Meeting new people can provide a plethora of inspiration especially when they bring a new perspective to a city and industry I have grown to love! Last week I had the chance to sit down with Victoria Cates, a Couture artist who recently moved to St. Louis from the Big Apple. We talked city living in the Lou compared to New York and the pursuit of a dream job that has become an undervalued part of the fashion industry since the rise of fast fashion.
Kasper Woldtvedt: You just moved to St. Louis from New York in November, what were you up to in the Big Apple?
Victoria Cates: Essentially just trying to make ends meet. I grew up in the suburbs of New York so I decided to move back home after getting my degree from a small school in LA called The Academy of Couture Art. Even before graduating, I was offered an internship by Nicole Miller herself based on my portfolio, so moving back seemed like the best option for my career. After that internship ended, I attempted to play the corporate fashion game, until I realized just how impossible it would be for me to fit into the commercial “box” that everyone wanted me to fit into. Being a starving artist also wasn’t an option. After all, this ain’t New York in the 70’s! So despite the existential crisis, it seemed like the universe listened because I was quickly provided with what would become my absolute dream job. I became the associate designer of a couture-level accessories startup called Jankele. I was there for about 3 years developing techniques in embroidery that I never knew were even possible. To name a few, we created mohawks entirely out of amethyst and citrine crystals that stood on end, and sewed giant pyrite rocks with fishing line onto wired leather. We truly made magic happen there. Unfortunately, when something seems too good to be true, chances are it probably is. So the dream finally ended and reality set in. The company disbanded and I was left to my own devices. All I was armed with was an undervalued, under appreciated old-world skill in a fast-paced city. At this point, I gave it a year to find work somehow related to what I’d been doing, but I soon realized the opportunities were few and far between – not to mention the unlivable wages. It didn’t take long for me to start resenting New York because of this. It definitely broke my heart to say the least.
KW: A background in couture, how in the world does one decide to pursue that?!
VC: I think it came from the combination of my lifelong love for art, mixed with my undeniable obsession with fashion – both of which were apparent from a young age. I always loved both and often wrestled with both for years at a time seeing which one would win, but they generally came out even. I think this is when I decided that Haute Couture was as close a marriage of the two as it could get.
KW: Why St. Louis?
VC: Well, I was really and truly suffering in NY. I knew I had to leave one way or another. All I wanted was to find a way to sustain my life by doing what I love and also being able to enjoy it. Is that so much to ask!? (haha) So, St. Louis first came onto my radar screen when my good friend Katy moved here from Brooklyn to open up her store, Living Collective, last year. She then hired my sister, who followed suit. It was really hard to see them go, but I also thought, “Hey, there must be something to this place. I’ve been hearing a lot of good things lately.” So I decided to help my sister move and see it for myself. Needless to say I fell in love. I was shocked by the cost of living and even more so by the amount of friendly, creative, interesting and even fashionable people! I felt like I’d discovered a hidden treasure.
KW: Is there anything you have noticed about the style in St. Louis compared to NY?
VC: Honestly, I judge style not so much on trendiness, but mostly on uniqueness. You find a lot more people sporting the latest trends on the streets of NY, which can almost seem like an endless runway at times. There’s the deception that these people are more stylish than others because they look “chic” and “put together”. The fact is that many of them worked a little too hard to look that way. I’m mostly attracted to those that tote their own unique style that isn’t forced and can’t be cited by anything obvious. I find that there’s a lot of that here in St. Louis because when fashion’s not constantly shoved in your face, you have to get creative. You have to find a way to make that weird vest you found at Goodwill with the dogs all over it look fresh and fun.
KW: After seeing your work in person, it is incredibly detailed. Tell me a little bit about your studio practice.
VC: The nice thing about my studio practice is that it doesn’t have to be in my studio. I can spend hours working on a piece from pretty much anywhere I want. My favorite things to do while I’m working are to marathon “watch” mindless TV shows or sit outside in the park with friends during the nicer months. I’d say the hardest part of what I do is the design process. That’s when I have to sit down and really concentrate on coming up with a concept, do the research, make a bunch of drafts and then come up with the final design to be embroidered. Most of the work is just patience. It’s probably the only thing in the world that I actually have patience for.
KW: What inspires you?
VC: Where to begin? Well, I love love love animals and everything about them. I love old architectural details and old houses. I love historical Americana and folk crafts. I’m very into classical things mixed with kitsch. I think a lot of my inspiration comes from the years I spent living in Salem, Massachusetts (of the Salem Witch Trials) and the strange sort of mystical romance surrounding such an awful time in history.
KW: How would you describe your style?
VC: That’s something I’ve always had trouble with. I think because it’s so eclectic. According to my boyfriend, it can be described as “adult baby” (haha). I wear a lot of babydoll dresses and oversized cardigans topped with berets or knit hats. I like whimsical things like animal-shaped pins, flower hair clips and antique fur stoles. Sometimes when it’s cold I do what I call my “confused grandmother” look, which is like a maxi dress with a bunch of knits layered over it and a giant fur cowl to top it off.
KW: We spoke about the nature of your work and the timeless quality of the artistry while also holding a functional purpose at times. I am curious about your thoughts on fast fashion and the direction of the industry from your perspective.
VC: I think there will always be a need for things to be made quickly, cheaply and disposable. The way the consumer is now, and will be in the future, will only want for that much more. My only hope is that we can eventually find a safe, sustainable way to do this because it cannot continue the way it’s going for much longer. I think it’s great what Hanger is doing because it’s an example of one of the ways that we can begin going about changing our blind consumption of fast fashion and becoming more conscious of how we spend our money on clothes. We weren’t raised as our grandparents were with the idea that each article of clothing in our closet is an investment and is to be cherished, mended and treated with care. We live in a time of excess. Not to say that either way is necessarily bad or good, but that we need to reach some sort of middle ground where quality is respected, even desired again, but choice and affordability aren’t compromised. I do what I do because it is a true labor of love. A labor that in some capacity will always be appreciated and sought after, especially in a time when it’s so scarce. I want to be a part of the effort to bring back these archaic crafts and expose them to the world again. So many people desire to own something special and personal, which the current fashion market cannot provide. I want to be that option for them. I want to help bring that bit of couture magic back into the world again.
Check out Victoria’s work on her Instagram account, @potion23embroidery!
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Kasper Woldtvedt - Fashion Engagement Manager, Hanger.io Kasper leads fashion engagement and fashion-related business development initiatives for Hanger. She attends events all around the world, ready to pick the brains of fashionistas, creatives, entrepreneurs, and business owners to see how the Hanger platform can support their efforts. In her free time you can find her at a local music venue or eating a burrito.
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