in Profiles | 06 JUN 01
Featured in
Issue 60

She's Like a Rainbow

Ina Celaya's new collection

in Profiles | 06 JUN 01

Faster than you can blink, the strobe flashes. Its blinding comet-quick bursts both synch and counter the acrid tempo of Archie Shepp's 'Le matin des noirs', giving the viewer a voyeuristic peep of dancer Mataji Booker as she moves to the music in the dark, alone.

Although she is the solitary character in this digital presentation of Los Angeles-based designer Ina Celaya's Autumn 2001 collection, music is the real protagonist and hero of the video. Inspired, in part, by Flashdance (1983) and the pillow-fight sequence in the Bond film Casino Royale (1967), director Eric Coleman's aim was to freeze super-dynamic movement. While the clothes instigated the project, the video itself 'is about the beauty of the performance and our ability to rhythmically interact with it', suggests B+, the video's Irish director of photography.

As a means of fashion presentation the video is revolutionary: it spurns the industry's traditional product/model-based catwalk show. This is very much in keeping with Celaya's approach to fashion. Describing herself as a 'conceptual designer', she produces original pieces that successfully resist becoming costume or 'only for show'.

In an earlier Cubist-inspired collection she took vintage pattern pieces as her starting-point. Using the parts in a strictly Formalist manner, she constructed new garments, such as the 'dyslexic French maid dress'. In addition to the appeal of their shapes, Celaya was interested in the pattern pieces' construction and in details such as the seaming. After laying the pieces on the floor and playing with them, she twisted and draped them over herself. The results were uniquely modern designs that retained the 1930s and 1950s period flavour of the original fragments that provided their inspiration, despite their utter atomization.

The Black Rainbow collection, likewise, is about dissection and reinvention. In this case, Celaya's hook was the graphic 1970s decal-style rainbow, and her idea to set its colours free. It's a wonderful concept: corny, neo-Hippie and emancipating rather than gloomy - despite the fact that the strobe (with its 1/10,000 second flash) almost entirely bleaches the colour from the outfit worn by the model/dancer in the video. However, the collection, as with any rainbow-inspired design, inevitably features colour: shimmering silken cords in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple are hung from arc-shaped pieces of black Melton wool (which has substantial body). These black rainbows are pieced next to each other in undulating patterns.

In some cases the strands of cords swing free; in others a single cord or a small group of them meanders among texturally patchworked rainbows. A suit consisting of trousers and coat seems conventional in respect to a halter and skirt ensemble that bares as much of the body as it conceals. 'My clothes' ,Celaya has said, 'aren't afraid of the body - and expose it in new [...] ways.'

The halter-top and skirt, for example, are constructed simply of a collar and a waistband, both hung with cords. Celaya likes to tuck those suspended from the halter into the narrow waistband of the skirt, causing the ends to splay out like errant Rastafarian dreads. There is, however, no escaping the erotic fringe effect. The strands move like liquid around the curves of the body, recalling the fringed curtains associated with louche interiors.

In the video the strobe is the technological equivalent of the fringes and tassels, turning the viewer into an (accidental) electronic flâneur. In fact, the strobe makes your vision so keen that the eye physically seeks to fill in the spaces between the strobe bursts. And despite what must have been hellish post-production editing, the many spliced images on screen are so much in the service of the music and rhythm that they seem as sequential as those of a turn-of-the-century Eadweard Muybridge series of motion-capture photographs.

The fringey swing of silken cords might evoke the graceful passes of a Spanish bullfighter or, more likely, the syncopated ragtime choreography of Josephine Baker. (Shepp's swinging hot Jazz cadences, recorded circa 1968, owe much to the Jazz sounds of the 1920s.) More important than the references to flappers and Rastas, toreros and bordellos, however, is the way in which this collection, by creating something so new, provokes free association as the only way of understanding its novelty. Perfect for a sassy coquette, Celaya's collection, like the video that evokes its spirit, leaves you wanting more.