Dowsed in Aesthetics
Anna Telcs and the ceremony of fashion.
Anna Telcs inhabits the dual worlds of commercial fashion and art. She’s an assistant editorial stylist for Nordstrom, working behind the scenes on catalogues, photo shoots and the retailer’s website. She has also shown work at the Guggenheim in New York, Lawrimore Project, the Frye Art Museum, and since 2008 she has designed the costumes for the Seattle performance group Implied Violence (now Saint Genet).
Telcs studied industrial design at the University of Washington before moving to New York in 2004, where she was snatched up as a hardware designer for London Fog, and went on to work as a production manager for Thom Browne and as a trim designer for Helmut Lang. When she returned to Seattle four years ago, she taught herself to sew and began working closely with a community of artists whose energy and independence she found invigorating.
Despite her immersion in an emphatically commercial industry, she approaches design with an eye toward its anthropological and spiritual aspects. Telcs’ designs are austere and structural, constructed from weightless flesh-colored materials like gauzy organza or raw wool (still smelling of lanolin). She often manipulates the material with a honeycomb of smocking or other elaborate hand-stitching techniques that have roots in plain cloth quilting—a tradition with which Telcs is obsessed.
Her mother’s family was Mennonite, but Telcs says that isn’t why she’s fascinated with plainclothes fashion. “My father was a young English hippie who got his hands on a Gohn Brothers catalogue at some point in the ’70s,” Telcs says. “He would wear Amish pants with copper buttons that I always loved. As a teenager I was often stealing his clothes!”
Endowing everyday outfits with a feeling of ceremony and uniformity is central to Telcs’ vision. “Working for Thom Browne instilled in me that if you can hold fast to something you like aesthetically, it becomes a uniform,” she says. “You can rely on it. I love that idea.” Her designs tend toward simplicity and a restricted color palette (navys, creams, ivory, beiges, peaches, a little bit of black). Emphasis falls on striking silhouettes with exaggerated shapes.
One of Telcs’ projects, a performance called The Dowsing, was performed in February at the Watermill Center, a performance-oriented residency and workspace on Long Island, and later at the Americas Society in Manhattan. (She was the first person to have a “fashion happening” at the Americas Society since Warhol and Anna Wintour in 1968.) The show blended the theatricality of an old salon-style Dior runway show with ritual performance, like dressing her models in front of the audience. (The models were all male—a rebuttal to the fashion industry’s fetishization of the idealized female form.) Telcs made all the show’s garments by hand during the 20-day residency. A Seattle iteration of The Dowsing is in the works.
“I want to strip away the coolness from fashion and make it accessible, a shared ritual,” Telcs says.
Telcs uses the image of dowsing—a type of divination using a rod or branch to locate groundwater, oil, and buried metals—to describe her intuitive creative process, which resembles a mystical practice, using fashion to find inner experience. Making garments by hand is an integral part of this practice for Telcs.
“I think this is a direction our society is headed right now: a return to ritual beginnings,” she says. “There is such little tactility in the superficial branding of things. Wouldn’t you want clothes that meant something or that were made by someone’s hands?”
Photo by Robin Stein.