Purple Magazine
— The Brain Issue #33 S/S 2020

puppets and puppets

puppets and puppets —> CARLY MARK + AYLA ARGENTINA

interview and photography by OLIVIER ZAHM
style by MASHA ORLOV 

nyc’s new cool kids bring their art background to fashion,
crafting handmade sustainable garments
and fighting corporate american fashion
with fantasy theatrics for a woke generation

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, fashion’s a brand-new activity for you…
CARLY MARK — It is. I’ve been a working fine artist in New York City for many years, and Ayla [Argentina, Mark’s collaborator] was my assistant, helping me make garments for sculptures and short films. Ayla was pushing to do a full season, and I resisted until I didn’t anymore. And F/W 18/19 was the first full collection we put out.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s interesting. What’s the difference between art and fashion? Is fashion a more immediate way to express yourself?
CARLY MARK — It’s all-encompassing, in a way that I don’t think fine art is. I was always working toward an exhibition, and that was in a very isolated, specific context. With fashion, there’s a lot of collaboration — you’re working with many different people. On top of that, you’re putting the clothes on bodies, which changes the conversation of the garment. You’re putting them into motion by having a runway show. And the message is spread to a large audience quickly.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So the runway is important?
CARLY MARK — Yes. Because you’re telling a story. So it feels cinematic, sculptural, theatrical. It involves a lot of exciting people, bodies, personalities in a way that art can’t. Art’s not that.
AYLA ARGENTINA — Fine art felt much more insular for us and the way we worked. Not as many people got to see these amazing sculptures from Carly’s studio practice that we were putting together. And that’s what we were always pushing for.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And that was frustrating?
AYLA ARGENTINA — Because of how hard we work in here. And once this started to happen, it was more tangible. Fashion is easier to understand than fine art, for most people. Fine art can be intimidating on that intellectual level. But once people came in and saw this, so many more exciting conversations started happening — and collaborations with tons of our friends who are also artists and models. That’s the really exciting part.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it because art became more about money, collectors, powerful galleries?
CARLY MARK — Yeah. I moved here 13 years ago, and, as a young girl, it was very visceral to make work and be involved in the art world. But what I learned from being in the art world is that it’s a product — it’s a business like any other. Fashion is lovely because it’s transparently a business. But although it’s that, there’s something more visceral to it than I found in art.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Or the art made 15 years ago?
CARLY MARK — Yeah, yeah. The city might be too expensive or the market too inflated now for art to be anything other than a luxury item. And what’s drawing me to New York right now — and what’s really exciting about fashion — is that a lot of the brands around us aren’t in it for the money per se. We’re in it for the community. There’s almost more art in fashion right now than there is in art.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Interesting. And how do you gather this community of people around you?
CARLY MARK — It’s people I know from going out. I met Stella Greenspan while out at an event — she styles our shows. It’s like you’re a community of friends, and everyone’s working together. It’s much more inviting for everyone, especially our friends. We always tap into like, “Oh, you’re this amazing photographer! Oh, you’re a sculptor!” We find how to place these people into niche pockets that we’re trying to figure out. Like our egg shoes — we work with an amazing sculptor named Margalit Cutler, and she helps us execute all the resin platforms and the eggs on the shoes. It all starts with a friend who does something very special, and you’re like, “Come into our world!” [Laughs] “What do you think about this?”

OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s with those eggs, actually? They’re very intriguing. How did you get the idea?
CARLY MARK — I knew that I wanted Fabergé and Romanov to be a jumping-off point for this season because I’m used to working in a fine-art way. I come up with content before we develop the drawings. We were looking at Marcel Broodthaers, and he uses eggs and shells, and there was a lot of imagery in his work that we were inspired by. And then we had to think about like,
“Okay, as an American voice living in New York City, what is our relation to Romanov, to Fabergé?” And it’s Russian history, and so, as Americans, we were like, “Well, we’ve been dealing a lot with Russia — politically that’s a hotbed situation, so let’s intersect some type of idea into the Fabergé/Romanov theme that also applies to us.” So, we chose American Psycho because between American Psycho and…

OLIVIER ZAHM — And there’s a link to the Romanovs?
CARLY MARK — Well, yeah, if you cross Russian and American right now, you get collusion — Trump stuff. And so, we were working with the eggs, and everyone was saying after the show, “Oh, I get it, like walking on eggshells.” Which is politically what’s been happening in this country right now. We’re thinking about the ideas behind the aesthetic, just as much as the aesthetic itself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, a fashion collection can have a political message, too?
CARLY MARK — Absolutely.
AYLA ARGENTINA — For sure. A lot of designers have done politically charged runway shows before. I always think of Viktor & Rolf’s “NO.” That was so political. It’s certainly tricky to achieve, but it’s definitely doable.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But it’s also pretty rare because fashion designers have a tendency to concentrate on style, with no political message.
CARLY MARK — That might be what’s exciting about New York right now.

OLIVIER ZAHM — We don’t have that in Paris. We don’t have gender politics in Paris, really, or it’s a very small group of people. And it hasn’t affected the fashion world yet — it’s more underground.
CARLY MARK — Yeah, New York’s very focused on gender politics and sustainability.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why? Because New York attracts this community?
AYLA ARGENTINA — New York is so intersectional. This is where so many people immigrated to, through generations. That’s why those conversations are easy to have here — more so than in Europe, where everything’s traditional, and people aren’t necessarily willing to break from that and have those harder conversations just yet. But I think it’s coming. It has to. We like to take risks here. And to press those buttons and have those hard conversations — that’s what gives things depth.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And you have nothing to lose because the city has become so expensive. It’s also politically weird because of the new government. You have to fight.
CARLY MARK — Yeah, there’s a pushback happening with young designers because it is so expensive here. And what we learned after veering into fashion is that other cities don’t consider New York as much as London, Paris, and Milan because it’s so commercial here. There was a lack of creativity, so we haven’t really been getting the funding we need — no sponsorship. And that’s happening across the board for designers. So, young designers are pushing back against the commercialism of New York City. And they’re doing the opposite: some are sending models down the runways basically nude, with messages written on their bodies, for a reason.
AYLA ARGENTINA — Before I met Carly, I graduated from FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology] and studied womenswear there. And then I was doing a lot of corporate freelance jobs. I was miserable because it’s so lifeless. It’s sitting in front of a computer doing technical drawings that get sent overseas, and I’d never even see the product being made or touch it, and that was so upsetting to me. [Laughs] When I met Carly, she was like, “What do you do?” And I was like, “Oh, I design…” And she said, “Well, great, I have a solo show coming up, I want to wear a jumpsuit, I have this film I’m making, I want to make costumes” — and she just literally reeled me in. And I’ve been with her since. [Laughs]
CARLY MARK — It’s fun. We have a good time.
AYLA ARGENTINA — Yeah, yeah. Corporate fashion is so soul-sucking — that’s all I can say. We’re quite the antithesis of American sportswear, and where it was, and how pioneering it was for a time. Now that fast fashion is killing the Earth, we’re really trying to, like, retroact that.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s so true. But you also have a sense of humor, which makes your collections fun. It’s not just political, in a serious sense, which I think we need in fashion because fashion…
AYLA ARGENTINA — Can be really serious sometimes.
CARLY MARK — Yeah. We don’t take ourselves seriously, and we love fashion, but we also love to make fun of fashion. It’s serious and not serious.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, who exactly are Puppets and Puppets? [Laughs]
CARLY MARK — Puppet is our dog.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Puppet’s your dog. Okay!
CARLY MARK — People expect the name of the brand to reference something about humans being puppets and something serious. And we’re like: “No, no, no. It’s the chihuahua that lives in our house.” That’s it.
AYLA ARGENTINA — Honestly, it sounded like a law firm to us, and we’re like: “That’s great: Puppets and Puppets. Let’s really confuse people.” [Laughs] We like to tell people that Puppet is the founder and CEO. It’s his brand, not ours.


Cary Mark, Ayla Argentina, Stella Greenspan and Richie Shazam, talents — all clothes PUPPETS AND PUPPETS S/S 2020

[Table of contents]

The Brain Issue #33 S/S 2020

Table of contents

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