Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman
For CLAW CLAW’s last Artist Interview of 2013, we took a departure from paper, pixels, and canvas to spotlight the beautiful dyed fabrics of Natalie Fragola, a textile designer currently based out of Brooklyn. She’s jokingly described her colorful dye jobs as a rainbow that threw up, and while for some pieces this delightfully rings true, there’s a much more sophisticated nature to her work. Her pieces are earthy and abstract, and sometimes you feel like you’re looking at a little sliver of the universe, like stellar Nebulae or the yin yang-esque meeting place of the sea and sand. Read on to learn about the brain and hands behind OBRA OBSCURA.
SHANON WELTMAN: Who is the most exciting client that has used your fabric designs/ dyes/ anything?
NATALIE FRAGOLA: Well, I guess when I got here I worked as a designer for a fashion label where we got nominated for the CFDA Award which is sponsored by CFDA and Vogue, and so a lot of the things we did leading up to the Award ceremony were these partnerships where they would introduce all the emerging designers that were accepted for that award. So, I started dying and doing embroidery work for these specialty pieces, which were essentially press pieces. Those were pooled for those campaigns that Vogue did. That was “Obedient Sons & Daughters”, which is no longer a label, they shuttered in 2009, but under that we got a lot of exposure through Vogue which is pretty much The fashion publication. They were obviously high profile models wearing it.
SW: Is that what’s on your website?
NF: There’s a couple. Some were on my older website, the embroidered pieces are on there. Those were really exciting for me because I don’t know how many jobs I can find where somebody pays me a lot of money to just embroider a blazer and also give me complete creative control as far as what the embroidery states.
SW: Oh really? That’s one of my favorite pieces on there. I was jealous, that looks fun!
NF: The designers had the inspiration and visual references that I pooled from, but it was actually Hippie themed, that inspiration. Not to boil it down to those words… but, it had that feel. A lot of it was taken from the source family which was a cult from the 70s, by a guy who called himself Father Yod… and you have to look up those images, they’re awesome. Because I was called the resident hippie of the design studio, they let me do that. I also showed a big interest in that. I studied embroidery in Fibers [SCAD]. That was the beginning of a nice encouragement to kind of be like, ‘wow, any asshole can do this. Including me!’ [laughs]. Ever since then it’s been really nice working. For example, print design, I’ve always made prints on the computer, but you very rarely see them actually printed on physical fabric. The digital printing process is quite expensive. You can screen print your own stuff, but that can be very laborious especially if you have a lot of colors. When I did prints for Timo Wyland, I thought that that was really cool to actually see these bolts and bolts of fabric that I created and turned into a garment. I guess the list actually goes on. I feel very proud of each piece. I have smaller clients that have a limited budget, but anyone asking me to kind of take on some things — great. Usually when people find me, they find me and want to use me for a reason, so the project becomes very collaborative. Most of them tell me, ‘oh I don’t know how to make this weird… can you do that for me?’ [laughs] or you know, ‘I don’t know how this works, so I’m just going to let you mute it.’ Especially the dyeing for example.
SW: What are your biggest inspirations when designing patterns?
NF: Prints? It’s weird. I don’t like to go on the internet that much for the prints, unless I need some kind of stock imagery to pull or trace like a rose or something. My patterns are more about an exploration, maybe from a trip I did upstate to just looking down on the ground when I’m walking around the city. I just kind of collect weird things. A lot of those things are usually from nature, so I’ll take those and scan them and play with them on Photoshop or something, or I’ll paint them or render them and just basically it starts from maybe some seaweed that I found in the ocean to something completely different. For me that process is like telling a story, it’s like a little narrative in my head. [Laughs] So like, no one is even going to know this story anyway, people are just going to like the print or not. In addition to that I do sometimes keep a visual library or some folders on my computer desktop of historic textiles. Just so I know when I’m creating something: where did that come from? Not everything is completely original, subconsciously you have a little bit of a database, just what you see everyday. So, I try to keep a good balance of that reference with the childlike nature of creating a motif.
SW: Who are your favorite artists and designers?
NF: That’s always a tough one! I feel like my mood changes and each week it goes up and down. Let’s start with fashion designers.
American Fashion Designers.. I’ve always liked Rodarte, even though they can be up and down on the scale of maybe technical abilities, but they have this really nice innocent way of playing with draping and their use of textiles is really fun. Back in their Spring 2009 collection, they had a lot of nice ombre dyed chiffons and just that use kind of inspired me to pursue dyeing whatever. Before that it was more about technical ability with dyeing, using it as a tool rather than a form of art. Obviously….Givenchy and Balmain. Gautier has a really great exhibit right now at the Brooklyn Museum, I’ve yet to see that. I need to go.
Now, Artists… Tauba Auerbach. When I saw her work at the 2010 Whitney Biennial, her use of light and color was really inspiring. She’s more of a recent artist who I’ve fallen in love with, and older one is Rauschenberg. The whole Black Mountain Movement and Fluxus and Bauhaus. It’s kind of weird, I bounce around between conceptual art with just really great visual artists, and Rauschenberg has a little bit of both.
SW: Where did you get the name Obra Obscura?
NF: It first started with wanting to have an entity that is bigger than me. Not just Natalie Fragola, because I wanted to give the essence that I’m bigger, for starters. That’s what you usually do if you want to start something. I wasn’t going to limit it to just one thing, like ‘oh I’m going to start a clothing line’, or ‘oh I’m going to start a textile line’, or something. It was like, okay, because a studio does a little bit of everything. Obviously it has to have a name and I wanted it to have a name that kind of represented both sides of who I was. The Argentine, or Spanish and the American side, so I decided to use a Spanish and English word. Obra means a work of art or masterpiece or just someone’s hard work, Obscura is just my way of describing what it is that I do. Because it’s quite obscure, the nichés I’ve carved out. With a studio, I also wanted to have collaborative projects with other friends of mine and have it be represented underneath that too. I have so many friends that do a wide variety of artistic and creative things that, I wanted that to be encapsulated in Obscura. It’s funny, I had a few names prior and it’s actually very hard. You kinda have to marry one. It’s like, ‘wait, did I just name that because it’s a trend??’ but yeah, it had a nice ring to it. It’s nice being married to it, we’re going well. [Laughs]
SW: What are your best sellers?
NF: The Mood Rings are definitely consistently selling, without any kind of persuasion or instagramming. I feel like a lot of people always want one or ask about them. That project was really brought on by a combination of boredom and me being very picky. I wanted a mood ring that wasn’t shitty, I wanted one that was more of a classic design and I couldn’t find any online. I found an old one, I don’t know how old it was, but I found it on the sidewalk on my way home from work, and it reminded me. I started working with a caster on the side. There’s a caster down the street from where I used to work and I had never done jewelry design. With the exception of making stuff, but I’ve never done proper design like that. I was actually surprised to see how many people like it and want it.
SW: I want one. [Laughs]
NF: Yeah! I would love to kind of branch out from that into jewelry. The nice thing about jewelry too is when you sell it online, people aren’t intimidated to buy it. Because it’s not a fit issue, you put in your size and you can see the way the length and measurements and how it lays on the model — super easy. Whereas, like, soft goods or clothing, it can be sometimes hard to show its fit or the way it falls or the colors on fabric. Especially with dyeing. Second to that, I guess people buy the scarves I make because a scarf is just really useful in many ways. I can have more fun with the design or the effects on it whereas certain garments you have to be conscious of what colors you use and where you put them.
NF: Those are fun, but again this is an online store, where if I had my items in a physical store, maybe the tables would turn.
SW: What about the other day when you were at Silent Barn?
NF: Silent Barn, yeah, I actually sold sweaters. I did some hand dyed sweaters which haven’t been posted online. I think that’s just more of the timing and then you can try them on, obviously. After that it was the scarves and the mood rings again. I guess if it was up to me though, I’d design my own clothing and then dye it, or better yet dye the fabric and have it constructed, so you can edit really, really easily. Dyeing an already made garment is one shot… [laughs] and if it’s not good you dye it black. That’s my mentality.
SW: Alright, really hard question now… Favorite ice cream flavor? We always end these on a light note.
NF: Well, that’s so difficult, in NY we have all these Artisan flavors.
SW: Right? Actually a difficult question.
NF: I’m definitely a vanilla girl, anything mixed with vanilla is amazing. Cookies and Cream is a great classic combo. So… we can stick with that. Other than that, Dulce de Leche. Although, the real Dulce de Leche is… amazing. It’s kind of hard to get that good kind, but fortunately you can find it at most bodegas. I’m not even thinking about ice cream right now! [Laughs] Because it’s cold here.
SW: Bonus question. Silly question. Can you name all of Santa’s Reindeer?
NF: Probably not. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Cupid, Vixen… how many are there? Eight? Rudolph?
SW: Wait, I don’t even know. I think there’s nine? Eight or nine and Rudolph’s the ninth one. I can think of three more names.
NF: Yeah… I’m sorry, I’m not in the holiday spirit. At all. [Laughs] I’m just psyched about the smell of fresh pine and drinking Hot Toddys.