Angela Barrow, the one-woman whirlwind behind Brooklyn-based accessories label Cheek-ie, is having an active holiday season. In addition to begetting a brand spanking new collection of her versatile fabric-based statement pieces, she is spearheading a global mix-tape mail swap and just churned out a Tits 4 Totes calendar featuring the lovely bosoms of Brooklyn residents to benefit the North Brooklyn Compost project. (Don’t miss today’s release party.) I sat down with Barrow at her Greenpoint studio-cum-apartment and over some agave-sweetened jasmine tea and a mix tape that ran the gamut from Suicide to ’50s country, discussed everything from thrash metal to Henry Darger to the cotton/Lycra king of New Jersey.
Marlo Kronberg: Tell me a bit about what you were like growing up. Were you always interested in art and fashion?
Angela Barrow: It’s so funny. If you look on the fridge, there’s a picture of me as a bunny. I helped make that costume. My mom was going to make me an actual furry costume and I was like, ‘No! I want a unitard!’ I wore my hippie sandals—I was like a hippie bunny. As a kid, I would make clothes for my dolls, dress up my cats…have little fashion shows with my siblings. Making accessories was a hobby and then it just kind of went from there.
Marlo: Did you get a formal education in design?
Angela: I went to FIDM in L.A. for a year and then transferred to VCU in Richmond and did an Art History minor with a Fashion Design major. I have an actual fashion degree, so I’ve always worked with fabrics. When I would make jewelry, however, it was never really fabric based. It was more like taking trinkets and reworking them. In college I started making earrings, and I was doing really well selling them at friends’ stores. I started out with things like earrings with little charms on them—like guns or knives. Richmond is a punk town so the girls were like, “Yeah, I want earrings with a fucking gun!”
Marlo: You grew up in Virginia, too. Tell me a little bit about growing up in a small town and how that informed your creative and personal growth.
Angela: I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s a small town. The College of William and Mary is there and obviously there’s a lot of history. There are a lot of local farms. I still try to eat food that’s grown locally or made by someone I know, but it’s really expensive and hard to do that. That aspect of cutting down on waste is definitely something that comes from Virginia. Before there were strip malls, you would just go to a specialized store if you needed something. There was a paper store—like Staples—but it was someone’s dad’s store. Everybody did music or art, and I was in band. I’m not ashamed: I was in band!
Marlo: Band is awesome. What instrument did you play?
Angela: The flute. I played instruments growing up and if you needed to buy an instrument in Williamsburg, there was only one store. Living in New York and being over-stimulated on a daily basis makes me forget my old life sometimes, but I do carry a lot of stuff over from Virginia. For instance, I try not to waste anything. Growing up, my parents drummed it into me to save things and not waste, so I’ve always saved every little thing that I can, unless there’s no point to saving it anymore. Like if a fabric scrap is an inch, if it’s worth it, I’ll put it in a box with other fabric scraps and try to make something out of it. I really don’t throw any of that stuff away.
Marlo: So part of what makes your work so compelling is that it’s fabric based with a lot of knotting and braiding. How did you get into that?
Angela: That was a fashion school technique. A lot of my professors worked in the fashion industry in the ’80s and ’90s, so we would do a lot of work with linings and stuff like that. In order to attach the lining to the pant, you do this knot, which is basically a chain sinnet. It’s used in tailoring. The knot is also a great technique for shortening things, so everything I make is easily adjustable. My fashion background is pretty much the reason I use fabrics as opposed to metal. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about chains. For my pieces you don’t need crochet hooks or anything. You don’t even really need a needle. Also, since my stuff is fabric-based and not metal, there’s no reason for it to be expensive. Everything should ideally be under $100.
Marlo: What was the driving inspiration behind this season’s designs?
Marlo: This season I was drawn to designs that are multi-functional. That’s probably because I have ADD and multi-task all the time. So with these pieces, if you were going to the gym, for instance, you could have an instant headband. Some styles you can wear as headbands, necklaces—and even as bracelets. I wear this stuff to yoga. I wear it out. I wear it everywhere. Also, a lot of my friends growing up were artists and their parents were artists, so I’m still more influenced by actual fine art and music as opposed to fashion. But when it comes to fashion, I’m more influenced by older stuff. I don’t know a lot about new designers, but vintage I know. I’m definitely drawn to vintage-looking things.
Marlo: You have a few organic pieces this season. Tell me a bit about that.
Angela: Yeah, this season I used an organic cotton that my good friend Audrey Louise Reynolds dyed. There’s a pink color way, a green color way and a grey-blue color way. She used curry, grass, leaves, beets, chard, probably purple carrots…I don’t even know everything she used. I would love to do more stuff with her in upcoming seasons. Maybe do some tie-dye or something.
Marlo: What is your creation process like?
Angela: Sometimes if I’m out and I see a cool shape or something that strikes me, I record it on my phone or make a note to myself. I do a lot of sketches and re-work old things. A lot of ideas come out of repairs, honestly. I have a repair box where I put things that need improving or re-working. I’ve been working on this idea of phasing out clasps completely. I mean, it’s hard to get bracelets on unless you have a partner.
Marlo: What inspires you?
Angela: Above all, music and food—especially together. One day I would love to have my own restaurant. Also, being surrounded by creative, dynamic people.
Marlo: Since you’re Brooklyn/New York City-based, your work is inextricably intertwined with this environment. How do you see the influence of this environment in your work?
Angela: I feel like I’m able to get whatever materials I want here. I’m inspired by the fabrics I find in the Garment District and whatever is left of the fabric stores on the Lower East Side. There’s this one store on the LES where this guy has amazing spandex: cotton/Lycra blends and things. I actually went to his factory. His son, Maurice, runs three factories in New Jersey and I visited when I was designing for No.6. He calls himself the “Cotton/Lycra king” and he really is, because apparently they don’t make cotton/Lycra anymore. People make spandex, but not actual cotton/Lycra. He has these warehouses of fabrics that are just so colorful and crazily patterned. It’s really unreal.
My work is really inspired by the fabrics of New York. A couple of years ago in college I did this collection of dresses inspired by Henry Darger. Maybe a year later, that DVD about him Realms of the Unreal came out. My teachers were like “You always know when something’s about to break.” I don’t know how that is, but I just know, especially with certain colors. I can be like two seasons ahead. I’ve always loved rich shades of color. I love color. I’m inspired by color.
Cheek-ie can be found at a variety of shops, including Dossier: 244 DeKalb Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn.