With no set plan, there is a sense of spontaneity. Kate Barton lets the unconscious mind take over when designing, allowing her true creative desires to flourish. Aesthetically innovative and adaptable, Kate Barton’s designs have evening wear at the core, creating sleek and sophisticated looks for the classy and busy businessperson.
Despite their rather daunting forms, the pieces should not be mistaken for uncomfortable and unfunctional. Instead, Barton has ensured that her designs are practical and sustainable, with little wastage during production. On top of this, Barton has collaborated with local glass-blower Josh Raiffe to create glass-blown bags, complementing the multi-dimensionality of her looks, and ensuring that her pieces stay close to her home, in NYC, and heart. At the core of Barton’s collections is her contribution to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, in honour of her friend Claire – a true example of a virtuous brand that gives rather than takes.
“An illusion of [the] surreal”, Barton’s designs are sculpted and shaped to give the image of a present future. Combining fashion with technology, Kate Barton’s upcoming New York Fashion Week show is a strong representation of Barton’s goal to push the boundaries of fashion design, expanding our expectations of materials and pushing the capabilities and purpose of art.
This is your fifth collection, if I am correct. How do you feel after accomplishing yet another striking line? Are you proud of your visible development as an artist? What do you think has been the biggest change you can notice in yourself and your style ever since you started fashion design?
There's definitely a sense of accomplishment after finishing a collection, but it's also a mix of excitement and anticipation for what's next. The biggest change I've noticed in myself and my style since starting fashion design is the increased clarity and confidence in my vision. Establishing a strong brand identity early on has allowed me to evolve with each collection, pushing boundaries and refining my innovative techniques.
Your pieces all bring structure to otherwise flowing fabrics; how did you achieve this? Why did you choose to experiment rather than conform to what was available? How do you manipulate your materials to become more multi-dimensional?
The pandemic's challenges forced me to innovate. This period of isolation and limited resources sparked my creativity, leading me to explore unconventional materials and sustainable methods. My creative process is deeply hands-on and experimental, starting with draping and manipulating materials without preconceived notions or sketches. The contrast between soft and harsh dimensions fascinates me, and I use innovative methods I’ve developed to sculpt materials into shapes that excite me. This forms the core of my inspiration. My approach combines technology-enhanced cutting and fabric manipulation, transforming basic fabrics into intricate, multi-dimensional gowns with minimal waste. It's a radical shift in modern evening wear, with an unexpected element of sustainability. My methods relate closely to automatism, allowing the unconscious mind to play a significant role in the creative process.
What material were you most influenced by? When viewing the lookbook, many of the pieces are accompanied by an image of what seems to be some kind of tinfoil-y paper. Was the structure of this material something that interested you?
I am always drawn in by the texture and appearance of a material. I love transforming a fabric to add a new dimension it doesn’t typically possess. It's only when I start draping and witnessing the fabric's transformation that real inspiration begins.
The chrome art piece in our lookbook was a spontaneous creation, hand-moulded to compliment the minimalistic, architectural tones of the collection. I didn't have a particular vision in mind when I started sculpting it—it’s often the creations that come about organically that have the most impact.
Building on the topic of influences, the collections have a futuristic theme. Has there been any sci-fi novels, movies, or art collections that you think have influenced your line? What message are you trying to spread via futurism?
My collections are more about innovation than following a specific theme or trend. I focus on craft, the evolution of my geometric cutting and fabric manipulation techniques. While I don't directly draw from sci-fi, I do value being at the forefront of technology in fashion. Our upcoming New York Fashion Week show will feature an immersive presentation enhanced by technology and AI, offering a multi-dimensional perspective that challenges convention.
Looks 12 and 23 possess a business-chic aspect. Are you, perhaps, trying to display the collaboration between capitalism and the future?
In those looks, I wanted to introduce structural blazers as a preview of our brand's expanding range. They offer a glimpse into the future inclusion of separates in our collection, reflecting a blend of evening wear elegance and ready-to-wear practicality.
Do you think fashion is an effective art form when it comes to trying to promote political ideals or making change?
Absolutely. A compelling perspective has the power to captivate attention and drive meaningful change. For example, my inaugural collection supported the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in honor of my friend Claire. The community's involvement and the impact of our rose bag, which benefits the charity, have been incredibly moving.
I assume the bags featured with the looks from your latest collection are glass or plastic. Why have you chosen to display this harsh material along with your more feminine pieces? Surely, they don’t have a lot of practical use. Is this collection, therefore, more about aesthetics than practicality?
Juxtaposition is central to our brand. We aim to create an illusion of [the] surreal, AI-like sculptural pieces, while ensuring they remain lightweight and wearable. The glass blown sculptural bags, created in collaboration with local glass blower Josh Raiffe, are actually quite functional and sturdy, despite being made of glass. This balance of excitement and conversation around each piece doesn't detract from their functionality and comfort.
Your FW23 collection was described as a “modern take on evening wear." Why evening wear? What was it about fancy dresses and the black-tie scene that made you want to adapt it and morph it into your own?
I noticed a gap in the American market for modern, innovative evening wear. My goal is to bring a new perspective to this category, merging art with innovation to create wearable pieces that are both environmentally responsible and aesthetically captivating. While evening wear will always be a core element of Kate Barton, I am keen to broaden our scope to blur the lines between evening wear and ready-to-wear, responding to consumer demands for versatile, innovative fashion.
Why do latex-y fabrics and sequins draw you in? To me, it is because they can be very feminine and sexual but have a powerful and dazzling effect. Is this collection your way of combining the harsh with the soft, or to express empowerment?
Contrast is a constant theme in my work. The interplay of harsh and soft elements, the balance of ethereal and sculpted forms, and the fusion of subtle yet striking details create depth in my garments. This contrast is what gives life to the techniques used in each piece.
What were your requirements for the models, and what went into the deciding process? Looking at your previous collections, all the models have a clean and slick look. Is this what you are looking for?
My choice in models, like all other elements, is crucial in realising our vision of modernity. I seek models who can embody contrast and attitude, adding depth to our story and complementing our designs.
How was it working with the hair and makeup department to figure out the style you were going for? What keywords did you give them to work on? Subtle, elegant, minimalistic?
We partnered with Laura Mercier's makeup team to create a sleek, clean look for our models, emphasising a minimalistic style with striking features. This approach mirrors my design philosophy of juxtaposing softness with boldness, aiming to create captivating contrasts.
Do you think you will gradually move away from evening wear? Have you got any big changes planned that we should be excited about? Perhaps new inspirations?
Evening wear and the art of draping gowns will always be at the core of my brand and my identity as a designer. But I’m really eager to broaden our collections to merge evening wear with ready-to-wear, creating everyday pieces. This evolution reflects the growing demand for collections that seamlessly blend these categories, offering innovative and sophisticated options to a wider audience.