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Portrait of an Artist: Kacey E. Gill ’20

Kacey E. Gill '20
Kacey E. Gill '20 By Kacey E. Gill
By Allison J. Scharmann, Crimson Staff Writer

Kacey E. Gill ’20 has more than a full plate. The junior joint-concentrator in Social Studies and African and African American Studies just finished a year-long tenure as President of the Association of Black Harvard Women, a commitment she balanced while also working at The Harvard Foundation, modeling with Maggie Inc. and Docherty, and designing her own clothing line, Strange Fruit Clothing. The Harvard Crimson sat down with Gill just after the one year anniversary of Strange Fruit Clothing to talk about her work in fashion and dreams going forward.

The Harvard Crimson: What was your first memory of style or fashion? What would you call your stylistic awakening?

Kacey E. Gill: I think it’s something that I’ve always been interested in. When I was a little kid I was in a couple of beauty pageants, I used to try on all my mom’s clothes — the kind of stereotypical things. I worked at the mall all though high school, multiple jobs. I literally worked at a bunch of boutiques: Aéropostale, Madewell, Lucky Brand jeans — pretty much the whole mall — and so I’d go from my shift and I’d walk through the mall and I’d meet all of these different people who were working in different stores and see: What are the new drops? What are the new styles? How are people communicating what should be bought by the consumer? I got a lot of insight.

THC: How would you describe your personal sense of style?

KEG: I’m a very mood-driven person, so I think there’s a broad range. Overall I really like elevated looks — elevated with an asterisk. People, when they think of elevated, they think of “fancy,” and that’s not what I mean when I say elevated. I just mean polished. You can definitely have elevated street style that is polished and has the nuances of a real fashion eye, which is what I love. I love pushing boundaries and making statements and really bringing what you would see on the runway in couture in an accessible, real-life way.

THC: What inspired you to launch Strange Fruit Clothing and why last year, in particular?

KEG: Strange Fruit was kind of the intersection of different parts of my life. I wanted to find a way to explore the experiences of black women, in particular, through fashion. I think that especially right now with our generation, there’s a really interesting phenomenon where people define who they are by what they wear and what they own, basically, which I have my own thoughts on… I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I started. I had this vision, but it was a short-term version. I knew I wanted to really play with words. I write poetry, I’m a poet, that’s another part of my life — so I really wanted to play with how language can be presented on fashion. I worked over the summer before my sophomore year to get all the logistical pieces together and just did it.

THC: The individual pieces in your line are inspired by interviews with black women. Is that something you plan on continuing moving forward?

KEG: For me it was really important to make sure that I wasn’t just reflecting my own black experience, because I do acknowledge also that I have a very narrow and particular experience within that and there’s such variety and such beauty in the larger experiences of black women. I felt it was wrong to not include that. So the interviews were a first step. I think that that’s always going to be a part of my work in multiple capacities. Going forward, I’m really interested in incorporating art in different ways. I don’t know that it will necessarily be the words of an interview, but different facets of black women’s lives.

THC: How do you see fashion and art as intersecting?

KEG: I think fashion is art. I think that people like to deny that because fashion is more consumer-based than other forms of art. I also think its accessibility to a broader range of people makes others uncomfortable, this whole idea of what is “high art.” People don’t want to say fashion is often high art because all sorts of people can access it. You don’t necessarily need a certain education to be able to appreciate it. I think there’s power in that accessibility of fashion.

THC: Do you have a favorite piece from your line so far? If so, which is it and why?

KEG: I’m actually in this interesting transition phase where I am taking all of the old collection one pieces and customizing them. Originally I had one design and probably 10 items of that design. Every single one is going to be different, so various cutting, sewing, adding different things. I’m working on a piece right now that is the “black skin” shirt, it has the logo and it says “black skin.” I’m working on that and adding all this beading and draping, it’s really sick.

THC: So it’s not just design, you’re manipulating the clothing and sewing and cutting. Did you learn those skills as you went to achieve the things that you wanted to do in fashion?

KEG: Literally I’ve learned it all off of YouTube — and also trying and failing. I spent three hours a couple weeks ago learning how to sew wire into these shoes I was working on and I, like, destroyed my hands. Trial and error is something that’s really big for me.

THC: What is your dream for your clothing line and for your art? What do you see as the future for your line and your artistic vision?

KEG: I really want to dive into more creative elements of [the line] and spend a lot more time on each individual piece, which is going to impact price points, accessibility, and also wearability to an extent. I’m really interested right now in also pursuing fashion that is not meant to be worn on a day-to-day basis, versus the original collection which was that. It is always my goal though to highlight the voices of people who are often ignored or overlooked in our society. So I do think that I need to find a way to incorporate accessibility back into what I’m doing. I don’t intend to make money off of fashion, that’s not my goal, but I want people to look at what I make or look at the messages that are behind what I’m making and feel something.

— Staff Writer Allison J. Scharmann can be reached at allison.scharmann@thecrimson.com.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

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