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Recluse: Americana Redesigned in The Name of Inclusivity

Designer and Creative Director, Cassadee Chase, unveils her latest and most personal suit-wear line for fashion house, RECLUSE. After experimenting with surrealist and textile design, she now hones in on the vision and execution of reflecting her own experiences and values; this collection’s inspiration began at the base of her Midwestern roots. While coming of age and immersed amongst Americana norms of moonshine and masculinity, she felt compelled to redefine these often toxic stereotypes.

In collaboration with photographer, Bo Chapli, the two reimagine and reclaim institutionally macho tropes– we’re talking ‘cowboys to cowpeople.’ Chase and Chapli deconstruct and empower gender-neutral uniforms in Recluse’s FW19 lookbook as Football players and burlesque dancers are decorated in Swarovski crystals and Sophie Hallette lace. Milk.xyz sat down with the pair to chat about their creative process from start to finish. 

Where are you two from?

Cassadee: I am from Elgin, Illinois, 30 miles outside of Chicago.

Bo: And I’m from a beach town in Ukraine, called Odesa– I’m an immigrant.

Why did you decide to come to New York?

Cassadee: I spent a lot of time in Chicago when I was younger, but I remember I loved the energy and opportunities in New York in comparison.

Bo: I went to high school abroad because my parents thought the political situation was bad at the time. So, I went to high school in Europe, and I moved here because I wanted to go to art school. Now, I’m here permanently.

How did you two meet?

Bo: We lived in a dorm together! We weren’t friends until I was shooting one of her friends and looking for a stylist. The friend told me, “Cassidy is an amazing stylist.” They both came over, we started shooting and started hanging out since.

How did you guys come up with this idea to collaborate on creative direction, fashion design, and photography for Recluse?

Cassadee: Well, Recluse is my brand that started a couple of years ago with the same friend who introduced us. As she went off with different things, I took it over. This particular lookbook is inspired by my collection process. I always choose to work with Bo because we get along really great! She’s my go-to photographer for all my shoots.

Bo: Yeah. I helped with casting and shooting and finding resources. I am production, casting, photography and she is the collection and creative direction.

Cassadee: You’re my go-to always. I don’t know what else to say!

Can you talk about the creative process you went through to find the combination of patterns, typography, and looks for this project? What were your main sources of inspiration?

Cassadee: I love film. I went through and started watching different movies I love. I am deeply attracted to misogynistic, macho tropes in films. Easy Rider has tones, Buffalo ’66, and Three Women. I always pick these cowboy or biker tropes apart. So, I started watching a bunch of films and printing out stills. Because my collection is around the canvass of suit wear, I started designing suits over the movie characters and digging into vintage, family photos– I go into thrift stores and pick up family pictures to scan and overlay outfits. That’s a lot of my process.

I also took a lot of my heritage, West Virginia, as inspiration. I’m from the midwest and grew up with cowboy stories, moonshine, and coal miners around me. I took inspiration from that and the creative direction came from looking at family photos and the photo frames around them.

Bo: Yes! You did a great job at taking those macho identities, as you explained, and putting them in a space for all people. This collection is very feminine, based off of masculine tropes. It’s a very interesting transition from something that’s originally claimed by males.

Cassadee: Yeah. I mean that was the idea, taking apart macho, misogynistic tropes and making them gender fluid– where it doesn’t belong to either party. In a sense, it takes away the toxicity and violence of those tropes.

When you were planning the photography, how did you come up with your execution, apart from Cassadee’s creative direction?

Bo: I am trying to bridge this gap and blend genres between stage and street photography. Trying to be more than just a fashion photographer, or just a street photographer. I would say, this specific shoot came in as a more straightforward lookbook shoot, but I tried to combine styles.

Cassadee: She’s great at directing people. A lot of photographers I’ve worked with, they’re very rough with models. You know what I mean? But if you see our cover image, it’s so organic.

Bo: Because I also model myself, I’ve worked with nasty photographers in the past. The best images come out if models feel comfortable, open up, and show what they have to show. In the past, the best images taken of me are the ones I actually enjoyed, spent time with the photographer as a friend, and felt comfortable to do whatever I want. The worst images were the ones where they would yell at me and tell me to smile, “Don’t look so stiff!” You cannot look relaxed if someone keeps telling you don’t look so stiff!

How would you say that your overall style has evolved in the last few years?

Cassadee: At the beginning, I was thinking about surrealism and art wear. I remember the first thing I designed was like an hourglass costume where you are actually an hourglass. It was kind of ridiculous and surreal. But, I really love wearable clothes and suiting has always been a key part of me. My lookbook last year was seven suits that had different textile manipulation. Now, I’m branching out because my craft has gotten better. My work a couple of years ago was about exploring and trying to find myself. But then, I went back to the person that I was before. The person I was running away from and embracing that.

Bo: I feel like in both of our work, we defy the concept of ‘normalcy’ and what is ‘normalized.’ What is normal to photograph, what normal models to use. What normal wear is, and like how you combine things. Like you have a lot of combinations of different stuffs together.

How about your style and skills in photography?

Bo: I would say, I stopped trying to take the ‘correct picture.’ That is always something you’re concerned with. I try to pick photos that are in between moments of what I’m aiming to photograph– defying concepts of normalcy and what is ‘‘normal’ for me to photograph.

How did you decide on the name Recluse?

Cassadee: I’ve always defined myself as a recluse because I’ll disappear for like two or three months to be at home creating. When I think of a recluse, I think of someone who is very independent and doesn’t care about societal norms. Because it is weird to be locked into your house all the time! When I think about the definition of a recluse, I think of someone who wants to dress extremely different and in costume. I think who would want to be wearing Recluse would be that definition of it. They may not be in their apartment, but they will want to make a statement with their clothing.

How long did the project take, this lookbook?

Bo: We started planning in December, that’s why it came out great! It involves a lot of planning, whereas it’s just one day of shooting. It was pretty hard to confirm everyone. Everyone in New York is so — you can not tie them down to a single day! Planning, getting resources, casting– that took a long time. And then post, was ready a week after we shot it.

Cassadee: The shoot was so smooth. It was all the planning that went into it, and the clothes, it took me about two months to make everything.

What was the most rewarding aspect of this project?

Cassadee: Developing my voice and gaining the confidence to produce my own collection of clothes and finding an exceptional team and group of people who work so well and smoothly together.

Bo: Being able to shoot it knowing that all the creatives involved in this project came in there thrilled about what we were trying to create and happy with the results. It’s incredibly satisfying to know that people enjoy working with you and support your vision. I wish that the fashion industry overall worked towards transforming the work environment, to where people feel rewarded for their time rather than being exploited.  

What do you hope Recluse achieves? Did you have a main goal in messaging?

Cassadee: I hope Recluse is able to give people the confidence and voice to get their political and social beliefs across through my clothing. As well to open up a conversation about Americana cultures and gender in the traditional way of how we dress. I hope to continually help move the fashion industry forward socially for everyday people. Offering people options they don’t see regularly that can hopefully represent them.

What do you hope to be working on in five years?

Cassadee: I hope to have my brand, Recluse, grow into a business that can sustain my income full-time. Where it can go into production and in retail/e-commerce through environmentally sustainable practices. I hope more people will be wearing Recluse suits in the future. I also hope to continue to collaborate with artists like our entire team for this lookbook.

Bo: I hope to remain a freelance artist, where I can create things that excite me and not dread what I do. I wish to inspire others to do the same, to help all the creatives I enjoy working with succeed and to create opportunities for people! I would also love to contribute to a big publication and be instrumental in shaping media towards promoting stories rather than products.

Featuring: Jimi Lucid, Mar Chan, Annika White, Salome Brown, & Carl Knight 

Hair & Makeup: Allison Owens & Christopher Barton

Styling: Abigail Lipp

Set Design: Trevor Munch

Photo Assisting:  Semaza Azhak

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