Plush Decay means dying with fullness.
For our eleventh installment, I was inspired by the work of Dilaru Findikoglu, a Turkish born London designer - specifically their AW17 collection, which features deep red and black layers, tailored fabrics, billowing skirts, and velvet accents (check the links below for their site). Dilaru's work is very detailed, with some gothic tendencies and plenty of symbols. Another inspiration was Samhain, one of the most important pagan holidays, and the stereotypical witch fashion. I wanted to use a few basic staples, like the pointed black hat, black cloak, and silver moon capes. I added a few details to refresh the idea of what we think a witch would wear (in reality, of course, witches wear all sorts of things). Witches in the past have been tortured and executed (notably the Salem Witch Trials, but in England and Germany, too, similar and worse treatment occurred). We live in a very different time, as least in the states, and I wanted to bring bold colors to the all black palate to convey a forthright and fearless attitude. The cords I wrapped around some of the models' ankles and necks are meant to be visual translations of power - symbolizing how we carry it with us, how our bodies move through the world with their unique energetic weight. The red dress that Ariana is wearing is one of my favorite pieces - I got it at Goodwill for 5 dollars. At first it looked like hearts but on closer inspection it resembled meat and bacon so strongly that I needed to have it. Meat is what we are underneath our protective skin, and to me, part of being a witch is meditating on our impermanence - harnessing that intimacy with the life and death cycle to develop a broader view of the earth and universe. I dressed Ariana in that piece along with super shiny black vinyl pants - pairing them together to create a visual translation of Plush Decay - our insides are in constant degradation, but we can try and choose vitality, risk, adventure, standing out. The red represents the strength to face it, the blue represents understanding - the ability to accept it.
We shot in the woods by the Urban Ecology Center on Park Place, during one of the first cold days of the season. The wind was strong and we lost light fast - we got creative with our cell phone flashlights, huddled in coats between shots, helping light the way for each other as we stepped in and out of the branch-cluttered ground. The models were extremely patient and lovely, and I was so grateful that they soldiered through the cold. Our photographers were great, too, of course - Shannon snagged some very beautiful statement shots. He is great at directing models, and making them feel comfortable. Vaughan Larsen shot Plush Decay for the second time, and as always his angles and composition for group photos stand out particularly. Rachel Lapow, shooting for us for the third time, is specifically great at blending humans into nature, in ways that highlight the beauty of both.
We have a wide array of models - 4 of them have been featured in previous Plush Decay shoots, 4 of them are newcomers. Aija Moreno, DJ and budding clothing designer, is a fierce chameleon as always, commanding the viewer with her tender boldness. Ariana Vaeth, incredible painter and model (she was in the grunge installment) - her wide-eyed, childlike presence creates a great tension with the meat dress and vinyl pants. Coco Monet, performer and makeup artist, blessed us again with her incredible style. She came dressed in the tights and bra, along with a huge pair of black wings she made herself. I draped a red piece of fabric around her for a pop of color. Natalia Moryns is new to the Plush Decay cast - she has done modeling work for Papyrus and Charms, and she is a published and beautiful poet. Her looks seem effortless, and alongside the kindness emanating from her, there is also a power that can overwhelm a room. Jasmine Palermo is new as well. She arrived in the lace up black two piece, with her makeup flawless. I added my blue velvet button up for a pop of color. Her features are so strong and classic, there's an unreality to her - especially apparent in Rachel's shots of her with the moon and stars walking stick. Nicole Peterson's vampiric look adds an element of fantasy to the classic black velvet dress and moon head scarf. We have two visitors from Beloit - Adam and Kathy Taylor. Adam is a man of many talents, a great youth leader, and an extremely well-read human. Adam was in Plush Decay a few months back - here, his Viking looks along with the black cape evoke a Tolkien atmosphere, but the blue lipstick and red electric cord around his neck tie him chromatically with the women, and his pale skin next to the beige foliage creates a startling effect. Finally we have Kathy Taylor - a professor, a spiritual seeker and teacher (she is also my mother). In both her natural hair and wig, there's an undeniable light, paired with the reticence of an intuitive listener. Her silver curls are especially striking, and they create a regal halo, especially in Shannon's final photo.
On the models' foreheads (except for Natalia - I was too distracted with the wind and cold when she arrived, forgot to apply it!) are waning crescent moons on their sides. The waning crescent moon is a time for letting go of bad habits, of retreating inward to purge your mental landscape, to achieve metamorphosis. This meaning had particular resonance with me when applying it to my mother, who is in remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Her hair is growing back slowly but surely, and in many ways besides physically she has been an inspiring example on how to rebuild - not only to me, but to many people throughout her spiritual journey. Thinking of the bigger picture, of course autumn is a time where everything is dying, where the cold breaks in and forces us to pause, to freeze, to hibernate in our corners of the city and reassess. The physical obstacles we as humans experience are allegorical to the flourish and decay cycle of the earth. May your retreats be tender, powerful, and honest.
VAUGHAN LARSEN'S SET:
SHANNON JACKSON'S SET:
RACHEL LAPOW'S SET: