Labyrinth Phassions & Costumes
designer Jennifer Jensen
by Julie Skok
San Francisco designer Jennifer Jensen, owner of Labyrinth Phassions & Costumes clothing store, is someone who makes you feel like the King or Queen you really are. The clothes are no mere garments, they're costumes rooted in history and ripe for today. Fabrics and designs for those that go beyond t-shirts, it's for those immodest mavens who wrap themselves in a brocade smile, smashing velvet, or a swatch of hemp before they face the day.
FAD: When did you start designing?
Well, I'm actually a dancer, and began to dance in college. About three years into college I started to just play around with fabric and that started developing into a costuming habit, where I'd do costumes for the different performances and dance companies I was working for at the time... as well as just making crazy clothing. I'd just make stuff that was really outlandish and costume oriented that I just kept compiling. And so, basically, after about five years I built up a stock of clothing and it was enough to do a major show. So I put on a big fashion show.
FAD: Where did you put that on?
That was the On Broadway Theater. It was actually a benefit for a dance company called the OnSite Dance Company that I work with. It was the beginning of the Labyrinth shows and it was probably about one of the most choreographed shows, and it was sort of controversial in the way that we were making fun of the whole modeling on the ramp situation, and that really inspired me to do more of that. We actually got a lot of people really turned on by the fact that we were doing fashion, but we weren't doing traditional shows. We were portraying clothing in a completely different way.
What other dance companies do you work with?
I've worked with the Gannett Performance Project, GravyTrain, and I've done my own work, a two woman show called Monster Speaks with my friend Stanya Kahn. I've worked with Stephen Pelton Dance Company.
You said Labyrinth had a philosophy rather than what you'd consider just straight fashion. How would you describe that?
There's a lot more to clothing than people think, and I think that clothing really affects the way we see ourselves, and the way other people see us. We determine what kind of people we are by how we're dressing, and vice versa. I've traveled around the world, and I've seen a lot of different cultures who take pride in costume, and I think that we are really unlucky that in this culture, it's very void of color and light and celebration in clothing. The fabric situation in this country is pathetic, it's ridiculous. You go to India and there's fabric everywhere, just totally beautiful, unique, unusual fabric. You look at it and it makes you happy, it enlivens you. I think that really we need to place more importance on the visual effect that is created by richness, and fullness, and color. It's a spiritual thing. It feeds the soul, and I think that we really do lack a lot of spirit and soul in this country. It's been beaten down and covered over by layers and layers of traditional bullshit. You know you look at GAP clothes, and that's like the standard for clothing in this country and everybody has a GAP garment I even have a GAP garment, and it's scary to think that like, that's what determines fashion. What I'm trying to do is bring Art into clothing, and I know that that's been around for a long time, Art as Fashion, but I think that there is a certain amount of inaccessibility, and it's not accepted socially. I personally, would much rather wear something that has some kind of bizarre look to it, or pattern or color. I feel like it really gives me something,... something to hold onto almost. It's like a pride, whereas, if I'm wearing the exact same thing everyone else is wearing I don't stand out. It's not an ego thing.
Yes, it's an identification thing. Just being in India for the amount of time that I was there, I would go through days where I would just be completely in awe, very excited about the clothing people were wearing, and just being able to watch people walk by. That's all I needed to do, because there's just so much to what they wear, all the jewelry, all the fabric, all the color.
Are there any other places that might have been really inspirational?
The theater definitely has a lot of influence because of the quality that goes into the costumes. The quality that goes into costuming is also something that is lacking in clothing. The seamstress that I work with, she's studied sewing for twenty years and she's meticulous, she can create anything. To know that you're going to have a garment that is going to last you for 15-20 years you know, if not more. I think that's much more of an investment, to pay $150 for a jacket that is going to last you the rest of your life than pay $70 for a jacket that is going to last you for the next three years and you're going to get tired of it. A lot of my stuff is very classical, the roots of my clothing are classic clothing. I take a lot of patterns from old costume books.
A lot of your clothes have a very Renaissance look to them, and others have a more psychedelic look to them. How do you feel about mixing those together the way you do?
I'm pulling from the aesthetic that I feel the most strongly about. When you say psychedelic, basically the psychedelic stuff in the Sixties came from India. I mean you look at anything that you call psychedelic and you go, oh, well, that's Indian imagery, that's Indian fabric. People took all this influence from India in the Sixties and they expanded on it. The medieval thing is obvious to me. I mean, I think most people are drawn to that look because it is just so beautiful. Most of it is deep red maroon velvets, and dark brocades, and detailing, tons of detailing with ribbons and jewels. There's just something about clothing... you look back in time and you see that people placed an importance on costume and on clothing. And I think that we still do, but it's in a different way. It's a way of controlling people, it's a way of subverting people by making them feel restricted, in that they can't wear outlandish things, that they can't wear things that are bright and beautiful.
I noticed that you also use a lot of hemp, do you use that because it's just a high quality fabric or is it for political reasons?
Well, it's political, but it's also aesthetic. I feel very strongly about our environment, and I think everybody today should feel very strongly about our environment, and my way of contributing to teaching people and trying to change the psyche of wasting everything is to try to bring back the hemp plant. I mean people only have to look for it and they can find information about hemp, it's not that hard to find. People are so ignorant about it, they think that hemp is just marijuana, it's just about smoking, it makes you violent. It's all been totally propagandized. Hemp is one of the most primary sources on the earth, and it has been grown ever since we've been on this earth and it has been used for everything. It can be used for paper, it can be used for clothing, for oil and fuel. We can run our cars on hemp, we don't have to use gasoline, and we don't have to use oil. You know, it's a threat to the timber industry, the tobacco industry, the oil industry, all these huge major multi-milliondollar corporations.
In terms of its aesthetic value, for your clothing, how do you feel it fits in?
It actually is probably, next to the brocade, the most medievalesque fabric I have because it is so thick and very raw looking. It's very durable and very strong, and it makes you think of ancient times when they created things that really lasted. You know they created fabric that was durable and it lasted, and it had to be because their lives were so hard. But it is beautiful fabric, and its feels incredible, it's very heavy, and you feel like you're encased in something. You're like wow, there's really some clothing on me!
Besides India, what other countries may have been a large influence on the style of clothing you make?
Nepal, Nepal is also very influenced by India but I definitely saw a difference in the style in Nepal. And Thailand, I think one of the main things that I acknowledged in Thailand was that men were very effeminate, that they weren't afraid to be effeminate, and they were very conscious of that as an O.K. thing to be. India I think, was much more masculine. But in Thailand, I felt like there was just no ego thing whatsoever.
Definitely, I consider androgyny the way to heal ourselves. Our society is so divided, and it is used as a tool to keep people... to keep men and women apart. It is used to keep things separated and divided and disimpowered. So the androgyny thing is about fusing the opposites, you know, about having a balance of feminine and masculine within. My ideal situation is that men and women can wear the same clothing. and I think that would be an outward way for people to admit, to show that they encompass both ideals, and that they're not so traditionally caught in these restrictive roles.
Are you just doing clothes for your designing label right now, or are you doing clothing for dance companies or theater companies anymore?
I am also open to doing costumes for dance companies. The problem is that dance companies don't have a lot of money to hire costumers, but I do offer better rates to performance companies. You know, I find out what people can afford, and we work with what people have. You know that's really where my heart is in a lot of ways because I really feel strongly about doing art and making art more beautiful with costume.
BY: JULIE SKOK
FOTOS: JULIAN MONAGHAN
MAKEUP: KARA YOSHIMOTO
MODEL: PATRICIA from STARS
LOCATION: TRITON HOTEL
You can reach Abigail at 510 654-7900 and at ONTHEWAVE1@AOL.com. You can see more of her work on the Internet. MODEL: JUDE HERRERA
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