Interview: Costume Designer Christian Joy on Dressing Karen O and Her New Show at Audio Visual


Karen O can pretty much wear whatever she wants and still get her point across, but there’s no denying that her rainbow-collaged wardrobe–which ranges from space-age frocks to glow-in-the-dark Predator-esque jumpsuits–adds to the intensity and dynamic of every Yeah Yeah Yeahs show. So it’s quite fitting that the person in charge of dressing the infamously fashion-forward front woman would have a show of her own. In her first solo exhibition, “The Visitors Must Be Amused,” costume designer Christian Joy asked her family and friends (including Ms. O) to write a description of a female being. The result is a specifically designed costume representing each definition, including one of an alien goddess gown with a whip. Which is of course a very accurate representation of what it’s like to be a woman. We caught up with Joy to talk about the show, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and recession fashion.

How did you first meet Karen O?

I met Karen O While I was working at the Daryl K Store on 6th Street in the East Village. She would come in all the time and we would hang out and talk.

How did you come to start dressing her?

Karen actually saw some pieces that I had done for a store that used to be on Orchard Street called Timtoum. They were some de-constructed prom dresses and she asked me to make one for her, for a show they were playing at the Cooler. From there it just sort of took off and we’ve been working together ever since.

Are there one or two outfits you’ve done for her that’ve gotten an exceptional amount of attention?

The skeleton suit I think is one of the most popular pieces. It’s basically sort of a Day of the Dead inspired body suit–painted and embroidered. It also has a three dimensional heart on the outside and it came with intestines that Karen could pull out of the costume onstage. The prom dresses and all of the early stuff are what helped get attention in the beginning. Everything was pretty raw and thrown together which I think fit the YYY’s music well at the time.

Did you catch any of the trends at Fashion Week?

I looked at a few of the shows. They were exactly what I expected. I felt like after the years of bright colors and prints that people were going to want to go back to a darker, sexier, more minimal look. But also more of rock/punk look, which I think is always cool and classic–as well as fitting for the economic time we’re in.

Do you see yourself as fitting into the fashion world?

I don’t really enjoy that world when I’m involved in it. I like it more from the outside. I enjoy fashion much more when I’m not involving myself so much in it. I don’t feel as competitive and so I can appreciate the beauty of pieces that I might otherwise not like.

You’re doing more wearable clothes now. Is the exhibition at Audio Visual Arts a way to still have an outlet for your costume-design work?

I’m actually trying to get away from fashion and to just go in the direction of costumes. I’d also like to get more involved in creating art. I don’t really find creating and producing clothing something that I enjoy and so I have no plans to continue with it. I do plan to create a few one-of-a-kind pieces which I think are suited to what I do, which will sell at TG-170 on Ludlow.

In regards to ‘The Visitors Must Be Amused,’ what did you initially think about the responses you got from friends and family?

I was really excited about everyone’s responses. Each idea really blew my mind because you could see so clearly everyone’s personalities in what they wore.

Did you ever think making these ideas into costumes would be difficult?

I almost did with my mom’s because I was so stuck on the idea of what my mom would like and how I could most impress her. But then I had to start thinking, ‘OK, what would I do to compliment my mom’s story?’ I’m really happy with what turned out in the end, especially since I had about two days to make it.

What is your own personal interpretation of a female being?

My interpretation would be someone very androgynous and alien-like. I love the idea of a David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust type, a woman or a man that both sexes are completely enamored with.

Are there any other female artists that you’d like to dress?

I can never think of anyone off the top of my head. I feel very lucky to dress Karen. I guess someone like Yoko Ono, Yayoi Kusama, David Bowie, or Divine. They’re the people I feel most inspired by.

‘The Visitors Must Be Amused’ runs through March 8, Audio Visual Arts, 34 East 1st Street.

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