Connected \\ December 13, 2017

Inspired by Georgia

Designer Brenda Lee works with the PEM Shop on product development. For the current exhibition, Georgia O’Keeffe: Art, Image, Style, Lee has helped to create five Georgia O’Keeffe inspired items such as a wrap dress and a kimono jacket. Lee owns the Cape Cod-based clothing company Cupcake International that produces hand painted fabrics in small workshops and runs Oz, a women’s clothing store in Barnstable, Mass.

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Courtesy photo

Q: What is it about O'Keeffe's aesthetic that inspired you to design these garments for the exhibition tour?

A: What I liked about O'Keeffe was her sense of humor. She knew she dressed like a man or a nun or a combination of a man and a nun! Her clothes were severe and simple, mostly monochromes.

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Courtesy photo

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Jennifer Lawrence's Georgia O'Keeffe inspired photo shoot for Dior stirred up the fashion world this Fall, appearing in magazines like Harper's Bazaar. Photo by Dinah Cardin

Q: You have lived in and visited many countries around the world. Can you tell us about how those countries have influenced your work?


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Courtesy photo

A: I think every country has its own fashion aesthetic. I love how the French make simplicity elegant. Now that the world has become global, it's a melting pot. The French are doing Asian designs, and Asians are inspired by the Italians. Every country contributes to what is considered fashionable We try to keep our pieces unique, and we print our own fabric. I've always liked the kimono because it's a style flattering to any woman's figure and looks elegant. I was doing Obi belts and kimonos when no one was doing them.. I love to work in Thailand, because the atmosphere is beautiful, and the people are kind and generous. 

Q: Your background is unconventional and you didn't go to design school. How did you hone your craft?

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Courtesy photo

A: I honed my craft when I was six or seven, playing with paper dolls. Betty Grable was my favorite. Then, I learned how to make doll clothes. Loving costumes, playing dress-up, having a chance to experiment with clothing and color. Never being afraid to wear anything different.

Q: Why do you only work with women to produce your clothing?

A: This is a new phenomena in Asia, that women are running these small companies. They are seamstresses and finishers. They support the family. It creates a loyalty. I appreciate their hard work, dedication and loyalty.

Q: You worked on Iris Apfel inspired clothing for PEM Shop, as well. Apfel's fashion style is very different from O'Keeffe's. How can you describe her look?


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Iris helps carefully install ensembles in her 2009 exhibition at PEM. Photo by PEM / Walter Silver.

A: That's the fun of fashion. You go from O'Keeffe, who dresses like a nun, to Iris, who dresses like a circus performer. Who wants to eat the same food every day? That's the spice and that's what interests me.

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Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864–1946). Georgia O’Keeffe, Prospect Mountain, Lake George, 1927. Gelatin silver print, 45/8 x 35/8 in. (11.8 x 9.3 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Alfred Stieglitz Collection, © 1980.70.223. © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Q: You have a personal connection with O'Keeffe. Your husband, Peter O'Keeffe, is related to her. Can you tell us about that connection? Have you ever met her?

A: One of Pete's cousins met her in Santa Fe, when she was quite old. When Pete went out, she was still alive, but not seeing anyone. It's a distant connection. I never met her, but I have a print of LADDER TO THE MOON.

Q: What excites you about this exhibition coming to PEM?


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Tony Vaccaro, Georgia O’Keeffe with “Pelvis Series, Red with Yellow” and the desert, 1960. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Courtesy of Tony Vaccaro studio

PEM never fails to impress me with how they curate. The behind-the-scenes people are brilliant at pulling it all together. You really get a sense of the individual artist, painter, sculptor, photographer. They have a clever way of bringing out the individual essence of an artist, better than almost any other museum.

Visit the PEM Shop to see or buy these Georgia O'Keeffe inspired designs. For more exhibition related items, go to the PEM Shop site.


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Kristen Levesque is a freelance publicist promoting museum exhibitions for PEM. She also has her own PR firm where she promotes arts and culture in New England. Before working at PEM, she was Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the Portland Museum of Art for many years. Kristen loves to travel the world and recently hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.

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