By Nicholas Dekker, marketing, communications and events administrator for the Greater Columbus Arts Council
Casey Immel-Brown is one of four local fashion designers who will be featured at Fashion as Art, a runway show on the Genoa Park Main Stage on Friday, June 9 at 8 p.m. at the Columbus Arts Festival. We caught up with Casey to learn about his journey in fashion and what he’s looking forward to about the Arts Fest runway show.
Nick: Can you tell us a little about your journey in fashion? What got you interested in it, and how did you come to study it?
Casey: I was raised in a cult, and I learned very early on that clothing was a way to protect my identity and sense of self in that environment. As a teen I wanted to go to school for fashion design, but it never seemed like a possibility for me, and instead I wound up falling into a career in IT. I absolutely hated it, but I was also really active as a musician, DJ and producer, and thought those would become self-supporting. Eventually I realized that the kind of music I did was niche enough that really only a handful of people on the planet make livings from it, and that if I didn’t make a career change I’d spend the rest of my life miserable for the majority of my waking hours. It took a while for me to overcome the idea that I was too old to start fashion school from scratch, but once I did I found that I was really good at it, and picked up on things more naturally than with anything else I had ever done in my life.
Nick: You’re a recent CCAD grad, right? What have been some of your major takeaways from your time there?
Casey: I just graduated from CCAD a few weeks ago. When I first started design school I was somehow convinced that I was a minimalist. I spent several years trying to force myself to design in a very dour Japanese and Belgian sort of way. In the end I came to terms with the fact that although I still love Yohji Yamamoto and Ann Demeulemeester, that just isn’t who I am as a designer. I’ve found that my best ideas are things which pull in a lot of different elements and references from all over and connect them into a fluid whole. Which isn’t to say that I’ve become a maximalist either, at least not in the baroque sense. Everything I do still has a lot of intention and cohesiveness. But I have a tendency towards a sort of ornate, moody glamour and school definitely taught me that I’m most successful when I lean into that.
Nick: What are your plans now that you’ve graduated from CCAD?
Casey: Ultimately, I’d like to work for an established luxury house, at least for a while. There are just certain things that I think you can only learn while working for someone else, so that seems like an important next step. That’s also an extremely competitive arena, so I’m working hard on getting my portfolio to the place it needs to be for that to be a feasible reality. I’ve also had a leather accessory brand, Mater Dolorosa, that I put on hold during my last year of school and I’m going to be picking that back up again.
Nick: What are you most excited about for the runway show at the Arts Fest? Is this your first runway show? Can you give us a little preview of what you’ll be featuring?
Casey: I showed my thesis collection at the CCAD fashion show right before graduation, but this will be the first “professional” runway show I’ve done, and it’s going to be an extended version of that thesis collection with about twice as many looks. Runway is my absolute favorite thing in fashion, and it’s what I’ve always geared everything towards. I see it as the perfect form of abstract theater. You have every single element of a theatrical production, except the dialogue and action. Instead you send each character on stage, one by one in a way that encourages the audience to literally imagine themselves in that person’s shoes, and then the order you send them in becomes this clear narrative arc. I’m also unbelievably honored and excited to be showing with this particular group of designers. They’re all people whose work I intensely admire, and who I completely adore as human beings.
Nick: What are some of your favorite spots around Columbus?
Casey: My favorite spots in Columbus have to be the antique malls, particularly Heritage Square and the Greater Columbus Antique Mall on South High Street. In most cities our size, online resellers and specialty shops selling to collectors at inflated prices have picked the antique market completely clean. We’re really lucky to have a number of places that still operate the way antique stores did when I was a kid, pre-internet, where you can spend hours digging through piles and climbing over tables and in the end unearth something completely special, while still getting that rush of feeling like you’ve underpaid.
See Casey’s work and that of three other designers – Tracy Powell, Crystal Zhang and Celeste Malvar-Stewart – at Fashion as Art on Friday, June 9 at 8 p.m., on the Genoa Park Main Stage at the Columbus Arts Festival. The full festival runs June 9-11 on the downtown riverfront.
This article is part of a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council as part of the Art Makes Columbus campaign. Explore a calendar of events, public art database and artist stories at columbusmakesart.com. To learn more about GCAC grants visit gcac.org.