Fashion: In the right spirit

Susan Cianciolo's traditional methods and DIY aesthetic may fly in the face of US fashion industry wisdom, but her designs are undeniably modern - and otherworldly

Fashion and humanity are never diametrically opposed in Susan Cianciolo's clothing. The human touch is ever present in the 29-year-old American designer's hand-stitched creations.

"The fall collection was extremely ornamented," she says of this season's offering. "Because of the amount of stitching and tiny beads that were added to each piece it was really just too much. The work to make that collection was so time-consuming and we're still doing special order pieces now."

But then ever since she sent out her first own-line collection - or "Run Collection" as she puts it - in 1995, for Cianciolo the emphasis has been on labour-intensive, traditional methods where each piece is limited (to three maximum) and is always different because of the way it's made (the garments are often hand-embroidered and treated) and because of the fabrics used (for the current collections these are predominantly antique).

"I believe that we all really put everything we possibly can into each piece; they are all very honest and have a lot of research behind them," she says.

"In the first collection, in 1995, there were handmade textiles that my friend helped me with. For the second collection, my roommate did all of the knitting for me, so it's always come from that mentality."

Cianciolo is also a strong supporter of "customisation", with its tendency to reconstruct as opposed to deconstruct. "I have been trying to promote it for a long time now; to take your own initiative and have your own mind. Now maybe a lot of people don't feel they have the time for it, or they just don't make time any more."

In opposition to the super-slick, super-commercial US fashion industry, Cianciolo can be seen as having an affinity with young designers with a similar approach based in Britain, such as Noki, Anne Sofie Back and Russell Sage - all kindred spirits in their leanings towards the DIY aesthetic. But it is British new traditionalist Jessica Ogden who is regarded as being most closely aligned with Cianciolo. "We've done a lot of pieces together," Cianciolo says of Ogden. "She's a very, very good friend and I'm a huge supporter of her work."

In both designers' output there seems to be an interest in, and qualities of, the past - memory and tradition disrupted by an anarchic edge. Their clothing has an other-worldly quality, appearing to come from a different time but still very modern. As Cianciolo says: "Sometimes I feel there is a certain care put into clothes, like making a really special cake that your grandmother taught you the recipe for."

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