The Elegant and Intricate Urchin ReDesign

June 14, 2013

Interview by Josh the Terrible

Walking in to the studio of Urchin ReDesign is nothing short of sensational.  The premises are covered in a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers making you feel as though you are stepping into a magical fairy kingdom.  The moment you step through the door, your eyes are inundated with beauty from all directions.  Every nook and cranny is utilized for some kind of handmade dress, head piece, jewelery, trinket, or treasure.

Watch the interview!


The Burro: Tell me about Urchin ReDesign.

Sonia Kasparian: Urchin Redesign is high-end couture done with reconstructed materials. I use vintage materials, old dresses, mix it with new materials or girls heirloom dresses and make new dresses that speak to the past, but don’t reference any particular time period.

TB: That’s awesome! So you’ve referred to your designs as “reconstructed couture”, is that a term that you coined yourself?

SK: You know, I think so.Urchin Scarlet

TB: I thought so. Define that term a little bit more for me.

SK: Well, reconstruction is basically taking something that existed, taking it apart and reconstructing it into something new, so you’re remaking it. In couture, there’s probably a much better definition than my own, but my definition of couture is that you take something and you literally hand-drape it three dimensionally, either on a form, a tailoring form, or on a person’s body. I do a lot of my draping on my actual clients too. So everything is made to completely to fit their form, and nothing is done with flat pattern.

TB: Tell me a little bit about this draping; you’ve been doing this a long time, right? You’ve been doing apparel design for 25 years?

SK: 28 years. I’ve always loved draping, I mean, I’m a sculptor so there’s no difference really between sculpting fabric and sculpting other materials. What you’re doing is looking at a three dimensional form, and in my case my three dimensional form is my clients, and figuring out what is the most attractive and best way to emphasize that form, and then taking that and working a design out of it.

TB: Can I ask you to describe your clientele?

SK: My clientele is diverse, but I get girls who are more alternative and they don’t want to go into a bridal store to look for a dress, or they have gone there and it doesn’t reflect their lifestyle at all. So I’ll get girls with all kinds of great colored hair or tattoos or piercings, and they’re very much about self-expression, so Urchin is a great fit for them because it is very organic and different. It’s very romantic, and that plays off very well against someone who has that kind of look.

TB: I think you’re right, anyone can walk in to a normal bridal store and then walk into here and they’re obviously so very different.

SK: They’re so different. That kind of girl will never be able to walk into a cookie cutter store and be able to find something, it’s impossible. I’m a lucky lady, they’re the coolest people to work with and they look amazing in my clothes.

TB: You also design one of a kind jewelry and accessories. Is this in addition to the Urchin apparel line?

SK: Well it’s kind of all an extension of Urchin. With my dresses, and I do special occasion dresses too, you really sort of need pieces that work with it, both headpieces or veils or jewelry. So it’s taking old materials, beautiful old materials, and re-putting them together in new ways. It’s the whole package: it’s the dress, it’s the veil, it’s the necklace, it’s everything, the shoes, the bag… anything you can think of.

Urchin Flapper

TB: Does that all develop together at the same time, or are you focused on the dresses?

SK: I’ll do the dress first; when I’m working with a girl, I’ll do the dress first so that we can see everything that we’re producing. And then the headpiece will come last and the jewelry will come after that. I also work on other pieces where I don’t have a specific client in mind when I have a chance, which is not often. But when I do, I work on other designs just because I love to design.

TB: Is that some of the stuff we see here in the studio, stuff you’re just working on because you wanted to?

SK: Yeah, let’s see, that black and gold beaded 20’s dress is one that I made because I had time.

TB: That’s gorgeous.

SK: And this one I made for an Oregon Bride photo shoot. They were doing a haunted house shoot, and so I made a dress that looked like peeling Victorian wallpaper and kind of trailing smoke. And then there’s a dress in there for a Solestruck shoot that we just did last month, and they wanted something diaphanous that felt like you were having dreams or nightmares. But then a lot of the other pieces, when I get a chance to, I just sort of put together.

TB:  Do you have a piece that you’re most proud of?

SK: One of my favorite pieces, and most of my work right now is over at a store called Eden, over in the Pearl. They just opened a bridal store so a bunch of my product went over there, so this place is kind of sparse right now. I know it doesn’t seem like it (Sonia’s studio is packed full of incredible pieces in every room on two floors.) So there’s a dress in there [called] the “Mermaid Dress”, and I made that for a girl, and I ended up in the end renting it to her; I made a proposal and I was just like, “look, I just really want to build this thing for you, the way I want to build it. I know it goes beyond your budget, just let me make it and I’ll rent it to you. So that one, I love that dress, and it’s not for sale.Urchin Mermaid

TB: It’s in Eden right now? We can go see it?

SK: Yeah, you can, it’s in their window display. So yeah, either I love a dress because it was technically difficult or because the client was so wonderful, and those are the two things that really make it for me.

TB: What’s the best compliment you can receive about something you’ve designed?

SK: Well if I’m making it for one of my clients, I think one of the best compliments they can give me is to say, “Oh my god, you made the dress I totally always wanted my whole life”.  There’s just nothing better. Another thing is when they come in with their mom, and I’m remaking their mom’s dress or their grandmother’s dress, and you see the mom in there, and she’s just crying and the daughter’s crying, and that’s just the best.

TB: When I started looking for a fashion designer to interview for our Manifestation issue, I was considering several different designers and I was referred to you. Instantly, I was like, “this is it”. I looked at your website over and over and not only was I impressed by your designs, but the way you tell your personal story was impressive to me. I thought, “This is someone with a story that needs to be shared”.

SK: Thank you.

TB: So give me a synopsis of how you got here.

SK: Wow, ok. That’s a good story on manifestation probably, and also on fate. When I first started out in fashion design, I really wasn’t planning on being a fashion designer at all. I wanted to be a fine artist, but I thought, “Gosh, fine artists make no money, and I really like eating, and I want to travel and do all these fun things”.

TB: Was there a specific fine art?

SK: You know, I was a sculptor and a painter, and I love my art and have been an artist and went to the Art Institute when I was a little kid. My teachers told my mom that I had to go to the Art Institute, so I got to go there. I had always grown up with art, and always wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t think there was an avenue to be an artist and actually be successful.  So I thought, “What can I do to be an artist and be creative in the meantime? Do it for like ten years and make a pile of money, and then be an artist on my own terms”. And then I thought, “fashion design, how hard can that be, right?” But my school had no coaching whatsoever on how to go to college or on where to go, so basically they brought the book out and they said OK, you either go to USC or UCLA, or if you can’t make that you go to a city college. So I closed my eyes, put my finger down in the book and said “Parsons, I’m going to go to Parsons”.

TB: You made a life decision completely blind like that?

SK: That’s it, that’s how I do it. And I didn’t apply to any other school. I’m like, if my finger found it then fate brought me here and that’s it. So I went to Parsons, and your first year you can decide your major and I didn’t know what I was going to go into because there was still the art option. But I was like no, I’ll go into fashion, and I went into fashion and loved it, I thought it was really fun and thought I would do it for ten years, but ended up doing it for twenty five or something like that. I just worked for the big companies and did all that and then finally I was like, “ok, it’s time for me to do my own thing.” I thought I Urchin Sketchbookwas going to go into fine art, but then Urchin started up and I was back in fashion, but doing it as fine art, so it was perfect.

TB: So that’s how they melded together.

SK: Exactly.

TB: Was the bridal design there from the beginning or did that come later?

SK: When I went to school, I wanted to be a couturier; I wanted to do couture fashion. But in LA at the time there wasn’t really a big couture fashion scene. But I didn’t want to live in Paris and I didn’t want to live on the east coast, I’m a west coast girl. So I thought, what am I going to do? So I ended up in surf; I ended up working for surf and skate companies, and I did that for a bunch of years and had no idea whatsoever that I was going to be a bridal designer. I had been making product and putting it in a store on Mississippi [street] called Flutter and, Flutter is awesome by the way, and it was started by the lady who owns Eden over on the west side of town. She came into my studio one day and I was just making jewelry and she came in here and saw my clothes, and my Burning Man clothes were up on the wall, and she was like, “Oh you make clothing, I didn’t know you make clothing”.  And I said, “Well, I’m a fashion designer”, and she’s like, “Do you want to put some in the store”? So I put some clothing in the store, started the name Urchin, and girls started buying my dresses to get married in.

TB: You didn’t plan on that?

SK: No, that was not part of my plan.

TB: They just saw it and said, “I want to get married in that dress”?

SK: They were getting married in my dresses, and I was like, “oh my goodness, that’s awesome and I’m honored.” And then I actually had a girl approach me and say, “Can you make a dress for me?” and she was delightful, she was awesome. It went so well and I thought, you know, I could do this, I’ll offer that. If people want me to make a dress, I can design a dress for them.

TB: And when was that? How far along the road did the bridal start?

SK: Right away, I mean that was within six months of starting Urchin.

Urchin SignTB: Tell me a little about the name Urchin.

SK: I was just thinking of Charles Dickens’ street urchins, you know those little kids who were running around in those tattered rags, and it was very elegant looking and Edwardian in feel, which my clothes have a lot of that. And it just seemed like the perfect fit. You know when you think of something and it’s the right fit and you get goosebumps?

TB: In your mind, would you say Urchin Redesign is a manifestation of your original goals: work for ten years, save up some money, and then do the art that you wanted to do?

SK: Yeah, in a crazy way it really is. It completely embodies every single thing I wanted to do because I wanted to do couture, I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to work for myself, yeah. I never would have thought that this was the way that I would end up there but that’s just how it happened.

TB: I think manifestation is usually that way; you picture how you want your life to be or a goal that you have, and when you actually get there, it’s… yes you accomplished it, but it’s so different from what you could have ever imagined.

SK: Yeah, and sometimes you don’t even realize it right away, I mean you have to step back and really go, “Oh my goodness, I really did it”.  That’s crazy and great.

TB: Could you say which parts are like you expected? Or which parts you obviously didn’t expect?

SK: Well I was hoping to do couture, which I am, but making it out of old tablecloths and curtains, you know, old handwork, I never would have imagined in a million years. I had no frame of reference for that other than the stuff that I made for myself.

TB: How do those ideas come to you? You’re working on something and you say, “Well, I need…”.

SK: I love working with high-end, beautiful old materials. I mean they’re gorgeous; they have a resonance, a patina you don’t get with new materials. So for me, it’s green, it honors the past and all that, but honestly it’s because they’re so beautiful and there’s just nothing like them. I mean, I mix them with new materials that are reallyUrchin Frame nice, and it’s pretty seamless, you can’t tell the difference when it’s all said and done because I do dyeing and I do all these things.

TB: Oh clearly, I mean when I look at all your stuff, I would never know.

SK: You never know what something is.

TB: I just know that it’s beautiful.

SK: Thank you. It’ll be like eighteen doilies and two curtains and an old slip, some new material and some silk scarves, some old rhinestone work, and it’s all mixed together.

TB: What other dreams and passions would you like to manifest in the future? You’ve come this far; do you feel you have a lot more to do?

SK: I’d like to manifest someone to help me with my internet, haha… I need web support in the worst way. I’m horrible in that I don’t like to touch a computer, I don’t like updating my site. That would be awesome, and then I would have a broader reach. I have girls that I make dresses for across the US, but they’ve heard of me through friends or they’ve stumbled through one of the stores I’ve been in. It would be really nice to have broader appeal so that people could find me. Other than that, I’d love to have more time so that I could travel again. Because literally I work seven days a week, you know when you have your own business you’re just never not working, so that would be the other thing. Other than that I’m pretty happy.

TB: Where would you go, if you could go this summer, just say, “I’m going to take off and go wherever I want”, where would you go?

SK: You know, I would like to go back to East Asia again. A few years ago I skipped Burning Man and went for five weeks and just had the best time, and I would have kept going if my passport didn’t expire. I want to get back out there again.

TB: You do a lot of bridal fashion, and for many women and men getting married is the single most important manifestation of their entire lives, and you get to be part of that process. How does that feel?

SK: It’s awesome; it’s the best thing ever. Your clients come in, they’re so happy to see you every time they come. It’s such an honor to be working on someone’s dress. I mean it’s a big responsibility and it’s a lot of pressure but I don’t know, maybe I’m arrogant, I don’t worry about that stuff. I’m just so excited to be working on the pieces and it’s really nice because I get incredibly cool clients. Only certain people are going to be attracted to this kind of process because it’s such a leap of faith and it’s so organic; there’s really nothing to look at, I’m going to be holding up pieces of fabric and going, “Ok here, stand still and I’m going to drape this on you”. So it really is a leap of faith. I can’t think of anything much more rewarding, unless you’re saving people’s lives or doing something like that for people. Any time you can do something wonderful for someone that means so much, it’s almost better than money. Almost.

TB: So where are you most excited about seeing your couture fashion featured?

SK: To see it on film or in TV would be pretty amazing. The exposure would be huge, and that’s pretty legit. It’s always great to see it anywhere, a magazine editorial is always nice too because you get great press out of it.

TB: Do you make a lot of pieceUrchin Greens for people at Burning Man?

SK: I have made a lot of pieces for people that go to Burning Man. I mean, now that I’m doing sort of the wedding and special occasion [designs], I just don’t have a lot of time for that so I tend to make it for people I know that commission me to do it. I actually take my form and my sewing machine and my whole setup with me to Burning Man. We have giant elk tents there, so our camp is pretty posh, and I actually have an entire sewing room set up there. So if I need downtime, I can go into my tent and I can actually whip up something for myself if I want to.  I’m kind of spoiled.

TB: Tell me about your summer plans for Urchin.

SK: I’m right in the midst of bridal season right now, so I’m working on dresses for this summer and for the following summer at this point. I’m going to be cranking those out till about August, but then I’m going to be going to WTF and Burning Man this year. I have a proposal for WTF, which is an amazing music festival that’s going to be in its second year that some friends of mine are putting on, and I have a proposal for an installation there, so we’ll see. If that works I’m going to be building sort of a cathedral there.

TB: So who’s your Burning Man camp?

SK: Zanzibar.

TB: Where can people find your designs around town?

SK: Well, here at my studio or at Eden on the west side now; it’s impossible for me to produce more than that, I wish I could. That’s why I had to rape and pillage my studio to take over to Eden.

TB: So a beautiful bride-to-be is referred to you; how do you tell her what her dress is going to look like?

SK: Well, she’ll tell me what she’s thinking or show me ideas or whatever it is that inspires her.

TB: Pictures maybe?

SK: I basically say bring in anything that you can think of that tells me about you, as long as it’s not large or flammable, and I’ll have an idea of who you are. So we’ll sit down and we’ll talk and then I will draw them a sketch, and this becomes their design sheet. This has all of their information on it. It shows the dress and if there’s a veil, it has that information on it. This is a bride whose dress I’m working on who lives in Vermont; I’ve never met her, and I’m not going to meet her in person, she sounds delightful however.

TB: How did she find you, on the internet?

SK: She went into Flutter and saw my work when I was there, and she knew the girls that work there and they said, “You should definitely have Sonia do your dress”. So we start the conversation and she says she’d love to have a twenties style dress and I said I’d love to make you one. She said that she had her grandmother’s old silk slip and peignoir and wanted to send it to me. So I said, “Anything you have that you want me to work into it, send it to me and I’ll figure out a way to make it work.” It was this beautiful champagne silk, so her dress is going to be black over champagne silk. I’ve reconstructed the under slip, brought it in, plunged the back, and done all that. Laid all of the other fabric over it, deconstructed it from another dress, reconstructed it and repinned it and draped it on the form. Since she’s remote, as I’m working on it every step of the way I shoot photos. It’s really nice because then they have a sort of catalogue of their dress form start to finish.Urchin brandon_perron

TB: Are they generally, “Yes, yes!” the whole time, or more like, “Oh well, I kind of wanted it different”?

SK: You know what? Literally the whole time it’s been all, “Yes, yes”.

TB: Because you send them a picture like this, and said, “Ok, you’ve told me what you want, and here’s how I’m conceptualizing it”.

SK: Yes, absolutely. And you know, great things will happen organically as you’re going along. I’ll be like, oh my gosh, I just picked this one thing up, what about this idea?  And then I’ll show them what that is, but they’re in the loop the entire time.

Visit Urchin ReDesigns website for more info.

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