the fabric store or searching alternate fabric sources and begin collecting textiles organically. Pattern making and sketching aren’t staples in my process, so once I’ve collected all of my project materials I start creating without reservation. I free-form directly onto the mannequin and create nearly all of my designs with this same methodology. Seeing the piece evolve aids my creative process while designing. I like trial and error. I’m continually learning. If something isn’t going right I take apart my work and figure out a solution instead of going back to the drawing board. I’ve gained a lot of self-experience working this way and my pieces have come a long way since my start in design.

HN: What are the most important elements in your work?

JR: The overall visual and how each aspect within an individual garment communicates with one another and functions as an entire design is the most important element to me. When creating a garment I’m concerned and focused on the end product and how all the elements will come together. Due to my process, achieving that objective is also challenging. Creating my own sense of harmony within my work is something I strive for.

HN: Finally, what inspires you?

JR: I’m inspired by my surroundings and thrive on introspection and creative space. I love nature and travel. Traveling is the most inspiring to me. I find great inspiration in artists’ autobiographical books as well.

Photographer Tas Limur-Model Zoetica Ebb. Photo courtesy Jessica Rowell.

Holly Nordeck is a program facilitator in the department of learning and engagement at the Denver Art Museum. She loves the museum’s modern and contemporary art collection.