Designer Clio Sage turns architecture into wearable art

CLIO SAGE

Designer, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Why I love her: Geometric fashions. There’s something so interesting about being able to take wooden triangles and create something chic and rock-star-cool out of them.
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Photo by Adam Wamsley

When was the first time you noticed that fashion was something someone created rather than just something you bought and put on?

The first time I created a wearable was in a college architecture studio, where we were assigned to create a device that would alter one’s path of vision through the use of mirrors. This introduced me to the process of designing with the human body occupying and utilizing the object with much more intimacy than a larger-scale architectural space. My second wearable ended up being for a sculpture class in my final year of college and was also made for a specific assignment, but it was the piece that ended up launching the subsequent Tessellations collection. This second piece was built through the use of a clear process of assembly, and a process that I would later recognize as something that could be developed and expanded on, as well as created something wearable out of a material that is much more difficult to manipulate (metal). My work has been entirely based around pushing my construction method and choice of unconventional materials as far as possible in both a sculptural art form and a more consumable product form.

What made you want to pursue design vocationally as opposed to it just being a hobby?

This whole experience of now trying to build a fashion line that’s publicly available wasn’t really a conscious choice, more of something I fell into. After a year of making pieces as a hobby and only for myself I decided on a whim to apply to LadyFag’s annual vendor’s fair, Pop Souk at Webster Hall, and see if they would be interested in having me as one of their presenting designers. To my shock I was immediately invited to participate and so I did my first public presentation of my clothes at it in May. The positive reception of my line was overwhelming, everything from people telling me they came specifically to check out my clothes that they had gotten a glimpse of online, to making my first sale, to being encouraged that if this is what I was capable of in my first year that I definitely have to keep going. It’s a weird thing getting that much support for something I’d been doing entirely for myself until that point, and so now I feel a sense of pressure on myself to continue doing this and not miss out on the possibility of growing it into something bigger than I had anticipated.

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Photo by Richard Perez

What was your training in design?

I’ve been studying architecture since high school, pursued it as my major in college, and throughout that time took art studios to expand my technical abilities through different mediums. I then became a professional architectural model maker and having a job that had me physically creating every day based on other peoples’ designs is what got me back into designing for myself so I could apply my new skill-set into something entirely my own.

When you begin designing new garments, what is the starting point for you?

I have no formal training in pattern-making for clothing or any kind of clothing design so I’ve had to learn how to assemble the items I want to make through trial and error. I start with a really basic sketch of the garment I’m trying to make, like a basic T-shape for a crop top, and draw it out as a series of rows made up of triangles. I also am constantly on the look-out for materials that aren’t seen in apparel (hard plastics, wood, cork) but can be put into a laser-cutter and made into a textile using my construction method, so I generally have a backlog of materials I’ve been wanting to try out and then try them out on whatever new silhouette I’m trying to make.

There’s a lot of competition out there. How do you separate yourself from the pack?

The architect-turned-fashion-designer isn’t an unusual transition as the two fields are based on working off of the scale of the body and accommodating its needs. I like to think what sets me further apart from the other designers that have crossed mediums is my use of traditional model-making materials to create “fabrics” and my commitment to utilizing both digital and physical construction methods to create the best possible outcome. Laser-cutters have enabled me to create hundreds of identical textile units in a matter of hours, but the time spent on hand attaching each piece and then developing the design so that it can still allow for a full range of motion is incomparable. I think many designers rely too much on the abilities of a machine to inform their designs, and others completely reject the idea of anything not done by hand. It’s important to accept and take advantage of the new tools we have at hand without losing the benefits and lessons that come from hand-craft.

From season to season, how do you keep yourself from burning out?

It’s funny because while I’ve definitely worked lots of long nights to have new pieces to show for specific events, and done so to a point of exhaustion, the practice of making my pieces is mostly just one repetitive motion that almost becomes therapeutic. Making my pieces started becoming a consistent part of my life because the process was both time consuming and simple, and allowed me to almost become meditative in doing so but have a physical result to show for my time spent. What’s most important to me is not doing this to a point where it’s no longer pleasurable, which is why I only create a handful of new pieces each season but each one pushes a new specific boundary whether it’s material, silhouette, or working with another artist as an experimental collaboration. Each piece I’ve made has expanded the possibilities of my line, and keeping that as the core goal to my creative process is what keeps it exciting.

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Photo by Adam Wamsley

The internet has changed the fashion industry in numerous ways. How have you utilized it and social media to get your work and your brand to a larger audience?

I’m actually not too great at putting significant time into self-promoting through social media. I have an Instagram, which is pretty regularly updated with sneak peeks of what I’m working on and my upcoming events, and a lot of stylists have somehow found me through that. Facebook has been a great source when I need help finding people to work with such as models, photographers, hair stylists, and makeup artists, and people are unbelievably responsive to my random shout outs for help. What I like about social media is that it’s easy to be mutually beneficial to the people you work with by tagging the people involved and letting their skills be known, and then they do the same for you which helps in expanding your audience. I also have a website and I think that’s been most useful in terms of being found through search terms that relate to my work.

So much attention is placed on style bloggers on the front row at Fashion Week. Where should the focus be instead?

I think the primary focus that needs to happen in fashion right now isn’t who’s sitting in the front rows of fashion show but who’s involved in the show itself. There is no excuse of ignorance to the fact that there’s an immense amount of imbalance when it comes to the racial diversity of models walking runway and the designers behind the lines being shown. I’m putting together my first runway show right now and especially in light of all the tension and violence that has happened in this country this past year, it’s more important than ever to be conscious of how you cast you show. I used to feel like as an designer working in fashion it’s harder to comment on and bring awareness to social issues that are demanding our attention right now, but in preparing for this show next month I realized I could use the combination of casting, styling, and presentation as a means to communicate a message even if it’s not explicit. I really hope the fashion industry uses their very public platform as a means to both call attention to the fact we have social issues and also offer opportunities as a way to improve upon them rather than just acknowledge their presence.

What was it like the first time you saw someone wearing your designs in real life?

I had an image sent to me from a photo-shoot in LA a couple months ago of a celebrity wearing one of my tops, which will be featured in a magazine this fall and that was pretty surreal. This line is still so new and I feel so small in a pool of thousands of amazing designers that I’m always humbled by the fact that people reach out to me and ask for my work. I’m at a point in my life where I’m just grateful for every opportunity to meet and work with others regardless of whether they’re using my clothes for photos or an event or purchasing them, and I don’t think that feeling is going to wear off anytime soon.

FAST FASHION FACTS

My aesthetic in five words: Geometric, protective, methodological, unconventional, developable.
My client is… The conceptual core of my line comes from a place where the wearer wants something that communicates protection and strength but in a beautiful and seemingly delicate rather than abrasive way. There is a certain degree of self-confidence required to wear something as unusual as the pieces I’ve been creating, since they inevitably attract attention, which is why they’re best suited for specific events rather than every-day wear. I’ve recently started expanding my line into more unisex designs, which is why I don’t think there’s a specific “girl” in mind for my line anymore, but more of a strong presence, regardless of gender, that wants to push the boundaries of our perception of what fashion can be.
My dream client is…FKA Twigs would be amazing to design for. Aside from being an insanely talented artist, she also has an experimental approach both to her work and everything that comes with it from creative direction, compelling visuals, involvement of other performing artists, and her clothing choices. I would love to get her perspective on my work and think she would be an awesome person to design together with and incorporate her ideas into my work.

For more, head over to http://www.cliosage.com

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