Lucy Brown

Lucy Brown All will be revealed by Lucy Brown a perfect fit by Lucy Brown
Bare by Lucy Brown
Limbo by Lucy Brown

Lucy Brown makes sculptural textiles and textile installations using deconstructed vintage costume. She uses the past histories of the garments as a starting point to creating multi-layered pieces exploring ideas about femininity, identity, the body and body politics.


Can you explain why you are so interested in vintage clothing?

Vintage clothing is really the starting point for all my work. I have always loved old clothes and always collected them. It’s something to do with their nostalgic relationship to the past. They conjure up fantasies about old black and white movies which make you wish those times were here. I’m interested in them because they speak to us on so many different levels – firstly they tell you so much about the specific period of time when they were worn, like the Dior New Look fashions which are so closely associated with the post-war period. I like the way old clothes can hold historic traces of the people who once wore them – something may be left in the pocket, or perhaps a bit of skin or hair might still be attached to the lining or embedded into a seam. Vintage costume acts a type of physical documentation of women’s lives – it tells us so much about their class and background.

Is this narrative element you get in vintage clothing an important part of their attraction for you?

Yes, definitely. I like the way you can make up stories about the people who wore the clothes. I also like to build up imaginary worlds and connections between the different clothes. For example, I’ve got some very fragile 1950s evening dresses and I like to fantasise about where they were worn and what dances their owners went to – it gives them a sense of magic and wonder. I like the evidence an item of clothing gives you about someone else’s life and their physical body, but I also like the fact that you will never know exactly what happened to the previous owner – it adds a bit of mystery.

Are you interested in vintage clothes as objects in their own right, or is just because of the stories they tell about their previous owners?

I enjoy them as physical objects too. I like the way costume from a particular decade has a particular weight and feel to it and I’m interested in the handmade element of older pieces which makes you think about the labour and skill that went in to their making. Handmade clothing always has that personal and intimate connection.

Do you collect these pieces of costume purely as part of your work, or do you buy them to wear?

I have two parts to my collecting. One part of my collecting is solely sourcing garments to use in my work as raw materials. The other side to my collecting is collecting items which are for archiving; I have a kind of archival collection which is kept in the studio for inspiration. These archival vintage garments are normally ones which are unusual and unique and seem to be un-replaceable. At times there some garments which go between the two collections.

As part of the garment selection process, I do wear some of them to get a feel and understanding about the specific piece. Wearing them helps me build up a relationship with the garment and work out what it that draws me to that particular piece and whether or not it is right to use in a developing piece of work. I do also have vintage clothes which I wear.

Have you always worked with vintage clothes?

I started working with them in my second year at Goldsmiths [where Brown did a BA in Textile Art, graduating in 1995 with a first-class honours degree]. I had a real problem making new textiles so I started using old sheets and blankets and one thing led to another until I began working with vintage garments. I liked the way it allowed you to work with a material which had more substance and was more loaded and that allowed you to build up a dialogue.

Can you explain your working process a little? What comes first the costume or the idea?

A bit of both really. I am continually collecting clothing and have suitcases and cupboards full of clothes at the studio which I catalogue and archive. I gather ideas in same way - keeping notebooks full of things I have read or seen is an on-going process. When I start to work on a piece I have an idea of what issues I want to explore and then I look at the clothes and start selecting them – it’s a very organic process.

How do you incorporate the vintage costumes into your work?

I take them apart, cutting or ripping them and then use these pieces as wefts to weave a new fabric. In earlier work the warps were often stainless steel so that the end results were quite structured, but I’m now using softer threads like upholstery cord or elastic for the warps which gives more flexibility and makes them more abstract, giving the pieces more breathing space. These newer textiles are made out of multiple pieces of costume so they are more about how the different pieces of costume work together, visually, historically and psychologically.

Is drawing important in your work?

I find it really helpful. The weaving process is slow and labour intensive and sometimes I can get a bit lost so the drawings remind me of where I was going and what I was originally thinking. In my recent work, I’m now drawing while I’m weaving which means the drawings are quite gestural and linear. Drawing is part of my working process.

How important is the look of the final piece compared to the narrative/the ideas behind it?

My work is processed-based – making is as important as the final outcome. I want the work to work on several levels, so that people engage with it because they like the look, and then starting thinking about the narrative and the ideas behind it.

Interview by Diana Woolf