"The modern industry, based around...fashion houses run by individual designers, started in the 19th century with Charles Frederick Worth who, beginning in 1858, was the first designer to have his label sewn into the garments he created" - Wikipedia
In 2017 Stephanie formally established her own fashion label The House of Embroidered Paper;
Stephanie's working practice combines that of a fashion house and a fine art studio. Each garment produced is a work of paper textiles, created using only paper and thread; inspired by period and place, history and story.
Stephanie began producing items of clothing from paper after seeing a paper kaftan, made for a Sultan in Istanbul, decorated with illustrations and scripture. One commentator wrote that such a vestment would have been worn “...not to get magical effects but…as a form of worship to put the mind in a particular mode of devotion.” The simplicity of the shape of that paper Kaftan appeared to Stephanie reminiscent of a hospital gown; it seemed to allow for the representation of the fragility of both the human emotional-spiritual, psyche and of the physical form.
Stephanie sees people as layered, collated, collaged and constructed works of art, ‘wearing’ around themselves sheaves of conscious and unconscious patterned expression, which is read and interpreted by others. Using paper textiles, paper craft techniques and embroidery combined with illustrated and written details her work seeks to capture and interpret aspects of those visual narratives in the form of apparently wearable garments. The ambition behind every piece is that it be simultaneously visually beautiful, technically ambitious and conceptually interesting.
Stephanie began working directly with heritage sites in 2016-’17 when she created the collection Maison de Papier inspired by the past and present residents and history of a Grade 1 listed Elizabethan mansion in Sussex. The final collection was exhibited in the great hall of that house along with accompanying text and film footage of the project. The design of each piece drew on Stephanie’s extensive research of records associated with the house and on conversations, related to garments once worn, that she had with the retired individuals who now live there; some of whom are in their nineties and served in WWII. After that project Stephanie set up an ongoing research project titled The Talking Wardrobe with the ambition of collating stories from individuals regarding garments they once wore as a basis for her future work.
"Were I to try to describe the wider ambition I have for my work as an artist, as well as the general potential of Art as I understand it, I would have to shape my answer by referring to the following thinkers, philosophies and spiritual practices:
i) Marcel Proust (20th century French novelist): described the “true” artist as a “visual philosopher.”
ii) Plato (Ancient Greek philosopher): disapproved of the type of creative endeavour that merely produces third hand impressions of our imperfect sense of second-hand reality. However he understood that some practitioners are capable of channeling divine inspiration and that the growth of the wings of the human soul can be encouraged through the experience of aesthetic beauty and exposure to the (heavenly) ‘Forms’ (the invisible blueprints of visible reality).
iii) Henry Corbin (20th century French philosopher): detailed an entire “Imaginal” realm by studying Ancient Sufi philosophy and the work of the Sufi mystic/philosopher Ibn Arabi. In this way he distinguished between a lower realm of human fantasy and an arena in which human imagination integrates with the spiritual world.
iv) William Wordsworth (British 19th century Romantic Poet): established his own understanding of PRIMARY and Secondary imagination.
v) Paul Klee (20th century Swiss Artist): said he sensed himself to be: “…more at home in the spirit realm…”
vi) Alchemy, derided as a pseudo science or the forerunner of modern science, is commonly portrayed as concerned only with the idea of turning base metal into gold. Historically, however, it is said that true alchemists were engaged in a subtle and sophisticated spiritual practice and act of (re-)creation; one that was both practical and philosophical in nature. Their ultimate goal was the transmutation of the Self, from base, original nature to its highest spiritual potential. This was symbolised by gold, as representative of a golden state of being. Alchemical ambition was reflected and re-enacted in the transmutation and manipulation of natural materials, and projection of the ephemeral stuff of the mind; also through the application of symbolism, seen as the primary language of the imagination.
I have at times questioned the value of merely making more objects with which to fill up the world. When I first began to explore and contextualise my doubts I discovered that they were far from novel or particular to me. The Landartists of the 1960’s and 70’s, for example, began with the same concerns. Their answer was to work with natural materials of the sort that would perish, else to work in landscapes so immense as to be left un-scared by artistic influence. In this way the, often wholly ephemeral, marks they made on the world were permanent only in photographs taken at the time and seen as reflective of the human condition.
I have found the answers I sought in the idea of creating beauty. Shocking or negative imagery was believed, by the Ancient Greeks, to encourage a base, unhealthy (opaque) existence whilst beauty was understood to dissipate such layers and raise mans winged soul. I imagine the human spirit traversing the symbolic world of the imagination, connecting our mortal frames with our universal/soulful origins. Thereby inspiring artistic, spiritual, philosophical thought and many more disciplines besides. I believe creativity works best when it has at its heart an enlightened sense of personal and collective transmutation.
I've always believed in the act of looking, long and hard and deeply at the world, to the point, that is, at which one starts to see through it. I believe also however, that it's important to consider the consequences of the direction in which you aim your gaze and encourage others to look. I unashamedly strive to make work that is primarily aesthetically beautiful. My work seeks to examine and make tangible the meeting points between the mind, body, spirit and between consciousness, story, memory, awareness and physicality. I'm particularly interested in the bridge between the physical and metaphysical, the ways in which these two aspects of being human might be seen to interpenetrate and might be made visible. Since finishing my MA in philosophy and cosmology my work has reflected my study of the metaphysical philosophies of ancient and modern man.
I use words in my art and consider images in any writing I do. I'm intrigued by: pattern; geometry; symmetry; shadow; translucency; layering/depth; detail/intricacy; craftsmanship. I aim to show there need be no distinction to be made between conceptual/fine art and craft. As well as lace and embroidery I'm inspired by stained-glass and all types of applied decoration as well as Disguised Symbolism - a technique developed by Northern European Renaissance painters which involved the placement of specific objects within works of art meant as allegorical metaphors (a dog, for example, was the disguised symbol of loyalty), such work was meant to be read like a book/a code. Also by doodling: an action understood and engaged in by people of all ages as an immediate method of self-expression. Doodles tend to: incorporate images and words; bridge the gap between logical thought and day-dreaming/imagination; incorporate the minimal, primitive and/or intricate as well as the beautiful; hint at that which is both profane and profound"
- Stephanie Smart