There are the fashion designers who create clothing that doubles as art, and then there are artists who create using fashion as their chosen medium. San Francisco’s Joui Turandot is decidedly one of the latter.
While her studio on the border between the Mission and Potrero Hill is dotted with fashion magazines and images torn from their pages, the real inspiration for the larger-than-life gowns and hand-sewn vests she creates under the label Vagadu has very little to do with what’s heading down the runways of today.
Instead, Turandot, who is opening her studio up this weekend for a sale event, draws inspiration for her latest work from her grandfather, the Greek-born artist Jean Varda, a well-known figure in the Bay Area arts world during the 1950’s and 60’s who counted Henry Miller, Anais Nin and Zen Buddhism philosopher Alan Watts among his close friends.
“He really lived life as art and never bought anything new, was poor as dirt, but managed to live the most incredibly rich life that anyone could have just because he brought so much to everyone who knew him,” says Turandot, who never met her grandfather but has spent years researching his life and is currently trying to launch a retrospective of his work.
While Varda was widely known for collages incorporating paper, textiles, fabrics and paint, Turandot relies on reclaimed fabric as her medium.
“I really source him a lot, not only in his sense of color choice, shapes, the way he uses shapes for the feminine form, but also really in the sense of taking these left over things,” she says.
Just as her grandfather used scraps and found materials for his work, Turandot employs only fabrics and textile scraps cast-off by other designers and retailers. The one-of-kind pieces that result are structurally complex, often involving multiple parts that can be worn together or separately, yet they manage to be disarmingly whimsical at the same time.
A series of vests adorned with hours and hours’ worth of hand-sewn tucks and folds are among the most versatile and universally wearable items hanging on her studio’s racks at the moment, while the dresses and gowns beg for a stage all their own – or at least the kind of wearer who’s not afraid of an audience.
The images below reveal just how different Turandot’s gowns can look depending on the viewer’s angle.
Want to check out all the angles for yourself? Head to the Vagadu Studio Sale this weekend, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., 375 Alabama St. #490, www.vagadu.com. New clothing by designer Giselle Shepatin will also be on display.
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