This blog post (my second in a series of posts featuring creative, young, female entrepreneurs) is based on a written interview that I did with Chloe Coltharp, a Fashion Design and Merchandising Student at Drexel’s Westphal School of Art and Design. I asked Chloe to describe her first creative experience; I asked her about her influences and I asked her who she considers her artistic ancestors. These are the same questions that my instructors posed to me when I was a college student, studying painting, thirty-some years ago. Although these questions got me thinking about my place in the creative world and in the trajectory of the history of art, they are basically un-answerable: only time can answer these questions: time spent – hours and years, in the studio, creating a body of work.
And now, about Chloe…
Chloe Coltharp grew up outside of Pittsburgh in a small borough called Bradford Woods with her parents and brother. Bradford Woods was developed in the early 1900’s as a summer getaway for Pittsburgh’s city-dwellers. The homes, built on large, tree-laden plots, are more modern than the majority of Pittsburgh. Chloe’s childhood home was mid-century modern in style with an open floor plan and an entire wall of windows, providing a warmth of natural light. Her grandfather’s home, also contemporary in design, had an Eames lounge and cantilever chairs. Growing up surrounded by modern shapes set in a natural environment was a force in the development of Chloe’s aesthetic sensibilities and is reflected today in the juxtaposition of the angular and the organic in her fashion designs.
Both of Chloe’s parents were architects and so Chloe grew up in a household that encouraged the exploration of the visual arts. When she was four years old, they enrolled her in art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art. One of her clearest childhood memories is walking through the museum after class and being awed by the colors, shapes and emotion of the art exhibited on the walls. Her reaction was completely instinctual and unbiased. Chloe knew then that she wanted to be an artist when she grew up.
Chloe enrolled at Drexel University as a Fashion Design major; her early experiences at the Carnegie Museum of Art influenced her decision to minor in Art History. Her interest in art history is a big influence on her fashion aesthetic.
Her fashion silhouettes reflect a Post-Impressionist emphasis on the formal elements of shape, line, and composition.
Renaissance art is another influence. Below is a dress design inspired by Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli’s famous painting, “The Birth of Venus”. One can see the scallop-shape reflected in the ruffle of the dress and it’s off the shoulder silhouette and model’s stance reflect Venus’s pose.
In addition to being influenced by the art of the Renaissance era, Chloe is also influenced by its fashion. Her ruffled collar (pictured below) is reminiscent of the detachable collars worn in the 15th and 16th centuries by Renaissance women and men. Its adornment with screen printed hair combs is not only a nod to grooming implements of the era, but it is also a subconscious nod to the commonplace objects used as subject matter in the screen prints of Pittsburgh’s most famous son, Andy Warhol.
They also tell a story. Hair combs are an intimate part of a grooming ritual. This collar evokes an image of a woman sitting at a vanity, gazing at her reflection in the mirror. She fastens the buttons on the bodice of her dress. She places the collar around her neck and ties its black satin ribbon into a bow. She runs a comb through her hair. Satisfied, she is ready to face the world.
This desire to tell a story first began for Chloe during a visit to a Paris flea market. She found a skeleton key and placed it on a chain that she wore around her neck. She was curious about the key’s backstory: where did it come from, what did it open? She began actively looking for other curios. When she returned home from Paris, she found her grandfather’s baby spoons which she then turned into charms. She loved how the act of wearing these objects felt experiential. It made her think about clothing design and how fashion is an act of self-expression. Fashion tells a story about who we are – our moods, our personality, our history, even our sense of humor. Through the clothes that we choose to wear, we write the story of who we are.
When I asked Chloe who her artistic ancestor was, she mentioned being inspired by contemporary British designer, Simone Rocha. I can see that – Rocha’s work similarly has a strong art history influence.
I mentioned Andy Warhol as a possible artistic ancestor, but Chloe didn’t see it because of his Pop Art leanings. But I would like to suggest, Chloe, that you take another look.
Andy Warhol’s style and execution may not speak to you, but I feel his connection to you – not just in his interest in screen printing and the repetition of commonplace objects in his art and his Pittsburgh roots – but also because of his penchant for storytelling.
There is a collection of ephemera and objects that Warhol collected during his life and his travels that is displayed at the Andy Warhol Museum (Have you been there? It is amazing.) These objects had a life all their own and their stories sparked his imagination and his creativity.
Chloe, I hope that someday, in the future, maybe when you are my age, you will look back, read this, and think about who you were then, and who you are now. Perhaps it will show you how far you have come; perhaps it will remind you of how much you are the same!