The Textile Anthropology of Supernaturae
A Showroom of Silks & Voyages
BY ANNE WHITING
“These clothes are made for the Muses; a wardrobe celebrating the elemental beauty, mysticism, and vibrancy of women.”
Benedicte Lux had just returned to New York by way of India, London, her native Norway, and lastly, Ibiza—the beautiful beach town where the nomadic textile artist recently made home. With a traveler’s freshness and the sunny vibes of her new coast of residence, the young founder and creative director of luxury loungewear label Supernaturae greeted us with a warm smile and her most welcoming hug. This is how she says hello no matter her longitude: even in New York winters, while artfully swaddled in textural and colorful layers, Lux always seems as if wrapped in a hug of beauty–the energy of which defrosted even the chilliest of mornings.
This balmy Market Week afternoon, Lux donned a fuchsia scarf and soft pink checked trousers of her own design—hand-loomed organic cotton, of course. Her craftswoman fingers, which are sometimes stained with indigo or other natural dyes, were decorated as usual in eclectic silver rings. The rings, she later told me, were thrifted in Marrakech, picked up in NYC’s Chelsea Market, and recently gifted from Uzbekistan by a fellow textile collector. (There is always a good story behind what she is wearing.)
She offered us apple spritzers before guiding us to her wall of TriBeCa’s House Of showroom, where her most recent collection, the official launch of Supernaturae Spring/Summer 2019, was on display for New York Textile Month. The collection hung airily in creams and pinks with hints of orange, a certain bright shade of soft magenta luring us into a textile narrative.
Supernaturae, in the designer’s words, is a love story of travel, artisanal textiles and craft production: loungewear for the “global wanderer”–this time, inspired by the French post-impressionist Paul Gauguin and his travels to Tahiti.
Our fingers delicately caressed the handwoven, lightweight, almost gossamer, yet still carefully constructed pieces. A crop top with bright orange embroidery of Tahitian symbology evoked a vacation in the sun, and hung next to silks in shades of natural and fuchsia; one dress, with a high neck and drawstring waist, emulated a hibiscus.
Lux’s inspiration comes from a traveler’s way of life, she says: “of an authenticity which is coming from the materials (natural fibers), creating vintage-and-folk inspired heirlooms with incredibly unique materiality, which is not possible or difficult to find in today’s marketplace.”
Unique materials, and homage to individuality: Benedicte believes less in trend than in wearing a sort of personal uniform that makes us feel comfortable. “I look to an ancient-ness in certain forms and techniques that are universally recognizable rather than trend-focused design,” she explains. “A universal language that draws from organic and natural materials, folk costume, symbology and, of course, comfort.”
The multidisciplinary designer calls herself a textile anthropologist. The stories behind her work include diverse appreciations of history, culture, art, the human body and the earth. Passionate about traditional artisan craft techniques, she creates with uncompromising attention to quality and detail. In her process-based approach to garment procuration, she carefully sources every single textile she works with, believing in the long journey–from seed to thread, to fabric–as integral to the story of creation.
With regards to today’s current anthropology, Lux’s work resonates with social trends in an age of sprinting and overstimulation. It presents a beckoning to slow down.
I have tried on one of Supernaturae’s silk ruffle blouses, a piece from her pre-collections dyed entirely light pink with avocados. The pieces wear like sweet lullabies, light ruffles of handloom silks whispering softness on the skin. One can almost feel an island breeze: the wind’s rustling of luscious silks of sleeves and collars.
Her SS19 collection was made using fair trade practices, through partnerships of small villages in West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, India, where craft work is often the only local source of income. In particular, she worked with an institution named Women Weave, a Charitable Trust and small-batch manufacturer of handloom fabrics which promote economy and wellbeing for women in Indian villages. The embroidery crop top, for example, helped increase the women’s embroidery skills, which will further their ability to do more similar work for other designers in the future. As a company, Supernaturae champions creating employment opportunities for people in their home villages, so they don’t have to leave their families and travel to find work.
“I had always wanted to travel [to India], as it held a special kind of magic for me,” she says; “my mother had gifted me some Indian jewelry when I was younger, and as a student of yoga, it fascinated me with its multi-layered approach to spirituality, a way of life, as well as an antiquity which is rich in history and crafts. India has a unique textile history which is incredibly rich and varied from place to place. There are many skilled artisans who are currently working with ancient crafts and techniques. Those skills combined with an open-mindedness (if you are patient) makes me feel India has infinite potential for creating. I always feel like anything and everything is possible when I go there.”
Though, for Lux, it seems like anything is possible no matter where she is. The Oslo-born designer began her studies in London at Central Saint Martins, and later worked at Paul Stolper Gallery, a gallery that created and sold prints for Damien Hirst and Sir Peter Blake (creator of the The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s album artwork), to name a few clients. From Europe, she embarked on an artist residency in Marrakech, where she created a performance piece—entitled Beauty Salon—that was selected for the Marrakech Biennale in 2014. For the performance’s costumes, she worked with an Arabic tailor, and she says being in Marrakech she was introduced to artisanal crafts up close and realized she loved working with craftspeople and artisans, which planted the seeds for her transition into learning pattern-making at Parsons, with her heart set on creating a hands-on, artisanal-focused business.
After Parsons, the traveler completed a research residency in Oaxaca, Mexico (Pocoapoco) where she learned extensively about natural dyeing and artisanal crafts, as well as methodology for working with artisans. She then took a job as a visual stylist at ABC Home. At the same time, she opened her first studio on Hester Street. At ABC, she had access to beautiful flowers which, instead of throwing away, she would take back to further her explorations of natural dye, and begin sharing in workshops in Manhattan and London.
Natural, organic, or safe coloring processes are paramount to Supernaturae’s earth-loving ethos. All of the coloring processes of the SS19 collection were made with bio dye, and produced with no chemical runoff. One piece, a surprisingly saturated burnt-orange and magenta wrap dress, was colored entirely with natural dyes.
Her natural dye dream going forward is to use recycled temple flowers in India, which are hugely abundant. More possibilities.
Wrapped in her pink scarf, she left us to catch a plane to Paris Market Week, a stopover before heading back to Ibiza, where her Instagram stories are filled with earth, trees, fruit markets, and the free spirit she breathes into her globally inspired designs.
Photographs Courtesy of Supernaturae.