A length of black grosgrain ribbon, crossed at the waist or encircling a collar, is a line drawn in space. When I design, I often turn to my lifelong sister practice of calligraphy to find focus and clarity. Much like fashion, in strong yet simple gestures calligraphic writing captures motion, form, and expression.
As we calibrate ourselves for this new year, this practice is one that keeps me present. Brush held upright, in a state of stillness, I have to find poise before committing to each stroke of the character. You anticipate how you want to combine the lines, and consider proportion.
For me, draping fabric is also like writing in air. When creating the X scarf, for example, I knew I wanted to take the form of a crossing, so I played with draping. Once I found the shape, I added details—porcelain buttons, grosgrain ribbon—to punctuate the character. Again, ribbon can be shaped into a tailored, finished letter or left loose as an unresolved line.
I've recently been revisiting the book Master of the Lotus Garden: The Life and Art of Bada Shanren. A Ming dynasty poet, painter, and calligrapher, Shanren's pictorial style "of swift line and bold inkwash" made him most singular artists of the 17th century. I love how he breathed new life into classical forms. He studied the masters, but developed a deeply individual style that made him an inspiration to generations of artists to come. His landscapes "anticipate Cezanne's in the way they transmute nature into an abstract," writes Times critic Holland Cotter. "Today we are so accustomed to abstract art...but in the early 1700s this would have been much more surprising,” notes Christie’s specialist Liz Hammer. “Although Chinese painting utilised abstraction earlier than European art, Bada was without question ahead of his time.”
The traditional calligraphic tools have remained constant since Shanren's time, and for centuries before. There are four elements—brush, ink, paper, and inkstone—called “The Four Treasures of the Study.” The scent of the ink, the touch of the paper—these sensory experiences help the artist to center, to elevate. Those who receive the artwork also feel that vibration. My signature fragrance, Ink, was inspired by this concept.
Bada Shanren was a Buddhist monk for thirty years before becoming an artist. In that way, his life is perfect metaphor for creativity: First center oneself, then move into expression. At the start of the year, I think we all find it important to calibrate ourselves before our next adventure—then we know where we are going, and are in a position of integrity to embark.
For 2024, I wish you alignment and inspiration.