Annabell P. Lee Is The Artist Making Polly Pocket-Inspired Wearables
Stepping into the studio of Los Angeles-based artist Annabell P. Lee is like entering a mix between a museum and a playground. In fact, the rising creative likes to draw a comparison between herself and the 1990s toy universe of Polly Pocket. Littered with colored buttons, mini fabric swatches, childlike doodles, and all kinds of clothing painted with two-tone grid-like patterns, it’s impossible not to want to inspect every inch of her enclave. Making items such as keychains and corsets, Lee is setting herself apart by creating one-of-a-kind wearable designs, which are all handmade and impossible to find anywhere else. Milk visited Lee at her LA studio and spoke to the artist about her creative practice and her quest to make the “tiny perfect top”.
When did you first start experimenting with art making and then, begin working with wearables?
I went to an art high school, then an art college for my BFA in painting, so by the time I was done I had been making art for eight years. Since I keep everything that is in any way nostalgic, I dragged all my art from high school to Kansas City (which is where I went to college). I got really tired of seeing it sitting around and I was bored of having things that just took up space. It felt like a really necessary change to start making functional items. I began with clothes, but was also making rugs, bags, etc.
How did growing up in New York and Miami influence your creativity? How has living in Los Angeles impacted the work you’ve made recently?
When I was ten, my family moved from New York City to Miami. Miami is definitely an influence on my color palette and love for muted color. I am deeply inspired by the architecture in Miami, Art Deco for example, as well as the flora and fauna. In Miami, there are a few public art high schools that foster this unimaginable crew of creative young kids. In 2010, senior year of high school, my friend Rachel Zaretsky used her Bat Mitzvah money to rent a gallery space in the Wynwood district. Every month we were curating shows, putting on performances—it was insane! The space was always jam packed, people coming to see art made by kids in high school. This period had a huge impact on me and marks the time where I realized I could make whatever I want.
Now, living in Los Angeles has further nurtured that shift. There is a whole community here making clothing that fluxes between art and fashion. In Los Angeles, I feel no need to define my practice which allows for a lot of exciting experimentation. Plus, there are also amazing fabric warehouses here where I can find anything I need which really helps.
Your process is seems like it’s pretty time consuming. Can you take us through it step by step, from ideation to completion?
The idea either starts with a color combination/pattern or with a specific look that I want to see on someone. Next, I paint the fabric with a thickened dye solution which is time sensitive, so it’s a mad dash to finish. I then take the fabric home and wash out the dye. I bring it back to my studio to cut using a hand drafted pattern—and the final step is sewing! For me this process is a balance between my short attention span but also my love for time consuming detail.
Do you stick to making the same set of garments? How often do you introduce a new style? How do you decide when it’s time to put a style to rest or take on a new silhouette?
Most of the time it is as simple as, “Oh shorts would be cute, I’ll make those next for spring.” The balance between keeping stock and making something new is still something I am figuring out. There are a few of the more popular styles like the corset or the wrap tops, so I try to always have a run of those made.
In your mind, what is a “tiny perfect top that doesn’t feel like a top”?
I always talk about this journey to make the perfect tiny top. I don’t have an exact answer because I am still trying to figure it out. I think this has partially come out of living in very hot places like Miami and Los Angeles. There is something comfortable to me in about being bound by a tight corset, like being hugged. I also love the silhouette of big pants and tiny top.
How do you hope to make people feel when they are wearing your art on their bodies?
I want to put an emphasis on clothing fitting right and the customer feeling good in the clothing. I wear a lot of my own clothes to ensure that they are comfortable. I use 100% cotton fabric which is important for breathability. I hope people feel excited to be wearing something handmade!
Who are some of the artists who have influenced your work and how have they inspired you? (You mentioned Tracey Emin).
Since high school, Tracey Emin was a big influence—I was obsessed with how visible her hand is in each piece. Having my hand and mark visible in my paintings is important to me. Also around that time Robert Rauschenberg’s textile pieces were a huge inspiration. A few years later, Helen Frankenthaler and Sam Gilliam became important to me. The materiality of paint bleeding into the canvas is what lead me to try painting with dye. More recently, I have been looking at a lot of old interior design books and furniture books for color inspiration.
What advice would you give to someone looking to turn their fine art into clothing?
Give yourself permission to do whatever you want. Don’t focus on one thing forever, keep producing and experimenting because it will eventually turn into something else. Instagram is a great way to get your work out there and we have it at hand’s reach. Take cute photos of your friends wearing your clothes.
Images courtesy of Sara Radin
Stay tuned to Milk for more west coast art.