Culture Trip caught up with Goldberg, as part of the Behind the Seams series. The designer talks about her inspiration, which includes Paolo Pasolini’s 120 Days of Sodom, the Marquis de Sade, the Bible, and Patti Smith.
“I would go as far as I could and hit a wall, my own imagined limitations. And then I met a fellow who gave me his secret, and it was pretty simple. When you hit a wall, just kick it in.” Patti Simth, Just Kids
Jill Di Donato: You describe your collection as “a biblical collection laced with sexual commentary.” The Bible certainly has elements of sexuality to it, but it’s also used, mostly by fringe religious groups to shame people for their sexuality. How do you harness this tension in your collection?
Maya J. Goldberg: [I tried to convey this] by creating a certain balance between conflicting elements — some that are “split” or diverting — and others that are trying to be pulled together, and somehow still come apart. I use the garments’ shape, movement, material, color, and proportion to convey sex in a more taboo way. Other garments take up this issue more metaphorically; there’s a top with the stomach cut out to make you question [hole? holy? whole?] and patterns that morph from bruises to flowers. Then there’s a silk brocaded piece that’s pink on one side and black on the other, which is relevant to how I feel most of the time.
JDD: Can you talk about the influence of 120 Days of Sodom? Was it the imagery that struck you (and if so, what in particular) or the story based on Sodom and Gomorrah?
MJG: Imagery that struck me in the film includes: the pubescent teens playing the role of virginal sex slaves — kidnapped and stripped down in a medieval castle, walking around with lilies in hand, and the men in fusty Italian mafia-looking suits. The ominous sort of beauty within the contrast of these roles intrigued me. I wanted my girl to be able to play both characters — [the tortured virgin and pervy domineering master]. I considered the sinners living in the split city of Sodom and Gomorrah. I felt I had to create a state of “in-between” for them to meet as one.
JDD: What role do you think garments — clothing and wardrobe — play in relaying what’s going on with a culture?
MJG: The clothes people choose to wear allow them to express how liberated or imprisoned they feel as individuals within their culture and within their own skin. Your wardrobe can be seen as a channel to communicate a message that words can’t.
JDD: Although cultural appropriation is culturally insensitive, cultural exchange is vital for people to see beyond themselves and from where they’re coming from. Do you use elements of other cultures in your designs?
MJG: I thought a lot about Harems, [why I wanted to shoot in a bath house] and the conflicting views of Western people who saw them as a brothel where overly sexed women give themselves to powerful men. Traditionally, a Harem was seen as sacred space reserved to protect women and their modesty. Although Muslim women are perceived as being subjugated, Western women have this “freedom” and simultaneously experience more of a cultural harem through social standards of what is to be “feminine” or what women should look/dress/act like. [Sexy? Talkative? Modest? Quiet?] One of my pieces is the “snood.” It circles around the neck and covers her mouth, constricting the shoulders so the girl can’t talk or move her arms, but it cuts right above her breasts so they show.
JDD: Tell me about being a student at the London College of Design and having a first collection out already — one that’s garnered press. Do you feel your peers help you work harder?
MJG: I’ve learned the end result is a lot stronger when you understand your concept and where it comes from. No one’s telling you how to make anything. My teachers feel more like advisors who help us make sense of the ideas we bring to the table and take them to the next level. I find students here tend to work more individually than in groups, which I like because everyone’s work ends up being so different and more personal. I don’t really look to my peers for motivation; I try to find it more within myself.
JDD: What artists and designers influence your work?
MJG: You’ll find some Araki photos in my journal, random porno collages, Yoko Ono poems. I was reading Just Kids at the time and felt I had to channel Patti Smith on some days. My process feels more internal then external. I don’t find myself looking at clothes or other designers for inspiration. I have a story in mind that feels like it’s stuck in a glass box and it’s my mission to unlock different pieces so I can figure out how it ends and where it began.
JDD: What should every girl go out and buy right now?
MJG: A cocktail.
JDD: Your mom, Tsvia Goldberg, has worked as a makeup artist in TV and film for over 25 years. What tricks has she taught you? How do you use makeup to convey messages?
MJG: “Less is more.” Also, she created the sticky face look. Makeup helps to express a certain mood and bring the characters to life.
JDD: Tell me about casting and shooting your lookbook.
MJG: Maya [Fuhr] and I worked together to cast M Zavos and Seashell. We mostly lurked Instagram and street cast until we found the look we were going for. I originally told Maya [Fuhr] I wanted to shoot in a bathhouse to give off a “Harem” type vibe, so she suggested Elvis’ Guest House, which turned out to be the perfect location. It felt like a dreamy twist on what I’d envision a modern day harem to look like.
JDD: Why stay in school? What do you hope to learn, even though you’re so accomplished already?
MJG: I need to explore outside of New York so I can come back with a refined eye and a fresh take on things. I came to school in London to have the opportunity to experience new ways of thinking, moving and creating, I want to learn new rules so I can better know how to break them.