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In a sunny basement of an Upper East Side apartment lives and works a young designer that isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. With a gas mask on hand for any indoor spray painting or other hazardous combustibles, Marianna Barksdale is making some dangerously beautiful clothing. With a full RTW collection in production, and her couture pieces flying out to photo shoots on the daily, Barksdale is making waves in the industry, and out of dryer sheets. Read on to understand.
I see like a vast array of materials right here. Have you found any favorite kind of materials to work with?
Yes, I really love working with leather and vinyl and anything in that whole family. And neoprene, I really like working with neoprene. I like synthetics. And I think they’re going in a direction where soon they’ll be, hopefully, a little bit more sustainable. And hopefully I can get into helping make them less bad for the environment.
How hard is it to find sustainable materials now?
Right now it’s a bit of a challenge because a lot of the places have relatively large minimums. So it can be a challenge but it’s worth it.
Much of what you do is custom couture, so how do you put your designs into production?
My newest line, “Thirteen Assassins,” is my first full ready to wear line, and they’re all production ready. About half the collection is wearable and I would be able to use a factory to help me recreate them. Although I do all the patternmaking and draping myself because I’m a control freak. But then about half of the pieces are completely handmade and they’re just couture, and they’re made to order. It’s about half and half I’d say, So, I can’t leave [couture] behind.
When you’re designing what are three things you absolutely need within arms’ reach?
My see through 18-inch ruler, my Diet Pepsi, and my mechanical pencils. Yeah, I usually have them in a stash next to me. You know what? No, I don’t need my mechanical pencils, I need my whole kit. My whole toolbox. So that’s one, my Diet Pepsi is two and three is like the remote control or something for the music, cause I have to have some sort of ambiance.
What’s the soundtrack in here?
A lot of Marilyn Manson, and Nine Inch Nails, and old school rock and roll, and David Bowie. I like a lot of things but right now it’s Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails.
What are some books that are really inspiring you this moment in time?
Right now I’m inspired by a lot of Haruki Murakami in general, and I started reading his newest book 1Q84, which I love. And I just really respond to the way that he writes, but I’m about to start The Odyssey again, that’s one of the most inspiring books that I’ve ever read because I like for my collections to be a narrative, and I like for them to be an adventure and so that’s where I usually turn to first.
Do you have pieces that were repetitive, yet fun to work on?
Ooh, that would be one of those here. It’s easier to show, but it’s the repeated pleating took a very, very long time because the material isn’t bought this way. It’s bought flat and then I’ve pleated it myself. It just takes a while, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Who do you envision wearing your clothes, like who do you dream of wearing your clothing?
I just like to think that my clothes are going to be worn by really empowered women, or men. People that have a strong sense of self and they know what they’re looking for, and they want to be different or they want to be special. Not necessarily a celebrity. Whoever. I think it’s important for everyone to have a strong sense of self.
When you’re working on a collection, do you ever have side projects, or things that aren’t pieces of the collection, cause like when did this come to be?
Ah, this is one of my favies. These pieces come along mainly as studies in fabric manipulation. Like this one; it’s made out of about 8,000 dryer sheets.
Why dryer sheets?
I love the way it smells. It’s to recreate what water is in a way, and waves, and I just I like to do these pieces because they’re sort of where I get my creativity out, and then see how I can apply these to more production ready pieces. Kind of like a study in structure too, cause I like to manipulate the body. A lot of these are made strictly for photo shoots, and they get borrowed on almost a daily basis. They’re fun. But these [dryer sheets] are all hand dyed, so I looked like a Smurf this summer. I was up to my elbows in blue dye.
Do you do all the shoes yourself as well?
Mhmm, yeah. Well, okay. To an extent. Like these were stripper shoes and then I took the stop piece off and put candy and bows and screws inside. It actually has an elephant on the inside, so when you wear them and the paint wears away then you see the little elephant on a bed of cotton candy, but it hasn’t worn away yet.
Your studio has a lot of open space in the middle. Do you work on the floor a lot?
I do. Well, before I work on the floor I’m actually a big germ freak so I like Lysol the entire floor, and then I have my superboard that I lay out on the floor. I would like to have a nice big drafting table soon. Right now I’m just focused on making the clothes. I like to do these kind of collections too, that are entirely art based.
When you say, “entirely art based”, what does that mean to you?
That to me means they are only going to be made once. And they are pieces of art rather than design, because I have this thing, I think that fashion design is not art. I think it’s fashion. And I got that from Rei Kawakubo who does Comme Des Garçons. I heard her say that and I liked that because they have two different goals… Design and Art. So, these are my art pieces. These are supposed to change the way a person thinks. I would say. The Beetlejuice collection is about a girl that was trapped in a dollhouse and then became a doll, and so I used these big zippers to signify that. But they’re fun to make. Again it’s just to learn a little bit more about construction, doing silhouettes and things. I think of them as my children and I keep saying that, and they are. They’re babies.
What was your first sale, and how did it feel?
I used to knit scarves in high school, and when I first sold those for whatever reason, that’s what still drives me now. And they were like rainbow, they were so funny. I sold them to a local boutique. I sold like 15 of them at a time. I think that means the most to me right now.
Tell me about your studio and what in here is moving to you.
Well, a lot of these pieces [move me] like the furniture. Like this [armoire], I built it. And I tricked it out and painted it and everything. It didn’t come like this. I just like everything to be special. I think your environment is sort of where your work comes from.
How do the Nutcracker dolls inspire?
Those came from a shoot. I like to do really narrative photo shoots on the side and I like to do a lot of creative direction. And I can’t find a lot of props and things that go with the theme, and this was from the doll being trapped in an attic shoot, and I just make a lot of these props to go with them, because I want the whole shoot to be cohesive.
Which pieces do you wear yourself the most around here?
I like to wear the simpler pieces. Like from the new collection I like to wear this skirt, which has gotten a lot of really positive feedback. But I just like to wear some of the simpler pieces that have interesting design details, and I feel like I get a lot of compliments on them but I just don’t want to be the center of attention.