Photography by Tracy Morford
Words by Trinity Rose
Fashion designer Suzanne Rae Pelaez lives and designs out of Brooklyn but her professional career began in the design ateliers of Costume National in Milan and Morgane Le Fay in New York City. Her journey led to the creation of her namesake fashion line: Suzanne Rae.
Rae’s ready-to-wear line was inspired by and made for the progressive modern woman. Using traditional garment construction in addition to experimental draping and patterns, the designs are both beautiful and edgy. For her spring 2010 collection Rae turned to the Native American culture for inspiration.
WC: If I remember correctly the name of your spring collection is “Indian Summer”? Can you tell me about the name and why you chose it for this collection?
SR: It’s a playful term actually–not meant to be associated with that season/temperature. One Sunday I was with my husband Tim and some friends just chilling out, philosophizing and talking about the colors of Native American landscapes and scenes: the blue sky, the yellow corn, the tan desert, an orange sunset and we were like, “it’s an Indian Summer collection.” And it stuck.
WC: Can you speak about the following quote and what role it played in the inspiration or conception of your spring collection?
“I’m just a human trying to make it in a world that is very rapidly losing it’s understanding of being human.” -John Trudell, Native American poet and activist.
SR: Well, the collection is about going back to basics, and the Native Americans have got that right. When I started the collection, we were in the midst of a bad economic situation, and I felt like it was something that was bound to happen to us—the crisis, if you will. Our society was (is?!) getting out of hand, getting greedy and being irresponsible—living beyond our means, polluting our earth, and forgetting about what is truly important. So, while doing my Native American research, I watched this John Trudell documentary that was really inspiring. And I feel just the same way, how easy we forget in this modern world. There’s something wrong with our priorities.
WC: Your Spring collection was outstanding. I loved the vibrant colors and the unique prints. Can you tell me more about your choice behind those colors, prints, and fabrics?
SR: Well, like I had mentioned, I chose colors that were from Native American landscapes—the blues, yellows, oranges, and tans. I also incorporated un-dyed, natural hemp fabrics, which I felt was important to incorporate in my repertoire of silks since hemp is sustainable.
And then we developed this print that I think is so gorgeous. My friend Amit Greenberg is a multi-media artist who once did this self-portrait where he made a stencil of his face filled in with little symbols that represented him. Beautiful idea. So I asked him to do something like this for me. During the time I was re-reading Waldon by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau talks about Native American culture and how they live so simply and harmoniously with the land. He says that there are four basic needs for survival: food, shelter, clothing, and fuel. So, for the print, I asked Amit to use symbols to represent these things. In the end the symbols were: buffalo for food, teepee for shelter, and fire for fuel. I was making clothing, so that was already represented, and we placed these symbols in a stencil of the face of an old Native American woman.
WC: The presentation of your spring collection was really unique. The first was an exhibit at Mixed Greens and then an amazing installation sponsored by Sotheby’s in an abandoned townhouse Uptown. Can you talk about those two events?
SR: Well, you know, like the collection, or rather, in the vain of the collection, it’s about looking for alternative, creative solutions. So instead of going the straight up fashion show route, I did a sort of art installation at Mixed Greens. Then my friend invited us to do an installation with the Sotheby’s Institute–a fashion meets art thing, which I love.
WC: You also collaborated with Tracy Morford (photographer) and Carl Cortes from re:FABRICATION (Video) for the exhibit and installation. Can you tell me a bit more about that process?
SR: Yes, Tracy and Carl are insanely talented. It was a pleasure working with them. I told them my inspiration and ideas for the collection, and then they both ran with their own individual interpretations of it. Their work really helped to enhance and project my vision.
We did the video and photography shoot in the woods of Connecticut during a wild hurricane. You can’t imagine how difficult it was. It was pouring like crazy! Hair and makeup were constantly being retouched, the clothes were getting wet, and all the while trucking equipment and electrical wires across acres of wet woods. But their work turned out so good; you would never have known!
It became a wonderful collaborative art project, which I think is really important for emerging artists. So for both my fashion week presentation at Mixed Greens and then later for the Sotheby’s event, their work on the collection was also exhibited. In fact, we’ve all collaborated again for my upcoming fall winter 2010 collection.
WC: I heard that originally you were going to have the presentation of the video installation in a teepee in one of New York’s parks? I would love to hear more about that idea and why in the end you decided not to use the teepee?
SR: Oh, I am really sad about that. Well, in “looking for alternative solutions” for a show, I had this grand idea of pitching an actual teepee in a park and having the show in there. Perfect on so many levels! And in a way, it would have been my own tent so to speak. Plus, by the way, one can survive in all climates, year round, in a teepee. It’s super sustainable. But, in the end, let’s just say that the city is very bureaucratic and hard to work around.
WC: You have a background in art and feminine studies as well as fashion design correct? How does that background influence your work and creative process?
SR: I do have a background in art and women’s studies, both of which certainly do influence my design process. I seek to create an experience through the wear of clothes, an experience that is progressive towards the evolution of society, that is, of our-selves as human beings. This progression includes working towards the core values and beliefs of feminism, i.e. equal opportunity, equal pay, equal rights in general. So, in my line I consider the notions of both feminism and femininity. Each collection is an exploration of the multiple juxtapositions of a woman’s being and a translation of these abstract ideas into tangible garments, which I aim to be thought provoking. I suppose this way of thinking is where the art background comes into play. I also have a background in economics, which is also perhaps why my design purpose is like a sort of social science obligation.
WC: As a personal stylist I find that one of the most common elements my clients are looking for our unique pieces that are versatile enough to transition from day wear to evening wear. Knowing your collection(s), you definitely have pieces that are versatile, do you ever design with that exact element in mind?
SR: I appreciate that. I do think of versatility when designing; it’s necessary for the modern woman. It is a real challenge sometimes, I just want to make crazy beautiful unwearable things that are more like art pieces, but then I think about the expression one experiences in wearing my clothes and that reminds me to make things not only interesting and thought-provoking, but also comfortable, beautiful, and practical.
WC: Another element of design I am always looking for as a personal stylist is wearability if you’re not walking down the runway as well as how flattering a cut will be on all body types not just stick thin models that make everything look good. I have noticed your pieces often look good on multiple body types. Do you intentionally design for all body types? What are your thoughts on this subject matter?
SR: I do try to design for different body types; it’s important to me. I thank you for noticing this, as it’s not an easy task. If I weren’t conscious about it, I suppose I’d just design for my body type since that’s what I’m most familiar with. But the female body is so beautiful; it’s a wonder of nature, and yet it’s unnaturally associated with certain taboos. Such notions inspire me to experiment with exposing, concealing, and/or enhancing different parts of the body in both metaphorical and literal ways.
To see more of Suzanne’s work click here.
Styled by Suzanne Rae
Hair Marcel Dagenais
Makeup Hagen Linss
Models Yael Greenberg, Katharina Stiegler, Fern Palmer-Jelen