Making and Doing with the DAM

Local Designer Styles Spun-Inspired Outfits

Recently, I came across the work of a local fashion designer and blogger Tess Vigil. As it turns out, her father, Angel Vigil, has been a partner-artist with Denver Art Museum’s CelebrARTE program. Since our upcoming CelebrARTE theme is Traje, outfits have been on my mind. I asked her to style an outfit inspired by the campus-wide summer exhibition Spun: Adventures in Textiles.

Madalena Salazar: Hi, Tess. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Tess Vigil: I am from Denver, and I grew up in The Highlands before it was fancy, haha!  As a kid in this great city, I always loved fashion and clothes and often spent time putting together outfits with things I’d make at home on my mom’s sewing machine. After studying visual art and Spanish literature at Columbia University in NYC and teaching in South Central LA as part of Teach for America, I decided it was time to get serious about my main passion: fashion. I started my women’s clothing company, 50 Dresses, in my LA basement. I now balance designing clothes, operating my 50 Dresses business (it’s in RiNo), and running my blog, with my other passions.

MS: You have a great style blog, Tess Dressed. Could you tell us a little bit about how you put together an outfit? How are you inspired? Does your culture or heritage influence your style in any way?

TV: My blog is a celebration of fashion as we wear it everyday. I want to encourage people to find inspiration for style all the time. Style can be casual or fancy, but must be particular to the wearer. To be fashionable, we don’t need to spend a lot of money, or buy new things. I am inspired by vintage femininity and classic beauty, but I like to keep things modern and wearable.

I am a proud Latina, and grew up in the Hispanic Southwest. Our family comes from New Mexico and Colorado, and that had an important influence on my style. I admire the beauty and strength of Latina women. I’ve always loved the Spanish flamenco-inspired style, and how the traditional Mexican and Native American Indian aesthetics have blended together, as the people have, to create a rich Latino visual landscape in design, art and style that we live with today. My father is a cuentista, or storyteller, who is committed to keeping the oral tradition of the Hispanic Southwest alive. It is engrained in my aesthetic to find beauty in my culture, and the DAM has a great collection of art reflecting these styles.

MS: What lovely outfits! What at the DAM inspired you to put them together?

TV: The DAM is a wonderful resource. The Spun exhibit is amazing! I love how it focuses on garments and textiles, and how it is spread throughout.

For the first outfit pictured, I was inspired by two works in Western Duds. William Penhallow Henderson's Fiesta Brown Eyed Beauty (1924) features a beautiful lady with a flower in her hair, pearls and a shawl. There is something so elegant and classic about flowers as accessories in the hair and on the shawl.  Shawls can serve many purposes—perhaps it is a grown woman’s comfort blanket! I love the shapes of the bright flowers, the fringe, and especially the crème and fuchsia combination.

For the second outfit, I was inspired by William H. D. Koerner’s Don't you Go Frettin' Sallie, I'll Tend to It.  I am often inspired by the Western look captured here. The feminine spirit is intact, but you can tell Sallie is going to get work done. It always seems everything they wore in the West had to be worn to work too. Sallie’s outfit is one I’d wear any day. Her skirt is also echoed in the painting of the Archangel Raphael, who also wears a nice cape style garment around. A full skirt and covered shoulders is a silhouette you can see in many pieces throughout the DAM. In addition to the paintings mentioned, The Navajo bracelets and gold necklaces are a great inspiration for the jewelry that I love to wear.

These DAM-inspired outfits convey that style comes from everywhere. It is important to be resourceful, creative, and wear what you love. I see style everywhere—my perspective is different from everyone else’s, but we can all share and inspire each other. In looking to art, we are interpreting our own version of what tomorrow’s world will look like. Live by what you love and share it with all of us!

Madalena Salazar is the Latino cultural programs coordinator in the education department at the Denver Art Museum. Madalena has been at the DAM since 2011 and her favorite artwork that has been on view here is Mud Woman Rolls On. This piece reminds her of home, family, and community and serves as inspiration for her practice as a museum educator at the DAM.