Back in February I had the wonderful pleasure to meet with Cindy and Cristian Vargas of Candamill, in their Brooklyn studios! If you are a regular reader, you may recall Part 1 + Part 2 of my interview with them here.
Cindy, a colleague of mine from back in the days at DVF, has since started her own company with her (also, may I add) very artistic brother. Together they’ve created a brand, designer label and a studio space to develop all their ideas. You cannot just simply categorize them under just one thing, they beautifully focus in all aspects of Design: Fashion (clothing, handbags + accessories), Jewellery, Art (painting, installation, + sculpture) and Interior design. However, rather then being the ‘jack of all trades and the master of none’, they carefully focus on specific pieces, crafting their art in that object and working with usually uncommon materials. It is a truly inspiring space and concept to which they have developed.
Here is their story and my interview with them,
ME: Tell me about how you started your label and what inspired you to begin working together?
CRISTIAN: Well we’ve wanted to work together for a long time and tried to figure out a way. We began once Cindy graduated from university.
CINDY: I went to FIT and interned every semester, trying to take it a step further to build relationships with the factories. Even though I was an intern, I would go in and act like my role was important. I definitely learned a lot and realized what I wanted was not available in these positions. There was not a lot of creative freedom to be had in these internships. It felt like I had been interning for so long that when I graduated and began working it felt like another internship all over again. So together we decided we were ready to do this on our own and begin with a women’s collection.
ME: And where did you go to school Christian?
CRISTIAN: Self taught actually, originally an artist painter, doing installations and conceptual & interior design work for clients around the country. Right out of school I started my own company doing murals, children’s rooms, whatever jobs I could get. From there I gained a lot of experience, failed a lot, which was my own form of education. Spending a lot of money trying to get a business going, some of which went well… I always wanted to do something in fashion. When Cindy graduated I had enough experience on how to start a business, so together we began with pop-up shops and throwing large parties in Soho selling art. Once we had a following we took the next steps in fashion. In hindsight I am not sure it was the smartest thing to do but it was our path.
ME: What is the concept behind your company and brand?
CRISTIAN: Its more of a process, we come up with new ideas every day and we are ambitious enough to say let’s do that! Currently we represent 10 artists and manage their careers by hooking them up with galleries or sell their work through our buyers.. When people come to the studio they realize we sell art, “we’re art dealers” but we keep this separate to be fair to the artists. We also do interior design projects, such as restaurants. Recently we did the interior for a shoe store!
CINDY: We are inspired by everything. Christian has always been the artist in the family, I’ve been in fashion, we are inspired by each other and learning how to merge the two passions. We never want to let go of the art side, even just the space here; it wouldn’t be the same without the artwork in it. We are always taking on projects not just to take them on, because they flow in and make sense. They are always connected.
CRISTIAN: Like photography, just because we needed to shoot our own stuff, I think we have an obsessive nature, once we grab onto something we can’t let go, we have to know what it is and how it works. Now we get some pretty nice things coming out of the studio through the photography side.
ME: So it is really about nurturing design in all aspects, not just in fashion or painting but in all these different facets?
CRISTIAN: Yes, this is what the studio is all about. It’s a creative space more than anything else. Right now the creativity is through fashion, photography, art. For example I paint as well. Anything could happen here!
ME: Would you describe your studio a little bit as a fashion + art incubator to other artists?
CINDY- Yes! Right now we have an artist Jani Benjamins, he’s been here the last 3 months, getting ready for a show in Chelsea. So this is an example of what is going on while we are working on the collection. We’ll mentor him when he’s here, look at his work, talk about it and provide feedback, which is well received by him. He also works for another very well respected artist as an assistant, so for him to trust our opinion and us, means a lot!
ME: What is the level of experience of your in-house artists?
CRISTIAN: We have a range. I think the age of our company and who we are as a gallery, we continue to grow as we get bigger and bigger artists and thus have more to offer. Similar to a music label, the bigger you are the more artists you can attract. We’ve been lucky to start with young artists and now some of them are traveling and doing shows. Anthony Vasquez is one of our oldest artists and he pretty much started out in Soho selling street art and now he’s doing projects for the Barclays, the NBA. We recently did a shoot for Michael Jordans 50th birthday, commissioned by ESPN and filmed with a time lapse camera. Now Anthony has sold out shows in Germany. his success is due in part to our mentoring and helping him present his work in the right way.
ME: Ah ok! And tell me, how do you build your portfolio of artists?
CRISTIAN: Recommendation mostly, however we are selective, its more like do we get along with you, do we like your art, are we going to give you keys to our place. It’s worked out very well. All the artists’ get along, so it’s like this big family.
ME: Do you include a space for fashion designers as well?
CR + CV: No, no just for artists.
ME: Do you source a lot of inspiration for the RTW collection from the artists or collaborate with them?
CRISTIAN: Yah definitely, inspiration may come from our artists, recently Liza Lacroix a talented young artist inspired the colours we used for our fall collection. As well as, the colours for our Spring collection were inspired from Jani’s colour palette. However it is not something we show together. This is largely because the ideas are always changing and just like [our collection] their art will end up being something completely different in the end too. They may show up with their canvas one day and we’ll love it and the next time we see it its totally different. Neither good nor bad, but different than what first caught our eye and inspired us for our own collection.
ME: Wow! So a lot of different sources of inspiration to choose from.
CR + CV: Yes, constantly!
ME: It seems like your differentiator is that you are not singularly focused on just one aspect of design, rather design as a whole (fashion, art, photography, interior design, jewelry, accessories etc…) and within that you simply focus on key elements of each?
CRISTIAN: Yes. For us it’s about not being afraid to work with other people. We work with fabricator designers for furniture and sculpture for fine artists. We work with them to create our handbags, hardware and bronze jewelry. We draw inspiration from these different industries and work with them to produce something uniquely different.
ME: I noticed these qualities with the handbag, it has a very industrial feel. Tell me about the creative design process!? It is very sophisticated for such a young label!
CRISTIAN: Thank you! The way it happened is well, me not going to school and Cindy being more technical in her approach. I think my naivety offering uncommon materials and finding unusual components and solutions helped. You know, I look in junkyards, finding materials and think how can we use this and make it new. I’ll figure out how to apply it to the structure or hardware of the bag. Cindy will either say yah we can use this or no “you’re crazy”.
CINDY: Then we will fight and we’ll end up making what he suggested from the beginning (they both laugh)!
ME: I think that is great borrowing ideas from outside areas like furniture. Ok, so tell me about your signature handbag, the TRUSS TOTE:
CINDY: The name “TRUSS” came from the truss of a bridge or building, as in pillars… carrying the weight! We always name our items off of what the collection is inspired by. In this case the fall collection was inspirited by bridge patterns. Everything has a purpose. A lot of women who try this bag on really love it because of the dip in the middle; it makes it very comfortable under your arm. When we designed it, we wanted to make accessories that resembled sculpture, that were worthy of being seen as that, essentially as art!
CRISTIAN: We love sculpture! We wanted something you could put down on a table or shelf and it would demand attention… Where you can place it at the end of the bar table and it stands on its own.
ME: I love it! It’s of its own caliber. Can you share more about the design features?
CRISTIAN: We are pretty fond of the silhouette. We wanted to make something really strong and structural without any hardware. Still something light but with hard edges and with this leather we were able to achieve this. It’s very clean in that sense. The piping came about when Cindy took me to the garment district and was like we can pick from this selection” and I was like “well this is why all handbags looks the same, everyone’s going to the same vendors/ suppliers and area for trims and materials”. I was like give me some time and let me see what I can come up with to get inspired. We don’t design with the intention that this is a one season handbag, we design with [integrity] for it to be timeless, forever, a classic…
ME: Can we expect any new handbag styles to come?
CINDY: We are working on three new styles. Two of them we have created our own hardware. The Truss is the largest and the others are smaller handbags and clutches.
Me: And tell me about what inspired your Fall 2014 ready-to-wear collection?
CINDY: Frank Stella’s protractor series. We played with the idea of curved detailing. A lot of our work has been so hard lately that we wanted to design something that was structured but soft.
CRISTIAN: We also have this futuristic, art deco & minimal aesthetic to us right now. It just seems pleasuring to us.
ME: And everything is made in New York?
CINDY: Correct, the RTW collection and accessories are all manufactured in New York City’s garment district, we also work with a lot of local fabric suppliers. It’s exciting to see consumers responding to the importance of supporting designer products, made in the USA.
ME: Where are you currently selling?
ME: Lastly, as you know one of my focuses is conscious design. What initiatives do you apply to your business practice or design process? Is this something you are interested in?
CINDY: Yes definitely! We design with intention of quality so it’s timeless, something you have forever or a very long time, using natural materials such as leather. We source our leather from upstate NY in Albany. They are really great because the entire hides are very well kept, so nothing goes to waste. We can use the entire hides and any scraps are used for trims on our clothing for example.
CRISTIAN: Most important to us is to be fair. We are not wasteful nor are we at a place that we waste enough to be impact-full. However we constantly stay in check with one another. For example we switched from oil to acrylic spray paint, which was huge change in terms of toxic safety for our working space and from an environmental aspect.
CINDY: Also, there are still really bad working conditions here in NY and since we also work with local factories, it is very important for me to go into the factories and build a relationship with the pattern makers and sample sewers to make sure the conditions are safe and fair.
And with that said, I cant wait to watch as Candamill continues to grow. Keep an eye out in the city- Those bags are sure to be the next big thing! On my wish list to say the least!!
a HUGE special thanks to Cindy & Cristian Vargas for letting me into your studio and sharing your story!
all photos provided by the talented Jessica Earnshaw