Sunday, October 2, 2011

Life Dressing: The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas by Joana Avillez


We did not see it coming. We thought if we were ever the subject of a book, it would be one we wrote ourselves, not one that was written about us, and not a book of fabulous illustrations! But life is funny, and here we are, the stars of LIFE DRESSING: THE IDIOSYNCRATIC FASHIONISTAS, by cartoonist Joana Avillez.

Joana first approached us by e mail in January, explaining "For a long time I've had a project in mind--a book of drawings-- that would include many people, people who dress with very specific (and individual) parameters, only those that employ dressing as art, as a way of life, in conjunction and an extension of one's world view, and especially those with an underlying sense of humor." She further stated that some of the people who fit these parameters were Isabella Blow, Anna Piaggi, Lynn Yaeger and Iris Apfel. Who could resist an offer like this?! Who would not want to be counted among such illustrious company? And so, with perhaps unseemly enthusiasm and childlike delight, we agreed to Joana's proposal, having mulled it over for at least thirty seconds.

(This is the photo that the cover was drawn from.)

Thus began what turned out to be Joana's semester-long school project. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, Joana is now studying for her MFA in illustration at The School of Visual Arts, and she and her classmates each had to turn in an original book. We were the subject of hers.

Generally, Joana worked from pictures like these that we had uploaded onto the our blog. Here's an original photo of us in our black and white Easter Parade outfits taken in April of this year:

Then she transformed them into more than forty amazing watercolors, each of which took a week to produce, she says. Above is Joana's black and white interpretation of the Easter photo. Here and there she sprinkled in some ideas that sprang entirely from her own imagination.

The inside covers alone feature an array of dozens of hats we have worn since the inception of the blog over two years ago. We've put in a few pictures below, but we don't want to show you too much. We want you to buy the book to see all the goodies!

Here's the back cover shot of Joana's book:.

And here's the original from our "Separated at Birth" posting:

We love Joana's book so much that, although our blog has been strictly promotion-free up till now, we're making Life Dressing: The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas our first online product! Check our side bar (on the right) to buy. It's a limited edition priced at $20. We hope you'll love it as much as we do! It is selling so well that it's about to go into its second printing!

To further tantalize you, we got together to sign copies of the book. Here we are doing just that. When we got ready to take the photo, we discovered we were all wearing red and black -- which we took as a very good omen!

To paint a fuller portrait of Joana for our readers, we e-mailed her some questions, and got these responses:

How did you find Idiosyncratic Fashionistas on the web?
I think I was Googling those stilted Trippen boots actually, and stumbled upon your blog. I felt like I had come across an oasis. Every picture was better than the last. I truthfully couldn't believe you were real.

What made you choose us for your project?
There are a lot of people who don't dress vanilla--but to me, many can seem like kooky-for-kooky's-sake, or someone just piling on hoards of vintage clothing in a wanton effort to look "different". I think I understand your styles, and agree with them more than any other. You have humor and intelligence. And you both dress like the people I already like to draw. You were wearing the outfits my dreams wanted to make up!!

Where does your interest in cartooning come from?
I grew up drawing with my father. He was an INCREDIBLE drawer. It was always what we did, with my Mom too. But my dad and I drew together all the time. For example, if we went on a trip we would be making a book about it simultaneously, or during a meal we would have a couple drawings going on the side. It was our language--and I still love it.

Who are some of your role models as an artist?
Well, this book shows an obvious nod to Maira Kalman, whose "adult books" are very inspirational to me. I think they show a lot of freedom. William Steig is very important. Charles Addams and Roz Chast occupy the upper echelon as well.

What are some of your favorite art/comic books - ones that have made an impact on your development?
My mom is a photographer, so as a child I was around a lot of photography books, and I especially liked Mary Ellen Mark and Helmut Newton. Their work underscored and fed my obsession with subculture and style, and gave me real windows into many different worlds. The Complete Tadanori Yokoois perhaps the most beautiful and complete book I can think of.

What are your long term aspirations in terms of art, work, cartooning, etc.?
To be a cartoonist who comments and reflects upon the fashions of the times (!) would be the best and most fun way I can imagine to spend this life.

What's next for you?
Now I am starting to work on a book of straight-up cartoons. Liza Donnelly, a New Yorker cartoonist and personal hero is my thesis adviser.

Want to see more of Joana's artwork? Check out her delightful website here: My Name is Joana.


artist and author Joana Avillez, sandwiched in between us at the opening

On Tuesday, September 27, we were thrilled to attend the reception for the School of Visual Arts (SVA) presentation The Book Show, an exhibition of eighteen books written and illustrated by students in the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Department. There Joana's book "Life Dressing: The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas" made its public debut, along with some of the original illustrations. Here we are, looking pleased as punch, posing with the artist herself.

SVA's website says "Joana Avillez’s Life Dressing is a picture essay that tells the story of the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, two women who prioritize fashion and clothing as a means of expression".

The exhibition is curated by Department Chair Marshall Arisman and faculty member Carl Nicholas Titolo. The MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay is designed to maximize students’ opportunities as figurative artists, from the conventional gallery wall to the full range of 21st-century media. The program fuses the development of creative thinking with technical and communication skills. Additional focus is placed on best practices in navigating the visual art marketplace while empowering students to choose making art as a way of life.

The whole bookmaking process was actually quite painless on our part. Joana did all the heavy lifting. As previously mentioned, we didn't even have to pose -- she drew us from photographs which appeared in our blog and in others, like this illustration from a photograph by Ari Seth Cohen which he posted on his blog Advanced Style and which also appeared on the cover of Der Standard magazine in Austria.

It is, however, a little intimidating to view oneself through the eyes of another individual. Since we are women of strong opinions, it was challenging to always remind ourselves that it was not our project and that we must resist the urge to influence the artistic process itself. We refrained from asking any questions at all. As the book began to slowly emerge, week by week, we were shocked - shocked! to discover that we did not bear a passing resemblance to Lauren Hutton or Christie Brinkley. But then, we thought, after all Al Hirschfeld was one of the best beloved illustrators of our time, and everyone wanted to be drawn by him, even when he gave them huge noses or deep black circles under their eyes. When invited to comment on the galleys, we limited ourselves to offering small editing tips on the text of Joana's beautifully written book.

Here are descriptions and some photos of the other 17 students whose books are in the show. Apologies in advance for not having photographs for each of the student's books despite our best efforts. The place was packed. That's what you want at an opening, but it does make it difficult to take photos.

Elizabeth Baddeley’s Swimmer Girl follows the journey of a female swimmer, exploring her emotions and personal growth as she pushes herself physically. The book is dedicated to Baddeley’s former coach and mentor, who passed away shortly before its completion.

Trip Carroll’s Ezekiel deals with the impact of a tragic loss on a young boy and the importance of appreciating the people closest to us.

Charles Chaisson’s Nightmares is a collection of several dreams recounted to the author by various individuals. Each dream had recurred numerous times, been visually distinctive, or caused a strong negative emotional response. A glossary accompanies each image in order to assist the viewer in understanding the author’s interpretation of the dream. The book’s back-story was inspired by a play on the word “nightmare.”

Rafael Alvarez’s U sewo! - Western Africa Road Journal is a collection of thoughts, sketches and paintings inspired by a trip to West Africa that the artist has said changed his view of the world.

Tony DiMauro’s book Migrating Light is a visual nonfiction account of the influence of the alternative religions of voodoo and Santeria on modern urban society, as reported by newspapers, blogs, television shows, and other media. Through the use of fine art, editorial and narrative illustration, and graphic design, DiMauro seeks to expand and comment on a collection of articles about two often misunderstood religions.

Nina Frenkel’s Breast Cancer Diaries is an illustrated survivor’s tale. It expands upon entries from a journal that the author carried with her from February through July 2011 as she was diagnosed with and underwent treatment for breast cancer. Valerie and Joana posed for a photo with Nina. In another twist of 6 Degrees of Separation, Nina had contacted Valerie's friend Orly Ginossar, a fellow artist and breast cancer patient whom we'd featured on the blog in a posting called "What to Wear to Chemo." We're happy to report that both artists are healthy and happy.

A.E. Kieren offers a glimpse into a fantastical alternate reality for children with An Appointment in the Dreamworld, which represents a package from a school that children can attend in their dreams called The Rabbithole Academy. Included are an acceptance letter, brochure and tour of the academy’s facilities.

Li Pei Huang’s Kaleidoscopic Silence follows a deaf girl who views life from a different perspective. Her sister presents her with a clay whistle that creates sounds only she can hear, unleashing her imagination and broadening her world. The story reflects upon the idea that something invaluable can be gained through the loss of something else that is important.

Jersey Girl Alicia Jacobs’ Growing Up Biker Style is a depiction of her youth among a family of motorcyclists. The story begins in 1955 with her grandparents, who passed their appreciation for bikes on to the next three generations. The book is filled with anecdotes about motorcycle road trips, close calls with law enforcement and encounters with the notorious Hell’s Angels.

Jae Kyung Jeong’s Sylmo’s Cake is about a little bunny girl born with unusually long ears that cause her to be clumsy. Her close relationship with her doting father motivates her to try to bake him a cake, a simple task that ends up revealing the strong bond between a father and his daughter.

Jessica Haejeon Lee’s The Adventures of Alison J. Wonderland and Curious Harold follows a curious little girl and how she discovers her true self through her adventures with Curious Harold, a sidekick, best friend and her alter ego.

Just Happy to Be Livin’ is John Malta’s book about the experiences of Francis, a snake charmer, and his snake Geronimo as they navigate the doldrums of Mount Moldy to stop a cataclysmic event from destroying humanity.

Charnelle Pinkney’s The Gift tells the story of the author’s rocky relationship with the three porcelain dolls -- Timothy, May and Emily -- that she has owned the longest out of her doll collection.

Cecilia Ruiz’s Welcome Misfortune is a series of images about the persistence of bad luck.

In Brad Soucy’s Crossing Over, Hannah and Brian’s cat Larry runs away for ten days. This book follows his journey from the country to the city and back home again. Here's a shot of Larry in all his glory.

Brad Soucy is the gentleman in the center of this photo.

A princess travels to the ends of the earth in search of her best friend following his mysterious disappearance in Dasha Tolstikova’s Where is Wolf?

Rebecca Zomchek’s Eliza Blair is a children’s book about a little girl who does not like playing with dolls and is not afraid of ghosts or monsters. Due to her unusual personality, she has difficulty making friends and suffers from loneliness. The story shares her discovery that true friendship is one of the most valuable gifts one can find.

Do yourself a favor, get yourself over to SVA's Gallery at East 23rd Street and see The Book Show, which runs until October 15, 2011. It is truly wonderful. For a few of the books, our photographs did not do the drawings justice, so we intend to remedy this situation and update this post as we get better photos.

And we hope Joana Avillez makes a million bucks from her fabulous tome!


  1. Ms. Avillez - I liked your comment that you had to find out if these ladies were real. Yes, very real, I can at least vouch for Valerie, who dresses for work every day just as creatively and lovely as you would imagine!

  2. I'm so sorry I'm not going to be able to see this exhibit - the books are wonderful! I'll make sure to get a copy of Joana's when I'm in NY (save one for me will you?)

  3. This book is still being published/sold. How great is that! Congratulations to all of you.