Gigi Reneé is the owner of the clothing boutique Vintage Moon Modern in downtown Asheville, and a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. She creates hand-stitched apparel using a direct-contact dyeing process. Her materials include wildcrafted botanicals, metals, and natural fibers like silk, wool, and cashmere.
How did you learn the art of clothing design?
I’m self taught. I started dabbling when I was 10 or 12. I had an interior plant-design and landscaping business in Florida for 15 years. Then I moved to Asheville and opened my shop in 2006, and went into clothing design full time.
Is what you do both an art and a science?
There’s a lot of alchemy involved. You can get really scientific. Or just go with it and let it flow and still get beautiful results. It’s a slow-fashion type of art, and very labor intensive. I might take leaves or bark and grind it down into a powder, or leave it in large chunks and lay it directly on the fiber. I do a lot of experimentation, and use different plants to see which ones work best for dye.
So you have many creative decisions to make?
There are unlimited possibilities and a million different techniques you can use. That’s why this has held my attention for so long. There’s a lot of impromptu design work happening, because it comes out differently every single time. With one plant, you can get lots of different shades of color. It depends on the pH of the water, the alkalinity of the teapot you use, and on how long it’s in the pot. The metal added to the water to pull out the color affects it, too. And I use lots of layers of dyes. People are really getting a one-of-a-kind piece.
Do you forage in the wild?
Yes, and I have to harvest plant material at a particular time or season of the year, at its peak tannin level. But I can dry out fresh leaves and plants and press them and preserve them to use for another time, too.
What other kinds of materials do you use?
Tree bark, twigs, insects, rusty nails. I’ve actually done stunning pieces on silk with rust from a 100-year-old ceiling tin. All that rusty stuff people hate? That is gold to me.
Did you say insects?
I crush cochineal into a fine power for shades of red to purple. Or use them as a direct contact print on the fiber.
What has this work taught you about yourself?
Art is a relationship … a hunger you feed. I used to feel inadequate when I couldn’t get in touch with my creative side. But art is always a learning experience, and has allowed me to trust myself more. To not live in just one idea but in many ideas, both in art and in life.
So that hunger you feed is feeding you back?
Yes. I’m not saying it’s always easy. But art is a lifestyle and art is poetic, and I want to live a poetic life.