It all started with a silk scarf.
While studying costume design in college, I started experimenting with silk painting and quickly fell in love with the process. If you’re not familiar, silk painting requires stretching a piece of silk, outlining a design with a resist, and then painting in between the lines. It can become very time consuming, requiring many steps, but it’s incredibly rewarding. As a textile artist for TV/film, I spend most of my time working on precise creations in service of someone else’s creative vision. My silk painting, though, is the opposite: it’s a free-form, organic process that is completely my own, and as a result, I embrace, and celebrate, the imperfections it allows. Colors bleed outside the lines, shapes are uneven, and I often don’t even look at my canvas as I paint, choosing instead to focus on an object, and allowing my hand to do the rest with a single line. Since moving to New York, I’d decompress in my time off by painting entire yardages of silk--my dream, always, was to turn the designs into shirts.
After spending time in California during the COVID-19 epidemic, I returned to the city inspired to expand beyond shirts into other clothing: workwear, speedos, hats, and COVID-19 masks, in addition to the original shirts and scarves. The prints I worked on in California--taking inspiration from food, nature, and everyday objects—were filled with bright, bold color. The drawings began to overlap with one another, becoming distorted. My creations began to take on a similar energy—colorful drawings that inspired multiple interpretations of what they were.
In expanding beyond shirts, I wanted to challenge traditional workwear, transforming it with the striking and eye-catching prints from my silk painting designs. So that’s what I did! Even though the clothes I make are printed, they feel hand-painted, and they’re almost direct replicas of the original silk pieces. They don’t look like 2D designs, but rather, like my silk paintings, embrace imperfection. As a result each piece feels one of a kind, owing to how the pattern is laid out—these pieces, when crafted, maximize material instead of striving toward making each piece identical.
I knew that I wanted to make the clothes in New York City; keeping things local, and supporting the struggling garment district, was a huge priority for me. I also knew I wanted to make work that stood out, and caught people’s eyes, to break up the sea of black clothing that is New York City. Most of all, I want these clothes to start conversations, to give the wearer a sense of feeling singular, of wearing something no one else has, and wearing it with pride.
I hope, when you wear these clothes, you feel that same sense of inspiration. Thank you for supporting me on this journey--I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Keith Kelly <3