"I always thought that if we ever got married, I wanted to have a portrait done like 'The Arnolfini Wedding' by Jan Van Eyck. I love the idea that a piece of art could be an actual wedding contract," says Kat Ferneyhough, a 27 year-old textile artist and fashion designer who shares a home in Brampton, Canada with her husband Drew, a musician and visual artist. The dark green walls of their living room are covered in Drew's paintings, which are at once beautiful, peculiar, humorous and sinister. Kat was fifteen when she met Drew, who was seventeen, and on their upcoming honeymoon they will celebrate twelve years together. "Whether we would ever bother with something as traditional as marriage was considered 'up in the air' by many for several years but, I mean, no one was surprised when we said we were getting married. It was kind of an excuse to have a big, fun party." The couple married this past October on a farm in their hometown of Orangeville, Canada, with Kat wearing a dress that she designed and sewed together using wedding dresses gifted to her by six important women in her life.
About six years ago, Drew's mother, Lynda, offered Kat her wedding dress to take apart and use as fabric for her work. Kat said she never had the nerve to actually do it, not because Lynda or her family felt terribly sentimental about it, but because she did. She felt she couldn't take apart something as important as a wedding dress for any old project and so it sat in a trunk in her studio for a long time. In 2004, Kat moved to her mother's place in British Columbia to study fashion. When her mother dug out her old wedding dress, Kat tried it on and was surprised to find it fit! She was offered the dress, along with the wedding outfit belonging to her late grandmother. Her paternal grandmother also offered her the "O'Shaughnessy family veil", a gift of handmade silk lace that had been passed down through the family since the 1880s.
In addition to her family's gifts, Kat's collection of wedding dresses continued to grow. She designed the logo for a bridal salon in Victoria and, in lieu of monetary payment, received a garbage bag of wedding dress fragments and remains. A few years later in 2008, her good friend Amanda decided to give Kat her wedding dress from a past relationship. While working at a silk shop, she designed and made wedding dresses for two of her good friends, Melissa and Jana, and held onto the leftover fragments. And just last year her close friend Kathleen was married and had ordered a dress online from China that didn't work out. She found a new, better, dress on Kijiji (online marketplace) and gave the discarded dress to Kat.
|(Photograph by Erin Monet).|
Kat says what drew her towards being a textile artist was "the intrinsically intimate nature of clothes. I mean, clothes pick up all of these parts of you while you wear them - your scent, your body is sort of implanted into the clothes. Meanwhile, these women wore these [wedding garments] on what was considered to be the most important day of their lives and part of them is captured from that moment in those clothes. It's the moment that is sacred rather than the textiles themselves, but [the textiles] hold something of [the moment]."
"As of my birthday [in February] this year, I was engaged, and had an enormous trunk full of old, used, new, and fragmented wedding dresses from family, friends and strangers!" laughs Kat. It would have been practical to wear one of the dresses she had been gifted, but she felt that none of them were definitively her. It was only after she came across a "Dagnez" dress by Polish designer Ewa Dunikowska, that she began to envision her own dress. Made mostly of creamy lace, the modern medieval gown included asymmetrical layers and fabrics cut at varying lengths, with sleeves that fit to the elbow before flaring out into delicate, lacy wings. The corset bodice was professionally made using Kat's own design and materials, while she created the skirt herself, stitching ruffles into tiers that circled from waist to floor. "The skirt was the part that had everyone's dress in it. The top had bits of my mother's, but it was mostly just designed to make it all work. Technically, I didn't even start making the skirt until about two months before the wedding…and finished about two days before!"
The final product
Even after Kat had come up with a design and gathered all the materials she needed, she could not work up the nerve to deconstruct the dresses before giving them some kind of respectful "nod". That's when the idea of the "Trousseau" photo shoot fell into place - a photographic series of self portraits of her and Drew, reconstructed from several famous paintings by artists such as Gustav Klimt, Salvador Dali and Leonardo da Vinci. "The project gave me a chance to wear and document all of the dresses. When I wore Lynda's, it was not entirely zipped up in the back, and I was sort of gently breathing in my mother's. But it was just a matter of looking more natural in the photos than I might have necessarily felt. Let me tell you, Klimt does not paint people in comfortable positions at all. I had neck pain for days."
About a year and a half before the wedding, Kat lost her grandmother on her mother's side. It became important for Kat to represent her through her garments because she couldn't actually be there. Kat's mother flew in to help her with the last bits of stitching a few days before the wedding. They shared many emotional moments, with added sentiment coming from the fact that her mother had made her own wedding dress decades before. Some of Kat's earliest memories are of weaving and sewing with her mother, who now runs her own store. Also a textile artist, she taught Kat how to sew. "It was kind of this deconstruction, reconstruction process that we worked on together. I think that was special to her and it was definitely special to me," says Kat, continuing, "I think it's important to hold onto a certain emotional sentimentality with your past. I spent a great deal of my life completely ignoring my family's history and my attachment to them. I moved out at 16 and essentially just [wanted to] get out, get away and be as different as possible. I'm just coming to a point where I would like to give nods and respect to where I came from and where Drew came from and how much we've been supported by our families regardless of the fact that I was a bit of a wild and crazy teenager. I couldn't have imagined a more perfect garment for such an important day. I felt beautiful, and also very rooted to my family history - and I definitely include my friends as family in this."
"Now I just need to find an excuse to wear it again."
Erin Monet: www.everimages.ca
Kat Kozak: www.kateyeimaging.com
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