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Cara Marie Piazza is an artist based in New York City whose inherent interest in natural and sustainable fashion has led her to create a naturally-dyed, handmade collection of intimates, under the brand name Calyx. Using sustainably-sourced organic cottons and bamboo fibres alongside Ahimsa and Peace-grade silks, Calyx focuses on seasonal collections that use locally grown flowers and plants to dye each garment whilst each print is dictated by Piazza’s own home-grown petals. Transparent in every aspect of her business, Piazza collects waste materials to use as dye and maintains responsible processing techniques to ensure the ecosystem is safely preserved. Treating fabrics through natural alchemical dye sessions and ancient shibori techniques, Calyx transforms every textile, imbuing each piece with an intimate sense of power and a unique story.
Running on nature’s seasons, Calyx used locally-grown mint, burnt marigolds, bearded iris, and dahlia from Rockaway Beach in New York for the SS16 collection. Inspired by classic slips and 1920s-style lingerie, silhouettes are fluid and romantic whilst delicate two-pieces are modest with high-waisted pants and generous bralettes with wrap-around strapping. Fabricated from natural materials and hand-dyed in Piazza’s studio, Calyx’s SS16 collection combines soft sheer detailing with Fair Trade silks and customisable cuts for varying shapes and body types.
We caught up with Piazza to ask her some questions about her recent SS16 collection launch at LN-CC.
LN-CC: When did you first discover your interest in fashion?
Cara Piazza: I have been interested in fashion for as long as I can remember; dressing myself in my mother’s turquoise necklaces and scarves and collaging cut-outs of fashions from magazines to make my own paper dolls. At sixteen I started interning and later took a summer course at Parsons School of Design; I immediately knew that fashion was the field I wanted to pursue. .
Where do you take your inspirations from?
C.P: At the risk of sounding cliché, I really do draw inspiration from nature, from the limits that we humans place on her and how she rejects those limits. I’m constantly inspired by the dichotomy between manmade grids, plane geometry and angles in conversation with the fractal shapes and chaotic forms found in nature. I also take the flâneur's approach into seeking inspiration, to clear my mind I walk the city entering museums and let my surroundings speak to me. My best ideas come when I get myself lost.
I’m constantly inspired by the fever of New York. Growing up here and not having access to grow space, drew me to nature in a more pragmatic light and created a certain savviness in how I source my dye stuffs. I started by forming relationships with florists and restaurants to collect their floral and food waste trash to turn into dye because I didn’t have space to grow my own. These relationships between businesses and logistic systems of sourcing my dyestuffs inspire me and force a set of limits on my work.
What woman do you design for?
C.P: I design for any woman who wants to feel powerful under and in her clothing.
What do you want your designs to evoke?
C.P: I want Calyx to evoke a sense of comfort, whimsical wonder and strength.
"Each calyx piece is hand dyed naturally with locally grown colour, sewn with Fair Trade silks and manufactured in NYC. The seasons we run on are nature’s seasons, our prints dictated by the petals she grows. Our cuts are classic and can be customized for all shapes and body types. We are here to love your bits. Calyx is your amulet, your personal armour and your secret strength. The first thing you put on and the last thing to be taken off. Calyx holds you in."
What’s the Calyx philosophy?
CP: The Calyx philosophy reads more as a Manifesto: In the days of the witches, when spells were cast and potions brewed, the sorceresses would soak their undergarments in their magic to hold their incantations closest to the most powerful parts of their body. The most intimate layer between you and the world, your underwear, should be imbued with power, magic and love.
Each calyx piece is hand dyed naturally with locally grown colour, sewn with Fair Trade silks and manufactured in NYC. The seasons we run on are nature’s seasons, our prints dictated by the petals she grows. Our cuts are classic and can be customized for all shapes and body types. We are here to love your bits. Calyx is your amulet, your personal armour and your secret strength. The first thing you put on and the last thing to be taken off. Calyx holds you in.
You state that “in the days of witches, sorceresses soaked their underwear in magic.” How has this notion translated into your underwear?
C.P: I hand-dye each piece individually making sure to devote special attention and love to the process. I put my soul into my dyeing and want the customer to feel as though there is magic in every pair.
What is the importance of sustainable fashion to you?
C.P: It is the single most important aspect of my work. Sustainability should inherently be built into all fashion businesses. Firstly, I am completely transparent with all of my materials I use for dyeing, my processes and sources. As a designer, or anyone who is creating product for the market place, it is your responsibility to create something sustainable.
In what ways do you ensure ethical practice is carried out at every level of your production?
CP: First, and not to sound redundant, I am completely transparent with all of my materials and dyes used in creating my designs. I source them as locally as possible. I partner with restaurants and florists to collect their waste and turn it into dye, which intercepts these waste streams from going to landfill and helps reduce emissions.
I also am mindful of my water usage and maintain a pH balance in all vats used in the process. The clothing dye industry is one of the top polluting industries in the world, poisoning ecosystems by dumping their chemical synthetic dyes into the water sources surrounding the factory. By disposing of your natural and pH balanced dye vats responsibly you are helping to reduce this pollution.I work with NYC factories that are ethical in their business practices, which also helps cut emissions created by shipping and freight. For packaging I only use recycled paper and packing materials.
How does the design process start for you?
C.P: Usually it starts with a walk. As I mentioned earlier, my best ideas come when I get myself lost. I take notes through the city taking pictures of design elements to add into my processes. Once I get an idea for dyeing it moves into the mess making stage. I find my best processes through happy accidents turning my dye studio into something like an organic Jackson Pollock painting.
"Before the advent of synthetic dyes in the industrial era, we had been using traditional techniques all over the world. For millennia, these heritage practices were the lifeblood that kept the art alive. I hope through Calyx I can help draw light to these practices and bring awareness to the art form."
Where does your passion and fascination with material stem from?
C.P: I was born with it. I’m unsure of what my initial fascination with material stemmed from but I have always been attracted to colour, alchemy and mysticism. Combine that with a career in dyeing and boom, I’m a modern witch!
What part of the design process is most symbolic for you?
C.P: For me it is the dyeing process, there is an alchemy in the experimentation, and meditation involved with brewing colour from natural material. I call it the ‘sweet spot’ when I find the moment when the piece turns the hue I’m after. The process I selfishly find very relaxing and meditative.
You use traditional techniques in your collections. Why is it important that you include these traditional methods in your practice?
C.P: Traditional techniques in dyeing are the foundations for dyeing sustainably. Before the advent of synthetic dyes in the industrial era, we had been using traditional techniques all over the world. For millennia, these heritage practices were the lifeblood that kept the art alive. I hope through Calyx I can help draw light to these practices and bring awareness to the art form.
What is it about natural flower dyeing that is unique to you?
C.P: I believe it’s my hand and commitment to experimentation. I allow myself not to be too precious while still respecting the material. Flowers are very delicate, and when dyeing with them I treat each piece as a mini hospice for their transmutation into a new life form.
Tell us about your SS16 collection and the influences that inspired it.
C.P: I wanted to create timeless intimates and I was highly inspired by vintage lingerie. Pleating, detailing, and sheer fabrics eliminate the use of synthetic elastics and allow cuts that are comfortable for all body shapes.
What flowers were used in the collection and why did you choose those specific ones?
C.P: This season I worked with a flower farm in New York’s Rockaways. I was obsessed with the idea of local colour and keeping it grown within the same provenance where I create my pieces. I used seasonal flowers including burnt marigolds, dahlia and anemones and rose.
How did fabric help in the realisation of your vision for the collection?
C.P: Silk is a luxurious fabric and feels the nicest against the most intimate parts of the body. I wanted the customer to feel as though they were wearing little clouds under their clothing.
What are the most significant details in the collection?
C.P: The dyeing is the most important part of the collection; each piece is a bespoke creation and was hand-rolled and dyed. This attention to individual hand-dyeing imbues them with a certain level of care one cannot find in mass-produced garments.
What does this collection represent for you?
C.P: This collection represents an escape from the everyday, an amuletic magical ride into a world of sensuality.
What’s next for Calyx?
CP: Calyx will continue to evolve as an intimates label that will eventually expand to carry other types of garments that adhere to the Calyx manifesto alongside intimate objects.