DRAWING BEAUTY OUT OF POISON
DIVERSITY OF PARTICIPANTS
Descience draws from a wide spectrum of scientists and designers with a range of experience - from budding to established designers with their own labels, and from science students to scientists with major publications to their names. Also represented are those who utilize tools created by scientific research, applied to other disciplines such as medicine and environmental health. However, creativity and inspiration can be found throughout this competition regardless of age and previous work.
One of the younger pairs to take part in Descience, Cheval Noir (“black horse” in French) is comprised of Lasell College student Amy Leu and environmental scientist Jaime de Sousa. The self-declared “underdogs” of the competition, Amy is an undergraduate student and Jaime has moved away from actively pursuing research, instead using scientific tools to measure toxic substances in peoples’ living and work environments. While not the most experienced participants in the competition, a quick look at their amazing images reveals that their creativity and strength of collaboration easily stands up to that of the other pairs.
Cheval Noir’s submission draws inspiration from Jaime’s work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in which he seeks out and tests for poisonous lead paint – a type of pigment commonly used in buildings prior to a ban in 1978. With its elaborate crackle patterns and delicate flaking, lead paint has a certain beauty that belies its dangerous nature. Exposure to high levels of lead can cause developmental disorders in children, as well as nervous system and organ damage in both children and adults. Very high levels can cause seizures, unconsciousness, and even death.
Amy was initially drawn to photos that Jaime posted of lead paint - cracking, peeling, and showing signs of age and decay yet revealing captivating patterns in the process. The two immediately met and Jaime threw all sorts of ideas at Amy, who then quickly sketched some initial ideas that morphed as the conversation between the two deepened. In its current state, Cheval Noir’s look is punctuated by white flakes that cascade from the head down to the shoulders, and a web of rhinestones reminiscent of cracking paint that is slightly hidden away on either side of the body - similar to the hidden risks of lead paint itself. The jumpsuit draws from protective suits worn in the field, while the color of the garment takes its cue from the colored strips used to test for lead.
For all of the clear design inspirations taken from Jaime’s fieldwork, Cheval Noir has been careful not to be too literal with how they communicate this area of environmental science through fashion. They have deliberately maintained a degree of abstraction between science and fashion, drawing viewers deeper into the work and encouraging them to mentally unpack the garment and explore how science might have inspired the visual elements of the design.
Through this collaboration, both Amy and Jaime were able to engage in a process of creative exploration into fields that neither had previously had access to. For their viewers, Cheval Noir hopes that they will inspire people to be more adventurous with their clothing choices (bringing back jumpsuits, for instance) and have the courage to play with and create from unexpected sources.