In most of the design world, form follows function. A big exception, at least some of the time: fashion. Couture superstars and recently graduated novices alike happily let their whims carry them overboard and out to sea, far from the shallow waters of the ready-to-wear humdrum.
An exception to the exception: Chanté Gossett, a recent textile-design alumna of the University of Kansas now making her name with hand-dyed, hand-sewn pieces that balance ambitious art with wearable fashion. She followed a colorful West 18th Street Fashion Show debut last summer with a confetti-printed solo show at the Bauer this spring, and she’s about to launch her first postgraduate collection at a private show August 7. Prior to the collection’s release, The Pitch
met up with Gossett at downtown’s Skyline salon to ask her about her work.
The Pitch: How long does it take you to create a new collection?
When I’m hand-producing all my textiles, it’s really time-consuming. Despite [a collection] being eight to 10 looks, it takes me months to make this happen. It takes me weeks to even produce a fabric and then go and construct the piece. Construction is where I struggle the most. Then there are fittings and making sure everything looks right. I didn’t have patternmaking [at KU]. I didn’t have draping. In all of that, I’m self-taught, so it’s a struggle. But at the same time, I always have to have things fit exactly the way I imagined it.
What’s your process like at this point?
A lot of people tend to think I have it done digitally or I have it printed, but it’s all done by hand. It’s a process called disperse-dye printing, which I picked up while I was at KU, and I don’t think anybody thought to use it in the way I thought to use it. When we were first introduced to the process, a lot of people hated it, and I immediately was like, “I’m going to do this with this, and do this,” and then I got these results that I was so happy with.
It’s all hand-painted, then cut down from there and transferred. So each of the pieces that you see printed on the garment is completely individual — it’s not a, like, repeated piece. With the last [eight-piece confetti] collection, it was the same process. So all those pieces were hand-cut and -laid. I burnt my hands so many times in that freaking heat press. I was miserable. But it turned out great. Each one of those little confetti pieces has an individually hand-painted look to it, with color variation and stuff.
You’ve chosen to highlight the fabric itself this time, rather than the pattern, as you did last year with your confetti collection?
It came from one of my favorite artists, Gerhard Richter. He did these really large-scale squeegee paintings, where he would create layers of paint and then go back over with a squeegee to remove it, so it creates a sort of depth. I was like, how can I translate that into fabric? So I wound up doing this disperse-dye process again, and doing it on a very large scale, and then I did three layers of paint, then squeegee-painted to get the results I got. So whereas before I was cutting down and creating patterns, this time it’s more all over.
It’s funny because now people are looking at this print and being like, “Oh, my God, it looks like art! How did you do that?” I’ve been doing this for two collections, and people just thought I was digitally printing the entire time, but there’s so much time and energy that’s going into this, and there’s a lot of process behind a concept. It is so intentionally supposed to look very hand-done that people are finally starting to look at it like art. I think that’s what I always wanted was a marriage of the two, between fashion and art.
Making it wearable has always been my attraction. It’s like an elevated basic — something very sophisticated, but you just can’t quite put your finger on it but you know there’s something special about it. In some ways, I feel like it’s more difficult to create a successful marriage of art and fashion that’s wearable than something that’s completely avant-garde. People expect you to do that. People are going to expect you to take garbage and make a dress out of it and call it art. I want things that I can see existing in the real world and see on friends of mine.
Do you plan on selling your pieces soon?
Selling is kind of my next direction after this collection because I’ve had a lot of demand for it. But I don’t feel comfortable quite yet since I am hand-creating everything, and I want my sewing skills to improve before I’m charging people money for things. I want to make sure that whatever I’m putting out there and putting my name on is worth it, and it’s going to live up to my expectations. After this collection, I’m going to focus on that.
And I want to make it affordable enough that a girl like myself or you could afford it, and you could make it a nicer thing that you might spend a little more money on because it’s unique and handmade, and there’s a lot of time and energy that went into it.