Really Cool Artist: Crowned Bird

One year ago, I wrote an annoying little essay about how I don’t believe in blindly supporting Art with a capital A. I believe in voting with your dollar and supporting art that is truly good, and if that means skipping the occasional night of spoken word in favor of staying home and reading Borges, so be it. But I’ve decided to start practicing what I preach because nature abhors a hypocritical vacuum, know wha’m saying? Welcome to my new series, cleverly titled “Really Cool Artist,” in which I interview (=flatter) an amazing independent artist in an attempt to psychoanalyze their genius, improve my own creative karma, and introduce you all to people who are doing things that are fascinating, beautiful, and very cool.

Priscilla of Crowned Bird may not know this, but she was the inspiration for this series. I found her fashion line through a series of random internet clicks, and I fell in love with the shapes and colors and fabrics of her dreamy, imaginative lookbook. Her visual aesthetic is exquisite, and since she was kind enough to answer my manic questions, you’ll see that her mental aesthetic (is that a thing?) is just as cool. If you’re inspired by her creative swagger, please flit over to her Kickstarter account and dive into your weekly coffee budget to support her dream.

Tell me a little bit about your (gorgeous amazing must-have-it-all) collection.

My launch collection for fall is what I consider my idealized dreamworld. I wanted to design a brand for like-minded ladybirds of my generation, a select group of people who are always looking towards the past in order to relate to our current lifestyles. I designed it for those of us who use our spare time to rummage through vintage stores and flea markets. It’s as though we need nostalgia to feel at home, to feel unique. I enjoy being surrounded by treasures that not everyone can have, but anyone can enjoy. I wanted to design a collection that summed up all those values.

Was there a specific moment when you decided that this was your dream and you had to pursue it now

Honestly, my true moment came very recently, but it was one of those inherent traits that has been with me my whole life. I just woke up one regular Monday and decided this was the day that I was going to change my direction. I had to be my own catalyst. So I put in my two weeks at the interior design house I was working for, subletted my house fully furnished (including my cat), and took off to Dallas to finish my sample run production and set myself up for building a brand. Sometimes in life you have to make that choice to do more for yourself and just run with it, stay true to that decision, and inspire yourself so that you can inspire others. It’s the only way to live and I wasted a lot of time before now. I turned 30 and could literally hear the ticking of the clock. It was just time.

What’s inspiring you right now?

High-waisted separates. I love mixing up the collection with tattered old tees I could never wear before because I cut them too short or a cropped lace top from the thrift store that I can rock with the Hawkers pants. I’ll wear it for days.

What’s a typical day in your life like?

Lately, there are not a lot of typical days. Since I’ve spent so much time traveling to get the lookbook together, shooting videos for the collection, interviewing potential sales reps, emailing bloggers, and busting out my Kickstarter, nothing is typical. Every day is another chance to evolve more. In this process, I am becoming what I am to be. I’m finally prepared for the reality that no day will be the same as the next.

Do you have any rituals when you’re designing?

Some of my friends consider me an ingenue of sorts, like the next Chanel (which of course is a lot to live up to)—but I can relate to her in many ways, as far as her design process. She created things out of a distaste for everything else. For instance, I created the Pygmy Short Shorts because there wasn’t anything out there that had the specific shape I wanted. I was looking for high-wasted elastic with a bottom that covered my butt completely. It just didn’t exist, so I made it. In floral. Chanel never sketched before she created (neither do I), she dressed herself first (as do I), and she draped garments with a cigarette in her mouth (on occasion). I usually get inspired very quickly and don’t spend a lot of time mulling over ideas. I know what I want to make and if it doesn’t turn out that way exactly, it’ll turn out that better than I expected. Like any artist performing organically, it just happens. You know it’s good when you get lost in it and forget to eat, turn on music, or leave the house.

 If you could dress someone famous (alive or dead), who would it be?

Miss Audrey Hepburn. She defined an era that captured my heart. Many hearts.

If someone gave you $20 and set you loose in a thrift store, which section would you head to first?

I LOVE this question! Well, as a thrifting connoisseur and lover of all things old, I’ll give away one of my best kept secrets. I go straight to the suiting section for a good 2-for-1 deal, and I alter anything that doesn’t fit the shape I want. What I love to do is take 80’s wrap dress suits, cut the string, and turn the shape into an oversized jacket. Then I change up the bottom, be it skirt or pant, and make it modern—or at least well fit. I’m usually inspired by the quality of old fabrics, which makes the effort of finding goods timeless in itself.

Lace or neon?

Neon lace, haha! (I like to dye it.)

Heels or flats?

Heels—they perk up the booty.

Pick a color to describe your personality:

Turquoise. I’m a moonchild so it definitely compliments my mood the best. I’m also Turkish, and turquoise actually means “Turkish Stone.”

Can we find your clothes in stores yet? When/where can we get our hands on them?

Crowned Bird Fall 2012 will hit the stores in September. Right now, we have just launched and are preparing for the LA Market FOCUS trade show in June–stay tuned for more info about online stores and your local boutiques carrying the line. But I do have one specific place in mind that you can count on: Nordstrom.

If you had a protégé, what would you tell her?

Don’t bother following trends because the best aesthetic is the one you can only pull off yourself (you’ll know this because people always say, “I could never wear that, but it looks great on you!”).

If you were stranded on a desert island but there was a really cute dude also stranded on the island, which piece from your collection would you choose to be shipwrecked in, in order to make the very best first impression? (Note: you’re also marooned with a chest full of gold and a bottle of rum.)

I’d have to go with the Pygmy Short Shorts. It covers my belly but shows off my legs. Just how I like it.

Minor Horrors

It’s beautiful outside today and I feel misanthropic. I think this has to do with the mounting stress in my life. This is my last week at work and I’m going to California to visit my family and I’m moving and my days are colored with a general sense of upheaval that is not helped by the fact that I read The Sound and the Fury faster than a speeding planet and now everything I see is tinged with incest. I have lots to do. And every time I move a book I sneeze. Dust is everywhere. The universe is expanding. Soon we will all explode.

Here are some minor horrors currently bothering me:

Kendra Up Top. Everywhere you go in Chicago, you’ll see posters for this audiovisual atrocity, feat. Kendra of Girls’ Next Door infamy. What drives me insane is the plasticine Photoshopped quality of her smile. Yeah, I said plasticine in a sentence, although I’m not even sure it’s spelled correctly. But I refuse to spellcheck it. I’m not dependent on Google for my sense of self-worth, I’m dependent on heroin. Anyway—Kendra, why are you smiling like that? You have a beautiful life, girlfriend! You’ve slept with Hugh Hefner! If that’s not a thought that’ll bring a natural smile to your face, I give up.

Protein Bars. Why must you always taste so fake? Luna bars, if you really cared about women, you would be delicious.

Stress. Can you go away? I’d like to return to the halcyon days of my youth when all I did was send angry/hilarious emails to Meriwether and listened to the Talking Heads at my boyfriend’s apartment while bemoaning the weather.

Intelligentsia Iced Coffee When the Ice Melts. You taste like whiskey. I don’t like this facet of your expensive personality.

Bank Account. Grow, baby, grow! Little sweet innocent child. I WILL STRIKE YOU DOWN.

Poetry. Sometimes you are good and sometimes you are bad. Why is this?

Music. You are boring lately.

Culture. Shrug.

English Majors Who Are Pretentious Toward Other English Majors. Yo yo yo, any serious English major has probably read the same amount of books as any other serious English major. Why must we compete? You’ve read everything Tolstoy has ever written, I’ve read everything Marquez has ever written, clearly I win when it comes to sheer coolness but I mean IT’S NOT A COMPETITION, BRO.

Bros Who Take Up Too Much Space. I get that your fragile ego needs lots of room to bloom and grow but when you sit next to me on the train and your elbow is in my face and you’re sitting on my skirt, I resent that. Why are you so entitled to SPACE, young bro? Does it have something to do with your massive paycheck? Or did you just discover the Beat poets and feel that, as a young bro, you have something to say that the world needs to hear, and you will say it not with writing (like a square) but with your elbows? (Alright: I really gotta stop hating on bros; I think I may be related to several.)

Guest Post: What American Publishers Were Thinking When They Butchered The Covers Of My Favorite Irish Books

According to his internet Zodiac profile, Daniel Resner likes simple foods and antiquing, dislikes surprises and familiarity. He plays the tin whistle and totally wants a Corgi but won’t admit it.

I already had my coat on. My index finger hovered above the computer’s Off button. Then Rob stuck his sweaty bald head through my cubicle entrance, held out three manuscripts, and said, “We’re publishing these tomorrow and we forgot to make covers for them! The design guy’s out today, but I think your computer has Photoshop on it. Can you throw something together?” Of course, Rob. It’s not like I had to shoot 9 holes and then take the kids out to some new competitive eating movie with that girl from Winter’s Bone they’re dying to see.

Wispy scenic verdant inexplicable isolated island? Check. Dark rich rolling hills in distance, covered in sheep? Check. On second thought, cut the sheep, we’ll let them be implicit sheep. Slightly unsettled yet serene pastel sunset clouds overhead? Check. Throw in some emerald water… can you make it glow sort of magically? Like harpist faeries had pissed a night’s worth of Jameson into it? Niiice. I think we’re done. Oh shit, wait, how do we fit the title and stuff on there? Maybe since John McGahern is known for being sort of old-timey and backwards we can put it on a faded postcard. Ruffle up the edges and put some celtic-looking knot thing for the stamp… k… I’m so glad they’re selling it in the States as By the Lake instead of its messy original title, That They May Face The Rising Sun. We would’ve never been able to fit all that onto one postcard. And no one would’ve read all those words either. I like it nice and simple, you know? That’s what sells. Beginning with a preposition is always a good touch. And the new title just evokes, you know, being adjacent to a medium-sized body of water so vividly.

I don’t know about you, but first thing I notice: This one’s by a girl. The only way we’re gonna sell Irish girl books in the States: slap a fiery redhead on them. Google image search “Redhead.” We should probably have her in the sea, too, since if you didn’t know Ireland is actually an island, so change it to “Redhead beach.” Most of the chick lit market is beach reads, so we’ll have some market overlap with that. Can she look sort of artsy? and therefore distressed, because these are girl short stories and usually girl short stories have some dark stuff in them, especially when they’re Irish stories written by (I’m gonna guess moody and priest-haunted) girls. “Sad arty Redhead beach.” Alright, no color. The book’s called Antarctica, so we can make it all chilly and blue. No one will notice that you couldn’t kneel in a tidepool and swish the watery sand around in an arty hemp dress in Antarctica without dying instantly of hypothermia, no matter how moody you and your stories are. Is this book actually set in Antarctica? I just skimmed the titles and I don’t think so. O well. Is there at least a tidepool-swishing scene? Probably. I think we can assume. If not, that’s not really important. The idea is to sell the book, you know, the essence of the book, not necessarily its contents. I’m telling you: redheads are hot right now. Or that’s at least what I’m telling Rob, who only follows twelve people on Twitter so what does he know.

Why did we get the rights to this one? I thought we sold books with plots. Let’s see… repackaging a classic. It’ll sell regardless of what we slap on the front, especially with some discussion topics in the back (“Pick a word from the first page, e.g. ‘Tuckoo,’ and talk about it as a group for three hours. Realize that you paid $1,056 per credit hour to do this.”), but this cover’s a true gimme. You see, there’s this famous picture of J.J. as a schoolboy looking troubled and contemplative—very Stephen Daedalus, you know—it’s an actual portrait of the artist (who wrote this book, get it?) as a young man. As a modernist, there’s nothing Joyce wanted more than to be taken literally. Hook, line, sinker. And watch this… I’ll just use the pencil for the ouline… then the spray paint tool to fill out the head. Why pay for the photo rights? And there we have it. I’ve never even taken an art class in my life, but look at that shadow! It’s almost the same shape as baby J.J.’s head. Close enough to where I’m not gonna do it over. Some green lines between the title—just enough to suggest a few pints of stout at a quaint wooden bar, some fiddle and flute music banging away in the corner, and that hot redhead from that Alaska book we just did or whatever it was called at your arm. And to top it all off, a leprechaun winks at you, from the lady’s bowl of cereal. He slips you a marshmallow four-leaf clover.

Well, boys, that’s a day’s work if I’ve seen one. I’ve got a 5:30 tee time and believe me when I say I’m about to get my Rory McIlroy on. (Okay, I admit, I just Googled “Irish golfer” and he was the first result.)

Unnecessary Things #3: Groups to Avoid (An Offensive Exercise in Judgment)

Meriwether Clarke is an embittered poet living in Santa Barbara, California, home of the following people groups. (And this is a photo of my brother. Our parents trained us from an early age to pursue the arts.)

Like Mongol hoards patrolling the Central Asian steppes in 1200 A.D., there are certain groups of people so dangerous, so detestably self-serving, they must be avoided at all costs. Jump into traffic, throw yourself onto prickled cacti—ANYTHING to stay away from the rank, unfiltered stench of intellectual repulsiveness closely associated with members of the following groups:

 Hipster Christians

Pseudo-intellectual debates about the existence of God have a time and a place—and they are not in coffee shops. They are the following: on Gchat between the hours of 10 pm and 1am, in front of the Old Navy on State St. in Chicago whenever that offensive proselytizer is present, in religious studies discussion classes at your overpriced private university. This excerpt from a chat with Zalman pretty much sums up my thoughts:

me: btw hipster Christians may be America’s most unintentionally destructive group of people.
Zalman: elaborate
me: they comprehensively represent American society’s worst faults.
Zalman: such as?
me: insincere kindness, turning their belief system into some sort of materialistic status symbol, hypocritically holding opinions they do not attempt to utilize in their everyday life, complete and utter judgment of people who live differently.
Zalman: so they’re kind of like us, but religious.
me: exactly.

 Rich, mean old people

Have you ever stood in line at your local cupcake bakery when a cruel, wrinkled woman clad in Prada loafers and a St. Johns skirt-suit brazenly steps in front of you? And then proceeds to take approximately ten years to order? I’ve been there, and it’s awful. Cease and desist, wealthy old people of the Santa Barbara area and beyond! I don’t care if nearsightedness prohibits you from seeing my impoverished, youthful frame. Just because you’ve purchased the reverence of the rest of society doesn’t mean you can have mine!!! Go back to your Montecito vacation home and LET ME CONSUME MY CUPCAKES IN PEACE. It is the one pleasure remaining in this wretched world.

 Pompous journalism students (note, not all J-school grads fall into this category)

As a former Wildcat (c/o 2010!), I am intimately familiar with the stereotypical journalism student. He or she is typically smart, super-interested in current events, slightly dorky, a little socially awkward, maybe a teensy bit frizzy-haired (wait—am I describing myself?), yet generally well-meaning. “They sound pretty great, Meri, what are you rambling about?” you may be wondering. Journalism students are bad news in two terrible situations: (1)  on the job hunt and (2) when discussing literature. Are you up for a position against a former journalism student? FORGET IT. It won’t be yours. These people research random stuff like it’s their job. They already know everything they need to do to impress the owner of that magazine or small press or Danish bakery. Fear not—there is still one thing you can beat them at. Yes, young English major, they may have you on current events, but you have them on BOOKS! Don’t get your pants in a knot, youthful journalists of the world. You may be better than us in a lot of ways, but there is a difference between people who collect knowledge for the sake of informative articles and people who collect knowledge in order to, I don’t know, READ POETRY. Do I sound bitter? Hopefully, because I am! I didn’t waste four years of my life trying to understand Ezra Pound so I could nod politely as some creepy wannabe reporter tells me Hemingway was the greatest writer of the twentieth century. Or pretends like they personally discovered David Foster Wallace. Or smiles sheepishly when I ask how many female writers they read.

 People who walk around in cyclist outfits

“TMI” is a completely normal response when someone loathsome tells you unnecessary information about their life. Like when your secret barista enemy tells you how much he loves going to church. Or when your coworker tells you about her pap smear. Or when your parents tell you about the night of your conception. ANYWAY, I’m starting to think it should also be an acceptable phrase to say to someone who is dressed completely inappropriately in public. And what, I ask you, is more inappropriate daily attire than a cycling outfit? What is tighter? More revealing, despite showing no skin? Less flattering? Literally nothing. So beware, Santa Barbara cyclists, the next time I see you lounging in front of my favorite coffee shop, your cycles casually resting against your table, spandex shorts digging into your fleshy leg, I will mutter three simple letters as I breeze past: T.M.I.

“Why Hasn’t Anyone Commented on My New Haircut?” and Other Emotionally-Debilitating Questions I’m Asking Myself Today

“Does gray nail polish make my hands look wrinkly?”

“How soon is too soon for anti-aging cream?”

“Should I text someone so everyone on the train knows I have a life?”

“Why must you quote incessantly from my favorite novel?”

“Does everyone see the humor in capslock?”

“What are the early symptoms of schizophrenia?”

Décolletage cream?!”

“Is that a mole or a blood-sucking tick?”

“Is that man coming over here?”

“Why isn’t that cute guy coming over here?”

“Why hasn’t anyone talked to me in months?”

“Why is this room so white and small and where is the door?”

“Does that broken arm hurt very very much?”

“Are the eyes really the windows to the soul’s darkest secrets?”

“Does this body bag look like an oversized tote?”

“Do they still make Grape-Nut O’s?”

[after reading an eHow article on weeding your garden] “Will I ever write like that?”