THREADED: Julia Ramsey Sheds Her Skin About ‘Pelt’

ColumnThe connection between the clothes we buy and the clothes we are already wearing.

Julia Ramsey is intent on sharing an awareness about textiles with others. “I think it’s important to know the connection between the materials and the end product and the human and how it all comes together; a lot of times, I think it’s taken for granted.”

In a recent event at The Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn, NY, Ramsey unveiled her freshest fashion endeavor: Pelt. Textiles and their individual stories are integral to the inspiration and creation process for Ramsey. Pelt reveals an experience that weaves together raw materials, innovative construction, and an intimate relationship with your clothing and shelter.

Grounded in ideas of estrangement, Pelt sought to deconstruct society’s tendency to disconnect from the clothing on your back. “Normally, when you’re wearing a sweater, it’s completely devoid of an origin; since I’m inspired by materials that I work with, I think it’s really interesting to make the materials the center of attention.” Each piece of the creamy, cloudy, milky, and comfort-driven collection harbors the potential to perform as a second skin. “They kind of take on a life of their own, and when you’re wearing them, you feel like you have this second skin; it makes you take on another persona and they almost speak for themselves.” For Ramsey, your “pelt” can serve to shelter you or to give you additional strength. Evolved from observations of animal skins, animal hides, and furs, the cozy pieces make you want to curl up in them and hibernate for a long winter ahead.

While Ramsey seems clearly comfortable in her own skin, being a “fashion designer” wasn’t something she could always easily identify with. Growing up, she loved to sew and make dresses, but fashion wasn’t really part of her life. “When I went to school, I couldn’t look anyone in the face and say ‘I’m going to be a fashion designer’.” In turn, early in her journey as a designer, she contemplated and analyzed the question of what truly makes a garment special. For her, the fabric is key; even if the design is simply cut, an amazing fabric can elevate a piece to another level. Through studying textile design with a specialization in knitting, Ramsey’s curiosity in the fabric behind her fashion has taken her even deeper into an investigation of the naked elements beneath: the raw material.

Pelt was constructed from a collection of unprocessed sheep’s fleece from around the globe. Ramsey’s design exploration led her to discover wool sourced from a little girl who raises sheep on her parents’ organic farm in Connecticut as well as an organic line of super fine merino wool imported from South America by a U.S. trader company. Wherever the sheep were raised, Ramsey’s wool comes practically direct from the animal’s back to yours. The wool is carded and the fibers aligned, but it’s raw and in a sense, that still maintains its connection to the animal. “It’s animalistic, and wild in a way, because it is so close to the sheep.”

By feeling and touching each pelt, it’s possible to realize that it came from a sheep. “You don’t think about that all the time and I think it’s important to be conscious of it.”

Organics go far beyond the materials for Ramsey. Designing is an evolution that unfolds before her in a very free-flowing and intuitive way. “I like to keep it really hands-on and I like to be making with my hands. I think that’s important: to be close to it.” In Pelt, she began working with a Barbara Walker knitting swatch book and let the shapes develop naturally. “Just putting rectangles [of the knitting patterns] onto the form, they kind of take on a life of their own and I can visualize how to build them out.” Guided by the body and a mixture of the material and the body, Ramsey’s work pairs an interesting balance between emotions of strength and femininity.

Drawing upon the embedded concept of skins, animal hides, and fur, Ramsey’s romanticized photo shoot for the collection took an even further look at the significance of coverings and the meanings behind their expressions. The true model in the images exists behind a styled facade, as in reality, she has long red hair. In addition, her freckling from head -to-toe covers her skin and creates a pattern upon her own body. Layers of coverings – animal and human – overlap and almost become entangled in a merging of raw and wild, comfort and spectacle.

Ramsey’s Pelt undoubtedly connects human with animal; the shearing from a sheep’s coat is woven into a covering to shield a human from the cold. We may not generally think so directly about the origins of the fabrics draped upon our shoulders, but Ramsey’s exploration reminds us that our garments contain stories that have already been written before they reach us. Questioning those stories and pondering their intricacies could aid in reestablishing true and authentic connections with our body coverings.

“I think it’s important to have things that people would love to wear, and are actually wearable, even though they stand out and make an impact.” Ramsey says this collection was potentially her Fall 2012 preview. We hope to soon see her creations available at a nearby boutique; whether it be to shield, shelter, or take on a distinct persona, these coverings are utterly covetable.

Kestrel Jenkins

Kestrel Lee Jenkins currently resides in New York City where she writes a weekly column covering the sustainable fashion world.