Unlike other designers who find their inspiration in fashions of decades past or during fancy trips to the South of France, I've always been most inspired by the womxn in my life. From mentors to colleagues and friends, I've had the privilege of knowing some truly remarkable humans, and I'm thrilled to finally have an outlet to share their magic.
Last week, I had the opportunity to catchup with Nadia Tan who is a filmmaker, photographer, visual artist and dear friend. From conceptualizing the most visually stunning videos for the likes of the Arkells and July Talk to creating whimsical and intricate paper sculptures with her bare hands, it's been a privilege to know Nadia over the last sixteen years, and to be inspired (and enamoured) by all the beauty that she's put out into the world.
Olga: Looking through your work, you have so many different skills and work with such a wide variety of media including drawing, painting, sculpture, embroidery, leatherwork, woodwork, bookbinding, weaving etc. How did you learn all these various skills?
Nadia: Back in the late 2000’s I was fresh out of film school, living as a self-employed artist in the middle of a recession, with 80% of my earnings going toward rent. Money was so tight I couldn’t afford to take the TTC, so I biked and walked everywhere. I would see beautiful things in shop windows along Queen Street and look at them longingly, but know they were well out of reach. After a while, I started thinking, “I could make that.” So I would go on a research binge, doing a deep dive into that particular medium and learn enough to make the things I coveted. Surrounding myself with simple, beautiful things made me feel wealthy and abundant despite the fact I was living well below the poverty line.
Olga: You were present when UNCUFFED was first being developed. Do you have any memories of that time?
Nadia: I remember one specific day very well. Olga came over to my apartment with a bag of leather scraps - cutoffs which had been rescued from the trash by her father who works at a factory, at the time. We sat at my dining room table making a couple of wallets and coin purses and then Olga wondered if it were possible to sculpt leather by soaking it in water and manipulating it with our hands. We spent the rest of the afternoon making a collection of pink leather flower petals. Fast forward a couple of years and these flowers are a part of UNCUFFED's signature rose leather body harness. This day inspired in me a love of working with leather for small projects, but for Olga, it developed into an entire fashion line, which has been a pretty magical journey for me to witness.
Olga: What’s the latest medium you’ve been exploring?
Nadia: I’ve always been interested in working with natural materials. One reason is that they are free and universally accessible. But I am also interested in working with materials found in nature because it creates a relationship between us and the land. It inspires a sense of awe and wonder as we begin to see the world around us differently. And it also fosters a desire for reciprocity. As we develop a sense of connection and attachment to nature we learn to care for the environment around us, to protect our land and to forage consciously and sustainably.
For my latest project, I’ve been creating a watercolour palette using pigments foraged from nature: rocks, earth, clay, shells, and plants. One of the processes involves grinding minerals down into fine powders and mulling them with tree resin and honey, and the other involves extracting dyes from organic plant matter and precipitating them with metal salts. This collection of colours has felt like a reverent way of documenting place, as I’ve been collecting and painting with pigments made from places where I’ve lived and traveled. You can read more about the process and my thoughts around nature-connection here.
Olga: It’s been a strange and hard year. What are you currently finding comfort in / how are you taking care of yourself?
Nadia: I’ve been taking comfort in creating rituals for myself. Every morning, I do various things to calm the nervous system. I do some chanting or deep breathing and burn handmade incense from foraged rose petals and frankincense or pine resin. Depending on the day, I incorporate various ceremonial plant medicines that lift the mood and open the heart.
When I am feeling dysregulated, I ask my partner to put his hand on my chest and if he’s not around, I tap my fingers along my sternum which stimulates the vagus nerve. In the evenings, I practice TRE (trauma release exercises) which is a form of spontaneous tremoring that helps the body release stress and signals the nervous system that it is okay to deactivate and relax. These are some of the things that have been bringing me comfort during this stressful time.