The Genteel
November 23, 2017
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STATE clothing lookbook images. Source: shop-state.com.

A collection of unusual, carefully arranged objects - metallic snake skin, braided hair and felted strips - adorn the walls and shelves of artist and designer Adrienne Antonson's Brooklyn studio. My eyes are quickly drawn to a beautifully preserved white moth in a wooden display case; leaning in for a closer look, Antonson reveals that it's not an insect I'm looking at, but a meticulously sculpted batch of hair! 

Adrienne Antonson's hair insects collection. Source: adrienneantonson.com.
Adrienne Antonson's hair-y insect collection.
Source: adrienneantonson.com.

With a deep appreciation for the natural world and an astute sense of aesthetics, Antonson is a woman of many trades. Constantly finding ways to repurpose materials from her surroundings, Antonson's studio is filled with materials she has collected from across America; she also runs a clothing line called STATE and - as I had just seen with my own eyes - sculpts insects from recycled human hair.

Antonson's infatuation with hair dates back to her childhood. Raised by a mother who had a habit of safeguarding family hair clippings, the topic of hair was a regular part of life. Over the years, Antonson began to explore how she could incorporate this strange family tradition into her creative work. She started sniping, gluing, painting and building with the fine strands and eventually a collection of fine insects was formed.

What began as a quiet sculpting practice quickly became a public spectacle when a post featured on the website, 1800recycling.com, went viral. Antonson's insects had taken flight around the world overnight, appearing in print and online publications and ushering in a flood of responses. Some people were repulsed by the fact that human hair had been used; others were intrigued and applauded Antonson for the beauty and detail she had achieved in each small creature. Even her family in Turkey contacted her to say they had seen her work in the local newspaper.

They really made my inner 10-year-old excited to think that… my friends' and my own DNA is in the Ripley's collection.

Ripley's, the distributor of odd and amazing things to museums and attractions across the world, soon caught wind of the delicate creatures and contacted Antonson to inquire about purchasing ten of her insects to add to their permanent collection. Ripley's was so happy with the response, it ordered ten more. Antonson was amazed: "They really made my inner 10-year-old excited to think that… my friends' and my own DNA is in the Ripley's collection."

While Antonson continues to sculpt insects from human hair, including clippings she receives in the mail from friends, family and even kids she once babysat, she now devotes much of her attention to her clothing label, STATE. The devoted designer works out of her Gowanus studio with a small team in an intimate setting that reflects her attention to detail and her DIY style.

Most of the materials for STATE garments originate from thrift stores or are salvaged from her local surroundings. These old materials are given a new life: reconstructed into smock dresses, silk tops, trousers and skirts that drape loosely and are meant to be styled in multiple ways for various body types.

"I like things that are directly in my path," states Antonson. "While STATE is growing and I'm having to do things with new fabrics that I can order and have an endless supply of, it's really important to me to keep a lot, or a couple of product lines and create new product lines that are made from existing materials because that's what really inspires me and what I get passionate about with fashion. That's where I can help to somehow make a tiny dent in the amount of waste that there is and not be buying new things."

Adrienne Antonson
Adrienne Antonson.
Photograph by Amanda Coen.

Working in an industry that is often associated with trends and waste is not always easy for someone like Antonson, who is used to setting her own agenda. She takes a thoughtful and handcrafted approach to fashion, thinking meticulously about the details of each garment and people involved in the process of its making.

When asked about her feelings towards the pressure to operate according to the fashion calendar, Antonson replied: "I think it's wasteful. I think it's so stressful. I don't think it's effective. I think it's putting priorities and time and money in the wrong areas. It's not how I think about fashion."

And it isn't how she acts. Much like how Antonson approached her insect work, she has quietly been building her fashion label, working according to her own ethics and rules, and meanwhile has been gaining attention in a somewhat accidental manner.

Her signature smock dress caught the eye of one of the organisers of the D&A (Designers and Agents) trade show, who gave her a booth in the Green Room at the New York edition of the show this past month. As a result, Antonson received several orders and is in talks with some major stores who are interested in carrying her label. Perhaps sticking to her own rules will pay off once again and make a small dent in an industry that is obsessed with excess.

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