Working With the Works of Women, No.1

Women In Public, by Elaine Kahn

Poetry, for me, is purely a process of interpretation. When reading a new text, I find that certain groups of words resonate with me more than others. Whether this is due to a current understanding of the world, or simply a liking of an author's word choice, I notice that I begin to pick, collect, and compile phrases from poetry.

This process of selecting passages and rearranging them into new formats is a way of understanding art through a self-oriented set of lens. Rearrangement of an already produced work then becomes a way to create and navigate art, written word, in a more intimate manner. With this approach, art can take on a uniqueness represented by a disordering of one's order into newly created patterns.


How can poetry be transferred into fashion? Similarly, to how one can read and rearrange words to create their own “poems” or means of understanding, I take certain phrases and express them through sketches. 

An outfit may aim to express the mood of a poem, or it may aim to sew together certain components of a poem. 

For Kahn’s “Negative Desire” phrases such as “There is nothing wrong with being sensitive”; “I make myself into a line”; and “The black boxes of my body floating just above the earth” all feed into my design. 

This poem is seemingly dark, as we read mention of potential murder, and a wanting to disappear. Nonetheless, these words are written and living in the world. If they were to be transferred through the art of fashion, how could they be represented? 

I started by chopping up tracing paper into tiny boxes. The translucent nature of these sheets emphasizes this want to “make [oneself] into a line.” Then through adding color tints and layering sheets, I sketched black marks around a variety of boxes to directly relate to Kahn’s mention of boxes. As the voice of the poem mentions the floating nature of boxes, this dress is likewise lightweight and almost hovering. 

At first glance this dress is opposite to Kahn’s poem. It is nowhere near dark, and it in no way causes one to disappear (if we imagine one wearing it). Because this poem has been represented as graceful and elegant, we are led to question is pain beautiful or should it be represented as so?

Is it appropriate to grab inspiration from words and translate their meaning into something else? 

My focus with this piece is to cause individuals to ask “how?” and “why?” At first it is obvious to ask: How do these two connect? and Why was this poem represented in this way? But what if we asked “What?” 
What is the responsibility of the designer? 

It is known that the world is far from utopic. So, what does this mean for fashion designers that draw inspiration from the world around them? If fashion has a responsibility to translate poems, movies, novels, magazines, current events, and even moments between individuals into the art of fabric, then they will indefinitely come across the challenge of relaying a dark message. 

I ask you, the reader, the viewer, is it responsible to depict something sad, dreary, yet unavoidably there, as beautiful? 

A portion of the poem "Be A Friend" From Elaine Kahn's Women IN Public


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