Recycled material, crocheted textile scraps, and random found objects make up a radiant line of monster bodysuits. Designed by Canadian artist and designer Lexy Ho-Tai, the costumes are wearable artworks that combine elements of fashion and performance art.
The five piece Kookerville line was part of Ho-Tai’s senior thesis at the Parsons School of Design, where she studied fashion and fine arts. Fashion majors at Parsons usually spend their final year working on a collection and lookbook that they present to a panel of industry judges before graduation. Ho-Tai spent her last ten months in school piecing together discarded fabrics and random materials she found on the street. “You weren’t diving and dumpsters and stuff were you?” The Creators Project asked her. “Well, yeah I was,” she told us. “I spent my first few weeks just walking along the streets of Manhattan, rummaging through the trash and collecting things I could use.”
Each individual monster represents a drastically unique style that Ho-Tai attached to a certain personality or emotion: “I’ve never been that into fashion and I’m still not really," she explains. "I’ve always been really passionate about individuality and creativity and expression. And fashion and how I dressed, happened to be a really good outlet for that. So that was kind of my in.”
The suits evolved out of sketches, where Ho-Tai would outline a basic idea of what she wanted each creation to do. “I knew I wanted one with tentacles. I knew I wanted one with all pom poms and one with multiple masks.” After she had the basic design down on paper, the next step was developing the textiles. She began to experiment with all the materials she had been collecting to try and realize the subjects in her drawings. “Once you start looking for found objects and paying attention to the things people are discarding, you realize how much potential they have and how accessible they are. I ended up discovering that plastic bags worked well for stuffing some the monsters. If anyone left threads or scraps on the floor [after] class, I ended up using them in my work. It was very organic.”
Ho-Tai grew up in Guelph, Ontario before moving to NYC to study at Parsons. Before she started work on Kookerville, Ho-Tai spent a year traveling abroad living out of her backpack. When she got back to Manhattan, she was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff she had in her apartment. “I was just like, this is ridiculous. Look at all this shit. All the shit I have. All the shit on the street.’ I kinda had this existential crisis where I'm like, ‘All I'm doing is creating more shit!’” She decided that making things out of objects that would otherwise be thrown away would be a fun and productive way to assuage this guilt. “A lot of my friends are artists, makers, and also hoarders, so I just got the stuff they didn’t use, which was mostly fabric.”
“Does the school give you any money for materials?” We asked. “No they don’t. People spend thousands of dollars of their own money on materials for their thesis. So I liked proving that you don't need to spend that much money to make stuff. Because I think art should be accessible to everyone and I think money shouldn't be something that hinders your creative output. It's more fun, too.”
Kookerville actually made to the ‘finalist’ round at her school, where it received praise from administrators and teachers. “Really you just get all this feedback from fancy fashion people," she tells The Creators Project. “But for me the final for me was always just going into public with them. That was who I cared about. I don’t care about these fashion people at all but if I can make a child laugh in the street, that’s way cooler.”
The 22-year-old designer says the project is majorly a representation of her love-hate relationship with New York. She wanted to find a creative way to connect people through exploration and joy. Previous works like Fabric Playground or Connect center around similar ideas of connectivity and playfulness. “I think New York is a very weird place where there is millions of people living on top of each other on this tiny island. But at the same time, a lot of people are so disconnected—stuck in their own world. I just think that’s what big cities kind of do to people. So I wanted to create something that broke away from these blasé feelings and created a fleeting moment of joy and excitement.”
This author had the honor of wearing one of these costumes in June at a Music and Arts festival called Destination Moon. It was amazing to see the public’s reaction to these characters firsthand. Festivalgoers gravitated to our pack of monsters at every corner of the campground. Filmmakers Olivia and Madeline Peters shot a short abstract film about our experience at Destination Moon, which can watch below:
Click here to visit Lexy Ho-Tai's website.