Why did Andy Warhol wear a diamond necklace under those black turtleneck jumpers? To feel beautiful on the inside – or at least to feel beautiful for himself. Such an introspective sense of pleasure, which prioritises one’s own sybaritic sensuality over the public-facing exterior, is exactly the kind of thing that one would expect Alice Waese, a New York-based fashion and jewellery designer, to appreciate. Waese’s Spring/Summer '17 collection takes its cue from the essence of introspection; a subconscious projection of the designer’s own mind. “I had a dream about this bear that had an eye in its stomach,” she explains on the phone from her studio in Brooklyn. “I woke up and drew it, and that became the starting point for the whole collection – a print on a scarf, the naturally dyed colours and the ideas of sleepwear and utilitarian workwear.”
“I started to ask why we have certain things that we sleep in and certain things that we work in. What ended up happening is that it became about contradiction and hidden luxury”, she continues. The result is a collection which splices the tropes of sensuously tactile antique sleepwear and the hard-edged fabrics and lines of workwear. Sterling silver heart-shaped buttons are hidden in the fly of antique silk boxer shorts, and a simple-looking work tunic, which closes at the back with 18 sterling silver buttons, is worn with a classic men’s jacket, laboriously dyed in a two-week process and fastened with antique painted pearlescent shell buttons.
Every piece in the collection has a layered story behind its provenance, courtesy of Waese’s training as an artist in her formative years. An 18th-century style men’s jacket is lined in slippery silk charmeuse, chosen for the unparalleled touch against bare skin and dyed with walnut, iron and rust, while the bright red - which colours the heavy Indian linen cotton of the weighty fencing jacket - is extracted from madder root and imparts an earthy richness over a six-day process. Jewellery, for which Waese has become renowned, took the form of lockets with diamond-studded skulls waiting to be found inside them, and elsewhere, diamonds were embellished on the inside of the bands of rings. “It’s the idea that it’s on the reverse,” says Waese. “It feels really amazingly luxurious to you.”
Now established in her multi-disciplinary approach (Waese also writes poetry and illustrates), the designer has collaborated with Bibi Cornejo Borthwick, daughter of Maria Cornejo and Mark Borthwick, and her friend Jamie Bochert on the black-and-white lookbook seen here. “Jamie used to be a dancer and moves in this very ethereal, beautiful way”, explains Waese of the mood of the imagery. “When I first moved to New York, I worked with Maria and Mark’s assistant. I became a part of their family – they really took me on. Bibi was a teenager at the time and so it was really nice to be able to work with her on this; it all felt very familial.”
It’s a long way from the spontaneous reaction that kicked off Waese’s career. While studying sculpture at Goldsmiths in London she made a couple dozen silver pieces with a certain roughness to their form, and walked into the newly opened Hostem boutique in her Shoreditch neighbourhood to ask if they would like to have a look. The boutique has been one of her most important stockists ever since, and commissioned her to create an on-site illustrated and painted installation that spanned from floor to ceiling during Frieze last year. It is clear her artistic instincts and her exploration of unconventional techniques continue to inform her approach when it comes to making her striking jewellery and clothes. “The nice thing about being self-taught is that you are continuously learning, and you make up the rules because you don’t know them”, she says. “I suppose that’s why the work looks the way it does.”