Oftentimes, someone will determine the value of a garment or work of art that they own not by its fabrication or complex construction, but instead by what it means to them. Maybe it’s a jacket that was passed down from your grandma, or a pair of pajama pants your ex gave you that—like the moths that burrowed through the elastic—eats away at your soul every time you take a sniff of it. Typically, a piece of clothing or art needs to have lived for it to have this sort of emotional currency, but thanks to the artist-and-designer duo that goes by FEMAIL, you can now buy a garment or a work of art that is inherently meaningful and emotionally charged.
Founded by Janelle Abbott and Camilla Carper, FEMAIL is a self-described “art and fashion collaboration conducted remotely,” in which Janelle (based in Seattle) and Camilla (based in Los Angeles) send one another the same garment back and forth, each time adding onto it and editing it, until they decide they’re done.
Consisting of wall hangings, printed matter, one-of-a-kind garments, collages, digital doodles, and one ready-to-wear line to date, FEMAIL’s pieces are all a result of what they call “reactive collaboration.” And the reactions vary; where Camilla sees a sleeve, for instance, Janelle might see a really constricting collar. “A constant battle between me and Janelle,” Camilla tells me, “is deciding what direction the piece is worn. For some reason, she always thinks the front of the garment is the back and will react accordingly.”
It’s sort of like The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants , if the jet-setting jeans were actually a pair of ratty leggings found during a casual dumpster dive that, after moonlighting as a lampshade for three years, developed mismatched limbs and plastic beads, and eventually evolved into a pretty tapestry.
At its core, FEMAIL is an attempt to sustain and document a friendship that first began in New York City when the two girls were attending Parsons School of Design. On the surface, each FEMAIL piece is a one-of-a-kind, original design—usually with some patchwork and draping details, half a blazer, and some plaid ruffle trims worked in—fabricated from used, vintage, and found materials and fabrics. But the real value lies in between the seams; like fossils or relics of their friendship, each of their works captures a specific exchange between the two during a precise period of time.
In addition to documenting their different perspectives, their work also embodies their shared passions. Eco-conscious and fervid champions of sustainable fashion, Camilla and Janelle design each piece using the “zero waste methodology,” thus ensuring that not a single piece of negative material goes to waste. “We don’t throw anything away,” Janelle continues. “The way the fashion system works today is extremely degrading to the environment and enslaving people across the world. That’s not a system that either of us want to continue or proliferate.”
And the results are a collection of eclectic, if slightly manic pieces—some tattered tights here, a big chunk of blanket there, and topped off with a single tie-dyed bell sleeve or maybe a mylar balloon. Think Walter Van Beirendonck—except multiplied, and then handed off to Miley Cyrus when she was still smoking weed. FEMAIL could be likened to Comme des Garçons or Matty Bovan, but perhaps the aesthetic is best summed up by this little nugget Janelle shared: “There was a pair of sweatpants that my dad wore, and then my mom wore and painted the house in. Then I got them, and then my husband wore them, and then we put them on the bottom of a dress that Lady Gaga bought.” In other words: iconic … and same.