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Monday, August 11, 2008

Peggy and Poly

Liz Armstrong...

After catching my breath from a whirlwind road trip to Chicago, where some friends and I spent a weekend partying with CSS, I caught up with Kansas City's Peggy Noland, who designs costumes for the band's frontwoman, Lovefoxxx. (Peggy has also designed costumes for Ssion frontman—and half-Boy London dreamboat, half-gypsy lion tamer—Cody Critcheloe.) We met on CSS's bus, parked behind the bare-fleshed fairgrounds of Lollapalooza, munching on candy necklaces while watching the band freak out laughing and singing wild songs in Portuguese. Clear outsiders, we became instant friends...

Peggy in her store / Ssion onstage

You looked absolutely perfect throughout our trip, even in the melting hot sun, even after partying all day and night, even when harassed by frat boys, even getting champagne poured all over you. The rest of us looked like we were ridden hard and put away wet. How do you pull it off?
ColorStay make up! I swear by it! What am I going to do if they discontinue it? Shit!

Wanna tell me the basics of how you got started designing?
The path I have found is completely unexpected. I had not intended to make clothing or own a store. My major in college, after an experience working in New Delhi, was Religious Studies. Then I applied for the Peace Corps and didn't get in, and now I am here.

Um, you were on a religious path and then you found god in designing spandex jumpsuits?
(Laughs.) You know, I'm still figuring that one out, too. I had an amazing job after high school working for a clothing line in New Delhi that required me to be there by myself for extended periods of time. It's probably pretty easy to imagine why my priorities changed. All of a sudden, clothing and fashion were a very low priority for me. It’s a Third World country and here I was, this middle-class white girl making clothes. It felt sooooo trite. Honestly, I was ashamed. Long story short: as soon as I was rejected from the Peace Corps and back in Kansas City, my priorities obviously shifted once again. A retail space opened up, and I fought hard for it and got it. Then I learned how to sew. Crazy, I know. And here I am today.

Why stay in Kansas City?
I have a retail store here that I am in love with, and it completely changes every four to six months: the environment, the clothing and otherwise. The newest installation is floor-to-ceiling Polyfil. We wanted to confuse the typical idea of what retail is so we lowered the ceiling four feet—good or bad, comfortable or not. Other than my store, Kansas City is a weird place to be. I stay focused and inspired here. A community that supports its artists is hard to find, and harder to leave. If you can get here, and if you can tap into this energy, you’ll see an incredible ambition—perhaps spiraling from an angry, even jealous boredom that attracts and demands attention. When you find yourself in a city whose energy isn't particularly invested in its youth culture, you find your source of creativity is completely unique and, perhaps more importantly, unaffected.

What's the proper name of your retail store, and what’s in it? Do you actually sell garments made of that Polyfil stuff?
Oh yeah, babe! People think it's weird, or a joke, or stupid—and I guess it kind of is all of those things. The name of the store is Peggy Noland—Kansas City, although there is no name on the window.

Word on the street is you make a lot of your own prints. Is that true?
Yes ma'am! It's true!

It seems like you're into giving form to freeform materials. Is this something you do consciously?
No, I guess not, although there is an intentional sculptural element to what I do. “Soft sculpture” is a category that many of my designs fit into.

You teach at an art school?
I’ve just accepted a teaching position at the Kansas City Art Institute. I'm the Sewn Construction teacher. I'm replacing a woman who has been teaching in the Fibers department for some time now, so I have big shoes to fill. Also this year I'm collaborating with a number of artists. Of particular interest is a capsule collection with Malcolm Stewart and Bec Stupac of the Brazilian collective avaf [assume vivid astro focus]. It's an expansion of personal work for all of us, with an emphasis on the unwearable wearable.

Let’s expand on the topic of the unwearable wardrobe. What's the point? I ain't being sassy, I'm just asking questions like a journalist. How the hell would you sell this stuff? Know what I mean?
I like sass, girl! Yeah, I get what you're saying. These pieces appeal to a customer who's an art collector more than a ready-to-wear buyer. The design and price reflect that. Having a retail space in Kansas City has been challenging, but the challenge isn't finding a customer. Customers exist here, there just aren't many of them. It's been an “If you build it, they will come” experience.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Banding Together

Liz Armstrong and gang go on the road...

Recently two friends and I planned to spend Lollapalooza weekend in Chicago partying with CSS, the enthusiastic alterna-jam dance band from Brazil, and then hightail it back home to New York by Sunday night. Of course we took our sweet-ass time getting there. We stopped in a rundown mining town outside Pittsburgh for a night, then spent another at my parents’ house in the Windy City, soaking in their rave-style hot tub equipped with a 16-color light show as Lykke Li blasted through the surround-sound system.

Finally, on Friday, we arrived at Lollapalooza, with its immense fairgrounds bursting at the seams with ladies in bikini tops and shady characters (aka potential new friends) rolling joints in the bushes. We tiptoed into the CSS bus and, lo and behold, there was my soul-twin Cody Critcheloe, the wizard behind the hi-NRG prop-punk band SSION, sitting next to the fantastic Miss Peggy Noland, costume designer for CSS, Ssion and Tilly and the Wall. Peggy—who's the subject of my next blog, a Q&A—calls everyone "babe" because she really thinks everyone is one. There's a genuine smile on her face at all times, and she keeps her hair styled in an immaculately wild bouffant. Though she'd forgotten her own clothes on her bed in Kansas City, at least she remembered to bring a stash of costumes for CSS's Lovefoxxx, which she had stuffed into a dirty canvas bag and decorated with a dollar sign, like she'd just robbed a bank and decided to carry around the evidence.

Lovefoxxx rummaged through the selection and pulled out body leotard after body leotard, one a metallic silver with polyester vines and flowers dangling off the neckline like some kind of glamorous Swamp Thing, another a burgundy crushed-velvet number with a Holly Hobby-esque doll on the rump like a pervy bustle. She settled on the most outrageous of the offerings, a bright red outfit entwined with a garish garland of purple and yellow flowers, which came with a matching halo. Suddenly everyone in the band burst into a crazy Brazilian song about a guy who needs bread and tea.

Before Lovefoxxx got dressed, we all hit the press tent for free booze, pizza and some desperately needed armpit fanning. (Okay, no one provided that last service except ourselves.) Renata, creator and star of the video for “Left Behind” (the first single off CSS's new CD) and also the band's backup dancer for the weekend, strolled up wearing the exact same neon tunic as Lovefoxxx. Oops! Most stars would freak the hell out, point a finger and dismiss the duplicate, but not in this case. They simply stomped around the fairgrounds together.

From then on, the weekend was a nonstop memory-in-the-making, the kind of weekend you can't process until after it's done and you look at the photos, thinking, “When did that happen?” We danced our brains out, sang Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” at karaoke, partied on abandoned train tracks, shopped for cowgirl gear (watch out for my new fall look—yeehaw!), enjoyed a limo ride courtesy of a club where CSS was DJing and danced some more while ripping up posters and throwing them in the air like confetti.

Around 3 am on Saturday, we called it quits. We looked like we'd been hanging out in a hamster cage, covered in bits of paper stuck to our bodies with champagne. Into the car we went and, like total badasses, headed home straight from the party. We took a small break around 7 am, found a cheap motel in our new favorite town of Elkhart, Indiana (where the McDonald's has a fancy fireplace and leopard-print window treatment) and crashed for exactly three hours because one of us had the scientific notion that any more or less than that would mess with our biorhythms. So we set the alarm, made ourselves rise from the dead and got back in the car. It was total tweaker town in that vehicle, I tell ya. We talked about everything, just to stay awake. Nothing was safe or sacred. Good thing there was no recording device, except for my camera with a dwindling battery...

Dancing at Lollapalooza / Lovefoxxx checking out costumes

Lovefoxxx and Luiza onstage at Lollapalooza / Carol DJing

Lovefoxxx and Luiza in the limo / Heading home

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