People Who Make NY Special

Alex Posen Rides the Herwave Between Art and Fashion

How the Brooklyn-based visual artist seamlessly moves from abstract art to “activist-wear” and back again.

Photo courtesy of Resistance by Design/Facebook

As a visual artist and the former creative director for her brother Zac Posen’s eponymous fashion label, Alex Posen was in a unique position to design the Herwave scarf: a sheer wrap featuring Alex’s drawings—in gorgeous shades of blue and gray—of all 209 Democratic women candidates who ran for Congress in the 2018 midterm election. Profits from the sale of the scarf go to Emerge America and Emily’s List, organizations dedicated to bringing more women into politics.

So with one silk scarf (that we’re obsessed with), Posen made an artistic, fashion, and political statement. The Brooklyn-based abstract artist is currently working on more pieces to add to her burgeoning collection of sleek “activist-wear” called Resistance by Design, which she cofounded with friend and tech entrepreneur Dahna Goldstein. She chatted with us about growing up in an artistic family, toggling between the worlds of fashion and fine art, and harnessing her creativity to create change.

Photo by Winnie Au / Courtesy of Alex Posen

What Should We Do: What inspired your fashion collaboration Resistance by Design?
Alex Posen: Resistance by Design was born over the summer when my friend Dahna Goldstein sent me an email—both of us [were] sharing a sense of frustration regarding how we could be the most effective in our activism—that read, “I don’t have anything that I can wear that expresses my political values in a professional setting. Do you think there is an opportunity or an idea here that you might be interested in working on with me?”

Photo courtesy of Resistance by Design/Facebook

For me, as an artist, it was the right outreach at the right moment: I realized there was a white space. There is an abundance of casual activist-wear out there with a lot of aggressive messaging, but I didn’t see a lot of what was more flexible and nuanced for a semiformal environment. I brought Dahna the idea of the Herwave scarf because the number of Democratic female congressional candidates was giving me a lot of hope. I could feel it was a harbinger of change.

WSWD: What was the creative process for the scarf?
Posen: Our first idea was to use their signatures in a way that referenced the Constitution, using them in a graphic style. We pursued this for about a month; I was sending proposals to the candidates to get them to agree to give us their signatures for the scarf design. I’m a visual artist and was also drawing pictures of them in order to make my art pitch appealing. The signatures proved to be too complicated to achieve in the time we wanted, so we pivoted to doing illustrations, which meant that I had an incredible amount of drawing to do—there are 209 candidates on the scarf—in order to reach our production schedule goal. I chose that style because I felt that way I could capture their individual essence in a recognizable way. I researched the candidates with the intention of choosing active depictions of them, in poses of power and full of life, instead of their smiling press pictures. Then I arranged them in patterns and compositions that balanced their different poses to visually create harmony.

It seems that people are understanding it as a symbolic piece: a female wrapping herself in female power.

WSWD: You’ve blended working in art and fashion for a long time. How do these components inform your practice?
Posen: My father is a painter, and I grew up in a family in which creativity was really religion. I feel that, in general, I have a very fluid approach to artistic and creative genres. I really got into fashion because of my younger brother, Zac: I played a supporting role in wanting to realize his vision, and then fell down a rabbit hole for 10 years as the creative director of his company and learned an enormous amount. I wasn’t doing my personal visual art in those years. I had a theater company in my 20s and studied physical theater in Paris, and I feel that creative intelligence can be applied through different mediums. Resistance by Design has brought me back to making apparel, and it’s been a pleasure to revisit those skills and resources that I have.

Photo courtesy of Alex Posen

WSWD: You work with unusual materials, like chiffon and beeswax. How do you make those decisions?
Posen: Chiffon in particular appealed to me because I am drawn to very sensual materials; chiffon can be both mysterious and sheer and also dense and opaque. It reminds me of the properties of beeswax. I did theater when I was younger, and physical theater puts a lot of emphasis on masks, and I was into maskmaking as a young adult artist. It was through exploring ideas about masks that I got beeswax in my studio: It’s historically used in portraiture, mimicking lifelikeness, which is part of my spiritual exploration about masks and character and presence. Then I did a drawing on paper and felt that I was able to talk about human presence through the wax drawing in this really elegant and profoundly simple way. While putting together drawings for Resistance by Design, I came to the realization that I am always making collections of spirits. They might be abstract, in wax, but essentially there’s a very strong recurrent theme in the materials.

Photo courtesy of Alex Posen

WSWD: You seem very open and straightforward about your creative process. Do you think it should be a universal attitude?
Posen: I believe that’s a very personal choice. I think that people like different styles of working and processing, and an artist is not required to be articulate. I feel blessed that I have such a broad perspective on creativity and a sense of freedom in terms of moving between mediums and being able to recognize creativity in other industries, as well. I don’t feel like it’s an artist’s domain. Everyone is creative and employing creative spaces in their lives, regardless of what career they’re involved with. By doing workshops around that, I think that’s something additional that I can give.

WSWD: Your husband is an artist, too. How do you approach art with your two children?
Posen: We let it be. We’re certainly not pushing at all; it’s more like observing and loving it. We made sure we always had tons of paper and tons of pencils and Sharpies around, and we were completely relaxed about wastage. If there was a line on a piece of paper, they could move on to another piece of paper. So really just putting tools there and letting the creativity flow and not be precious or uptight about it.  

They’re only 13 and 11, but my daughter makes graphic novels, and she also has discovered theater and dance and comedy. My son has been taking puppetry [classes] at school for several years and draws and writes beautifully. They’re definitely very creative spirits.

WSWD: What are the next steps for Resistance by Design?
Posen: The Herwave scarves were an incredible success; it became a viral thing and it’s continuing. We did not know if it would come to a natural conclusion after the midterms, but it hasn’t. It seems that people are understanding it as a symbolic piece: a female wrapping herself in female power. We just launched a shirt that celebrates 14 historic firsts in this Congress and the boundaries being broken. We’re working on more items; we’re just riffing on this moment, realizing that we can make an impact.

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