In a recent post I introduced you to the artist/designer Michelle Cherian by way of her beautiful grey and black scarf, “The Window”. I also spoke of the lovely conversation I had with Michelle about her process and how her brand. Atha came to be. So here is the next installment of Female Protagonists and women who inspire me to keep realizing my dreams every day. Look through “The Window” and take a glimpse into what a new definition of modern luxury might be.
1. Many of my readers are interested in the relationship between fashion and art. Can you tell us first something about your journey as an artist.
I remember making things here and there as a kid, but I was much more a dreamer than a maker. In college I started to explore art as a way to express ideas and thought I’d pursue it as a career, but then in the turmoil of early twenties life in New York I took a turn toward design instead. When I hit thirty I realized something big was missing, so a year later I left my design job and moved to India. I grew up traveling to India to visit relatives but I had never lived there. I ended up staying for five years and now I look back at that time as my incubation period. I experimented, went to art residencies and collaborated with other artists. About halfway through my stay in India I moved to Mysore to paint and study yoga. I had an extra room in my apartment that I used as a studio and it was a quiet yet prolific period where I was doing little else besides practicing yoga and making work. In the moment I wanted things to happen much faster than they were, but that time I spent quietly making was very important for building confidence in my intuition and strengthening my ability to receive.
2. What do you think is the relationship between fashion and art?
Hmm, this could be a simple or complicated question. The simple – I like to think of fashion as one type of art. The relationship to the body is where it gets a bit more complicated. Experiencing a piece of art or styling a look are both very intimate acts that have the potential to change our perception and how we move through the world. When I put a piece of clothing or jewelry on it affects how I perceive myself. It is activated and fulfills its potential in the moment of me wearing it. In contrast an art object feels separate from my body, like an entity I can stand across from and communicate with.
For me the practice of making the fashion object or the art object is the same. In both cases its about being open to receive and channeling energy into form. The G Ring, a piece from our new collection, was made the same way I’d make a painting or sculpture. I had a feeling and I kept moving the coil of clay around until I had a shape that felt just right.
3. Can you tell the readers the story behind the beautiful scarf you gave me?
The Window is quite different from the others in this collection. The open weave makes it really special. All of our pieces have a lot of texture and for this one I was playing with methods of both adding to and subtracting from the scarf within the weaving process. One night on my last trip to Nepal I made a mockup of the idea with paper and an Exacto knife. When I took it into the workshop the next day, the owner said it looked like a window. We started referring to it as “The Window” and the name stuck.
4. You also design jewelry, what is the story of that journey?
The story of the scarves and the jewelry have been intertwined from the beginning. I started both when I was at a residency in Kathmandu. One day I bought my husband a bracelet from one of the local artisans that I passed on my way to the studio everyday. I loved the bracelet and wanted to have one made for myself as well, only I wanted to change a few things. My ideas quickly grew from altering the bracelet to making a whole new piece. I made simple jewelry prototypes from the paper I had in the studio. Once I had the shape I wanted, I took it to the artisans and we talked about how it could be made. Collaborating with the artisans was, and still is, really exciting for me because we’re able to merge our skills to create something completely new that neither of us would have been able to do alone.
5. What is your definition of modern luxury?
Modern luxury to me is about being able to curate a life that serves my highest good and helps me grow. Its about figuring out how to make the most of my time. Without a doubt one of the most luxurious times in my life was when I had very little and was living in a small apartment in Mysore painting everyday. Modern luxury in terms of objects be it fashion of other goods is about knowing that it was made in an ethical and sustainable way from high quality natural materials. I’m also very drawn to handmade pieces that show the skill and mark of the maker. These feel luxurious because they have their own story that then gets added to my story.
6. Tell us more about how you chose the name Atha?
Atha comes from the first sutra In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, “Atha yoga anushasanam” which roughly translates to “Now, we begin the study of yoga.” I’ve been practicing Ashtanga yoga for about 15 years, its one of the defining features of my daily life.
I love this sutra. Its at once accepting of where we are, while also giving us cues on how to be. It’s saying, now we begin this important undertaking from where ever we are in the present moment. It asks us to observe ourselves, accept and go forward from there. Atha is repeated throughout the Yoga Sutras always bringing our attention back to the present.
When I was thinking of names I knew I didn’t want to use my name and Atha was the first name that came to me. Since it already played such a huge role in my life it felt really natural and a great reminder of how I want to be.
7. How do you see Atha evolving and what are your hopes for it?
I want Atha to grow slowly and consciously to be a small modern company that does good while also being a profitable business. Atha started while I was living abroad and I want to continue to build it across diverse cultures. I see this as a strength that gives us a valuable and rich perspective on the world. The mix of visual art and artisan work will always be at the center of what we do. Both practices demand a strong connection between the material and the maker and require presence and intention in the moment. My hope is that we grow and create more opportunities to do this type of work.
8. Any advice for readers who wish to reinvent themselves in a innovative and creative way?
I think of it less like a reinvention and more like a bringing to the surface someone who’s already there but not being seen. So the first thing would be to figure out what is that part of you that’s not being seen and then take steps to change that. Fortunately, there are now so many alternative practices and healing modalities that can support this journey. You could do it all alone, but a lot of time it will be quicker and more rewarding to do it with support. The majority of work with something like this is usually mindset and believing that you can do it and are doing it. Once you have a direction, commit and do it as much as you can because nothing can take the place of practice…our yoga teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, would always say: “Practice and all is coming.”
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you !
What might you do today to begin to realize the part of you that is not being seen?