Since 2009, Jacinda Martinez has been creating her series Fashion in the Raw, sewing or braiding chard, radicchio, celery, cabbage, and much more, into complex dress forms. Parsley sprigs line up into a skirt; radishes form a bikini top, their tips threaded into a necklace; prickly layers of leaves and vines sweep dramatically around a model’s nude body.
It is important to Martinez that these vegetables have bolted, come from a compost pile, or are otherwise unsuitable for consumption. “I don’t want to waste food but give it a second life,”she states. In her earliest photographs the models pose in nature, intensifying the suggestion of fecundity and growth. Martinez’s creations act as nurturing armor of abundance and generosity.
These are not just vegan versions of Lady Gaga’s raw meat dress or its 1987 feminist precursor by Jana Sterbak. Other artists creating plant-based dresses generally adhere to a standardized dress format and don’t subscribe to Martinez’s recycling impulse or put their creations to the test of wearability.
Martinez’s motivation and artwork eloquently speak of her personal journey. She was born in Brooklyn to a health-conscious Danish mother who ran a fabric and craft shop, and a father from the Dominican Republic who worked with high fashion trimmings in Manhattan’s garment district. “My parents are fabric people,” Martinez says.“There was always fabric around when I grew up.”
As a young adult, she expanded the range of her interests and artistic expressions by studying psychology and art (“with a hint of feminism”), taking weaving classes and apprenticing with a Scottish basket weaver who grows her own willows, and by working on organic farms, including three years as head farmer at Rockland’s award-winning restaurant Primo.
These transformative experiences have inspired Martinez to work in circles: growing, making, recycling. Although she feels closest to the creative dressing part of her process—“I crave making the dresses,” Martinez admits, “it’s like a catharsis to me”—the photography is increasingly important too.
Four years ago she began photographing inside barns and now shoots in a studio—a far cry from the plein air of earlier work where lighting control was limited. Current dress pieces are also more sculptural and the images themselves more deliberately composed. Each image is proof of Martinez’s attunement to the plants’ properties and growth patterns, and the models’ body type and appearance. Martinez feels female bodies offer creative possibilities; that women convey greater intimacy and vulnerability than men. A willingness to become vulnerable is certainly required from the models. Wearing cucumber and squash vines on your naked body provides questionable comfort.
It is probably not obvious to the non-gardener that the plants are beyond their prime. The lush images still evoke nature’s fertility and may bring to mind painter Sandro Botticelli’s barely clad, willowy maidens in his Allegory of Spring(ca. 1482). It may be more appropriate though to think of Martinez’s works as vanitas, reminders of mortality. In fact, Martinez is now combining fresh and desiccated materials and just started to rephotograph a particular dress and model while the plant is decaying. However, the works are always gorgeous, inventive, and respectful of the women, their privacy and individual form, as well as the vegetables. These images capture a primal interconnectedness of all things natural in which humans can take on a nurturing and sustaining role.