Most artists are familiar with the timeless struggle between creativity and commerce. It’s one thing to express your inner visions on canvas, quite another to make a living doing so.
Rio Wrenn knows that dilemma well. The Portland, Ore.-based textile artist has been staging exhibitions and producing small sets of unique but seldom-seen fashion creations for about five years.
The fiercely original Rio likes to work with unusual dye formulas, found fabrics and experimental production methods.
For example, last year’s Pre-Soiled Couture collection — part art installation, part fashion line — took an extreme approach to recycled garments, and included such memorable pieces as a dress made from used tea bags and a crop top made from rusty old bottle caps. These were magnificent eco-art statements but, as you can imagine, they were not exactly bestsellers.
Through her label R.A.W. Textiles, Rio has also produced limited collections of uniquely dye-printed lingerie pieces for sale each year, although few people know her primarily as a lingerie designer.
That should change in 2012, however, with the release of Psyche, the first market-friendly, conceptual collection of loungewear and lingerie ensembles from Rio’s newly focused label.
Psyche announces the arrival of a gifted design talent determined to find a market for her ethereal, wearable artworks. And Rio makes no apologies for delivering such a, gulp, commercially appealing set.
“The R.A.W. collection is separate from my art,” Rio told Lingerie Talk. “Psyche is the first collection I decided to name. I’m allowing it to be more consumeristic, and I don’t feel guilty about it. It’s still my art, and it comes from somewhere deep inside me. I’ll do it till the day I die, whether I sell it or not.”
It’s hard to imagine that the large and sometimes eccentric Psyche collection won’t sell — many pieces are utterly breathtaking, and unlike anything else you’ll find anywhere. It helps that the collection gets a beautiful showcase in the accompanying, very old-world, photo campaign from Blueglair.
But be forewarned: because of the fabrics or screening methods used, a few of the items in Psyche are available in very limited numbers.
The collection takes its name from the goddess Psyche of Greek mythology and its rich symbolism. Psyche (which literally translates as “soul”) had a passionate bond with Eros, the Greek god of love, and was often depicted as a butterfly.
You’ll find the butterfly motif used throughout this collection, along with other mythological references such as the Athena silk jersey range, the Wood Satyr print set, and the wonderful Nymph dress (below) in silk organza.
But Psyche isn’t a series of romantic clichés. Instead, Rio presents an interesting tension between the bucolic natural world (butterfly prints on almond-tinted cotton) and the modern industrial one (rust-dyed car parts imprinted on slate-colored silk).
Rio uses fabrics from diverse sources, ranging from Chinese silks to organic bamboo and cotton, and even vintage recycled scraps. The Crochet underwear, for example, is made from authentic vintage lace doilies — which means, sadly, only a few of those are available.
Likewise, Rio’s printmaking techniques are self-made and result in some pieces that can be mass-produced and some that can’t. Her instantly adorable Butterfly undies are screened with a metal die, so there are plenty of those. But the equally cool native-inspired Karma tee was made with a metal etching that was rusted onto the fabric — as a result, each etching could produce only two pieces. (Happily, Rio is now doing that piece with a silkscreen.)
Rio likes to work with loungewear pieces because they provide a larger canvas for her unique prints, many of which have an industrial motif that transforms the silken finery its printed on into something totally unique.
You’ll see that kind of artistic duality in the big charcoal Wing cover (above), for instance, which was originally created for a junkyard-themed fashion show that used old auto parts as the basis for many prints. Same goes for the Chrysalis tunic, which used old gaskets and a real Chevy grill in its prints.
At the other end of the thematic spectrum, the Wood Satyr underwear set has all-natural roots: the rust-colored print is derived from a concoction of berries and iron pieces that are composted in a “cooker” for about two weeks.
“I’m a little hypercreative,” Rio explains. “I just go with my gut, and it’s hard to tell your gut to stop.”
Currently, you can find pieces from R.A.W. Textiles in a handful of boutiques, the new online marketplace Vespoe, and on the label’s own webshop.
Whether Rio’s extravagant eco-visions find a home in the lingerie market remains to be seen, but that’s not the only driving force behind this label.
“What I’m doing is part of who I am,” Rio said. “I’m just trying to evolve in my own self. And I know I’m going in the right direction.”
Below we have a gallery showing a handful of the designs in this stunning collection. Psyche boasts more than two dozen pieces, so be sure to check out the entire set on the R.A.W. website.