Spring in Santa Cruz, Tobin W. Keller

  • Magenta silk shirt with metallic leather shorts by Tobin W. Keller

    Magenta silk shirt with metallic leather shorts by Tobin W. Keller

    For the final interview in my spring in Santa Cruz series I spoke with an amazing artist turned designer Tobin W. Keller. Tobin hand dyes and silk screens his fabrics that he then uses to create unique ready to wear clothing. Tobin only sells from his studio and small artisan fairs.

    Tina: When did you start thinking about spring? Since you are not on a buying or selling trade show timeline I imagine your approach to be different than the others I have interviewed.

    Tobin: Well, my things relate to spring all the time because I am working with such light weight fabrics. The things I do change are the colors; the colors seem to designate a season more than fabrics do. The designs lend themselves to a lighter more colorful season, which can be spring, depending on where you live in the world.

    I’ve been thinking about it for the last several months. What am I going to do and what’s going to be my color palette? I tend to ignore the Pantone colors…………

    TB: That was going to be my next question…………..

    Tobin: They do creep in…………they have creeped in.

    TB: Like some of the gray tones, since I looked at some of your new stuff when I came in. So, you have heard about them?

    Tobin: I read about them. The dusty rose has creeped in and yellow as well.

    TB: We saw some of that with your fall line. We actually talked about that! You were going to do more grays and yellows going forward.

    Tobin: Right now, I am thinking about what my color pallette is. I have new screens, new images that I want to work with. I have a whole new series of screens. The printed patterns are going to change a lot; they are going to get bolder. I want bolder pattern and more graphic!

    Tina: So, more circles?

    Tobin: Maybe……….chevrons and I am also thinking some maze like patterns. And even some Japanese craft patterns I am going to try. I think they all relate really well. I wanted to go stronger, more graphic. Color, we will see. For  me color becomes sort of an intuitive thing. That is why I stay a little away from trends and predictions. I know that is sort of  thin edge to walk on. I want to be on trend but I also want to humorously create my own. You know?

    Tina: Right, right.

    Tobin: I want to have my own identity that isn’t based on trends however trends do……………..

    Tina: Make things sale able. But I think it is easier when you are doing things yourself to not be as influenced by the trends,

    Tobin: Yeah, I once met an artist, Linda Montano who is a well known performance artist, and this was years ago. She was doing a reading as part of one of her performances. And she said there is a point in your career when you have to stop looking at other art and stop looking at magazines and you just need to focus on your own stuff. I think that is what I am doing partly. I am still aware of what’s going on but I think what I am doing is going inside a little bit more. I am working more intuitively with the fabrics and the colors. The designs also but I think you can’t help being somewhat influenced by trends.

    Tina: Because they are everywhere, Facebook, Instagram, they are all there.

    Tobin: I like hearing what people have to say about the clothing. What they really like. I love hearing how people respond to a fabric or to a garment, you know. That also moves me so I am influenced but……………

    Tina: But not necessarily by the cover of Vogue?

    Tobin: Right! I like to look at magazines for the kind of prints they are using

    Tina: I think your prints help direct you to the styles you are going to do with the clothes because you do more than one print on a fabric. Some dresses or styles lend themselves to a certain style because of your prints. So, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to work with the latest style. Then I think there are always things “on trend” that don’t always reach us here in Santa Cruz.

    Tobin: We do have a different style approach.

    Silk shirt by Tobin W. Keller

    Silk shirt by Tobin W. Keller

    Tina: So, when do you talk to people about clothing? You said you like to get their feedback.

    Tobin: I have been talking with people for months. And when I do these runway shows I get a lot of feedback. Umm, either at the shows or the sales I get the chance to meet people. It was fun. I just recently took 3 dresses to the San Francisco Opera. It was fun to see how they looked, how people responded to them I really liked just sort of being in the shadows watching. Everyone got compliments on what they were wearing. They were 3 different women with 3 different body types. They fit the clothing and they looked good in it. People commented how easy it was to wear and why can’t more designers do this.

    Tina: Yes, I saw some of the pictures on Facebook! What a great experiment!

    Do you get resistance to your fabric of choice, silk? I find many of my clients hesitant to wear it but it just drapes and falls so well on the body. Also, it is a natural fiber. I have to sometimes talk them into it.

    Tobin: Actually, it is durable stuff, especially the silk broadcloth. It sometimes wrinkles easy but so what?

    Tina: People say that about linen too but I love it! And the wrinkles are just part of it.

    Tobin: I guess people do get a little scared of the silks, maybe with the delicacy of the silk chiffon and things that I use. I don’t know- I think the sophisticated buyer knows that silk is the better fiber to wear and buy. The alternatives are not always the most attractive.

    Tina: Do you tell them to dry clean it or can they hand wash it?

    Tobin: I tell them it is easiest for them to dry clean it because then they don’t have to worry about ironing it! Haha but I hand wash and iron it a lot.

    Tina: Your silk broadcloth is like a super nice version of cotton. It has a beautiful weight to it.

    Tobin: Yes and it still has movement in it! It has a really nice surface that I like. It is matte and dense but it still has a great printable surface.

    Tina: When you speak to people about your fabrics do you find they don’t know what silk broadcloth or crepe de chin is? I think this is one of the many downsides to “fast fashion”; people no longer know about fabric. They don’t understand how the weight of a fabric might make the garment hang right.

    Tobin: Well, I don’t think most people are concerned with that. They want something that is wearable and easy to care for and that’s what attracts them to some things. I think the most interesting for me has been the silk broadcloth. It is has been interesting to make clothing out of and have people wear it. They like it; it is more wearable and not so fragile.

    Tina: Another thing that tends to come up for spring is being inspired by the natural world. Does that influence your work?

    Tobin: Well, I think environment does impact what I do in the studio. Mostly it makes a big difference on my state of mind, psychological. I get energized; I get excited that the weather is changing. The days are longer. From a physical stand point, yes definitely. As a studio artist for so long I have been influenced by the natural world but now it has creeped its way in subconsciously in the work more than directly. It is more intuitive and organic now. It’s why I am in the studio experimenting with fabrics, colors and print combinations.

    Tina: Anything else you want to mention about spring?

    Tobin: I am looking forward to spring. I think the kind of fabrics I am using aren’t changing much. The prints are what is getting exciting for me; they are more bold, more graphic. And the color might too! For men I still like sort of a sleek silhouette but not a tight silhouette.

    Tina: It is a fine line between the two, no?

    Tobin: Yes, and the same goes for women. I like sleek and tailored but not tight and stuffed!

    Tina: Nicely put!

    Tobin: I am continuing the relaxed cut. I don’t make patterns; I collaborate with pattern makers. I really rely on what I have done most recently. There is something very fun about taking a pattern and altering it while I am cutting. Now I am going to do this hemline on this piece or now I am going to change the sleeves a little bit. I make decisions as I am cutting the fabric, which is difficult because my fabrics are limited.

    Tina: Well, yeah when you hand dye and silk screen each one if you mess it up………..

    Tobin: You have to do it all over again!

    Tina: Ok, one dress you have, the one with the circle print,  the back is longer than the front and then there is a slit in the middle, almost like tails. Is that one you happen to change while cutting or did you have that in mind when you made that piece?

    Tobin: Well, I wanted to do a longer profile on that one, a longer hem. And I wanted to do a shaped hem but I didn’t know how I was going to do it. So, I made the decision as I was cutting.

    Tina: It gives a nice movement to the piece.

    Tobin: I changed the collar as I was cutting too! It was a boatneck collar but I wanted the collar to stand up just a little bit. I lined it with fishing line to get that effect.

    Tina: Ahhh, okay.

    Tobin: It’s fun to make these changes and this is where my background as a studio artist comes in. I’m a one person show, and I can make these changes immediately.

    Tina: If you were manufacturing it would be much harder to do.

    Tobin: It would be really expensive. Since I am just making samples, I can make these last minute changes and that is where it is fun for me! It is experimental, I know but once in awhile I come up with something okay.

    Tina: Umm more than okay! Some beautiful garments!

    Dress with tails made of silk broadcloth by Tobin W. Keller

    Dress with tails made of silk broadcloth by Tobin W. Keller


    All photos by Crystal Birns

    Model is Izabelly Santos

    Makeup by Lisa Cadiente of Faces Salon

    Clothing by Tobin W. Keller, http://www.tobinwkeller.com



    May 11th, 2016 | admin | No Comments |

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