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Desiree Klein SS16 Shampoo Ginger presentation Fruitmilk
Désirée Klein SS16 Shampoo Ginger presentationPhotography Roman Koval, via

The LA duo bringing food fights to fashion

Fruitmilk are the California-based concept studio blending the lines between art, fashion and food – they explain what drives their uncanny vision

With installations that stand somewhere between fashion, food and art, concept studio, gallery and online store Fruitmilk highlights some of the most unusual creatives in LA, giving them the opportunity to present their work in more engaging ways than the traditional pop-up or gallery format. With founders Kelynn Smith and Pauline Shaw pulling from archival images of Japanese runway collections, ceramics, and 1970s interiors, Fruitmilk’s references are as diverse as their creative family is dynamic. Members range from clothing designer Désirée Klein, who they recently collaborated with to create a live presentation where models dyed their own garments with fruit, to bondage-inspired jewellery maker Misha Gill, whose work informed the modular architecture of a recent install.

Can you explain what the different components of Fruitmilk are as a company?

Pauline Shaw and Kelynn Smith: We function as a shoppable gallery in our online shop or our physical pop-ups. We work as a creative studio and offer event programming, creative direction, and brand representation and consulting.

How would you characterise the work being made by your friends or creative family, specifically?

Pauline Shaw and Kelynn Smith: A lot of the ideas that we’re all working with lately have to do with manipulating the situation in which an object exists, confrontation of what’s uncomfortable, uneasy, grotesque or uncanny, questioning digital landscapes vs "real life.”

How does that translate to your installations?

Pauline Shaw and Kelynn Smith: We want visitors at our pop-ups to question what is a commodity vs. what is strictly display. Our last installation "PAR ~" featured wooden planks that had been warped into an uncomfortable squiggle and tall pedestals with super clean lines that we corrupted with these gross melting foam blobs. One of our jewelry lines, Misha Gill, creates these pieces that are so non-delicate, reminiscent of BDSM gear or exaggerated piercings. She just started getting these gold plated and they are incredible. Our clothing by Keyla Marquez and even our in-house line SP~KS has a lot of references to constraint and bondage. Kelynn works on a separate project with our graphic designer Symrin Chawla that centers around this kind of imagery and even in Pauline's own personal sculpture practice she's dealing with some shapes and materials that could straddle that line as well.

Many of your projects have an interdisciplinary approach, for example your snack scavenger hunt that was a part of a pop-up clothing shop. Where do you see the connection between food, fashion, and art in your work?  

Kelynn Smith: Our scavenger hunt was part of our very first pop-up store installation that we did at BOLDroom in DTLA. That installation was a lot of concrete and wood and some of the work we were showing was also made of similar raw mediums. We set this space up more like a traditional "shop" with clothing hanging on racks and fixtures. But we had incorporated lots of teeny little areas of display for smaller sellable art objects. During the scavenger hunt we had our close friend Karena Chan create little bites that almost resembled the display; tiny cubes of JELL-O that looked like concrete, or little pyramids of chocolate with gold leaf that sat with the jewelry, petri dish salads next to plexi display boxes. Visitors were encouraged to move throughout the space and had to really question which items were actually edible, some of the dishes she made were so lovely you almost didn’t want to eat them!

Pauline Shaw: I guess it all goes into these same ideas of “presentation”. Food is such an integral part of our society, not only for sustenance, but it’s become such a phenomenon, the many “food porn” pics, the glamorisation of star chefs, and you see that translated into all these events that you go to – I’m definitely guilty of going or not going to something because I know the event is or isn’t going have tasty snacks.

What is your favorite Fruitmilk project you’ve worked on thus far?

Kelynn Smith: I loved creating our “Shampoo Ginger” presentation for Désirée Klein's SS16 preview. As soon as we saw Désirée’s first working samples we immediately wanted to do something centered around the pieces in this raw state and show them in muslin. We started thinking about a live performance aspect and ended up casting a bunch of beautiful friends and acquaintances as our ‘mannequins’. We created more jelly snacks and got so much fruit. We built islands within Désirée’s shop where the fruit was spilling out and over like a painting of a bountiful cornucopia, or as Pauline kept calling it "a fantasy feast of Dionysus," which I love. Our 'mannequins' eventually dug into the fruit and JELL-O mix and made a big drippy mess, I think a food fight even broke out at some point in the midst of partygoers at the event. The fruit juice stained each muslin garment in such an amazing pattern, an organic freestyle tie dye. It was our first time dressing live models, and again it incorporated food with this sort of uneasiness around the squishy/mushy/wet fruit juices on the stiff unfinished muslin pieces.

“Our ‘mannequins’ eventually dug into the fruit and JELL-O mix and made a big drippy mess... The fruit juice stained each muslin garment in such an amazing pattern, an organic freestyle tie dye” – Kelynn Smith

Where do you see the difference between the creative work you’ve seen happening in LA vs. New York?

Kelynn Smith: I don’t feel we really think much about the type of work being made as we do about the environment in which it gets made. The cities are just two totally different cultures to exist in. I think LA has more of a willingness to gravitate to something newer faster before it ever gets a seal of approval. New York has a bit more of a hierarchy in place so the trajectory is just different. Of course there is lots of crossover, so many of young artists are grappling with similar issues, all trying to come to some understanding of how to make work considering the current global climate.

Do you think what you both studied in school prepared you for Fruitmilk?

Kelynn Smith: I don’t think we even thought of it as a job or a job title thing, we were just like, let’s do something we love that makes us happy in spite of necessary day job melancholy. I studied fashion business and cultural theory, it was definitely well rounded enough but I don’t think anything truly prepares a young person for starting their own business aside from the real world experience you get from working in the field and putting in your time.

Pauline Shaw:  I studied sculpture at RISD, I think it helps just because I like to create these mini storylines in my head that aren't really relevant to any real world application, but to think about all our iterations of Fruitmilk in these imaginary ways make each project fun.