- Francesca Kaplan
- 27 years old
- Grew up in Newton, Mass. Now lives in Boerum Hil.
- Artist/Designer/Stylist: Francesca Kaplan Design -- Wearable Art
You describe your work wearable art — and hyphenate your occupation as artist-designer-stylist. Do you hate having to label yourself?
It’s not that I hate to label myself, since its nice to feel like I have a place, and labels give me that place. It’s just hard to pick a label and stick with it. I love to do a lot of different things, and labels scare me into thinking I have to choose.
How does someone with two degrees from Stanford -- in fine arts and education -- end up working with clothes?
Coming from Stanford, I thought I would be an art teacher or administrator and work on my own on the side. It ended up being the other way around. It took me a very long time to figure out how to express myself. Eventually, clothes made sense. We get dressed every day and have the opportunity to say something. I feel like there is humor in that, there is meaning in that, and there is art in that. Clothes became canvas to me, and all of a sudden, I had an audience on every street corner, subway car, and restaurant. It’s hard to convince people that fashion can be art, I guess because people think of clothing as frivolous or extraneous. To me, it’s a chance to make art accessible, to challenge the possibilities for expression, and to make everyday light and different.
You grew up outside of Boston, which isn’t small town America. What brought you to New York City?
There is a rhythm and an air to the city that just doesn’t happen anywhere else I have ever lived. People have purpose and style and grace. They bounce. I like that.
How difficult has it been trying to establish yourself as a young designer?
It is incredibly difficult to be an emerging designer and artist in New York City; there are so many talented people, and it’s hard to not feel the competition. But it is also thrilling, because all of those talented people are constantly dreaming up new ways to be.
Has working with musicians helped with exposure?
Musicians are great to work with because they like to push the envelope and they are willing to wear a Barbie vest and leather pants. They also have microphones, so they can say my name loudly to a big group of people -- that helps.
Your work is available for sale at boutiques and museums. Are you more at home in artsy neighborhoods than the garment district? Is your target customer a fashionista or a collector?
My family is in textiles, so the Garment District has always been comfortable for me. But with my work, I feel more in tune with galleries, maybe because it has been well received in that venue. It all tends to be a little outrageous, so it appeals to a different sort of fashionista. When fashion trailblazers wear my line, I am thrilled -- that’s how it gets seen. It’s a gallery right there on the street. Most of my commission work is done because someone saw a piece on the street in New York and wanted to know more about it.
Particularly popular are your handbags covered in splatter paint. Is it homage to Pollack?
The splatter line has been my most successful. I think people like how playful it is. It’s a very loud item, but with a subdued outfit, it really makes a statement. I do love Pollack, and I always thought that the movement and the energy in his paintings were exciting. My work is a comment on it, and nod to it, and of course, homage to it.
They’re also very reminiscent of sweatshirts we wore in middle school -- what motivated you to bring the technique back?
Similarly, it is a nod to the '80s. In the '80s splatter was a little bit of a different thing, it coupled the flashdance sweatshirt and a banana clip. It was fun, and I want that playful feeling to exist in my bags. I tried to take that playfulness a step further with my handbags, making the paint the focus, and the color more dominant than it was in the 80’s but using it as inspiration. I think it worked, because all different kinds of people like to carry them.
Your designs aren’t for the introverted. One collection incorporates toys into clothing. How much is practical, how much is costume?
Well, I think that most of it can be worn, especially in New York, where the street is your runway. I think the thing that is most fun about fashion is that you can do anything you want, essentially at anytime. We all wear costumes, everyday, it just matters what they are for. Office costumes, uniforms, nightclub costumes etc. I think that there are pieces I do that aren’t particularly practical, but I also think that every piece has a place, and that for the extrovert, they can actually be for the everyday.
How does what you wear define you? Since you’re in the business, does that mean you can’t ever walk out the door in curlers and a bathrobe?
I used to spend a lot of time getting dressed because it was my creative outlet – every day was a new opportunity. I still have that in me, but I use the creativity to make the clothes now, to paint the bags, so I don’t always come through in my own look. Right now I am in my pajamas. I work at home or in my studio, so sometimes, I am embarrassed to say, it's tee-shirt and yoga pants all day long. When I am going to an event or out, or, ok, pretty much anywhere outside of my 75-foot-to-home radius, I do it up. It’s too fun not to.
How conscious are you of what people are wearing around you?
I am only really interested when it’s crazy, because I love that people are willing to be that. I am not really a typical fashion girl. I love clothes; I love getting dressed; I love a well-made piece. But I always think that outlandish is more exciting, and that’s what I look at. Not jeans and tees. Williamsburg is a good place to look; the lower east side too. But I think the most interesting place to be is on the subway. There you see all styles, not just hipster or hippie. People who take chances are exciting to me, even if don’t like their particular looks.
Do you read New York magazine’s “Look Book” section?
Never. Eek, is that bad?
Have you tried watching any of the fashion reality shows like Project Runway or The Cut?
I did watch a few Project Runways, and I think the designers were really well chosen -- very talented. Reality shows kind of get under my skin, so I didn’t watch long.
What's something everyone should have in one's closet?
A Denim Barbie Vest, a Splatter Tote Bag, and a Rag Scarf. Then, all you need is a pair of jeans, a tee shirt and a week’s worth of underwear, and you’re set.
Nine things to know about Francesca:
What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
Considering my entire apartment falls under that category, it’s hard to choose. Probably a 1920s suitcase with a bowler inside. I still have it.
Which city establishment sees more of your paycheck than you do?
Every single one.
Personality Problem Solving: Would you consider your personality more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; has "New York" become a part of you?
New York has absolutely become a part of me. I hope I have the bounce. I think I have a nice combination of hysterical and obsessive, though I think my fiancé would say I border on insane. I think you might have to be in order to be a New York Artist.
NYC Confessional: Do you have a local guilty pleasure?
Belgium Fries. Lots of mango mayo. And Apollo Braun at 193 Orchard St. He’s a guilty pleasure in and of himself.
When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone, relish in solitude and find your earthly happiness? (We promise not to intrude.)
I love the promenade in Brooklyn Heights. You see the city, the water, and there is still people watching to be done.
What's one thing you've done (or regularly do) in NYC that you could not have conceived doing anywhere else?
I literally think everything I do falls under that category. New York is just the best place for everything I do.
Assuming that you're generally respectful of your fellow citizens, was there ever a time when you had to absolutely unleash your inner asshole to get satisfaction?
I have moments. More than I would like to admit. But it's part of being around people all the time, sometimes they just piss you off.
Besides more square footage, what luxury would you most like to have in your apartment?
There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
I used to audition for a lot of things when I first moved to New York. I sing and thought maybe that would be the method to my madness. After one of a million horrible auditions in midtown, I left and was almost run over by a long white stretch limo. I had an inner asshole moment and got a little hot under the collar. The light turned red, and the limo halted. And then it started to roll up to me. The window lowered and there was Prince! looking at me, with a little mischievous gleam in his eye. He said, “Young lady, you have very beautiful eyes, but you are in my way and I have to go.” Prince is absolutely my favorite in almost everything -- fashion, art, music -- and so I, of course, had nothing to say. I spit out, “You don’t understand, I love you,” before he sped off. Not my most eloquent or composed moment, but a great New York moment none-the-less. I still think about it, shamelessly.
For more information about Francesca Kaplan or to see samples of her work visit 30 Van Dam and Apollo Braun.
-- Interview by Lily Oei and Aaron Dobbs