Pretty as a picture: Wearable art
Photo by Ralph Stewart
When do jewelry, clothing, or accessories rise above just being something to wear?
That's the question we sought to answer when we visited Michael Hunter, gallery owner and fashion stylist, Stina Sayre, clothing designer, Ronni Simon, and Beth McElhiney, both jewelry designers and gallery owners. All four Islanders have built reputations for showing or creating art to wear.
For the past 15 years, Mr. Hunter's PIKNIK Art & Apparel in the Oak Bluffs Arts District has been a destination for those looking for the distinctive and unusual, from Objects Felt & Found necklaces by Penelope Weinstein to Vivienne Westwood's sculptural, and fashion-forward women's apparel.
Mr. Hunter's shop is a mélange of art, jewelry, fashion and accessories. Clothing is wearable art, he says, "...when a pair of pants isn't just a pair of pants, when a jacket is not just a jacket. It crosses into wearable art when a dress becomes an event."
Susan Oaken of West Tisbury, a painter and former photographer for Life magazine, concurs. She couldn't resist an Objects Felt & Found necklace. The one-of-a-kind, handcrafted concoctions are eye-catching mixtures of fiber and found objects — vintage puzzle and game pieces, bobbins, anything that designer Penelope Weinstein stumbles upon during her forays to antique shops and flea markets.
"As an artist, I'm drawn to it as a work of art," says Ms. Oaken. "Penelope's pieces are so interesting and have great energy and humor. I like one-of-a-kind things."
Mr. Hunter's many years in the fashion industry have sharpened his eye for the unusual. PIKNIK is brimming with wearable art, such as the vibrant resin-coated necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and purses by Brazilian designer Carlos Sobral that are practically guaranteed to provoke conversation.
PIKNIK also carries hats by Tracy Watts; chunky costume jewelry by Miriam Haskell; heirloom quality Italian leather bags, belts and accessories by Johnny Farah; and as Mr. Hunter says, "bejeweled, beflowered, and unbelievable" purses by Britain's MSL Designs.
Stina Sayre, Swedish designer of edgy, surprisingly affordable couture clothing and bags in Vineyard Haven, describes her handcrafted apparel as her "handwriting." Innovative yet classic, Ms. Sayre's signature look is becoming easier to spot and more prevalent around the Vineyard: Fine European fabrics, raw edges, asymmetric lines, decorative stitching, and unexpected mixtures of all the aforementioned.
Her Edwardian metallic "rock 'n' roll" coat, iridescent silk velvet camisole trimmed in French silk chiffon, fleece-lined fitted aviator jacket with asymmetric zipper and fingerless fur-trimmed gloves leap across the boundary that divides ordinary fashion from the truly memorable.
"Clothing is the supporting actor in a person's life," Ms. Sayre explains. "My clothing, like an artist's work, takes weeks to develop from idea to pattern to finished piece." Her collection is available at her studio and retail boutique just across from the Black Dog Tavern on Beach Street Extension.
Jewelry designer and co-owner of The Simon Gallery, Ronni Simon shares retail space on Main Street in downtown Vineyard Haven with her husband, photographer Peter Simon. She's been handcrafting one-of-a-kind lariats, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and wedding jewelry for the past five years. Her signature pieces are intricately and delicately crocheted metal frameworks adorned with semi-precious stones and freshwater pearls.
"Wearable art is as beautiful on someone as off," Ms. Simon says. "My jewelry can be worn with tee-shirts, jeans, all the time," she says. "It doesn't have to go with anything. I design it so it can stand on its own." Unusual yet accessible, many of her pieces can also be personalized by the wearer, adaptable by knotting or turning them around to suit different moods and looks. Expanding her vision beyond what is designed for wear, she also creates fine art pieces for display on a wall.
Designer Beth McElhiney's gallery on State Road in Vineyard Haven is a showcase for her extensive line of fine jewelry. Her modern designs, all one-of-a-kind pieces, are inspired, she says, by ancient styles of metalworking. A jeweler first, she says she considers her larger pieces wearable art.
"My clients buy my bold, large-scale pieces to wear to the opera or gallery openings," she explains. "Then they move on to more everyday pieces."
Her work evolves organically, based on the materials she chooses. She dubs a recent collection "classy steampunk," paying homage to the subculture that borrows from both the antique and the futuristic. Her more traditional cuff and tribal bracelets are easily recognizable and intricately detailed. "They require a huge amount of labor," she says. An enthusiastic world travel, Ms. McElhiney borrows patterns and symbols from other cultures for use in her work in order to, as she says, "evoke memory while retaining a modern sensibility."
Art to wear, from head to toe, can be found at galleries and boutiques across the Vineyard. The only limit is your imagination and your desire to stand out from the crowd.
PIKNIK Art & Apparel, 99 Dukes County Avenue, Oak Bluffs; Stina Sayre, 13 Beach Street Extension, Vineyard Haven; Simon Gallery, 54 Main Street, Vineyard Haven; Beth McElhiney Gallery, 383 State Road, Vineyard Haven.