Bailey Elayne: Untitled
NOTIONS OF GENDER, SIZE AND RACE IN AMERICA THROUGH
A DREAMY, CUTE, KITSCHY LENS.
editor: Haitong Zheng
date: Jun 12, 2019
JULY FEATURED INTERVIEW SERIES
Bailey Elayne is a Detroit born and raised fashion designer graduated from Parsons Fashion BFA program in 2019. Her thesis collection confronts toxicity within her own community through overly cute and kitschy themes. This collection won the H&M Diversity and Inclusion award, featuring garments which place traditionally gendered motifs into antithetical contexts with adjustability. Her work addresses notions of gender, size and race through a dreamy, cute yet slightly disturbing lens. This month, we had a chance to sit down and talk with Bailey about teeth, birthday cake, Honey Boo Boo and her American dream.
photographer: Kelly Bondra
model: @jalen.xx, @itmemoana, @jade.gord
Congratulations for winning the H&M award, diversity and inclusion! Did you expect it?
I wasn’t expecting it at all. I was nominated for the H&M diversity and inclusion, and I didn’t apply. I really don’t know the process of me being nominated for that.
How do you interpret diversity & inclusion?
Well, both of the words are really important in my work, and I guess that was one reason why I felt a little bit of confidence being in the category. I was in the “all-gender” section, and since sophomore year, all of my work has been adjustable and size-inclusive. So it fits really well for all-gender section because if you’re thinking about multiple sizes of bodies, and you end up considering multiple genders and how they accommodate one silhouette. My thesis wasn’t about inclusivity in that way, but I just wanted to have my own narrative and make sure that a lot of people could participate in it, because it doesn’t make sense to do it otherwise. And it was also not just about ‘plus-size clothing’. It was more about softness in general. There are so many things in between thin and plus size, because bodies fluctuate so much.
Did you get inspired from the body image for your previous work?
Yea, I mean, it’s just ingrained in the way I make the clothes adjustable, but my actual thesis wasn’t about that. It just informed the way I created the clothes so that it was still inclusive despite whatever my thesis was going to be about. That was the first goal.
IT IS REALLY PORTRAYED AS A CRIME-RIDDEN PLACE BUT TO BE HONEST, IT'S NO MORE THAN ANY OTHER PLACE THAT HAS CRIME.
Since I was 7, I had a plan for this, because I used to draw and make my own comics. I realized that I really enjoyed the clothing part of it. I think I was 6 or 7 when the first season of project runway came out. And I thought, “If I'm gonna do this I have to go to that school.” I changed my career path more for my mom. I went to a STEM school, and wasn’t interested in any of those things but more for my mom to feel good about me going into engineering. And I told her up till I was 16 that I was going to do engineering, and then I said fashion journalism, and then I was like “actually ….” She was okay with it, I mean she supports me no matter what.
Did your parents always give you so much freedom when you were growing up?
Yea, my mom let me do whatever and as a result I ended up not doing anything at all because I had the freedom, and all my friends that had really strict parents were super rebellious. My mom is not from a creative background, but she knew that fashion is something that makes me happy.
How would you describe Detroit?
I noticed a lot coming here that the media portrayal of Detroit is very different from what it actually is. There definitely are abandoned areas, but that is the only thing shown. It’s really not what Detroit looks like at all. Now it’s super gentrified. Every time I’ve gone home since I started college it looks different, especially the downtown area. After the bankruptcy, more businesses started moving in. These really extravagant buildings slowly appear and rich people start working there but not living there yet, and now they all move in. There are WholeFoods and Dry Bar, though it’s not culturally what we have. It’s nice that there are more things built up but people are getting pushed out of their neighborhoods so they’re not really getting to enjoy it. It is really portrayed as a crime-ridden place but to be honest it’s no more than any other place that has crime. And I hope that it’ll get portrayed as a better place, not because of the gentrification but because of the great music and the culture of the motor city. Motown started in Detroit. There’re great art, music, culture and unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know that.
...I COULD IDENTIFY TOXICITY AND COMBINE THE HORRIBLENESS WITH THINGS THAT I REALLY ENJOY WHICH IS LIKE EXCESSIVE, CUTE AND KITSCHY.
How did you begin your thesis?
The first day of class I came in with four separate projects to start. I was presenting them then would pick one, but my professors said “just do all of them”, and no one had really encouraged me to do that before. Like I mentioned, the adjustability and inclusivity aspect was really important to me. Just in the way that I would be acknowledging the “soft body” which is thinking about where volume exists on the average person, not like a skinny person, not necessarily a plus sized person, but everything that falls in between. Since I’m in the unisex class I took it as an opportunity to look at how people are toxic within my own community: homophobic, transphobic and hyper-masculine/feminine. Anyway that I could identify toxicity and combine the horribleness with things that I really enjoy which is like excessive, cute, and kitschy. It started from a trip to Niagara Falls and the casino, because to me that was excess that housed a lot of really corny hyper-masucline men. So I went there, and dived into thinking about bodies and volume. My original plan for thesis was to create this stripe that was pre-warped, so when someone that has a fat stomach or really big boobs put it on, the stripes would remain straight. That didn’t really work out but the idea of volume, distortion or warping continued on.
I had a sponsorship from Goodwill so I got a lot of kids halloween costumes, which I was planning to use for materials because of the shiny and silly textile, that’s just really up my alley. I ended up using them to fit my friends. I would make everyone put it on and just cut into it until it felt comfortable, and that was a form that I later referenced.
Tell us about some of your reference.
The cakes were from me building up my own bodies, which is a recommendation from my teachers. I was making these very grotesque and voluminous forms and decorating them as cakes. And they inspired me for the sculptures that I ended up making, also the method that I made my garments adjustable.
I also reference to teeth a lot. Teeth are such a combination of vanity, health and grotesque behaviors. One of the first images I had in my research features a bunch of people wearing grillz because I was thinking, how do men and women in my community decorate excessively? To be honest, I never intended to dive into the teeth as much as I did. I made these collages where there were just four images and I just jumped from one theme to the next and everyone seems to respond to teeth very well. So I just took teeth entirely. They ended up having a lot of symbolism that I kept using later on.
...I WANT IT TO HAVE THAT ‘I DON'T KNOW IF THIS LOOKS DELICIOUS OR DISTURBING,’ SHINY AND SUGARY FEELING.
Tell us about the accessories in your collection.
I was making these very tiny sculptures early on. They’re like spray insulation and parts of kids toys. I was building these tiny bodies and then I started to sculpt them with clay and birthday candles. That was the inspiration for my earrings.
My bags were just essentially toys because they don’t have function beyond opening and holding stuff, like a kids’ first purse. It’s cute and it opens and that’s all I want the bag to be. I made one of the bags looks like a chewed piece of gum but has the color pink. Because pink is so cute to me but what’s the most disgusting kind of pink that could exist? It’s probably this one because it feels so gross and medical.
I also experimented with various textile. This is one of the textiles and it’s made out of materials from Goodwill that I didn’t know how to deal with. It’s made out of crack filler for household like if you have gaps in your wall, cotton sheets and a transparent sheet of rubber. I poured the rubber over the cotton sheets and colored it with candle dye then push it in with a sponge so it will be absorbed on both sides. I also added beads that look like sugar and porcelain teeth where they create a more positive and bloody-looking texture. And I want it to have that “I don’t know if this looks delicious or disturbing,” shiny and sugary feeling. Those are really my favorite parts. They were only used in the bags and shirts but it was something that I was really excited about.
Could you elaborate on the “toxic people” you’re addressing?
So the first thing I referenced was the white hunting guys. Culturally they are not relevant to me but these are the boys that I went to high school with who were super racist to me. They live in like Michigan, that’s not where I’m from, but we went to the same high school. Then I found out about this print called “real tree” which when you go hunting in, you camouflage completely. I decided to use it because it makes me angry and I hate it. In the pageant show Toddlers and Tiaras, this girl Honey Boo Boo was famous a few years ago. I referenced the image of her mom at the wedding in this very dramatic real tree print pick-up dress which I thought was hilarious contrast. So that was like the first direction for me.
THE PLAN WAS TO TAKE THE GARMENTS INTO THE SITUATIONS THAT TOXIC PEOPLE KNOW WELL OR LOVE, TO THE CUTE SIDE OR HYPER-FEMININE SIDE.
Tell us about some of the looks from your collection.
I made this shirt that’s like participating in the Wet T-shirt contest. There’s a character from the store “Limited Too” called Bobby Jack and it will say “yeah, I’m spoiled and I’m so cute and I’m too cute for you.” I wanted to have that very innocent but sassy phrase on the shirt which ended up being, I don’t want to say sexualized but a horrible depiction of women. It’s also just something I remember so vividly.
Another one goes back to the fishing and the camouflage. Basically I started first with the bikini bottom. Because if you think of this Duck Dynasty hunting guy, he would have a sexy calendar of fishing girls with this type of bikini on. And it’s paired with the thermal he would wear but it has the lace-trim little bows on it, like a little girl’s shirt. The plan for all these things was to basically take the garments in the situations that toxic people know well or love because they can relate to it, to the cute side or the hyper-feminine side. And they have to participate in this conversation with me because they know it too well. It’s not an excuse saying “I don’t know whether this is for a man or a woman.”
The dress look is the most culturally relevant one for me. This Soulja boy’s, very 2008, long t-shirt is what me and my brother always argue about whether it’s a dress or not because it’s to the knees. That’s most of the arguments when I talk about gender garments with my family. So I took clothes that me and my family used to wear all the time, and some of them still do wear because they have no understanding of time haha. I took the shirt and extended it longer to make it feels like a wedding dress with the pick-ups. The final design also has costume jewelry sewed into it. So it starts with something that you recognize and also transitions into something that you recognize but it’s the opposite of what it started with.
That’s how I approach everything in my collection. And the goal was just to use these things that I entirely love that’s cute and slightly disturbing. But use them as an opportunity to talk about matters that are toxic in my own community. And making sure that people I want to have a conversation with have something to pull from as far as recognizing the references and then have them locked into a conversation with me.
I NEVER WANTED TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH THOSE PEOPLE BUT IT'S KIND OF LIKE “haha.”
You talked about your community and your experience living in community a lot. How do you feel and deal the toxic side of it?
Detroit was mostly black people and some Latino people and those were the people I grew up around entirely. So I would say I was taught about racism in school but I never had the chance to interact with it because I wasn’t around anyone who would be racist to me. When I went to high school, it was the height of it because I went to high school in a different city that was predominantly white and a lot of them were so blatantly disrespectful to me for no reason. Obviously I have encountered a similar situation in my life but never in school and never with people in my own age who I thought wouldn’t act that way. It was horrifying. I never wanted to have a conversation with those people but it’s kind of like a “haha.” It’s never something that makes sense to me but it is still going on. This is how some people feel about people of color.
So is it more about inviting this group of people to step out of their comfort zone?
To be honest, it’s more like making fun of them. The conversation I wanna have is within my own community and addressing the toxicity. I more or less want to mess with other people because
it’s not my community and it’s not something I really want to be part of. So the conversation is more within my community and my family where I know they will listen to me just because they love me.
How was your experience moving to New York?
I was very shy at first and didn't want to stay here at all, because I used to live in a city that’s nothing similar to New York. It’s very slow, everybody drives a car, nobody leaves. People moved to Atlanta a lot, that’s the place to go, but New York or California is not that common. And in New York I mostly experience micro-aggression. For example, people not acknowledging me in a space or not saying excuse me and pushing me out of the way on the train which is something I don’t tolerate but it does get exhausting to deal with. Detroit is mostly populated with black people but outside of it, it’s dominated by white communities. I feel like after Trump got elected, some people do become more blatantly racist towards people of color but it’s nothing I haven’t seen already. But being here, in Parsons, you feel a lot of freedom talking about things and you’re around people who understand.
What does the American dream mean for you?
That’s a hard question haha. I just always want to be happy which is so corny to say, but I really just want to be happy. And I want to take care of my family. They’ve invested so much in me because I’m the first person to do a lot of things in our family so I feel more responsibility to make them proud and to sacrifice because they’ve sacrificed so much for me. So I guess my American dream is happiness and putting my family into a better situation, not necessarily being wealthy but just being comfortable: everyone in my family could have health care and they can live safely. I don’t even know if I want to stay in America to be honest haha. I really love NYC right now but I don’t know if I want to stay here for my whole life. I definitely want to see other things.