LANGUAGE OF THE BIRDS
Tsia Carson calls herself a Class A mutt, when asked about her nationality. Meaning she’s a native New Yorker, which funnily enough is not that common in the world’s largest melting pot. Carson part Jewish (Ashkenazic and Sephardic), Italian, Irish, Danish, Cherokee- a true American in other words- is quietly rising through the tall field of young, local New York designers passionately pursuing her love of bold Hawaiian prints, eco friendly dyes and chic elegant lines.
AGB: What inspired the beautiful name Language Of The Birds?
LOTB: I was reading a book on the history of esoteric thought, as one does, and stumbled across the phrase Language of the Birds. I had a previously thought of a bunch of possible names but this really captivated me. "Language of the birds" is coded phrase in medieval texts for when someone has been initiated and can understand divine language. Then they can understand the "language of the birds". I definitely cannot understand bird language although I spent a lot of time with parrots when I was growing up because my best friends mom raised cockatoos.
AGB: What inspired you to design clothing? And what was the process?
LOTB: Well I have always wanted to learn how to do textile design but never gave myself the time or room to do that. I'm definitely a print junkie. I have a collection of beautifully patterned vintage Hawaiian garments: Holomu'us, Muʻumuʻus and Kappogis from the 1960s and 70s that I collected in second hand stores. I had the good luck to go to Honolulu to visit with old friends and figured I would really find an unbelievable stash of these dresses and beautiful prints but when I got there I discovered that most of that production had been moved off shore and most of that history was being lost. There are some truly amazing designers working with the Aloha vernacular doing awesome things but then there is this tsunami of cheap and awful clothes all around.
So I got it in my head that I wanted to update and help contribute to this form that I loved so much. I’m a self-taught dressmaker with no previous knowledge of textile design, so It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, and quite a bad idea, but after talking to friends they all seemed to think it sounded like a good idea! So I did a small run and it sold well so I decided to keep trying. I ended up leaning heavily on a few friends and am still in the process of learning as I go.
AGB: Tell me about the prints, do you create all of the designs?
LOTB: I concept them and I do a lot of the graphic manipulation, then I collaborate with my friend Gina Gregorio on the repeats and the graphic finishing. Gina is an amazing textile designer who teaches surface design at RISD and also does Gary Graham's prints. I'm slowly learning as I go so I will need less of her help eventually.
AGB: I notice designers moving away from seasonal collections, creating new designs when they are inspired. Is this a business model that you follow?
LOTB: The seasonal thing is super counter intuitive to me. I have been trying to comply but actually last month I decided to stop making it the central structuring factor moving forward. It's very hard for my creative process. But I also really respect the needs of my stockists who have been incredibly supportive, so I am factoring that in as well.
AGB: Are your designs similar to the traditional Hawaiian motifs? Do they reflect the same symbolism?
LOTB: Hawaiian culture is an amazing combination of influences and there are definitely people working within very traditional symbolism, practices and materials which includes tying the forms into hula and spiritual practices.
But also "traditionally" Hawaiians brilliantly incorporated aspects of other cultures into their own, you can see this in the food, language, clothes, even with technology. The printing press and electricity for instance: I think Iolani Palace had electricity and telephones before the White House.
So take for example the Watteau pleat, which I use in my forms, Boston missionaries brought this over to Hawaii Islands in the 1800s. The Watteau pleat was popular on tea dresses of the time. It was adopted into Hawaiian dress and now exists only there. It’s now considered a Hawaiian vernacular, but it named after the French Rococo artist Jean-Antoine Watteau.
So the answer is yes and no. I'm not using symbolism but I am using large repeat prints and some dress forms that are uniquely from the Hawaiian culture. But the prints I create are not aping Hawaiian designs, if anything I'm trying to push the boundaries of the clothing to talk about Hawaii in a nuanced way, and specifically Honolulu as an urban experience, but also connecting it to other places that share that city/beach lifestyle. I'm trying to push past the Monstera leaf. Others are trying to do the same in different ways. Ultimately my approach and the way I think about the designs definitely reflect my own New York sensibility. I deeply respect and am inspired by the Hawaiian culture; I hope that shows in the details and the history that I infuse in each piece.
When the dresses are shown in Hawaii there is a small audience that really gets it in a deep and wonderful way. When I show them on the mainland I feel like people really understand the difference between a beautifully crafted, hand silk-screened print and what they see at the mall or what have you. When I walk into a fast fashion store I look at prints and they look lazy.
AGB: Where do you see your self in five years time?
LOTB: At 'AI Love Nalo in Waimanalo HI having a buddha bowl, thinking about prints, laughing with my family. Please join me.