story written by Graham M. Steffen
photography by Ned and Aya Rosen
styling by Francesca Cerullo
makeup by Katie Mellinger (KESS Agency)
hair by Numi Empire
model is Sara Ellison (Muse Management)
Abigail Stewart feels her way through fashion and culture in a remarkably intimate way. Viewing her designs gives evidence to the fact that their creator is someone with a full artistic vision in her mind. In our interview, she described how she often has to battle with her dresses as though they are blank canvases, because it isn’t as simple as making a sketch and creating a sample. Ms. Stewart begins with a general source of inspiration, whether reptiles or ivory and bone, then imagines structures for her pieces. It is in the physical molding of the dress that her original concept is transmuted into something new.
Working with her hands allows her to understand each garment on its own terms. In much the same way that painters describe having to step away from their creations and allow the image to come into being on its own, Stewart gives herself over to the demands of her designs. This might mean completely restructuring a piece, changing materials after creating a finished dress, or simply changing the color palette. The end products are more than just dresses, but rather, sculptures for the female form. While managing to showcase the curves and angles of a feminine figure Ms. Stewart’s designs also take over the wearer and transform her figure into something new.
Speaking with Ms. Stewart is a treat in and of itself. One cannot help but be captured by her enthusiasm and glow of inspiration. During our first two meetings, I was shocked to realize that four or more hours had passed as we managed to cover every subject under the sun, from lobster fishing and mega-fauna to contemporary cinema and science fiction novels. As we spoke I quickly realized that Stewart is not just an erudite designer but rather an artist who has chosen to focus on fashion design. It is evident that she is one of those lucky individuals who can excel in whatever creative endeavor they undertake, as evidenced by the novel she wrote in her early twenties. It is a treat to meet with such people, as they have a view of the world that encompasses all their experiences and interests. As she described her childhood in the far north of Maine it became evident that her time in that rather barren and stark environment was as concrete an influence upon her work as is her current habitat in NYC. It is Ms. Stewart’s ability to draw upon her influences and inspirations no matter what they might be that is the keystone of her process. In the final analysis it is only an open mind that can truly produce anything of note that is artistically new. Abigail Stewart’s eyes’ and mind are wide open and her work is fresh and new.