On the 75th floor of an apartment tower that overlooks the fork of New York City’s two great rivers, stylist David Casavant lives with his archive. Spilling out of rooms and into the common areas of the apartment are thousands of pieces of clothes—including coveted items from fashion history—that have garnered him the attention of artists, musicians, and stylists alike. I spoke with David on the occasion of the publication The David Casavant Archive, which brings together thirteen young artists to produce work inspired by his archive. The selection includes models and fashion photographers but the majority are celebrated contemporary artists—including Ryan Trecartin, Eric N. Mack, Wu Tsang, and boychild. David speaks intuitively about art, although he firmly identifies as a stylist—at most with a curatorial sensibility. We talked about how he collaborated with these artists to choose their most interesting works for the book, and his perspective on the creativity generated in this exchange.
Michela Moscufo (Rail): One thing that I love about the way you work and the way this book came out is that it’s so social, so altruistic.
David Casavant: Sometimes, I don’t think fashion taps into the art world enough. I wanted to pull a cool group of artists and see, if they had access to all these clothes, what would they come up with? The brief I sent was, come look at the archive as a starting point—if from there you don’t use the clothes, well then that’s where the starting point took you. With Thomas [Eggerer], I showed him around, and he said, “Oh I like the paintings,” and he took photos of them and decided, “this is what I’m doing. The paintings were done by my great-great grandmother in 1875.
Rail: What was it about the paintings that interested him?
Casavant: I think first off we could state the obvious, that he’s a painter and they’re paintings. [Laughter] If I walked into a place with all paintings and saw one rack of clothes, I’d probably be like, “the clothes!” He liked how I had them juxtaposed with the geometric background. I think he made it come back to me, which is cool. People sometimes miss how personal it is.
Rail: I think to him the compositional point of view is very interesting, but ultimately the pieces in this book are about relationships [between you and the artists].
Casavant: Like Thomas, when Kanye West came over he saw all the things no one else saw. I wanted Kanye West to be a part of [the book] because he has been there from the beginning. And the great thing about him, as we know, is that he’ll do exactly what he wants. [Laughter] He told me he wanted to send me reference images of what he was into at the moment. This was when he was in Wyoming recording. He’s moved towards this idea of wanting to build his own communities—he’s trying to build his own world, I guess we could say, with houses and clothes that he will design. He wants to build these uniforms by looking at the way we live now.
Rail: The idea of what fashion can do—in that sense—is apocalyptic. A question can be: what do you wear that has the most capability for self-expression within the most minimal functional forms?
Casavant: For sure. I dress in a way that I can run away at any minute. [Laughter] That’s what I think about. I literally have that doom mindset. With Jacolby [Satterwhite], the clothes totally brought his work to the next level, where he was able to say even more. What it comes down to is that when someone that’s really good at their craft and has a unique voice with something to say—when that person gets the right thing to wear that helps that voice come across, it’s a magical combination. With Ryan [McNamara], I think he just wanted to be an alien. [Laughter]
Rail: It looks like McNamara’s aliens are pretending to be human—or they’re doing this photo-shoot for someone who thinks that that’s what aliens should wear.
Casavant: Ryan saw pieces like these [Raf Simons shoes] and constructed the shoot from them. So I don’t know if we would have made this if he didn’t start from the clothes. Maybe he would have. But to me it seemed like he was thinking, “what do the clothes make him think he can get to?” In these photos he really becomes something else.
Rail: The clothes enable nearly absurd levels of fantasy. Ryan Trecartin submitted a two-panel fashion advertisement that seems to have been pulled from National Geographic.
Casavant: Ryan has been in Ohio working on a project in the middle of nowhere. He told me, “I want to do almost a generic fashion magazine shoot, but you can’t see any of the clothes.”
Rail: The index [in the back of the book] seems made for this . . .
Casavant: Yeah that’s the thing, he really thought about how the book was being made. And the clothes he picked out [for the index] were very specific, he really went through the archive to find exactly what he wanted. He included the whistle, and the sheer Gucci underwear…this is his mean nature photographer’s outfit. [Laughter] It dissects what’s going on in his head. And again, it’s a really amazing thing to get out of him.
Rail: What about Raúl de Nieves? He’s playing dress-up with his artwork in your clothes.
Casavant: I love the humor. And I love that it looks like he walked into his studio and was like, “I gotta do David’s pictures, hand me the clothes. I got a camera.” It looks effortless, for someone whose work is so detail-oriented and tedious. It made him use his sculptures and he shows us what life he sees in them.
Rail: What Wu Tsang and boychild [who sent David over 250 photographs from a trip they took to Japan with clothes from the archive] are able to do with that Jil Sander coat is amazing. What do you think the coat does in those set of images, as an object?
Casavant: It’s protective. It’s like, “you can see me, but I’m still protected.” They started with the idea of what a fashion shoot is, but I love that it became about them in the end.
Rail: What about Eric N. Mack, that singular photo?
Casavant: He texted this photo to me a couple years ago when he borrowed clothes for a project. It’s one of those things where your best thing comes when you’re not thinking about it. It’s nothing other than that. Your best work sometimes comes in the discards.
Rail: Yeah and this is the process, this is how he’s constructing his pieces. I feel like you try to achieve that effortlessness in the final product, but that’s so counterintuitive most of the time. And this is great within the context of his work, because it is different for him, as a studio installation.
Casavant: Stewart [Uoo] couldn’t figure out what he was going to do until way later on, he was one of the last to submit. He was, and still is, obsessed with Zayn Malik, so he just drew him. It’s funny because the way he was talking about it was very factual, “I want to make this drawing.” But it’s actually his Zayn Malik fantasy.
Rail: And this is him returning to very early art training, or his drawing hobby.
Casavant: That’s what was fun about the freedom the book allowed. People knew it wasn’t going to be sold or judged in an [art] market, so they could do what they wanted, and that’s what he wanted to do. At the end of the day, that’s what’s fun about fashion and what fashion allows. It doesn’t have to be too serious.
Michela Moscufo is the Development Associate at the Brooklyn Rail.