Fashion’s #1 commodity has always been newness, whether that be a new technique, silhouette, or in this case, a fresh face. Though we crave the unique, the fashion world often looks to the designers who keep one foot firmly planted in the confines of the tried and true as an anchor, while always looking ahead and experimenting. We search for the fresh face who understands the importance adding edge and modernity to keep fashion moving forward. To truly be someone worthwhile, a designer must have not only mere talent, but also absolute passion. In the case of Arianna Reagan of the Arcana NYC, that passion exists for both the art of fashion as well as the health of our planet.
By Kat Jones
I understand that you recently graduated from Parsons School of Design. Before coming to NY, where did your creative journey begin, and why did you want to pursue fashion?
“I grew up in San Francisco, born to an eclectic (and somewhat eccentric) family of creative people. Art was so entrenched in my upbringing that I couldn’t say when my creative journey began. I was very introverted as a child, and spent much of my time wrapped up in the internal landscape of my imagination. I felt like I belonged to another time and place, and… costume allowed me to express a part of myself I had no words for, to reach something I could sense but couldn’t see.
Later, as a Religion student in college, I read about shamans donning ritual garb when they wanted to commune with the gods. It was the physical act of dressing oneself that allowed one to transcend the mundane world and connect with something greater, something sacred. There is an almost magical quality of fashion that allows us to transform ourselves, express ourselves, and connect with each other, our heritages and our communities.
I never intended to become a fashion designer. Looking back, I know I had to take the route I did to really understand how to approach fashion design in a way that felt authentic to me. I majored in Religion and Gender and Sexuality Studies as an undergraduate, which allowed me to explore iconographic lexica, mythologies, and the complex role of women and their bodies in society, art and spiritual landscapes.
When I woke up at three in the morning a few months after dropping out of grad school and realized I would never be happy unless I devoted my life to a creative pursuit, it was fashion that was calling me. I applied to Parsons that night. It was the beginning of the realization that fashion can be what you make it—that, if approached mindfully, it can be a powerful artistic medium that is more than just pretty clothes. That fashion has the potential to transform, to transcend, to connect, and perhaps even change the world. “
The ethos of your brand, Arcana NYC, is to produce garments in a way that is ethical and sustainable for both our planet and the traditional textile industries you work with. What was your inspiration for such a brand? Has this been your goal from the onset of your fashion career?
“There is a real ugly side to the fashion industry, which was what initially dissuaded me from pursuing my lifelong passion. When I finally made the decision to do fashion, it was going to be on my own terms—with integrity, with honor, with heart, with respect. Sustainability wasn’t a specific goal, more the product of always trying to make the right choice. For instance, there are two kinds of cotton in front of you. One is mass-produced by machine in China, dyed with toxic chemicals, and processed by underpaid and undervalued laborers. The other is organic, eco-dyed, handspun and handwoven by a collective of female entrepreneurs in rural India, working together to raise themselves and their communities out of poverty. I believe the choice is an obvious one.”
Two of the most interesting fabrics you utilize in the fall 2016 collection are salmon leather and kimono silk. How did you discover these materials?
“Fashion consumers are savvy these days, but they can’t buy smart unless we—the designers—buy smart. As a designer, I am Consumer Zero, and it is my responsibility to invest in companies that I want to see succeed. I chose to source from companies who sustainably produce traditional textiles in a way that honors artisans and their heritage, or who represent the cutting edge of sustainable textile innovation.
There are online sourcing databases out there for sustainable textiles that provide a great entry point. Two of my favorites are the Ethical Fashion Forum’s database and Le Souk. They allow designers to explore the vast array of approaches to sustainable textile manufacturing that are out there, and they make it easier to discover and connect with mills and collectives all over the world—even in far-flung rural areas. They’re a tremendous resource.”
What does the salmon leather look like in terms of sustainability?
“Generally, animal products are not sustainable materials. However, this salmon leather comes from fish that are caught for food. The skins would normally go to the landfill, but some brilliant Icelandic entrepreneurs found a way to repurpose the skins and reduce waste. The salvaged skins are tanned using Iceland’s natural geothermal energy, so the manufacturing of the leather leaves a zero carbon footprint. Best of all, they treated the skins to be machine-washable, allowing you to avoid toxic and expensive leather cleaning services.”
What is the importance of using kimono silk and supporting a textile industry which is so close to being forgotten?
“In a rapidly globalizing world, the sorts of boundaries that defined us are fading fast. We each experience it in different ways, but it boils down to clinging to cultural identity with one hand and reaching for the economic opportunity of development and progress with the other. I believe it leaves my generation in particular feeling like we’ve lost something, like the world we see around us isn’t quite the one we belong to in our hearts. I want to provide the vessel to carry these emblems with us into the future by using traditional textiles in my designs. Our distinct identities are blending together, but our global identity should be enriched by our varied individual pasts, because those distinct heritages reflect our humanity.
Japan is a great example of this friction between heritage and globalization. On the one hand, they are at the forefront of progress and innovation in fields from textiles to astrophysics. But on the other hand, they are a nation whose interaction with the rest of the world is relatively new. For centuries, Japan has been an island in every sense, and its isolation forged an aesthetic, philosophic and practical sense that places value on thoughtful production. The manufacturing of kimono silk is incredibly labor-intensive and requires the skilled touch of master craftsmen. In the past, kimono houses were esteemed and renowned for their works, but their numbers have severely dwindled today. The fact is, their art form is too labor intensive to fit today’s model of producing quickly and cheaply.
Kimono silk, therefore, is a symbol of the art that we’re in danger of leaving buried in the sands of time. By showcasing this colorful chapter of Japanese history, we can pay homage to textiles as art, and by doing so remember the mentality that allows us to slow down and appreciate the details of handcrafted masterpieces.”
Since Fall 2016 is your brand's first collection, what are your plans for the future? What other textiles or styles are you looking to explore?
“I recently spent a month on a motorcycle riding through Bali, diving into tiny little villages weaving traditional Indonesian textiles on homemade looms. Bali is a prime example of a deeply spiritual, highly creative heritage with a truly exceptional textile tradition. I found atenun, or weaving collective, still practicing traditional double-ikat back strap weaving. I fell in love with the place. However, this tradition is also threatened by globalization. As more and more sarongs are mass-produced (and even outsourced to Java where labor is cheaper), the preservation of this technique is now more important than ever. It’s quite the logistical challenge figuring out how to get the fabric to New York, but certainly worth the effort.
I hope that future seasons bring more opportunities to travel, to discover new textiles and to learn more about sustainable manufacturing. I plan to visit my alpaca suppliers in Peru, to see the spinning of the yarn first hand, and to explore the traditional motifs of Andean weavings. I plan to visit my denim suppliers in India and take their classes on Ayurvedic dyeing techniques. I will return to Iceland and watch the tanning of salmon skins, and venture to Japan for the first time to hunt down more beautiful vintage kimono silks.
Along the way, I intend to strengthen my design and business practices. I will always look for ways of streamlining, cutting down waste, and producing fashion more efficiently and sustainably because there is always room to improve. My hope is that Arcana changes the way people consider and consume fashion by showing that luxury and sustainability aren’t two concepts that sometimes overlap, but that the extra care and human touch that goes into sustainable fashion is, in itself, the very definition of luxury.”
Photos courtesy of Max Gordon.