ARTIST STARR HAGENBRING combines years of academic study (archaeology, history), sewing and tailoring skills and a terrific amount of organization and energy to create the hand-painted jackets and other clothing items she will bring to the Smithsonian Craft2Wear show on October 6, 7 and 8.
Her current Sacred Images collection reflects her studies in pre-Judaeo-Christian ancient religions. “The risk is that people say they don’t see the symbol of their own tradition,” she says. But Starr’s answer is that they’re not looking correctly—it’s there, in a slightly older or newer or morphed form.
These vivid hand-crafted art pieces supplant earlier collections. She made a series of Old Masters images on tuxedo jackets and last year did swing coats based on insects, the dung beetle to be exact. “I like to take the misunderstood and make it beautiful,” Starr says, adding, “If Nature hadn’t given us the dung beetle, we’d literally be in deep . . . ”
We caught up with Starr at home in New Orleans last week, where she was packing up to take her treasures to a show in Memphis. When she’s not traveling—August through October are the busy times—she’s producing more fashion and helping to run the eyewear store, Art & Eyes, she operates with her partner, Paul. It’s no surprise that she has fun doing the shop’s display windows: Last Halloween she riffed on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror classic, The Birds—all of her black birds were wearing eyeglasses (but only frames by independent producers; even the lenses are by indie companies). The shop’s clientele comes from all over the world but, Starr says, the biggest contingent comes from Washington, D.C.
Hand-crafting has guided the Chicago-born Starr’s life for decades now. Early on she did hand-beading, which morphed into making spirit dolls (also informed by her interest in ancient religions). And she was making and selling fashions to stores such as the boutique-oriented Henri Bendel (before it was snapped up by the parent company of The Limited mega-brand) in the 1970s.
Since then, fashion has been boring, she thinks. What’s more, American craftsmen were doing things with materials and clothing in the 1970s that they don’t get credit for. “We were punching holes in bottle caps and making them into clothing a lonnnng time ago,” she says.
The fashion industry now routinely credits street style with trickling up to create trends in mainstream fashion. But Starr points out that before the Christian Lacroix’s and Gallianos of the world started playing with pieced-together fabrics and even skulls, she and others were doing it in New York, where she lived for a couple of decades.
“My clothes are not about making a statement,” Starr insists. “Leave that to the guys who wear Prada. Most of my buyers want to have fun. And it’s easy: You put on your black column [gown], throw on a jacket and you’re out for the evening. But I wear my jackets all the time with jeans—it works!”
The Smithsonian Craft2Wear show and sale will take place at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. For tickets to the October 6-8, 2016 show, go to Smithsonian Craft2Wear. Daily admission is $15, but you can save $2 and avoid the lines by purchasing online.
For even more fun, consider getting your friends together to attend Friends Night Out, a special party on Friday evening, October 7, from 5:30 to 8pm. The $20 ticket includes admission to the evening event plus the Friday daytime hours, one cocktail and light hors d’oeuvre. You’ll also get to meet 80 craft artists, plus 25 artists from the country’s top design schools. A cash bar will showcase a more-liquid craft: the best craft cocktails by four of D.C.’s top celebrity mixologists.