Elisa Jimenez's Interview
In the artist-and-designer's words, Elisa Jimenez was back on our TV “for a good time, not a long time.” During a busy week (in between photo shoots, fashion, meditation and a triptych oil painting) Elisa chatted with the PRAS Blog to fill us with warm fuzzies (try not to feel at peace after speaking with her, I dare you!) and tell fans more about her experience on the show, the cheeky surprise in her unconventional challenge outfit and who she’s rootin’ for in the end.
Lisa: We, the viewers, didn’t get to see what you made your unconventional challenge outfit out of, can you let us know what went into your creation?
Elisa: I wanted to make a high end resort outfit based on “Fancy,” the influence for this look and a character who I transformed into a little rock opera fashion performance experience for the show. The shorts were made out of a paper gift bag. I was very tongue-in-cheek about the fact that it was a gift bag and it was right around her, you know… I thought that was very funny! And then the flower and the whole idea that she’s back from the garden continued the vision of pleasure fulfillment. I used clear duct tape to hold it all together.
The bathing suit was made out of a very, very, very large pair of knickers! The waistband became the halter. I tucked it in the back so it made an X-shape that held at the breasts really nicely. It basically was like a thong one-piece bathing suit. And then the drawing and the painting were a combination of Sharpies and Caran d’Ache, a water-based crayon. The wings were made out of a very lightweight tablecloth.
I’m basically making that whole outfit for Spring (along with the shorts) but out of fabric, but I’m making the wings a little bit more of a capelet that can be turned into a skirt. In theory, if you were at the beach, you could take the capelet, put it around your waist and go to dinner and still have the writing at the bottom.
I thought the wings were fabric!
I know! That’s the magic part. I really wanted the whole thing to register as if it was fabric, because for me, that was part of the trick and the pleasure. I chose to use the duct tape so that it looked like that shiny, iridescent vinyl or spandex. I was consciously playing with another layer as a medium, which was television.
Part of the challenge was to be inspired by your original design. What was the link between the two designs in your eyes?
The original look actually came from a gallery exhibition where I did thematic elements from stories and Fancy was one of them. The first dress you saw is a lightweight plastic Lycra fiber, which is not a sustainable fabric but because I work one-of-a-kind, I do try to be very conscious of not wasting materials, she has the wings within the outfit. That dress’s story is about Fancy going to the garden and being embraced by the flowers all welcoming her back. The connections between the two outfits were the wing-like elements and white where the color is the added extra detail on the garment. I also wanted to take the story and infuse it into the second with the images. [Both dresses had a] light and airy quality with a pop of color.
So who is Fancy? And what was the story on your garment that you were trying to explain to the judges?
Fancy is actually a character my mother created in a painting when I was about 3 or 4 in the 70s. Well the story was a little PG, not 13… (laughs) but it is the last insertion of Fancy in the story of Fancy, which was featured at an exhibition in London called Art’s Seduction by Fashion Since 1970, curated by Chris Townsend. It was not only an installation, not only a performance, not only spontaneous couture, but I also had a full-on compilation of all of the Fancy episodes displayed in video. At this juncture, Fancy has gone to the center of the universe and found out that the Tree of Life is actually within her she’s complete. The next part of the story is, after she’s been in the universe for awhile, she goes back to the Garden of Unconditional Love and Fulfillment and the flowers are very happy she’s back so they all start welcoming her in a very salacious way; “We miss you, we love you!” and the petals are lapping her legs and thighs.
What you saw on television was actually a continuation of a conversation I was having with all of the judges. They kept asking me, “why did you choose to do this?” “Why did you choose to do that?” When I think about things, when I’m creating things, I do have elaborate and very sure intentions but I also agree, you shouldn’t have to explain everything. It was more that [the judges] kept asking, so I kept elaborating.
Let’s go back to the workroom, where I thought you held yourself very well with Joanna Coles… who asked you if you were going to spit on her.
The very first statement out of Joanna Coles’s mouth to me was that statement: “Are you going to spit on me?” All I could think in that moment when I was trying to grapple in all of my upbringing to find the most polite, intelligent and kind retort for her comment was, “I wonder if she knows anything about me before ‘Project Runway’ Season 4?” because if she did, she would have known about my history as, you know Vogue introduced me as one of the heralders of the avant garde, I was represented by Holly Solomon all those years and I’ve been this “insider-outsider-in the industry” seeing things and doing things by proximity, not by ego.
So in that moment, I had to really hold it together and realize, she only has read the rhetoric post-Season 4 so she doesn’t quite understand that it’s not spitting on someone, it’s a tongue-to-fingertip blessing mark specifically on chakra points, places on the fabric to create a shape. It’s intentional and it’s small. It took a lot for me, but I know who Joanna Coles is so I had more empathy and kindness towards her because I thought, wow, this is not going to look so good. You’ve approached my other colleagues talking to them about their designs and yet the first thing you say to me is almost a jab, like we’re at the high school lunch table. Let’s try to bring the conversation back to what we’re talking about. Which is why my retort was, “Understand what it is” and “People pay me, they come to me specifically because I’m not the person who’s only thinking about quotas and trends. You come to me for what I do well and what I do well is synthesizing a combination of my own spirit, with the desire of who’s come to me to have me make them couture or pick up that readymade piece that already has its own history.” My clients can be attracted to a particular fabric or a particular scent, because I infuse all of my fabrics with oils and scented things. I’ll tell them, “Okay this dress is about change. So what’s going on in your life that’s about change?” It’s a much more holistic approach to dressing.
What you didn’t see, was the next thing I said: “I could give you a who’s who of who pays me, but I wasn’t raised to be hubristic.” Her response was, “Take a moment and be hubristic.” So I rattled off about 30 people who people care about and six things that people do Moet Chandon and Gen Art’s and innovations I’ve been on the curve of purely because people saw the work and it resonated, not because I had a PR company.
View pictures from Elisa Jimenez's Portfolio:
I think it would surprise people to know that you’ve worked on many seemingly “mainstream” things, like "High School Musical" for example. That always comes up when you Google you so I have to ask for an explanation!
One of the collaborators I’ve worked with over the years is a costume designer named Caroline Marx who is exceptionally talented. If she thinks my skills would be apropos for a certain project, she hires me. “High School Musical” was one of those projects. She even ended up getting nominated for a costume award specifically for “High School Musical 3” and I did all of the work for one particular character, Kelsi. Every single look Kelsi has in the movie has an element of Elisa Jimenez and Hunger World in it, including the dance sequence where I got a vintage Versace and I hacked it up.
I almost became this running joke during “All Stars.” During every one of my interviews they’d be like, “So when you saw…” and I’d say, “I’ve never seen the show.” When “All Stars” was being filmed and I first walked in and met my colleagues, my disclaimer was, “You must know I’ve never watched the show, so I have no idea who you are as a designer or a character.”
The first real episode that I watched was this last one, the “Project Runway All Stars” that I was on. And I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with the reality of the show and the slice-and-dice of how it was put together because I realize that we’re all paint. We’re all paint on another creator’s canvas and I really liked it and thought it was wonderful. There is nothing more beautiful than watching my work come to life. That’s like watching your child take its first step, so to see it on national television is amazing! (laughs)
Who do you think is going to win?
I think Austin should win. It has nothing to do with talent. First and foremost, we don’t get on “Project Runway” unless you’re talented. Whether it’s “All Stars” or the regular one. “Project Runway” has been a part of the mainstream going on ten seasons. It’s not the subversion it was the first two seasons where all of a sudden the red velvet rope is ripped away from Bryant Park and some unknown from Iowa gets shoved into an industry that he or she has dreamed about since they were five years old. It’s now a phenomenon. There are people who try to get on the show specifically who want to be on a television show.
I think that Austin should win because in the arc of a show, Austin was from the very first season aside from the fact that he’s impeccably talented, besides the fact that every designer is talented – it’s what will empower the phenomena of Project Runway and what will validate it as a continued phenomena.
My mom sent me [an article], where there was “An Elisa” of a season between 4 and “All Stars.” My mom sent it to me and said, “Project Runway” turned you into a noun. That’s truly powerful! To be in contemporary myth-making pop culture. I think Austin should win because in the pop culture realm it would elevate who needs to be the skilled designer. It’s not just the person who looks good on TV, it’s the person who actually has the history behind them.