Rural Landscape as Runway

From the archives of Hudson River Exchange interviews, we’re sharing an interview with Emma Collins about her zine project SEEDS inspired by country living and dreaming of high fashion.

HRE: Can you tell us about your creative process in putting together SEEDS? What was your favorite part? How were you able to maintain your creative stamina? What did you do when you were stuck?

E: The idea for SEEDS began as an idea for a party. I wanted to bring together all the people upstate who are involved in fashion, specifically high fashion, in some way.

Attending the Group Crit nights that Hudson River Exchange held at Rivertown also helped a lot. Sometimes people can see a nascent creative idea in you before you can see it yourself.  Working with collaborators creates accountability since I asked people to collaborate with me, I had to deliver in order to honor what they contributed.

I think it’s helpful, when working on any self-directed project, to treat it with the same discipline as working on a job for someone else. For me that meant getting up at the same time each day and sitting down to work on SEEDS before I started my regular job. Finishing a creative project means showing up to the work even when you don’t feel like iteven when you’d rather be doing anything else.

During the process of making the zine I read a book called The War of Art. It outlines an aggressive approach to creativity. As someone who is inspired by punk and other confrontational art movements, that speaks to me. I’ve never thought of the process of art-making as comfortable. I’m a very introverted person, and reaching out to collaborators can be excruciating. I’ve collaborated with people in the past that I was terrified to approach. The more petrified I am to work with someone, the more they most likely inspire me. At a certain point I wrote a note to myself, “Decide to suffer.” I was willing to put up with the miserable feelings that come up when one decides to put something out there. If I heard voices in my head that told me I should do something else or that it wasn’t going to work, I turned back to them over and over and said “NO, FUCK YOU.”

Others have spoken about this ordeal. Yohji Yamamoto, a designer we carry at Kasuri, has talked about the fact that sacrifice is necessary in order for creativity to happen. And Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçonshas publicly described how agonizing her job is. That means a lot more to me than someone who pretends that the process of putting something into the world is all happiness and light.

HRE: What materials did you choose to work with? How did you start working with these materials and why do you enjoy working with these materials?

E: It was really important to me to do everything by hand. A zine is supposed to be something that anyone can make. Its definition has expanded and today a lot of zines are made with programs like InDesign. I spoke to a few people who vowed I wouldn’t be able to do what I wanted without using a program like Photoshop. In the end however I stuck to what I envisioned and did everything by hand-cutting, collaging, scanner, and a photocopy machine. I did unorthodox things like scanning huge bouquets of wildflowers. I got some weird looks in Staples. I also sewed all the bindings by hand. Since part of what I write about in my Editor’s Letter is the idea of going back to nature, sustainable agriculture, Romanticism, and DIY culture, it felt important to commit to doing things the old-fashioned way.

HRE: We believe creativity loves company because there’s so much we can share and learn from each other.  What’s the best advice you’ve gotten about creative practice, business, or in life?

E: So much of what I worried about growing up is what I was going to do- what job title I would have. I have so many different interests: fashion, mental health reform, experimental theatre, Gothic subculture, agriculture, futurology, the study of trauma. I dropped out of college a couple years in. I hated school and I’ve always preferred working with my hands. I eventually finished at the New School where I took a class called “Silk Sheets” about writing erotica. The teacher, Tsaurah Litzky, showed us a quote from Jack Kerouac: “Something you feel will find its form.” That helped me trust that what mattered most was what I was expressing, not how. I’ve always worshipped artists that worked in multiple fields, such as William Morris who was a poet, textile designer, and painter. What mattered to me about these people was that they were communicating some kind of overarching life philosophy or aesthetic vision. Sofia Coppola said in early interviews that she felt enormous angst about choosing a profession until she made a short film and realized that she could finally unite all of her disparate interests in fashion, music, design, and people’s emotional lives.

I’ve always worked in retail. Some people denigrate retail positions, but I would honestly feel lost without the ability to work in a shop. I’m obsessed with the theatricality and the social aspect of it. The best part is that it allows for a variety of different roles. In every single job I’ve had, customers come in and tell me about their lives. I imagine it’s like being a taxi driver or a hairdresser in the sense that you are providing a service, but at the same time there can be an element of therapeutic conversation. I’ve had people come in at former jobs and say they were looking for a Gaultier top or a Nan Goldin book and then start talking about their mental health issues, family struggles, substance use, and relationships. Interestingly, what they’re going through is often related to the items they’re seeking in mysterious ways. Those interactions have become sacred to me. Every store I have worked in has a community of its own. A great store is a hub of ideas, solace, and creativity.

At Opening Ceremony I worked in the Expansion, the top floor where they had gowns by designers like Rodarte and publications on art and design. That kind of environment is a fermentation of aesthetics, a temple of beauty. And I thought of myself as the guardian of that beauty and its representative. Alessando Michele, the Artistic Director of Gucci, said of his work that “It’s not a job, it’s my life.” That’s what I mean about expressing something. For instance, it doesn’t matter what I “do.” I could go to the deli and buy a toothbrush, and if I’m dressed as Joan of Arc, or if I write my favorite song lyrics on the arm of my shirt, I’m communicating something.

The people I find most inspiring are definitely not people with fancy job titles or lists of accomplishments. They are people whose existence symbolizes something. They are not famous. They are outsiders and are liberated by never even having had the possibility of fitting into society.

It just does not matter what anyone else thinks.  In a hundred years we will all be dead. In the words of post-punk icon Siouxsie Sioux, “I’m not going to dress down to avoid the stares. Then they’re changing you. I’d rather be uncomfortable and be myself.”

HRE:  What is a goal that you set for yourself through this project?

E:  My goal was to get something out there before my perfectionistic impulses could stop me. I thought it would be more important to have an imperfect creation than no creation at all.

HRE: Can you share a challenge and a benefit about being a creative in the Hudson Valley?

 E: The country is isolating but on some deep level I have always been inspired by artists who chose rural existences and/or depict rural life. I love the fashion photography of Yelena Yemchuk. I love Andrew Wyeth and Sally Mann. I love the Pre-Raphaelites, the British Romantics, and the Brontës.

There is a rural art movement that’s happening on a global level. When people like Marina Abramovic and Rem Koolhaas speak about the idea that the art of the future will happen outside of cities, it’s really exciting. Being an artist has been synonymous with urbanism for a very long time. Going completely against that trajectory feels intoxicating and anti-authoritarian. I am obsessed with the idea of the true avant-garde existing in a field somewhere.

— Emma is currently developing a business plan for a new fashion and culture publication through a course in Fashion Entrepreneurship at Parsons in NYC. We hope her path leads her back upstate and hope that would inspire another more SEEDS. Follow @emma_adore to check out past and present projects.