The amazing artist and fashion Design talks to us:
EBM-Kent, Can you introduce yourself to En Boga’s reader and tell them about you?
KS– As an eponymous label, I always have to differentiate between Kent Stetson the person and Kent Stetson the brand. Fortunately, both are colorful, fun, friendly, and unique. I was raised on a farm in rural New Hampshire- my father is a third generation blacksmith and my parents built a saw mill and made all of the buildings on their farm from scratch.
My mother raises horses and makes harnesses and maintains all of the horse tack and blankets. I have early memories of going with her to buy rawhide, leather stain, and hardware, and this gave me a technical foundation.
My father has a large maple sugaring business. I always expected that I would move somewhere cosmopolitan, and after graduating from Brown University in 2001 with concentrations in philosophy, visual art, and pre medical studies I remained in Providence, Rhode Island where I now reside. I have always been making art, preferring large scale colorful sparkly abstract work over smaller photorealistic art.
Kent Stetson the company is currently a team of 5 people working from our studio in Rhode Island where we make and market our collection of handbags mostly known for our range of eye-catching printed clutch bags.
EBM-What is fashion for Kent Stetson?
KS-Fashion as it relates to wearable items consists of the cultural, expressive, and exploratory aspects of covering and protecting both the body and the items one carries with them.
EBM-For you as an artist, How do you relate both of your artistry, and take it to fashion?
KS-The first handbags I made were constructed from my colorful abstract digital paintings. I had difficulty selling the pieces as wall-hangings, but when I took those pieces off the wall and fashioned them in to bags they sold immediately. In college and the following years upon graduating,
I worked in retail in shoe stores and boutiques, so I had a foundation for consumer sales of fashion accessories, and this gave me a degree of credibility and facility for selling my own handbag creations. The bag was a framing device- a way to package my art in a way that I could successfully place with a collector.
EBM-How do you define the style of your brand?
KS-I try to create something approachable, that draws the eye and prompts conversations. I try to create something that has an identifiably-distinct quality that runs deeper than a logo. Color, thematics, and flair are hard to define with words, but there is an aesthetic that runs through the line and once you have seen one of my pieces you can pretty clearly identify when you see any of them.
The boldly-printed crossbody envelope clutch style forms the backbone of the collection, which radiates out with one of a kind pieces that combine materials in unexpected but harmonious ways.
EBM-Why do you think is important to have a bag in your closet?
KS-I love handbags, as do many people, they are sculptural and interactive and sensual. Not everybody has the same romantic relationship with handbags and accessories, but for those of us born with this love, there is no need to mandate it for everyone else. Most of us have times when we need to carry things for which a bag is helpful, and in these instances I think it is thoughtful to want the bag to be intriguing. For many, putting together an outfit is one of life’s pleasures.
Sometimes the difference between having a routine day and a fabulous day is this feeling of being “put-together” and stepping out after putting care in to our preparation for the day. This can be as simple as a ritual in the bathroom and closet before going to the kitchen in the morning, or as planned-out as preparing for months ahead of a major life event.
EBM-What is the trend today in your brand?
KS-Today’s trend is observing social-distancing and keeping out of the way of essential workers and those most vulnerable to infection. I work on production in isolation at the studio with my staff safe at home. We are focusing on making collectible keepsakes that people will cherish for years to come, even if they do not take them out in to crowded places for a while.
I believe that there are milestones that are not cancelled and occasions to celebrate that can be marked by sending someone a thoughtful gift. I have been creating a lot of custom pieces since quarantine, working from people’s own photographs and ideas to make something that is completely original and one of a kind.
EBM-Define how looks a Kent Stetson woman?
KS- Iam making bags for the person who is using them. I think I do my best work when someone looks at a bag and feels as though it was made just for them. The person who uses the bag is the one who brings it to life, I try to channel different people in my various creations so that it can be worn in a way unique to the person who is carrying the bag.
I will say that generally my customers like to stand out, I do not typically make pieces that appeal to people who want to blend in with a crowd.
EBM-Is going Kent Stetson beyond Hand Bags? Have you thought about bags for men?
KS-If you look on my website you will see that I make bags for men as well. I also carry a clutch, and I have a number of collectors who identify as male and use pronouns “he, him, his”. It is interesting how we look at a handbag and can decide if it is for a man or a woman without really thinking about who made those “rules” and why.
EBM-Where are you going with Kent Stetson?
KS-I wake up every day feeling like I am doing the thing I was born to do. That is a remarkable privilege but it also is the result of being persistent and flexible. 2020 is not going according to plan and being flexible is essential in order to continue past these next couple years. I have shifted strategy to focus more on e-projects, video work, and social media. I try to be open to challenging the way I do things, and looking at a challenge as an opportunity as opposed to a reason to give up.
EBM-Tell us about your 2020 collection, can you give us a hint about it?
KS-Much like other artists, I think about referencing my own aesthetic and I look to the world around me and my own experiences as inspiration. Who haven’t I represented in the collection? What types of things are showing up in my social media feed and my daily life and how can they influence a bag design? I have been going through all of my materials and trying to make use of everything that I have accumulated over the past 20 years of making bags, so in some ways I am returning to many ideas that I set aside in order to create other pieces.
As my schedule of events has been cancelled through the end of the year, I anticipate that the pieces will be very creative now that I have so much time available when I would typically be traveling for events. Because I do not use outside manufacturing, the collection happens organically and as soon as something is made, it is put up on my social media and website, I do not have to wait 6 months from the design of a sample to have a finished product, so my collection is updated online every week.
EBM-What is your support to covid-19?
KS-I have made a conscious decision not to exploit the current global crisis or utilize fear-based marketing. As a result I am very private about the ways that I have offered assistance and carried my own personal approach to living during this crisis. I believe that creating beauty and celebrating the power of the imagination is audacious right now, but it is what I have always done and I do not intend to rebrand. In some ways I have always relished that my work has been non-essential, and being in a fortunate position to be able to continue working safely has encouraged me to keep my creative flame burning and not give up hope.
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