DRAPED IN COLOR
Lisa Hoang and Susan Woodson turn
abstract paintings into kimonos
by Jessie Ammons
photographs by Juli Leonard
Dramatic and elegant, Lisa Hoang’s latest kimono collection includes floor-length silks in a cool palette of blue, grey, purple, beige, and black. One of the more subdued versions is grey with a shower of flower blooms down the back. Look closely, and the flowers are patterned: Their design is a zoomed-in, printed square of an abstract painting by Raleigh artist Susan Woodson. A particularly bold kimono is black with grey details along the seams and a giant red bird on the back. The bird is also from a Woodson canvas.
“She’s used the paintings not at all as the painting,” Woodson says. “Now it’s something wearable.”
This is Hoang’s second collection of limited-edition kimonos, the result of creative concord between the Raleigh fashion designer and the abstract painter. The two met in 2012 when Hoang was a freshman at N.C. State and was accepted to Woodson’s First Year Student Leadership Program, which Woodson created with her husband, N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson. The program mentors first-generation college students who “might get lost in the crowd at a bigger university,” Susan Woodson says. Hoang stood out for her outgoing nature.
Hoang and Susan Woodson loosely kept in touch, then reconnected last May just before Hoang graduated from N.C. State’s College of Textiles. Woodson recalls Lisa “running up to me, saying ‘I want to make a dress of one of your paintings!’ … I had always actually had this idea that my abstract paintings would look good on a kimono. We said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ ”
The first go-round, Woodson chose a handful of her paintings for Hoang to work with. The designer ordered bolts of lightweight polyester fabric printed with the paintings from Durham-based textile printing company Spoonflower, then turned them into knee-length and floor-length kimonos. She sewed every piece herself, turning fabric “leftovers” into accessories like matching scarves. Within a month of that May meeting, Hoang and Woodson had their spring-summer line: aquas, reds, greens, and pinks, all in bold, enrobing patterns. They debuted their creations at Woodson’s Moondog Fine Arts on Morgan Street during a July First Friday open house. “Everybody loved them!” Hoang says.
Bolstered by that reception, Hoang took their fall collection more seriously. Now she’s using silk rather than polyester, and also adding belts. For her part, Woodson created a series of complementary paintings specifically for the kimonos. “This time, I really used the paintings as my inspiration,” Hoang says. “I included patterns and motifs, and the paintings only take up part of the garments.”
With this collection, both artists say they feel they’ve hit their collaborative stride. Hoang recently showed her separate eponymous clothing collection at New York Fashion Week and is preparing for Paris soon, and Woodson is busy painting and hosting shows and events at Moondog.
The kimonos are their passion project, one they hope to continue for many seasons to come. “It’s been a fun adventure and a great surprise at how they’ve turned out,” Woodson says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Hoang adds. “I never want to stop learning.”