Interview: Designer Kate Cusack “Unzipped”Fashion, Featured — By JGM Staff on February 17, 2010 at 12:00 am
At Jungle Gym Magazine we always keep an eye out for creative people and new ideas. Some are difficult to spot, but designer Kate Cusack‘s amazing work was not. Kate has taken an ordinary item, the zipper, and transformed it into dazzlingly stylish bracelets and necklaces. Who would ever think they would be wearing a zipper around their arm as an accessory? Kate has been featured in numerous magazines and has had her products worn by celebs. Her wigs are also very eye-popping, as are her other numerous creations. We had the chance to get the inside scoop on the wonderful Kate Cusack, in this interview she “unzips” some interesting facts about her finished works and the new projects that she is working on.
JGM: What 10 words would you use to describe yourself?
JGM: When did you start designing?
Kate: I began designing my collection of Zipper Jewelry in 2002. It began to take shape in 2003 and I have been creating steadily since then—even when I was enrolled in a 3-year rigorous MFA program for costume design at the Yale School of Drama. Like most designers, I really began designing as early as I could speak—choosing outfits for school and playing dress-up. As a child, I was known to have the best dress-up box in the whole neighborhood. I sometimes would dress my friends up and then tell them to go out and present themselves to our parents.
JGM: Who inspired you to become a designer?
Kate: I don’t think I was inspired to become a designer, myself, by any one designer in particular. I am inspired by the success of other designers’ vision and by their passion.
JGM: Where did the original idea to create jewelry from zippers come from?
Kate: I was initially drawn to one specific zipper that was attached to an old plastic slip-cover that was being thrown away. I cut the zipper from the yellowing plastic, brought it home, bleached it, and knew it should be something more than a closure for a plastic slip cover. I think in this case, it was really the size of the zipper that caught my eye—and the fact that it was such a long zipper. When things are in extremes like that (size/shape) it starts to make my mind think of thing simply as a material that can become something else. I looked at that zipper and saw a faceted piece of metal. Naturally, it reminded me of jewelry. Zippers are also exciting to because of their connection to fashion and to costume design by association. They are most appealing in form because of how the metal teeth sparkle and how the linear construction potential is endless. A line can be shaped into anything. A zipper is simply a line.
JGM: Can you explain the process in creating each zipper piece?
Kate: When I begin a new piece, sometimes I work directly from a sketch, and other times, I sketch three-dimensionally on a dress form. Whether the idea starts two dimensionally or three dimensionally, all of the Zipper Necklaces are shaped on a dress form. This ensures that the piece will relate to the body. Sometimes my designs are inspired by the zipper, itself, and other times, I imagine the design and then choose the right zipper for the project.
JGM: Your costume and jewelry designs are very unique, can you tell us what theatrical influences you source inspiration from?
Kate: What is especially inspirational and exciting about theater is that it is larger than life. My designs (jewelry and costume) are most exciting when they are exaggerated and fantastical.
JGM: Materials used both for jewelry and costume pieces are items most would never think of wearing, what is it that initially made you want to use such common, household items?
Kate: I see everything as a potential material that can be transformed into something exciting. When I see one item repeated in large quantity or in an extreme size, I start to see it in its very basic visual form. I begin to make associations based on shape, color and texture and I am freed from traditional restrains about what that item or material should be used for. There is a seemingly endless supply of household items because it’s intended to be used and then disposed of. When the material is not precious, the pressure to create something “meaningful” and “special” disappears and the creativity has free reign.
JGM: How long did it take to create the I-Do Hair-Do plastic wrap hair sculpture?
Kate: In 2005, I was asked to create a sculpture for the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design, for their exhibit entitled, “Nouvelle Nuptials.” I created the “I-do Hair-do,” a new saran wrap hair sculpture. The detailed and fanciful hairstyle pokes fun at the customs of decadence and frivolity associated with weddings and reminds us of the pressures of traditions that weigh on a bride’s head. This hair sculpture probably took between 30-50 hours.
JGM: Your website bio explains that you see the body as a canvas. If we were to leave you with an endless amount of aluminum foil/tin foil what would you create with it?
Kate: Tin-foil is wonderful to work with. When I was in college, I made a dress from tin-foil. I coiled it up into spirals and wove the spirals together to make the bodice and then layered in sheets for the skirt part of the dress. If I was working with tin-foil today, I would probably create some sort of headdress or hair sculpture. It could be medusa inspired—with tin-foil snakes coming out of the head.
JGM: What current and upcoming projects do you have?
Kate: I am currently developing new Zipper Jewelry designs and reaching out to new retailers. In March, I will be designing costumes for the 52nd Street Project—a non-profit theater company that works with kids in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan. The kids write plays and then are paired with professional theater directors and actors who perform what the kids write. I really enjoy working with the 52nd Street Project because the costume challenges are outrageous—like a fish that turns into a man and then falls in love with the woman who caught him. The kids’ writing is really poignant, and the experience of having their written word on stage is very empowering.
JGM: Who would you love to dress up in your accessories and why? (can be a celebrity or regular person)
Kate: I think the exciting thing about my Zipper Jewelry is that anyone can wear it—from a celebrity to an average person walking down the street. I would love to see one of my elaborate Zipper Necklaces worn on the red carpet at an awards show along side other women dripping with diamonds.
JGM: What is the formula to becoming a great designer?
Kate: I don’t think there is one “formula” to becoming a great designer. I think it takes passion, creativity, persistence and a good sense of judgment. It is also important to be kind, generous and grateful. I have been very lucky to have a very supportive family and group of friends who believe in my work and are willing to give advice in good times and challenging times. It’s very important to listen to your instinct and to your work. There is a great piece of advice that is always in the back of my mind: “be true to your work and your work will be true to you.”