Jade’s been doing costume design for over ten years and recently moved to New Orleans, where she’s hoping to put on her first-ever show of glamorous, fantastical designs. Watch her at her sewing machine in her video above to get a wonderfully hypnotic glimpse of her work and her story. Below, she tells us about her craft, its place in the art world, and of course, her project, Animas.
Tell us what the show will be like. What kinds of costumes will you display? How will you present them? What’s the theme?
My show is going to be a gallery show and not at all like a runway show, although all of the pieces will be shown on live models. I want it to be more personal than that. I find runway shows and the fine art world in general to be quite cold. I want everyone there to feel like they are a part of what’s going on. I want them to get up close and see and feel and touch the costumes and feel like, “Yes, I could wear that. I WANT to wear that!”
The show is just at the beginning of our Mardi Gras season and the whole city is a stage. Everyone in walking around being who they aren’t or being what they wish they were, and it’s really magical.
The theme of the show is very animal based. Most of the costumes are interpretations of animals, although I have a few that walk the line between the animal world and the human world, like the Shaman and the Japanese Fox Spirit. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted when I was first approached for the show, but once I started brainstorming and doing some sketches everything just started turning up animals. So I went with it.
What have your costumes been used for in the past? Any plans for your costumes in the future?
My background in is theater. So I’ve done many many costumes for all sorts of plays and productions. I’ve done period costumes, costumes for puppets, and even a sea slug costume for a dance troupe. But most of my favorites have just been for me. I love to make and I don’t need too much of an excuse to whip up a costume.
I used to make one every year for my birthday. I was away from the theater for a lot of years and in the past few I’ve been getting back into it. I like the work. I want to keep with it because you never know what you are going to be asked to do, and it creates a lot of creative challenges. But if this show goes well, of course, I want to do more gallery shows. Anything, really, that let’s me keep creating and making my own art.
Tell us about the peacock costume in your video.
That peacock costume I made for a parade I was working on in Taipei, Taiwan. I was living over there for four months in 2009 doing an artists residency program with this wonderful organization called the Dream Community. Taiwan is still a very traditional place and very dominated by Chinese culture, which does not necessarily encourage personal expression. So the Dream Community was created by a group of artists and art lovers, and they invite foreign artists of all kinds to come over and facilitate workshops (mostly for parades) and teach people in communities all over the island how to paint or build costumes or build floats.
Parade art is so inclusive. You don’t have to be an artist but you can make art that your whole town can build together, enjoy, and show off. That peacock costume was for the Dream Community’s biggest event, the Dream Parade, which takes place in Taipei. I spent probably 60 hours on it and I just love it. It was the only costume I got to make for myself and I really put a lot of love into it. It was super fun parading through downtown Taipei. A weird, tattooed, American girl in a sort-of-pin-upy, blinged-out peacock costume. People went nuts for it.
How do you define and place costume in the art world?
I love this question! Up until just a couple hundred years ago when we didn’t have widely circulated fashion publications or television, fashion was much more personal. It told people where you were from, your social status, what you did for a living. Your skill and creativity and who you were were literally worn on your back. There was more time and detail put into what you wore because it reflected all of those things.
Costume and fashion were interchangeable. People were dressed to be seen and what they wore told a story. This is universal around the world. But with mass production, TV, fashion magazines, and the internet, we are living in a fast-paced, everything-is-disposable society. People are going to the grocery in their pajamas! And costumes are something cheap you pick up for Halloween or see in movies.
But I really see it as this deeply personal art. You put on a costume and you are transformed. Maybe you walk or talk differently. You might behave completely differently, in a way you would be too embarrassed to in your jeans and T-shirt. For some people when they put on a costume they become who they wish they were or it allows them to embrace and embody an aspect of themselves. You are creating a reality. That’s art.
And it is unfortunate that for the most part costume is seen as something for Renaissance Fairs, D&D sessions, and Cos-play geeks. But there is love and skill put into these pieces that is totally overlooked. Costume is not seen as fine art unless it’s antique or has the right fashion house’s label on it. It’s kind of a buzz kill for someone like me that has chosen to make a career out of it!
What inspired your move to New Orleans from New York?
I actually moved to New Orleans by accident. The first year I was very in and out (mostly out!) because I was traveling a lot and going back and forth between here and New York. I don’t really think I thought I was settling here. I was very very busy. There were about 14 months where I didn’t spend more than two months in any one city.
And I came back down here after being away in New York and Taiwan and out west for about nine months. I came in for a New Year’s party and thought at the time I would be going back to NYC at the end of the week. But then I found out some friends were getting married and I stayed. And then it was nearly Mardi Gras so I stayed to pick up some costume work and I fell in love… It just kept going on like that until I realized that I was living here. I just ran into a friend of mine last week and they said to me, “Oh, your still here!” It’s really funny. I haven’t left for a year now!
You’re preparing a mix CD for backers of tunes that get you through the building of the show. What kind of music can people expect?
I have an extremely eclectic taste in music. Folks can expect a wide range of musical styles. There is definitely going to be some Byrds, Dolly Parton, Witchcraft, Dark Dark Dark, and Justice. I like music I can sing along to when I’m working. It keeps that part of my brain that would be wandering busy.
What piece are you working on right now that you had to leave for a moment in order to answer this question?
Right now I’m working on an Elizabethan ruff for this polar bear costume. And those antlers for the Shaman costume just aren’t going to gold leaf themselves.
You can support Jade’s exhibition here.