Home Is Where the Heart Is


Having grown up in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin, Fay Smith recalls peering over the Wall to watch vague shadows of the people on the East Berliners “like staring at creatures in a zoo.” They also took class trips to the East. “We then usually would stay for the whole day and buy cheap candy and ice cream and stuff,” she describes. “It was so much cheaper.” The harsh contrasts between the accessible charms of the East continue to incite Smith’s imagination, in various guises. For her Fall/Winter 2009 collection, Smith, who’s still based in Berlin, saw an American incarnation of a familiar feeling in the fan-like homages artist Joseph Cornell made to the grand beauties of his age as the inspiration for her debut ready-to-wear collection, “Lobster Ballet.”

The Surreal title and the inspiration come from Cornell’s art. As she explains, Smith came under the spell of the autodidact American Surrealist’s ornate, idiosyncratic mixed-media devotional images of Lauren Bacall and ballet icon Allegra Kent during a visit to New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “I was interested in the fact that Cornell used what was broken and discarded,” she says, describing a quintessentially Berlin taste for rough poetic beauty over polished prettiness. “In that context, the left-over things Cornell used became really beautiful. I love the beauty of things that have a story to tell.”

For “Lobster Ballet,” Smith hand-dyed delicate, pleated vintage fabrics with black fabric paint. She lined graceful white summer skirts with torn tulle and antique lace, and decorated classic black smock-dress with choice shell-buttons. And she clinched tutu-like skirts with heavy patent leather belts and produced an elegant, wearable collection to she specifically designed to need no special care (in permanently poor Berlin, no dry-cleaning required is a big plus) just that wearers share her appreciation for easily overlooked, special moments of hidden charm.

Photos of Fay Smith in her Fay Alice collection taken at Stattbad by Maxime Ballesteros