ArtQuest is a production of Nashville Public Television in partnership with the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and made possible by the generous support of The Frist Foundation.
Linda Wei – Producer and Writer
Matt Emigh – Videographer and Editor
Dajiah Platt – Host
Sam Andrews – Educator
Thank you Williamson Herald for this article featuring my story, leading up to the Nashville Fashion Week!
By Kerri Bartlett
Emerging Fairview fashion designer Maarika Mann, discovered her signature approach to textile design largely by accident. When in the rush of an impending deadline for a design project, she painted a designer blouse using bleach.
“I just wanted to see what would happen,” said Mann, a student at O’More College of Design preparing to graduate in May.
“I was just messing around, experimenting and wasn’t really going to use it. I wasn’t quite satisfied with what was available in stores, so I decided to paint on the fabric myself.”
Mann, 39, doesn’t even mind waking at 4:30 a.m.–ish, before her three children, husband and two dogs rise, to create her fashion designs. Husband Jim is an assistant principal at Page High School.
Mann approaches her workbench—a cleared kitchen counter—stepping into her morning routine with bare feet busily moving across her cozy home’s hardwood floors.
Mann appears younger than her age. Her calm deep-set green eyes and flowing sandy blonde hair are distinctive, as is her creative energy. With strong spirit and agile hands, she gets to work.
“When you are doing something that you love,” she said, “You don’t mind getting up early to meet a deadline or to finish a project.”
What began as an accident, became Mann’s medium of choice for her apparel collection labeled “Totem” —a collection that has earned her a coveted spot at Nashville Fashion Week.
She is the only student participating from O’More. Named as a “Top 10 Emerging Designer in Nashville,” Mann will debut five signature pieces during a runway show April 2 at Nashville’s Ruby—a boutique venue.
Seeking inspiration from nature and the human experience, the “Totem” collection pulls from Mann’s interpretations of tribal cave paintings, animals and scenes from history.
“Everyone identifies with certain animals or aspects of nature sometimes in a spiritual way, like a totem,” Mann said.
From afar, her garments look like pretty pieces adorned with intricate designs ranging from flowy ethereal to classic structured, but up close they tell a story.
Her “History of the World Skirt” shows key scenes in history hand-painted with a bleach-soaked brush from swirly stone-age stencils to colorful billowy smoke stacks symbolizing the industrial revolution.
“Each painting and story evolved as I went along,” she said.
For this line of clothing, Mann used only a few bolts of 100 percent cotton black fabric for the construction of her clothes. The genesis of each piece evolved from blank, black canvas to colorful sweeping scenes depicting the animals, places and events for her unique themes. She even used her family’s Finnish lineage as inspiration.
“You will find reindeer incorporated into some of the scenes, which is inspired by the Laplander people from Finland,” Mann said. “They relied on reindeer for survival.”
When Mann learned that vinegar alters color during the bleaching process, she began experimenting with different shades of color resulting in swirls, sprays and splotches of golden yellow, rust and burnt orange hues.
“I watch the color fade and when it gets the way I want it, I add vinegar [to stop the bleaching process],” she said.
Adding to her design concept, Mann’s Totem line depicts apparel to be worn by an “apocalyptic warrior girl” who she said is strong, a survivor, fierce and sure of herself. With the advent of movies like The Hunger Games series, the “modern myth” is a significant theme in the fashion world, Mann explained.
Mann creates her line much like she lives her life—in the moment and excited about the process.
She explained that with her bleaching technique, she never knows what the colors in a garment will look like until it dries completely.
“It’s a learning process,” Mann said. “Each piece is an innovative process on it’s own.”
This, perhaps, is a key element in the boldness of her designs.
“I would not design a line of suits. I know what the end result would be every time. But to me, the end result is always a mystery. I wonder ‘what is it going to look like?’ It’s kind of like living in the moment everyday. I design very much in the moment. I allow things to evolve. That’s kind of how I think about things.”
Previously a teacher for six years with Metro Nashville Public Schools, Mann decided to pursue her passion in art and fashion by enrolling in O’More College of Design in 2011.
“I have always painted and drawn fashion designs, so it seemed like a natural progression,” she said.
Long before she pursued a career in design, she designed costumes for her children and for school plays as well as painted murals for clients during summer breaks as a teacher. And long before that, when she was a little girl in Ohio, she was drawn to the tools of artists.
Aside from being a student and Fashion Week participant, Mann also serves as Director of Apparel Design for WeAreDAR, a nonprofit organization that helps to employ underprivileged Haitian women. Mann got involved with the organization when she worked on its clothing campaign for a class project. Some of her designs for WeAreDAR will also be shown in Nashville Fashion Week.
Mann is already thinking about the next steps of her path as an artist.
“I would love to stay in Nashville and be a part of its fashion community,” she said. “I believe in supporting other artists and would love to be a part of a co-op with artisans working together.”
Mann also wants to continue developing her craft.
“I would like to keep learning through experimentation in textile design, keep painting and keep treating each task like an art project. If I could do that, I would be really happy.”