Kristin Mallison’s tapestry corsets are a playful, punk take on femininity
Kristin Mallison’s tiny Ridgewood studio is covered in scraps of fabric. There are needlepoint pastoral scenes, vibrant jacquards, vintage ’70s rug suitcases that have been torn at the seams and floral designs that she has made a habit of patching together in corsets from lace-up tapestry. You’ve probably seen them in the cult New York boutique Cafe Forgot or on Instagram, maybe on Barbie Ferreira or Nadia Lee Cohen. Like most corsets, Kristin’s unique designs create a sculptural effect on the wearer, but they lack boning, meaning they hug the body and showcase it in its many shapes and forms. This is also perhaps why the pieces sell out so quickly when dropped off on her site, making portable artwork hard to get your hands on.
Kristin studied fashion design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, but first became interested in working with upholstery fabrics through her day job at an interior design firm and frequenting thrift stores. local. She made patchwork shirts and recycled fabrics she found when she discovered Cafe Forgot and influenced by their hyper feminine yet modern punk aesthetic. “Everything was happening at the same time. I was thinking of interior fabrics, but [so were] super sexy silhouettes. This combination – sexy interiors – took me in that direction, ”says Kristin.
The designer’s latest collection, Le Jardin, expands her signature tapestry corsets and skirts with intricate quilts and fringes, as well as custom sheer floral fabric and reused ballet shoes. Here, alongside pictures of David Spector, Kristin tells us all about the transformation of discarded furniture into viral wearable clothing.
Kristine! Tell us about your designs. How did you come to work with the tapestry?
KM: Because I have been working in interior design for a few years, I am very influenced by the techniques of upholstery and sewing. Tapestry isn’t necessarily something we do at the company I work for, but it definitely influences the way I make clothes. I am interested in vintage, whereas the company I work for is modern.
True tapestry is when the threads are woven in a way that creates an image. I’m so interested in all these different textile techniques that were handmade, and really old. Research on embroidery began in Egyptian times. It’s like a history lesson. He guides me through everything I do. It’s not really about me, it’s more about the textiles that already exist. I’m trying to find the best way to do them justice in a wearable sense, as these aren’t usually intended clothes. It’s a constant treasure hunt.
How do you go about sourcing your fabrics and materials?
I like to start saving around Brooklyn, but it takes forever. I could go to several different stores and find one thing, so the online auctions have been a godsend. Live Auctioneers are not as mainstream as eBay or Etsy. It’s really rare things that are like, around 1850, or something like that. It’s a little scary to be honest because it’s of great value – you compete with other people and you get this thing. Do I really want to desecrate it by cutting it up? I might have gotten a thing or two this way, but sourcing is a daily thing.
Do most of the tapestries you work with come from interiors, like cushions and furniture?
Most of the time, I remove the tapestries from the frames. Or dining chairs, the seat of which is padded. I’ll get one with a broken leg that someone just got rid of for free. I also found things on the street. Some of my best finds I picked up on the street. I don’t have a lot of these fabrics. Maybe I’ll have a piece, then I have to make it work on three clothes or something like that …
These little tapestries seem to be made a lot in the 60’s to 80’s. People made little pillows and covered benches, maybe those little tapestry handbags. Every now and then I get some manufacturing information on the back. It’s really interesting when there’s an image of something that refers to another era – sometimes it’s people in the 60s or 70s portraying a traditional Japanese kimono. The [tapestries] which present human scenes are always more interesting.
I am also very interested in ballet. A great thing that motivates the materials I choose is to try to [solve] a problem. Lots of tapestries, especially upholstery fabrics, are thrown on Craigslist, and these things are gorgeous. It’s a wasteful issue that I’m trying to solve by reusing these parts. With ballet slippers they are beautiful, but professional ballet dancers go through a pair week. It’s super wasteful. And they’re really expensive, too. They’re like, I don’t know, $ 100 a pair? How many hours did they put in? The wear is also very interesting.
Corsets and skirts are all very feminine. And ballet, traditionally, is too. Is there something that specifically attracts you to these shapes and materials?
All of these things are hyper-feminine. I think we can say it officially. I really try to be playful with this whole notion of what defines femininity. I identify as a female person, [but] I don’t think I’m super feminine. The subject intrigues me. Many of these ancient embroidery techniques are performed by women or considered to be feminine crafts. Seeing this level of hand-embroidered detail, textiles are simply everything. I try not to make extravagant silhouettes. I just like to keep it very simple and let it speak for itself.
So once you find something, what does your process look like? How do you go from a piece of fabric to the final product?
If the fabric itself is something super special, like heartbreakingly beautiful, it has to go to the center of the front of the body because it has to be the first thing someone sees when they see you. This will usually determine if I am not going to make a corset or a skirt. And then usually I try to find other fabrics, maybe something that I found a few yards away from the 70s fabric, and a patchwork around that really special thing. I’ll find ways to build around and support it, but not take away. Yeah, first I find which of my finds are the most epic.
All of this work was born when I got involved with Cafe Forgot. They focus a lot on hyper-femininity, heightened sexuality, almost like a caricature in a way that seems very feminist but punk at the same time. I love it and I think their whole aesthetic really affected where I was going to go [with my designs].
You studied fashion at Pratt. When did you start making clothes?
Yeah, and the whole program is there [focused on] durability. I have always been very fond of punk music and crafts in high school, and I enjoy hand-sewing pieces of plaid together. I was in savings. And handmade. Poorly handmade, even, as an aesthetic. I remember I had this skirt that I made out of different little pieces of fabric that I had pieces of, then 200 safety pins that just held all those pieces together. There were a few skirts like this one I made for Cafe Forgot with all of my leftover stuffed parts. I sewed it together to make it strong enough to survive, but it’s really my roots, raw edges and everything. It shouldn’t be too pretty. I want to do pretty things that are messy in a way.
Regarding this new collection of pieces that you have imagined, Le Jardin, what were your inspirations or intentions?
I was trying to elaborate on the classic corset. Patchwork definitely, layering a lot of the same objects on top of each other, like with the ballerina [corset] and with this dress. I was trying to find a way to make my own textile through individual flowers; they are just sewn together. I also wanted it to be something that was barely there. I think it’s just a moment of hyper femininity. I think if I had to develop I would probably continue to research vintage dance costumes and find ways to make them modern and wearable.
‘The Garden’ is available for purchase on November 20, here.
Photography David Spector
Hair and Makeup Haydyn Lazarus
Artistic direction Brigitte Crisp
Model Tia Jonsson
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