How is it that you became a fashion designer?
I have always loved beautiful clothes. Dress-up was my favorite game to play as a child. My mother gave me huge bags of fancy vintage clothes to adorn myself in, and I would always put together these elaborate ensembles.
At the age of 5, my mom taught me to make my Barbie's poodle skirts. By the time I was 11, I had already taken some fashion illustration classes, and by 13, I was making my own wacky ensembles by reconstructing vintage pieces, covering them in poetry and wearing them to school.
I started Papusza Couture when I was 22. Nothing makes me feel as alive as making strange beautiful clothes does. It drives me, and ultimately, it's what I live for.
Many things inspire me. Although I find inspiration in what is commonly seen as beauty, most of my inspiration comes from darkness. I think that my taking things in nature, and exhibiting how they can become beautiful when they die, is a good way of illustrating the bigger picture. My way of doing this is creating dresses out of things from nature.
That being said, my fascination with the dark side is one of the ways in which I am able to explore myself. To everyone else, it may just look like a wild dress, but to me, it is the holder of all my deepest and darkest secrets. So, to answer your question, what inspires my vision is my need to show the world my dark side and to demonstrate that the morbid can be beautiful.
Photo by Dan Santoso
Here's how you describe your work on the fashion site, Not Just a Label: "Dresses and separates designed to culminate the idea of 'pretty ugly'....Some include bird carcass, taxidermy and skulls." That's pretty dark stuff! Please tell me what's behind 'ugly' and the use of dead things?
Part of the reason death is very important to me, and a huge part of who I am as an artist, is because I see my using things from nature as a way of conveying life cycles in the female form.
Not only that, I find the use of taxidermy, bones and other animal matter (for example fur or leather) as a form of recycling and reusing the resources that nature has given us. I feel very strongly about this and view it as being very green, so long as the animal materials are from an already dead animal and I am not killing it for my own profit.
I think that by taking things in nature and exhibiting how they can become beautiful when they die is a good way of illustrating the bigger picture. I think it is my job, as an artist, to try and push cycles, and how they exist in nature, back into the world of fashion.
Photo by Maike
In regards to the why behind the "ugly": I think people forget that beauty is in the unexpected. A part of being beautiful is going through the life cycle.
I design for the woman who is not afraid to think outside of the box and push boundaries. I like rebels and people who are not afraid of what others think. I design for the art girl, the dreamer, the rule breaker and those who are not afraid to feel.
I am a very conceptual designer. The way I view my collections is like a book, with each dress representing a different character or chapter.
I know that you greatly admired the work of the late designer Alexander McQueen. What other designers do you admire who do handmade work?
In terms of couture, I absolutely adore the works of a couple of friends of mine who are designers in Europe. One is the brilliant menswear designer, Maleen Dalan, based out of Norway. The other is my friend Greg Maldoror, an extremely talented couture designer, based out of Warsaw, Poland. They are both artists, in the truest sense of the word.
I am also very inspired by the work of my best friend, who is an artisan and jewelry designer, Kati Williams. She has a series of fine art and jewelry work she calls Desideria Adame. She designed a collection of jewelry to accompany my Oceania Etherea collection. She is my creative soul mate, and I hope to someday to open a boutique or gallery with her we would call Desideria Papusza. We also have plans for more intensive fine art projects in the upcoming year or so.
Please tell me about the dresses below.
These pieces are from my most recent collection, Oceania Etherea, a conceptual collection, inspired by the idea of birds living at the bottom of the ocean. I made the entire collection in different shades of blue and green, with accents in gold, silver, brown, beige and white.
The tutu (above) is made with white and black tulle and is hand dyed. The capelette, which can also be worn as a waist piece layered over a skirt or pants, is made out of antique lace. It closes using a loop hole and a seashell, which was found on the beach in Florida; I drilled a hole into it and turned it into a button.
I used many things that were found on the beach in this collection, including shells, seagull wings, bird bones and feathers. One of my favorite outfits from this collection, a bodice and skirt, are embellished by varying parts of a seagull I found on the Oregon coast: wings, bones and feathers, all from the same bird. It was my way of honoring this bird and turning it into something that can live forever.
The skirt (above) is made of mink, but has a bustle made from the wings of the seagull. The top is embellished with feathers and bones from the same seagull. However, the base of the bodice is Italian leather, and the neckline is made of rabbit fur, raccoon fur and it even has a raccoon paw on it.
My Bloody Swan dress (below) was photographed by the talented Elizabeth Raab, one of my favorite people to work with. A few years back, when I was still living in Seattle, I did a collection of dresses called "Sleeping on the Wind," an ode to dead birds and how I felt they connected me to the afterlife. The dresses were splatter painted by a painter friend of mine in Seattle named Dmitri Nishman to create the effect that the bird has been massacred. The gown is made of tea-stained satin and antique lace. It has about a million little buttons on it, and it took me many hours to create. It is one of my favorite pieces to date.
I see that your creations are made in New York City. Do you do all the actual work or do others help you?
I do about 90% of it myself, including all the conceptualizing, design work, sewing, pattern making, textile design and construction. In the past, I had done all the hand-work, too, but on my most recent collection, my dear friend, Rachel Singer, helped me with embellishment and decor on a handful of the garments.
What are some of your favorite things to do in New York City?
The beauty of New York is that it is full of magical surprises. And within that my favorite New York activities exist. They are all ordinary in the eyes of a New Yorker, but completely surreal if you are coming into them from other parts of the country or world (NOTE: Papusza moved to New York from Seattle).
I love going to Coney Island. It is one of my favorite places on the planet. When I am there, a creative energy comes through me that I have never felt anywhere else. One of my favorite times of year to go there is in the winter, especially if it has recently snowed. One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen is Coney Island at night, covered in the snow. It's really quite breathtaking, something I would dream about. I mean, there you are, standing on a beach covered in snow, while snow is falling all around you. If you look out across the ocean, you see snowflakes falling into the sea and melting as they hit the waves. The horizon disappears into a misty fog, and it looks as if the sky does not exist. On the other side of you are the lights of Manhattan, blurred in the distance, and then in the foreground, a vacant amusement park makes creaking noises as the wind blows through it. The rides are all vibrant with color, lit by streetlights and swaying in the movement of the wind as snow falls like dust around them. It is really quite surreal and poetic....
I recently read somewhere that "New York is a drug, and I'm addicted." I concur!
What's coming up for you this year?
I have so much going on. It's a little overwhelming, but it's also very exciting. Right now, I am working on a couple of costume design projects for a couple female performers whose work I really love. I will be showing in a group art show called the "Desire Show" at the Chelsea Hotel in May.
I am also working on a new collection, which I plan to show at an indie designer event during fashion week in September. I plan to make many pieces in this collection available via made-to-order. I'll also be selling in a boutique in New York and possibly in Europe as well.
I also want to apply for a handful of artist residencies, some in the states and some international. This is for another, more fine art orientated project which I am currently culminating.