One-of-a-Kind art isn’t limited to gallery walls and sculpture gardens. What we wear can also be a canvas for artistic expression—especially if it’s a piece from Boulder-based Krimson Klover’s new fall line. Six styles from the latest knitwear collection—tunics and dresses—sport nature-inspired designs that begin as original paintings by artists and end up hand-painted on each garment. The collection, though, has been years in the making; Krimson Klover founder Rhonda Swenson walks us through how one shirt was born.
In 1998, classically trained artist Cai Ning traveled through Europe, living in Germany for more than a year. Every day, he would visit the local museum and paint. While there, his work was discovered by an Italian fashion designer who pondered how the design might transfer to fabric, and an idea was born.
In 2000, Cai and his sister, Catherine, opened a company in Shenzhen, China, committed to creating hand-painted textiles. What started with a small circle of 20 painters and employees has grown into a large, 400-person cooperative of Chinese artists from some of the world’s top art and design schools.
Four years ago at a New York City yarn show, Krimson Klover’s Swenson spotted garments that shared their designs with the paintings hanging beside them. “It played on a time-honored tradition of textile design and artistry,” Swenson says. She tracked down the artists’ factory—Cai’s Shenzhen facility—and launched the company’s first hand-painted line in the fall of 2013.
Today, Swenson works with Cai and his team to produce hand-painted collections twice a year for Krimson Klover’s spring and fall lines. Taking a shirt from conceptual art to final product is an involved process.After Cai and his colleagues settle on a theme, the artists (two to four are involved per season) create designs for a collection (one that Cai will sell to both Krimson Klover and other clients). Then the artists recreate the designs as three-foot-by-five-foot paintings. The canvases become the archetype for an assembly line of artists who paint the images directly on garments. Swenson then selects her favorites. If she wants to tweak the colors, she and her staff adjust the hues in PhotoShop. The Chinese artists then use the new color scheme when painting Krimson Klover’s collection.
This new tunic, called “The Garden Party,” from Krimson Klover’s fall line features an impressionistic interpretation of trees in a foggy setting. While Krimson Klover typically selects designs from the factory’s in-house, artist-conceived collection—which, on average, includes 100 original pieces per season—this one was Swenson’s brainchild (it’s based on an original piece she purchased from a New York artist). More than 25 artists replicated it with eco-friendly fabric dye on close to 400 tunics.
Last month, Krimson Klover’s fall line—and its six hand-painted designs, including “The Garden Party”—arrived at Blue Ruby, Title Nine, and Kioti in Denver and Bella A Boutique in Arvada. The pieces, $198 each, are also available via Krimson Klover’s website. krimsonklover.com