Brain on fire
It’s hard to describe with words the astonishing work of Christian Joy. It is imaginative and eclectic and must be seen to be believed. Whimsical and more often than not, in-your-face bold, her costumes, installations, ready-to-wear clothes and artworks are always breathtaking.
Joy is perhaps best known as the ongoing costume designer for Karen O of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. In 2007 her costume designs for the band were featured at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London as part of the New York Fashion Now exhibit.
Since then she has collaborated with TopShop, created the costumes for Stop the Virgens a “psycho opera” created by Karen O and KK Barrett, masterminded outfits for Santigold and Oh Land, among many other projects. She has also shown in numerous exhibitions all over the world and most recently mounted an art installation show Bok Joy at Secret Project Robot in Brooklyn
Here, Joy generously reveals how she develops here ideas, her favorite podcasts to listen to while working, how to jazz up your wardrobe, and much more.
Was there a moment when you realized you could have a career as an artist? How did you get to that point?
I’d say it was the first time I saw Karen O perform in one of my pieces. Growing up I always had this feeling that I was going to do something really special and at that moment, seeing her on stage I realized that this was the beginning of that “thing” I had always imagined happening.
What creative project are you most excited about right now?
I actually have a lot of projects I’m feeling excited about. For the first time in a long time I’m meeting new people. I was really stuck in my studio for a long time, a little cut off from civilization. But I guess one of the projects I’m most excited about has been styling Brittany Howard of the band Alabama Shakes. I don’t do a lot of styling. It’s never been my thing, but a publicist friend of mine sent me an email asking if I knew anyone who was interested in styling her. I was ready to pass it on to a friend and then thought I should take a look and see what the band was about. I was so totally blown away by Brittany’s voice that I asked for the job. There is something about working with bands that sets my brain on fire and really inspires my other projects. I guess it’s because of the reach band’s have and how you can really affect the public in such a huge way just by even the styling choices you make. For example Brittany wore a pair of Prince earrings on Saturday Night Live that I had purchased off Etsy and people started going crazy on Twitter and then Rolling Stone and The Village Voice wrote about them. I love the effect something like that can have on the audience.
How do you develop your ideas? Can you share your creative process?
A lot of my ideas come to me in the middle of the night or even in dreams. I don’t write ideas down that often and I don’t draw a lot. I usually imagine them being filed away in a giant metal filing cabinet in my brain. I feel like if I’m excited enough by the idea then it will likely stick with me. I guess I let it stew for a while and develop. I love doing research, so I’ll read as much as I can on whatever it is I’m thinking about and try to develop a story around it. Then it’s to the creation and I almost always develop a print or some sort of textile that becomes the basis for the idea. After that I’ll begin collaging pieces in that become part of the story of the piece.
Are there any places/museums/stores/artists that inspire your creativity in New York?
I love the Met. It’s my favorite museum. I love history and looking at the ways people created things. The Strand bookstore is another one of my favorite spots. Resurrection Vintage, I can’t afford anything but the clothes are so incredible and fun to look at. Having dinner and drinks with friends is a huge inspiration for me. My favorite place for dinner is Bacaro on Division Street in Chinatown. Oh and I love Patricia Field for shopping. I took my niece and nephew there when they were visiting from Iowa and it was there favorite place.
Do you listen to music while you work?
I don’t actually listen to a lot of music when I work because I start to sing and forget what I’m doing. I tend to listen to podcasts anything from This American Life and Radiolab to the incredibly dry but always interesting BBC History.
What’s the best way to jazz up an outfit? Are there any simple tricks that you use to add flair to your costumes and installation pieces?
For me personally it’s about a great shoes and socks combo and earrings. I love mixing and matching my earrings too. One thing I try to add to the installation pieces and costumes is something that is instantly recognizable like a laughing mouth or little thought bubbles. I feel like it’s a way for the audience to feel safe within the piece and then you can direct their attention outwards towards the more abstract parts.