Fete for the Senses: Reflections on a Gathering

Goodlifer: Fete for the Senses - Reflections on a Gathering

The beauty of creating a collaborative event or gathering is often the glow and ripple effect that you experience in the days, weeks, and even months that follow.

This past December, I organized a three-day art and fashion showcase in NYC called Fete for the Senses. Given that I have been living part-time in Europe, Bulgaria specifically, for the past several years, I wanted to create a multi-sensory occasion that would honor handmade, artisan-produced, and organically-crafted objects — all conceived by makers, from near and far. The aesthetic criteria for the featured work was somewhat subjective and thematically motivated, though I definitely made a conscious decision to identify pieces that encouraged olfactory and tactile interaction as possibilities for what might be restorative and soothing for guests.

Natural dyes by Balmaseda

Natural dyes by Balmaseda

Recycled fiber forms by Abigail Doan are installed on the dining table with vintage textiles, botanicals, scientific/fashion prints, maker tools, and organic perfume by Lalun Naturals.

Recycled fiber forms by Abigail Doan are installed on the dining table with vintage textiles, botanicals, scientific/fashion prints, maker tools, and organic perfume by Lalun Naturals

Fete for the Senses opened on a Sunday afternoon with organic wine and vegan truffles from Lagusta’s Luscious of New Paltz, New York. Invited guests included close friends, urban gardeners, fiber experts, fashion educators, and local artists/designers. Botanical scents permeated the various rooms of my Upper East Side home as guests were invited to freely explore and discover objects installed by the featured participants in combination with my own textile furnishings and artwork.

Traditional style Bulgarian 'turlitsi' slippers by BulgarUSA paired with textiles from my home

Traditional style Bulgarian ‘turlitsi’ slippers by BulgarUSA paired with textiles from my home

Contributors included Parfum Lalun in Los Angeles, Bazaar Bayar in Istanbul, Bulgar USA, Balmaseda, Eko-Lab, Marion + Willson home textiles, and Sassa Björg in Sofia. I also showcased some of my own recycled fiber and textile tabletop pieces in a dining room installation meant to pay homage to Dali’s Les Diners de Gala, a 1971 publication with extravagant fete recipes and surrealistic visuals that explore the pleasures of taste and unbridled artistic passion. All of the installations and details were meant to serve as a counterpoint to some of Dali’s rather hedonistic ideas, though with a sumptuous approach that might alter some of our ideas about the organic (eco) realm being austere or devoid of luxury.

Artisanal home textiles by Marion + Willson and EKO-LAB's handmade, rock crystal necklace made of stones wrapped in organic cloth from Goods of Conscience

Artisanal home textiles by Marion + Willson and EKO-LAB’s handmade, rock crystal necklace made of stones wrapped in organic cloth from Goods of Conscience

Hand-stitched organic cotton 'Tafoni' jacket by BALMASEDA with Eko-Lab's recycled bottle and organic cotton fabric necklace

Hand-stitched organic cotton ‘Tafoni’ jacket by BALMASEDA with Eko-Lab’s recycled bottle and organic cotton fabric necklace

I also wanted to create an opportunity for guests and participants to unleash ideas about what their true artistic passions might be and, in turn, what they are tempted by and attracted to. I strongly believe that desire is something that needs to be examined both as a way for creating deeper relations but also for gaging how sustainable strategies are ultimately implemented and shared. Too often art and fashion are viewed as something that is not part of our every day experience or rather exist at a price tag that does not reflect true value.

Sofia-based fashion label, Sassa Björg celebrates folkloric themes with a modern edge (photo by Vasil Poleganov) with EKO-LAB's organic creations and drawings

Sofia-based fashion label, Sassa Björg celebrates folkloric themes with a modern edge (photo by Vasil Poleganov) with EKO-LAB’s organic creations and drawings

I loved waking up and going to sleep each night amidst the event’s installations.The inner sanctuary of my master bedroom was infused with the alchemical magic of Eko-Lab’s Dark Blossom collection and the aromas of organic concoctions created by Parfum Lalun mingled with my own fiber forms on the dining table as I drank coffee in the early morning hours. One of the greatest rewards, though, was connecting designers with new followers as well as each other — particularly between NYC and Bulgaria.

"Eko-candy" displayed with hand-embroidered wearables and the botanically inspired 'Dark Blossom' collection by EKO-LAB – creating magic in my master bedroom

“Eko-candy” displayed with hand-embroidered wearables and the botanically inspired ‘Dark Blossom’ collection by EKO-LAB – creating magic in my master bedroom

Detail of EKO-LAB rock crystal candy experiments in progress

Detail of EKO-LAB rock crystal candy experiments in progress

Melissa Kirgan of EKO-LAB poetically describes some of what she took away from the event:
“I have been thinking about the nature of Fete for the Senses and in doing this, I found an angle to our work that I did not know was there before: a surreal approach to tasting design. Empowering an adornment by bringing it into ones self, so sensual, intimate, and personal. The process (of creating unique pieces for the event) was also as interesting as the final outcome. In the beginning, we thought only so far as to create an edible form inspired by our wearables, and then we were so inspired by the edible creation that we created a whole new approach to wearables.”

Xing-Zhen Chung of Eko-Lab and Zaida Adriana Goveo Balmaseda of Balmaseda show off organic creations, their own handwork and beautiful smiles at Fete for the Senses

Xing-Zhen Chung of Eko-Lab and Zaida Adriana Goveo Balmaseda of Balmaseda show off organic creations, their own handwork and beautiful smiles at Fete for the Senses

For me, it was the very role of the gathering that took on new dimensions, as both guests and makers shared space in a way that transcended the more formal retail or gallery setting. Objects and the backstory were presented in an intimate context — one that aimed to be process-oriented and more capable of unraveling our prejudices about how limiting interior spaces and even the domestic might be. I also believe that the cross-pollination of ideas and even the input of guests was a vital way for artists and designers to experience their work anew.

Gretchen Jones wearing her own designs and Sassa Björg trousers from Fete for the Senses in an interview for Rue Magazine (photo courtesy of the designer and Rue Magazine)

Gretchen Jones wearing her own designs and Sassa Björg trousers from Fete for the Senses in an interview for Rue Magazine (photo courtesy of the designer and Rue Magazine)

The ripple effect continues as designers like Gretchen Jones are now sporting Sassa Björg trousers and dreaming of places far, far away from the sanctuary of one’s own home. Proof that the orchestration of a gathering is no longer limited by locale but rather defined by vision, connection to all of our senses, and appreciation for the good life that we share as inspiration for style that is border-defying, timeless, and uniquely expressive.

All photos by Abigail Doan (unless otherwise specified)

About author
An internationally exhibited fiber and environmental installation artist, Abigail’s eco-textile artwork is featured on Greenmuseum, Art Cloth Text, Landviews, the Textile Arts Center blog, and in the handbook, Green Guide for Artists. She has been a regular contributor on sustainable style and textiles for EcoSalon, Ecouterre, HAND/EYE magazine and her own art and fashion blogs, Ecco*Eco and Lost in Fiber. She is also a curator of exhibitions and events related to ideas about “fashioning self and the environment.” Future dreams of melding art, family, and sustainability include the thrifty recycling of textile scraps from her domestic sphere, teaching family recipes to her twin toddlers, and building a house from scratch in the American Southwest with her very resourceful and dashing husband.
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