The "Narratorial Creators" Series is a space for radically creative teastained women to share ideas that inform their work and the resolutions they have for its impact on the world. My hope is that their offerings inspire us to Journey Soulfully, thinking differently about our humanity and creative continuance as we see what other stories are possible for us to tell with our gifts along the journey.
Last year I discovered the work of London-based fashion designer Chelsea Bravo while on the typical midnight Tumblr scroll. Visually, her conceptual vestments had a cerebrally chemical impact on me that was a cross between inspiration post-encountering magnificence and witnessing the work of someone in tune with herself as a woman, narrator, and sojourner.
Though her work seems simple at first glance, I enjoy the stories Chelsea's garments tell because it has layers (literally and conceptually) that give us an insight to the process that births it. I respect the agency she asserts in directing their portrayal in imagery. Her aesthetic creates curiosity. I see Chelsea's designs as an inspirational outlet that challenges me to reroute my own path in creativity. Her garments engage my sense of what could be, and are encouraging to me as art as she's going after creating something she's never seen before that goes beyond a label. Pay attention and it will be evident that this lady's onto something with her work...
This is why Chelsea Bravo is a Narratorial Creator.
What is your work?
My work is Fashion Design or as I like to put it “Creating Art Through Garments. Making Clothing For People.”
What is/are your medium(s)?
My mediums include pencils, preferably my mechanical pencil which I use for both sketching and pattern drafting, a sketch pad(s), pattern paper, rubber, pattern master (a large curved ruler used for drafting patterns), magic tape, calico, fabric, scissors, thread, 1 industrial sewing machine, 1 overlocker machine and pins- lots of pins!
What are you good at?
I’m good at getting to the root of an issue or a problem because of my highly analytical mind ha!
But in relation to my work I’m good at shape, silhouette and cut, I feel like those elements are always strong and really clear within my collections. I’m also good at putting together colours/tones, proportions and creating a body of work /collection that looks and feels harmonious.
I’m also very good at storytelling which goes hand in hand with my work as a designer through developing a concept/story for the collections - these parts tend to be my favourite within the collection development process. Storytelling and a love for words and writing also relates to my love for self documentation through journalling.
Is there a metaphorical relationship you've noted between forming a collection and learning your identity?
Like with my identity through the journey of building a collection...that's exactly what happens, you do find yourself. You find yourself through creating or building something and the finished product is you in a sense or an extension of you, because it all came from you.
The "metaphor" I often use with my work is a mother giving birth and my collections are my children. Like, right now I would say I'm about two months pregnant! And that's two months of incubating seeds/ideas and feeding them through my research and studying.
What do you think about the teastined woman’s relationship with storytelling? Regardless of being an “artist” or not, do we have a duty to storytelling? Should it be a commitment at some point of/in our lives?
I think so yes, whether or not you're an “artist”. It's important for our voices and experiences to be heard. So that could be documenting your story through journaling or vocally simply with your family and friends. Making that time to be with family and friends to talk about your day to day experiences good and bad, that's part of sharing your story. In our workplaces and schools, speaking up if there's a problem or creating space to talk about our experiences. I think we were quiet for too long, you know? That is evident and is now being felt in our culture. Now is the perfect time to document our stories, our growth, to share our experiences with our kin and beyond.
How else does journaling fit into your gathering inspiration?
Journaling helps me to process my inspiration through words, which is vital for me as it helps to keep my mind clear during the process of starting a new project or collection. It helps me to process my thoughts and ideas within my research development, concept building and design stages- it’s there with me every step of the way! My journal is kind of like a best friend or my therapist. I probably would have lost my mind along time ago if I didn’t create that space to express myself through journalling.
Child, I feel the same way. This is why I love journaling: It fits perfectly into the essence of what it means to be a teastained woman: powerful endurance, relentless survival. It’s safe, then to say that your journaling has been a way of self-healing?
I love how you said Child, I feel like I'm sitting down with you with a cup of tea haha. Child, it has most definitely been my self healing tool, let me tell you! I started my self-care journey through my journalling. I process everything I'm going through and feeling through writing it out or talking it out loud - to myself by the way. They say that talking to yourself is a form of insanity, well let me tell you, it's a form of keeping yourself sane!
Have any of your design concepts come from your journal?
They get processed in my journal. When I'm working on something I write about what I'm doing and so the more I write about it the more I’m processing the concept and the more it starts to make sense. The collections are probably birthed in my journals because I write about them there first and then they manifest themselves. It's always cool to go back and read about the start of a collection then look up and see the collection in material form that was at one time just ideas and words on paper.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by life; by my soul’s journey through life and it’s experience of it. Womanhood, nature, philosophies, the Japanese philosophy and design aesthetic Wabi- Sabi. Artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Henri Laurens, Matisse, Georgia O’keefe, Frida Khalo, Basquiat - the list goes on. Cultures and more recently mythologies and beliefs that influence the culture and how that influences the way they dress, how they behave, how they go about their day to day living; what rituals are involved in their everyday living as a result of those mythologies and beliefs; what do they honour/ reverence in life etc. A lot of this will be coming through in my next body of work.
How do you keep an inspired mind?
By being curious and inquisitive; being open to new ideas and knowledge even if it makes me uncomfortable. Asking questions of myself and society, not just taking what is right in front of me and accepting it but looking beyond and not be afraid to look beyond. Through this curiosity I’m finding that I’ll always have something to study and new things to learn thus opening up my mind and perception of life and the world around me. Learning to me is so energetic and inspiring and is how I keep my mind inspired.
What does your art’s processes teach you about humanity?
That we are often fickle and sheep-like, being more prone to following as opposed to leading and questioning things that are presented to us, asking ourselves why we are following or buying into particular thing.
I have learned this through being an independant designer, starting a brand and selling my items. It’s been a challenge and at times frustrating moving into that place of getting people to buy your product. I feel like people are quicker to purchase something that is either from a mainstream supplier or something that everyone around them is buying into.
One piece of advice that I often get is, “Try and get your pieces on a famous person”, so it’s like if Solange or Kanye West wore one of my pieces then it would be valid or worthy of buying? It would be interesting to see how many people would want to buy from me if that was to happen! It makes me ask the question, “Why does it have to take a celebrity to wear something in order for everyone to want it or jump on it?” and “Are the material things that we buy and spend our money on really things that we desire from our hearts, or are we buying these items as a way for us to come closer to the people or lifestyles that we idolise?”
Girl! Ok, you went there…! I totally get what you mean. I get confusedly frustrated when other independent artists or social media influencers try to give me tips on getting seen by celebrities or sponsored by corporations. Like, aren’t we doing this to set a different example? To not be bought as we create an authentic space for ourselves? My question to you is how do you maintain the momentum to be original, to focus on your originality and ignore the allure of getting “seen” by someone who “could make you famous” etc. So how can we balance between getting our work out there and compromising ourselves as artists?
There is no allure for me in regards to being seen by a famous person because they are famous. I'm not saying that if somebody famous, that I admire, saw my work I wouldn't be happy, like Solange Knowles for example or Yasiin Bey, Andre 3000, [etc.] I would be ecstatic. But more so because they are people that I admire not because they are famous, their fame would just be a great added bonus! More than anything I want to be seen by people and for people to resonate, appreciate and support my work and want to buy into the collections I produce. Everything after that, celebrity interest etc are bonuses.
In regards to momentum and balance, stay focused on what you're doing and your vision for what you're doing and don't be afraid to go at your own pace. You are not a slave to your industry so don't let them make you one by thinking you have to knock out new work every month, unless that suits how you work and your process. Some things take time and sometimes you need time. Have something to say; be relevant. Present your work well and enjoy yourself, everything will fall into place over time. It has to. This is what I tell myself each day.
In what way does your work make you happy?
I am the happiest when I’m creating purely to express an idea or a message from within myself and this is how I want to work more so moving forward. It’s something that I lost and got a little muddled up with in making the collections that I have for London Collections: Men (Men’s Fashion Week in London) and designing collections with the industry, buyers and commerciality in mind. It not only brought on a lot of pressure but it took the fun out of the creative process and out of the art of designing in itself, which for me should be fun, should be expressive, free and unrepressed.
My motto now is ‘Do your thing now and worry about everyone else later.’ As creatives we have messages to bring forth into our world and we shouldn’t allow the fear of how we think we are going to be perceived or whether or not our art will be accepted or approved of to hold us back from bringing forth that message to the world. More often than not the art that we desire to create has a message and purpose that transcends us and our thinking, it moves beyond us, it’s bigger than us, we shouldn’t allow anything to get in the way of that.
If it’s a case of money and living, make the money through different avenues if trying to make money through your art is killing your art. With that I hope my words have shed light on the importance of supporting independent designers, artists and makers and less mass corporations and celebrity endorsed products.
Absolutely. Teastained women: please support your local designer/artist!
Back to what you said earlier about the messages we are meant to tell. That’s why I make journals, really. Because I believe we have something more to tell that we have to tap into amidst the din of noise from the world around us. We have something to preserve even as we struggle to “survive” in this money-required world. From your experience, how can teastained women keep themselves in touch with that transcendental message we have within, as we’re also trying to survive? I mean, it’s hard with jobs, circumstances, etc. Why is the effort worth it?
The effort is worth it because we can’t take money with us when we die, we can’t take all the material things we like to acquire, the house, the boyfriend/husband, the children etc. The only thing that will stand is the legacy/message that we leave behind, which isn’t something material it’s something intangible; it’s something that can only be heard and felt. We keep ourselves in touch with that transcendental message through the transcendental. I’ll leave the readers to define that for themselves.
What does journey soulfully mean to you?
For me to Journey Soulfully means to walk my path authentically and to write, document and live out my day-to-day life from my soul; my truest self and my most sacred space. It’s a journey with a person that I get to meet each day and a space that I get to go into every time I give myself the time to pour out over the pages of my journal. It’s a practice that I’ve known since 8 years old and is one that will be with me for many more years to come.
Mmmm...I like that. Do you think that as we Journey Soulfully we’ll always like encountering “the person we meet each day”?
No definitely not, I personally don’t! Sometimes I don’t like the person I was that day or certain behaviours or attitudes I may have expressed that day but the beautiful thing about journalling is you get to write about it and process why you felt the way you did. I went through a really rough patch with a close friend of mine a year ago and journalling most definitely helped me to process why I was acting the way I was and admit things to myself that I didn’t want to admit but was necessary for my healing and the healing of our friendship.
I’m so excited for your next collection. What’s the key takeaway you want the world to infer from your new garments when you launch next year?
Beauty and luxury but not the image that probably comes to mind upon reading those words and not in the way we have come to know those things. It’s more in the sense of something that has been made to be preserved. Just like our history.
Chelsea Bravo is fashion designer born in Brooklyn New York and raised in London. She has a love for design, books, art, food and culture as well as self documentation through journalling, audio recording and pictures. Chelsea has presented her collections during London Collections: Men and been a part of the British Fashion Council’s Emerging Designer Showrooms. Chelsea is also a part of Squarespace’s You Should campaign, which took over New York’s Union Square Station, Old Street Station and over The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, East London in January. Chelsea is currently working towards her next body of work which is due to be presented mid 2017.
Thank you, Chelsea!!
See more of Chelsea's work on her website: http://www.chelseabravo.co