For our 5 Questions series, we ask creative professionals five questions about the nature of creation and collaboration. This week we spoke with fashion designer Susan Hengst, owner of Hengstboutique in Manhattan’s East Village, and the designer for her own label, HengstNYC. Founding the HENGST label in the early 2000s, Susan has created beautiful collections designed for women with a busy lifestyle. A nominee for the National Design Award in Fashion at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian for several years running, Susan recently emailed us from her New York Studio to discuss the process of creating her current collection, the inspiration behind her “No Such Creature” dress, and a new collaboration she is currently working on with some of her customers.
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LASTBLOG: Where do you go for inspiration?
Susan Hengst: My inspiration comes from many different places. Currently I live and work in New York City, so it’s the street style that serves as a current source of inspiration. Wherever I travel, whether it has been to Asia or to the West Coast, it seems to bring about new influences and creative ideas. Music and Art also bring out inspiration for me as well since it can bring in different influences from other eras.
LASTBLOG: Walk us through one of your favorite things you’ve created.
SH: For this current season, my favorite is the “Maxixe” print which I developed and used as the fabric for the “Zonje Dress” (in Dutch means Angel Dress). In passing, “Maxixe” is a style of ballroom dancing in Brazil from the 1920’s, which incorporates Tango. I began my collection with a variety of fabrics, all in natural fibers of silk and cotton. By taking natural fibers in their raw natural form, they can be transformed through dyeing, printing and washing to bring out the beauty of the fabric. Their true white color was changed into colors such as Mica and Gypsum and other mineral colors which were accentuated by bright accents of Pink Shock and Chartreuse. The result was a gorgeous palette of earthy tones and supple washed textures contrasted against vibrant electric hues. The Maxixe print tied both ends of the color spectrum together.
“In collaboration lies the value of exploring new possibilities.” – Susan Hengst
LASTBLOG: What is the Value of Collaboration?
SH: In collaboration lies the value of exploring new possibilities. Different ways of working can emerge; different mediums can be explored and eventually you can see your vision come through in another form and visa versa for yourself and your collaborator. This way of working can open up new avenues and inspire new directions that you may not have considered before.
LASTBLOG: Tell Us About Your Most Memorable Collaboration to Date.
SH: It’s probably the “No Such Creature” dress. I collaborated with a friend who is a graphic artist. We developed a textile print which I made into two styles of limited edition dresses. My inspiration for the project was an article I read in the New York Times a few years ago which mentioned an Israeli scientist, Daniel Shechtman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of a ten fold quasicrystal that was thought not to exist. Amazingly, thirty years after his discovery, he received the Nobel Prize. Upon his initial observation Shechtman had exclaimed in Hebrew that, “There could be no such creature” and that had fascinated me so I explored the idea of developing a print. So much of the collaborative process in any endeavor involves many different people and skills. The “No Such Creature” textile print project was a collaboration that I worked on with a friend, Claudia Vosper. After numerous sessions and sample prints we developed a pattern. I eventually found a small printing house in North Carolina; many of the larger houses abroad were telling us initially that it couldn’t be done. There were two versions of the dress that we made; the original No Such Creature Dress as well as the Crystal Dress. I printed on white silk voile which I felt would reflect the luminous quality of the crystal.
LASTBLOG: Who would you like to collaborate with, past or present?
SH: That’s an interesting question. Forgetting the past for a moment, it is quite a coincidence that LASTBLOG has reached out to me and asked questions about collaboration since I am currently initiating a textile print collaboration with a limited number of my customers who are working in the field of art and design. I was interested to hear from my customers about specific works of art or art movements which have inspired them in their lives. From this exchange, I am developing a series of art inspired prints on fabric and designing a collection of dresses out of the printed textiles that are created.