by MIKE CHAIKEN
When Kristin Costa showed her fashion collection at an event in Connecticut last year, her show was more walking art gallery than mobile department store.
Costa’s creations would have looked more at home on the walls of the Vatican than the racks of your local mall’s H&M.
Costa will be showing her latest fashion creations at SWAN (Support Women’s Artists Now) Day Connecticut in New Britain on March 30. The annual celebration of women artists is a national movement that is celebrating its 12th year in Connecticut. SWAN Day Connecticut, which also features a large number of local women-led bands, is the brainchild of Bristol’s Jennifer Hill.
“I think there is a valid need for utilitarian garments,” said Costa in an email interview to speak about her fashions. However, she said, “The ability to make them stylish is an art form.”
“Fashion can be a fine art medium that’s function is to express a concept rather than to just clothe the body, and my favorite pieces don’t rely on wearable functionality, but rather a narrative visual aesthetic,” said Costa. “I like the challenge of telling stories with wearable art as well as designing utilitarian garments in an artistic way.”
Some of Costa’s pieces include head gear that resemble beams of light emanating from the head of an angel. There also are references to the sacred heart and saints. Religious iconography permeates her work.
“I was raised in an Italian Roman Catholic family and went to Catholic school for five years,” said Costa, explaining her affinity for Christian iconography. “In college, I studied painting and art history in Venice, in which almost all art was funded by Catholic institutions.”
“Growing up sharing this common thread of stories, we were encouraged to interpret them in our own ways, and for me, it would come out as art. I’d paint pictures of saints, both canonized and imagined, and now that my work is wearable, it is a natural progression to create vestments fit for my own invented icons,” said Costa.
Her creative influences, said Costa, are people “who view their (fashion) as art, and aren’t afraid to tell stories that are difficult to tell.”
“Fashion designers I love to watch include Iris Van Herpen, Gareth Pugh, Alexander McQueen, Rick Owens, Balmain, Ann Demeulemeister, and many more,” she said. Costa is also drawn to sculptors like Beth Cavener Stitcher, Rodan, Scott Radke, and Justin Novak. Painters Steven Assael, John Williams Waterhouse, Jenny Saville, Odd Nerdrum, Lucien Freud, Frida Kahlo, and Egon Shiele also figure in her inspirational stew.
Costa said her interest in fashion started at a young age. “I was making fashion collections for my stuffed animals out of construction paper whilst in preschool. I learned how to knit and hand-sew when I was 5 and how to use my first sewing machine at 7.”
“As a teenager,” said Costa, “I could never find any commercial fashion that appealed to or fit me, so I’d make my own outfits.”
“I never thought I’d be a fashion designer though, I was always more interested in being a painter,” said Costa.
But in college, Costa said her experience in sewing led her into internships with costume and fashion houses.
After graduation, fashion was more of a side gig, said Costa. But, eventually, she turned to vending at fairs and cons and then established her own brand.
Although Costa has been showing her clothes during New York Fashion Week, she also shows her work at non-traditional fashion events such as the upcoming SWAN Day.
“My first fashion shows outside of college were at Dances of Vice, which is a themed nightlife event. Once that happened, conventions and fundraisers started asking me to show with them, and it wasn’t till 2011 that I started showing during fashion week at independent shows,” said Costa.
“Since my work straddles the fence of costume and fashion, (NYFW) for me is… more of a motivating deadline to finish two collections a year,” said the designer.
SWAN Day is about acknowledging the artistic accomplishments of women. And Costa is joining a growing sector of the fashion industry ‑ women designers designing for women.
“Female designers can innately identify with how and why women wear things,” said Costa. “Often time, male designers will see the women they dress as muses, which is also an inspiring viewpoint, but every person has different things they want to hide and flaunt, different things they are self-conscience about.”
SWAN Day will be held Saturday, March 30 at Trinity-on-Main, 69 Main St., New Britain. Doors open at 5 p.m.
Tickets are $25 at swandayct.com.