You Can Run But You Can't Hide: Cistanthe

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Full disclosure – I'm a big fan of what Bailey's been doing over at Cistanthe, but she's also a friend. We've actually been friends, but my quick count (and yes, I had to use my fingers), for around eight years. Which both makes me feel old and wonder why we've never gotten around to featuring her on MIAMI NICE before. 

Well, the time is right and I'm stoked to chat a bit about the very beautiful work she's  been doing with Cistanthe - which I'll let her explain to you. Even though all the work really goes on in places very far from Miami like India, and not that far, New York, she's still a Miami girl.

You can run but you can't hide talented Miami people. I will find you.

This post appropriately kicks off a new series featuring Miami born or bred people who have gone off and spread their seed elsewhere. Because for every transplant to the city, there are the locals who got away. So, we'll highlight some of the nicest ones here - starting with my friend, Bailey Hunter and her work on Cistanthe. 

So, a bit of background, who are you? What do you do?

I am Bailey Hunter, I work in design and development. I wanted to give a name to my collective of work which ranges from photography to textile design to clothing and accessories and involves a lot of collaborative projects between other artists and craftspeople, so I named it "CISTANTHE" which is the scientific name to the flower, Pussy Paws - which I love because it sounds like it would be an amazing '80s psychobilly-strip club.

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Before we get too deep in, what's your connection to Miami?

I was born in Miami and grew up there. My family lives there still so I love to go back and visit, and I still think the Gables is one of the most inspiring and beautiful neighborhoods ever!

Tell me a bit of the story of Cistanthe. How did you end up working with people around the world on a one woman mission to preserve ancient Indian textile techniques (did I get that right?)?

When I was in school at Parsons, I was majoring in Fine Art - and doing a lot of conceptual photography and design work about social interactions and personal relationships. I made a lot of angsty work about my relationships and experiences with men - like a strapless gown out of ex-boyfriends' boxer/briefs and a corset out of old love letters and take-out receipts, etc. It was very inward- focused, and about my own experience - which after a bit, just seemed kind of gross and silly because the world is much bigger than my tiny experience.

I wanted to find new ways to incorporate my ideas and aesthetic to a higher level that had a real purpose and celebrated other artists work and collaboration as well.

I began traveling to places where they practiced a specific fiber technique that I loved and wanted to work with like, Gujarati hand-embroidery, mashru, Rajasthani tie & dye, Moroccan rag-weaving, etc. I started by finding people in the local markets whose worked I really loved and asked them if they would be interested in collaborating on a project with me. It started in India, but now I am working with various artists in North Africa, Chile, Northern Australia, The Philippines, Mali and Mexico. 

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I'm sure you can write a book on this, but what can you tell us about India? Do you see any similarities between the cities you most frequently visit and Miami?

I am very drawn to individualism and self-expression. I see India as a place where most everyone is a bit of a crazy artist in the way they dress, and the colors they use and the things they make, and even in the way they decorate their tuk tuks. It is much more of a true individual culture, where people do things based on their own eye and taste rather than because of mass-marketing, and trying to look the same as everyone else.

I think Miami is similar in it's vibrance, and strong sense of culture, and weird little treasures that only Miami has. It is probably where I developed my taste for the sort of one-off, kitschy aesthetic I like.

Let's talk about the aesthetic of the line. How would you describe the look and feel of the clothes?

The clothing is all very literal - a bag, a short jacket, a skirt, a big dress - but made with unusual materials and attention to detail. Everything is made of natural materials - with the exception of some bags which are made by recycled fibers like woven plastics and metallic lame. All the textiles are made entirely by hand - woven, dyed, painted, printed, embroidered - by people who have learned the skills through generations of family tradition and art practice. The clothing definitely reflects this - an embroidered serpent motif has one wrong colored scale because the embroiderer ran out of that floss color- you can see the human hand in all of the pieces.

From where do you draw inspiration?

The vision I have for CISTANTHE is very literal interpretations of clothing and accessories with strange elements and handmade, off-kilter materials. I really like melodramatic colors, and things that are spontaneous and unexpected. I'm very inspired by Helen Frankenthaler, Frank O'Hara, Vanessa Bell and the Charleston Farmhouse.

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What do you mean when you say "experimental design"?

I call the design of CISTANTHE 'experimental' because the materials I use are unusual for clothing today and a lot of the work involves experimenting with shapes and textures - like sewing woven neon plastics into jackets, metallic disco bags made out of fabric from the Yoruba tribe in Benin, a fertility blouse with tiny hand-embroidered penises, and working with a woman in rural West Bengal to hand-loom a sheer cotton fabric with gold threads hand-tied into the weft to make a voluminous tea gown.

You travel quite a bit and recently shot some pictures that we're featuring here are mostly in Mexico. How much research and planning do you in advance so that you can work these images into your Cistanthe web and how much of it just kind of organically happens?

I'm always making new stuff, and thinking of new projects. When a bunch of new things pile up, I think of a way to photograph them for the website. I don't plan much at all.

What can you tell me about the technical part of all this? It sounds like each garment requires quite a bit of work.

I only make about 1-4 of each style, with the exception of a couple things which I happen to have lots of materials for, or if I have a specific order for many things. I start with research about a specific hand skill of an artist that I like and then I develop a textile design around the skill. Once finished, the textiles are sent to me in New York where I develop it into a finished garment.

How do you know when something is right for you? For example, the boucherouite seems to speak perfectly to your brand and project. When you first saw/heard of this process, what made you think – yes, let's turn that into modern little handbags.

I first became drawn to boucherouite work because of the amazing, modern colors and shapes and through meeting a man from Morocco whose mother and sisters all still lived in the High Atlas weaving boucherouite rugs for a living. The story behind the work is perfect too because it is a product of the overabundance of Western waste in their region. The Berbers began using Western clothing castoffs in the late 1960s when their natural resources like wool became scarce. I love the idea of something being aesthetically beautiful but also possessing a real response and purpose. The Berbers made the boucherouite weavings as rugs, a functional and decorative object in their homes. The genius of the technique becoming so popular and trendy here in the West, is that they are selling us back our trash - in an updated and interesting way.

I think they are great, loud elements to use. They remind me of psychedelic fur.

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Where can someone buy a Cistanthe product?

You can shop on the website, or if you are in New York you can go to XENOMANIA on East 6th Street in the East Village to see the pieces in person - as well as see Emilie Irving's incredible collection of antique costumes, textiles and jewelry!

 

all images via cistanthe.com