The Art and Fashion of Metal Lace | EDGE Talks to Unzicker Design

The EDGE philosophy champions beyond ordinary outcomes.  In thinking out of the box and developing this content, we bring you a new interview format.  Our creative approach and interview process continues to be authentic and open to the unexpected.  What’s new?  The interviewee responds to phrases instead of questions which offers a ‘talk’ setting to experience their in-depth journey and story.

Elaine Unzicker
Elaine Unzicker

The award winning designer, Elaine Unzicker, of Unzicker Design , who designs using chain mail [or metal lace], believes in a value-rich creative process which invokes a message, is open to exploration and happy accidents, and seeks personal engagement with the consumer.  We talked about her Three-Dimensional approach and how open she is to what is happening in the moment ‘letting the energy come through’.  “I’m a conduit, my hands are going and they know what to do”, she says.  Elaine’s story of her creation of a chain mail dress [with a pouf!] was imagined Three Dreams Later.  Her advice on Don’t Give Up touches on one’s own satisfaction of who you are and what you are meant to do in the world.  Feedback from a consumer maybe TMI [too much information], but the purity behind the emotion and what they experience is priceless.  She Said What? will give you insight into consumer feedback and what to do with it.  But the one message to take away from this inspiring interview is integrity.  Integrity of your pursuit and design practice.  Satisfy your passion to create.   Elaine says, “Often the darkest moments come before the flood of positive reinforcement.  So, hang in there!”

Elaine Unzicker discusses her design process, interaction with her audience, and shares a little advice:

Three-Dimensional Vision

Ideas formulate as images in my head.  Sometimes it is only a segment of a piece; other times it may be a complete object.  While I’m working in my studio, the new ideas bounce around in my head.  I’ll question how to proceed to bring the idea into a realized state.  Often the image is turned around so I can look at the front and back and how it moves.  Questions come to me regarding the construction.  Answers aren’t always clear until I proceed with the process.  However, I believe this incubation time is essential.  It may actually bring the completed piece forward more quickly.

The inner guidance or spark of inspiration allows me to feel what is next.  Imagination is never tangible and I want to capture those “sparks”.

Go With the Flow

Generally, if I do a sketch, it is only to remember the basic idea.  In most cases, I start with one element of a piece and wait for the piece to start telling me what is next.  I really don’t know how the finished piece will look until the end.  I enjoy this process of allowing the material to guide me and being open to the unexpected.  In this way, I am working thru possible options; sometimes, opening up seams and starting over in areas because it does not work in the way I’d like it to.  The inner guidance or spark of inspiration allows me to feel what is next.  Imagination is never tangible and I want to capture those “sparks”.

 

Three Dreams Later

So, I’ve been working on an elaborate dress which already has a title, “Armored Dream”.  This particular piece first appeared in a dream where I was wearing it.  It puffed out at the bottom which chain mail does not do naturally.  And, in the dream, the dress and I kept bumping into people at a party.  No one was offended – everyone just kept laughing and having a wonderful time.  I woke up and thought, “Well, chain mail doesn’t pouf out.  Doesn’t seem like something I can do.”  I let it go.

Around a year later, I see this same dress in a different dream.  People still having a great time and I’m still bumping into them with this dress.  Again, I wake up and think, “It still doesn’t feel like something I can do.”  So, I let it go again.  I’m guessing it’s around another year’s time when the dress appears in my dreams again.  Only this time, I decide to talk to my partner Keith about it.  He suggests a number of materials to create a structure for the chain mail to pouf around and/or go through.  We talk about possibilities and ideas of how to proceed.  Honestly, I’m still not convinced.

 

Maybe, it’s another 6 months later and I start the top part of the dress because this element was very clear to me.  The first material used for the pouf was carbon fiber, but it wasn’t flexible enough to hold a circle.  Next, I tried fiberglass rod which will hold a circle and is strong enough to hold the metal.  I created 3 circles with the white fiberglass rod and put them in place on the dress.  However, I’m not pleased with how the circles relate to the top of the dress or the color white.  I really thought the piece was close to being complete, but it is going to change yet again.

I’m going back to metal; aluminum tubing is the next material.  And, I’ve decided to use a different shape from the circle for the pouf.  So, the plan is for the shape to relate more to the top of the dress which ends in an angle.  I want to repeat the angle and have it gradually pouf out.  As of right now, I’m not sure how this can happen.  But, I’m going to experiment by creating a few jewelry pieces to explore how the structure can work.  I did this prior to using the fiberglass rod which got it to its current state.  Smaller pieces are much faster to work out structural issues and to play with ideas.  So, this piece is really pushing my limits, but it will lead to new pieces as well.

Questions about who you are and what you are meant to be doing in the world are at the deepest root of what and how you create.

edgexpo-com-unzicker-interview-25Don’t Give Up

There have been so many times when I thought it would just be easier to give up.  Life is not an easy process and neither is being an artist.  In general, artists live on the edge taking bigger risks than most people.  I believe our creative process happens in the present moment.

The easy way out seems to be a regular full time job with benefits.  But, is it easier?  Does it satisfy your personal needs/desires?  Are you content doing something you are not passionate about?  Questions about who you are and what you are meant to be doing in the world are at the deepest root of what and how you create.

My business was floundering when Keith and I moved to Ojai, California.  I really felt maybe it would be best if I just stopped and found a full time job.  A friend from the Ojai Studio Artists said, “You can’t quit; other artists in the group feel your work is valid, important.”  His words kept me plugging along.  Shortly after that conversation, I sold my first dress,“Shimmering Free” at the Lakefront Arts Festival in Milwaukee.  I realized then I was being supported by the universe.  Often the darkest moments come before the flood of positive reinforcement.  So, hang in there!

The interaction of my work with the person is key to bringing it to life.

She Said What?

Hearing and seeing how people respond to your work only happens if you set up a display and do a retail show.  My work requires a structure, which happens to be the human form, for it to come to life.  When someone tries on my work, I’m given a moment to view it from a new angle.  Sometimes I can see where I want to change the piece or add one more detail.  And the interaction with the other person can be loads of fun.  I’ve had women twirl and dance in my dresses.

But one of my favorite stories is about Maura at the Sun Valley Art Festival.  She visited my booth every day of the show looking over my work and falling in love with it.  On this particular day, she was wearing a single glove with the onyx stones on it and a 6” wide scarf.  She had decided to purchase both pieces to wear at a friend’s wedding event coming up.  Maura said, “I think I’ll go out tonight wearing this and maybe I’ll meet the man of my dreams.”  Another woman in the booth said to her, “I’ll go home with you right now.”  Without hesitation, Maura said, “Oh, honey, that’s very sweet, but not what I’m looking for.”  You never know what’s going to happen when you put yourself out there.

Maura ended up returning the 6” scarf which we agreed upon before the purchase.  It didn’t have the color combinations she wanted and I was planning to do a new one especially for her.  She kept saying she wanted a piece to cover her shoulders and upper part of the arms.  I listened to her desires.  After several emails back and forth, I asked if I could design a shawl for her.  The 6” scarf kept falling onto the neck and wouldn’t stay on the shoulders when she wore it.  She patiently waited for my new idea to come forth.  The shawl is a stunning piece which she is very happy with.  And, I have a new design in my collection – all because I listened.

I want people to play with my pieces; enjoying how they feel on.  And, perhaps, pushing the boundaries of what is normal for them.

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One’s Art Collection Can Be Fashion

Remember the first dress, “Shimmering Free” that sold in Milwaukee?  The woman who purchased it almost burst into tears when she saw it.  She had a collection of clothing made from unusual materials.  Her artwork consisted of one-of-a-kind or limited edition pieces from artists like myself.  And, she told me she was going to display “Shimmering Free” on a 1920’s mannequin she had as her artwork when she wasn’t wearing it.  She is not the first client to display my work along with their paintings and other artwork.  After “Shimmering Free” came into existence, I decided that my dress-like items would be one-of-a-kind.  It tends to increase the value of the item for the client and allows me the time to create them.

Shimmering Free | Courtesy of Unzicker Design
Shimmering Free | Courtesy of Unzicker Design

Several artists have purchased pieces from me to wear and enjoy.  I consider this a great compliment.  It represents the unique quality of the collection.  I want people to play with my pieces; enjoying how they feel on.  And, perhaps, pushing the boundaries of what is normal for them.  The interaction of my work with the person is key to bringing it to life.  The pieces in my collection are surprisingly comfortable to wear and often women find them strangely empowering.

Congratulations, Elaine [Unzicker Design]!  EDGE wishes you continued success and thank you for your artistic and meaningful contribution to the fashion industry.

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