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What Happens to Craft in a Time of Crisis? A Fashion Designer and a Jeweller Reflect

By Lynette Kee

For his Fall/Winter ’20 collection, New York-based designer Christopher John Rogers put up a visceral inspiration wall of his favourite artists and illustrations representative of modern femininity.
 
Courtesy of Christopher John Rogers
For his Fall/Winter ’20 collection, New York-based designer Christopher John Rogers put up a visceral inspiration wall of his favourite artists and illustrations representative of modern femininity.

With a virus running rampant globally, museums have taken tours online, bookstores have closed and education is conducted through a Zoom window. Life has hit the pause button as people are kept away from the streets and at home. When it comes to dealing with the creeping despair and uncertainty, some are better conditioned than others to endure the battering of a pandemic. For creatives, existential stress affects more than just their livelihoods as it can permeate into their very state of being, inhibiting their ability to create.

Life experiences truly have a hand in stimulating the creative minds. Nature has been a constant inspiration for artists. Now, awe-inspiring landscapes have reduced its visitors to none. Photographers whose bread and butter was once to explore the world and capture beautiful people and places, now find themselves limited to the realm delineated by the four walls of their homes. Likewise, designers and artists whose travels spark impulses and thoughts they later translate into objects now question their self-actualisation as they adapt to a new creative rhythm.

Late American psychologist Abraham Maslow had famously theorised that human psychological health is motivated by a fulfilment of innate needs, culminating in self-actualisation. His unfinished hypothesis due to a fatal heart attack was recently reimagined by Scott Barry Kaufman, humanistic psychologist and author of “Transcend: The New Science of ‘Self-Actualization.”

In his book, Kaufman wrote, “The average adult in our society generally prefers a safe, orderly, predictable, lawful organized world.” And as the numbers of deaths worldwide inch over 300,000 people, it’s not surprising that unpredictability and feelings of uneasiness are making it a challenge for creatives who express themselves through art.

In the modern era, however, humans have proven to be extremely adaptive, driven by hyper-consciousness. Kaufman writes about humanity’s natural ability to transcend through “new interpretations of common reality” — a new form of realising one’s potential, while he notes that artistic creations are no longer a product of self- expression but also mystification. Two artists share that embracing a change of pace may be where creativity finds true depth.

Christopher John Rogers on Slowing Down

Courtesy of Christopher John RogersBorn in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Christopher John Rogers started selling made-to-order designs from his Brooklyn home studio in 2016.
Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Christopher John Rogers started selling made-to-order designs from his Brooklyn home studio in 2016.

Life before the enforced quarantine for fashion designer Christopher John Rogers was a whirlwind of dressing prominent people and celebrities — like former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, Rihanna and Cardi B amongst others. He had been chalking up milestone after milestone; winning the prestigious 2019 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund before staging his first ready-to-wear collection at New York Fashion Week early this year.

His designs embody an unbridled joy and daring energy and Rogers shares that he finds inspiration from some of the heartfelt experiences in his life. “Going to church with my mother, aunt, and grandmother, thrifting with my friends in middle and high school, and painting during art classes when I was in elementary school all influence my work,” he says.

Until recently, Rogers and his team had created pleated skirts, layered gowns and Swarovski crystal-adorned suits out of the living room of his Brooklyn apartment. With the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award, he was finally able unleash his creativity within a proper studio in Soho, where he conceived his collection for his 2020 collection. “There’s been more room to really think about what we’re making, whereas in the past there [were] concessions on fit or fabric,” he said to Vogue after the runway presentation.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by christopher john rogers 🌀 (@christopherjohnrogers) on

 

Being displaced by the pandemic, Rogers now finds himself back in familiar territory — his Brooklyn apartment, yet with the newfound luxury of time to ponder about the future of his brand. “I’m trying not to force it.” He says, “We finally have the time to slow down and pay attention to everything as opposed to rushing through work at breakneck speed.” Rogers recalls a time before the explosion of his name in the fashion industry, saying, “There was more room to be inspired by our errors and mistakes, which still finds its way into the collections now.”

“I’m not trying to become filthy rich,” Rogers says, “I’m trying to inspire the people that we dress.” For that, Rogers was able to do so no matter if he’s sitting in the living room of his apartment or a professional studio in Soho. To him, creativity is self-expression manifested tangibly. And in a time of crisis, one must “remind yourself why you are creative, and figure out a way to continue doing that.”

Kim Dunham on Self Reflection

Courtesy of Kim DunhamPortrait of Kim Dunham.
Portrait of Kim Dunham.

Creativity, to Kim Dunham who owns her namesake jewellery brand, is “the unfolding of our emotion, intellect, inspiration and insights that we’ve gained through your own personal lived experiences.” She says, “Each piece of jewellery that I create comes from that place – pulling from my current library of knowledge and being able to connect to my client through a shared experience.”

Dunham, 48, considers herself more of an artist than a designer. Growing up with her mother who dedicated her life work to caring for patients as an ICU nurse, Dunham toyed with the idea of pursuing a career in global health. She says, “I have always felt a strong need to connect with people on a deeper level and be of service to others.” But she eventually translated that imperative into jewellery design and created her first signet ring. “The idea was to [work with] symbols that represent the otherworldly, human experience while the interior inscription taps into the psyche,” Dunham says. “A piece that would hold such great importance that it would be passed down from generation to generation or if it [were] to fall in a stranger’s hands, evoke a sense of mystery of a lost but important story.”

 

 

Some six years since the idea clicked within her, Dunham has made over hundreds of storied custom signet rings — including ones that help her clients heal from a death of a loved one, which she affectionately calls “memorial rings.” Before the pandemic drove everyone indoors, Dunham would spend hours in the back corner of her New York home office, transforming her collection of life stories into forever treasures, while dividing her time between meeting new clients and managing jewellery production down the street. Working with old world and ancient symbolism, the artist finds her travel experiences instrumental in keeping her ideas fresh. “My imagination is sparked by the energy of NYC and my travels,” she says. “South East Asia is incredibly inspiring, the design detail and importance that is given to even the simplest of things.” But Dunham sees the current state of restriction as a time for reflection.

 

 

“So much of my inspiration comes from the quiet moments in my studio revisiting images I’ve photographed, my book collection, poetry and as always, my client’s stories.” To Dunham, silence is an essential part of her creative process. In her home office, candles are always lit and Dunham sees the city through a window that overlooks old and new architecture. Other times, she dives into her shelf of books, for tomes that teleport her into a spiritual world of crests, symbols and new languages. “Before the pandemic, I was grappling with time and the pace of my life — I was working full throttle, going from task to task and not taking time to tap into myself,” she says. “Every creative knows real art comes within – when your mind, body and spirit are aligned, that’s where the magic lies. It feels incredible to slow down and just create without a clock ticking.”