Malvar=Stewart=Fiber At Its Finest

As I sat and watched  Celeste Malvar-Stewart conduct a felting workshop at the Alternative Fashion Mob’s  Black Friday event last November (I was volunteering), it was all I could do to not go over and join in.  A reality check occurred because I realized that I did NOT need another thing to fall in love with and add more to my creative repertoire…LOL!  However, I was fascinated by what I saw everyone doing AND the final products all of all participants were amazingly gorgeous! That was when I decided she would be put on the ‘short list’ for an interview.  Over the following months, we kept trying to connect.  Finally, several weeks ago, Celeste was able to complete the questionnaire but that lead to another several weeks before we could actually meet in person.
Celeste and her buddy, Metric

Celeste and her buddy, Metric

Despite more winter weather, we got together on a Sunday afternoon at her comfy home in German Village and she graciously provided goodies from Pistacia Vera (that girl knows the way to MY heart!) Our time together went by way too fast for me.  What a lovely and creative lady!
After meeting her pug, Metric, and settling in, we started by talking about her background.  Celeste was born in the Philippines but her family immigrated to San Francisco in the 70’s.  After graduating from high school in San Francisco, she ventured off to London, England because she wanted to live in a city that was BIG (she thought SF was way too small…LOL!) and to study art for four years,  obtaining a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Fashion Design. Originally, she wanted to major in fine art but after much discussion about ‘gainful employment’, she “threw a stone” and ended up in fashion…happily, for the rest of us!
 England was more expensive than she anticipated and after spending her allotted money for school, she moved to Spain (her maternal grandfather was from Barcelona) to attend University of Salamanca and, as she told her parents, get back to her roots.   She lived there for about 9 months to save money and work her way back to London…an experience she relishes and does not regret.  After obtaining her degree, her parents agreed to send her on a trek through Russia, Eastern Block countries, such as Poland, and Germany with a friend who was going on to study in Leningrad.  Initially, she entertained the idea of remaining in Russia but after her travels through these countries, she decided she really wanted to go home to San Francisco.

scarves in process

scarves in process

She began to work in a small clothing store where she began to toy with the idea of creating her own line of clothing.  After finding a designer she thought would be a mentor (he wasn’t–he advised her to climb the corporate ladder), she resigned from the company because,

featured picture in Fiber Art Now

featured picture in Fiber Art Now

as she put it,”when someone tells me not to do something, I’ll do it” From there, she got a job working at a cutting edge architectural firm where she found her true mentor!  Synchronicity!!!  The owner of this establishment encouraged her to work on her dream by being one of the first such companies to have in-house artists.  Here she was able to begin work on her own collection, met many influential people and other artists and created/showed her own line of clothing.  Another in-house artist created her own jewelry and become a nationally known artist so Celeste was definitely getting in on a good thing…she and this artist also formed Celeste’s first collaboration, Duende, where Celeste designed and made the clothing and her friend made all of the hardware (buttons, tags, etc.)

 And, as if that wasn’t enough, it was also where she met her future husband, William!  Another fascinating story about how through chess games on the company’s chess boards (she later found out that he was a top-rated chess player!!) without actually knowing who she was playing. That continued until she lost several games and, in disgust, said through a note that she was done…he then asked her to coffee and she fell head over heels in love with this handsome dredlocked artist!  At that time, he was also a working artist who was showing in galleries throughout San Fran.
In her studio
In her studio
OK, so William wants to marry her but she would only do this if he went back to school to finish his education.  He chose to major in math with no intention of making this into a career (he had previously been majoring in aerospace engineering).  However, synchronicity rears it’s head again and he falls in love with math, gets his degree and goes on to a PhD program.  What does this have to do with Celeste’s interview you ask…well, his degree choices led to several moves…Seattle, Ann Arbor and then NYC where he was a professor at Columbia University.  During these moves, she spent years perfecting her traditional tailoring skills, developing & fine tuning her laminate felting techniques, and obtaining a Master of Science in Textiles along with creating both a women’s and men’s clothing lines. In 2009, while living in NYC,  she founded her home accessories line (MALVAR home) and in 2010 she founded MALVAR=STEWART , a clothing accessories line.
Then in 2012, OSU and Children’s Hospital presented William with an offer that was too good to turn down.  They knew next to nothing about Columbus…where to live, what the city would hold for Celeste, etc. but they went for it.  On a whim, they looked at the house in German Village and again got a real deal (didn’t know William could actually WALK to his job at Children’s from this house!!!)  In July 2013, they left NYC and made the big move to the Midwest, buying a home and settling down.  How fortunate for Columbus !!!! 100_2285
Upon arriving in our fair city, Celeste began to explore the fashion scene here although she didn’t figure she would find anything…she was just going to continue to sell her line in NYC and other major cities.  She attended an AFM meeting (her first meeting with Kelli Martin…anti.label) and decided to show in their Independents’ Day fashion show.  However, her model did not show (disillusioning for your first exposure!)  BUT the manner in which AFM handled this was so professional that Celeste decided to stick with ’em!!!  YAY!  Her designs were later featured in their Red & Threads event at Camelot Cellars, she created a gown for the  Rock the Cure and got to know Kelli better.  They found that they adored each other’s designs and a bond of mutual fashion admiration was formed. This led to Amee (AFM event planner) requesting that she teach the felting workshop in November and her becoming one of the featured designers for the 2014 Alternative Fashion Week’s Finale.  Needless to say she found out that Columbus is a happening place for fashion!


From there we discussed the inspiration for her pieces.   Her exploratory, conscientious and functional textile art is inspired by beauty found in places where one may not expect…an avocado skin, a cricket’s wing, her dog’s curly tail.  “I am moved by people who have the courage to create, and driven by those who believe in me. It has taken me quite some time to even be able to use the word “art” with what I do, but I feel that now my work is at a level where I might allow it!”  She is also inspired by things that are meaningful to her, like her dream job of directing planes onto and off of the runway (flight line marshaller is the technical name for the job)…yes, you read that correctly!!!  What a hoot!!!
After we talked about this, Celeste and I trudged through the snow to her little studio around the corner, the small 19th century brick building right there in German Village within spitting distance of her house!  Again, synchronicity!  OMG…what a great space!  A two story with plenty of room for William to have an office downstairs and Celeste to have a creative area upstairs along with an area that could be used for a retail space.  She took me for a quick tour of the place, showed me some cool things she is looking at doing in the future and gave me a sneak piece of the most gorgeous dress…one piece that will have it’s debut at Alternative Fashion Week in April (and , no, my lips are sealed so I will not divulge what she has created!)  She also envisions this space as acting as a perfect meeting place for like-minded folks to discuss, learn, and have an opportunity to share ideas.
Honestly, I am in awe of her energy level and all of the ideas she has for contributing to and encouraging the artistic and fashion community in Columbus!  I am soooo psyched to see what comes of her ideas and be a part of her ‘community’!celeste ms scarf
We also discussed her newest love… hand-spinning on a drop spindle and she states that she can’t stop doing it! She has spun mostly silk and wool yarn.  She has incorporated these embellishments into her accessories such as scarves and felted pieces.
She sells to small boutiques, and depending on the season (she creates seasonal accessories like doggie Christmas stockings)  her pieces can be found at shops in Ohio, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Michigan. As stated before, she hopes to incorporate a small retail space to sell her clothing, accessories, and collaborative pieces in her German Village studio.  She is psyched about her find and states:  “It is wonderful to create in a space that embodies hand labor and whispers a time when sustainability was a way of living.  If the bricks could talk!”   To celebrate, early in 2014, she plans to have a grand opening soiree at this new studio, which will further extend into a week of workshops, lectures, and textiles and design discussions.
Celeste 2celeste 1
She also looks forward to launching her new line of women’s clothing and accessories at the Alternative Fashion Mob Finale Fashion Show in Columbus in the spring of 2014, where she will also introduce a few pieces from a new collaborative label: M=S + fcT; in keeping with her philosophy of staying local.  Recently, she was excited to have one of her pieces showcased at the International Textiles Exhibition in the historic textiles city of Paterson, New Jersey.  One of her laminate felted scarves (naturally dyed by her collaborator in Detroit, fresh cut TEXTILES) is also featured in the Winter Issue of Fiber Art Now magazine.  Moreover, she just found out that a “never before shown” photo of one of her collaborative pieces – a dinner gown called ROCK – will be featured in the Spring Issue of Fiber Art Now Magazine themed “On The Wild Side.” Since her recent work is very new, she is uber excited to have some exposure nationally.
Collaborating with other ‘amazing’ artists is one of the most enjoyable and humbling paths she has explored in the last year.  She’s had the honor and  privilege of working with a team of artists from different disciplines that are all Filipino descendants, which was not planned but rather just happened organically.  One artist, who is the other half of M=S + fcT, is a natural dyer in Detroit and two others: a photographer and jewelry designer, both in California. “The synergy that could be achieved when working with various artists is one that cannot be realized alone.  I promote collaborations resoundingly!”

One of the most exciting aspects added to my creative process in the last year has been to collaborate with Amanda Cinco-Hoyt of fresh cut TEXTILES in Detroit.  Amanda naturally dyes many of the fabrics in the collections under my label, MALVAR = STEWART, and we recently formed our own label, M=S + fcT, which had its debut in the spring issue of Fiber Art Magazine (On the Wild Side).  We will be showing our first mini collection as well in conjunction with M=S at the Grand Finale Runway show in April. 
After so many years of creating clothing, accessories, and home accessories, I am finally able to really enjoy the exploratory aspect of the way I create.  It’s always been innate, yet I’ve fought it, thinking that my creativity should stay focused in order to be understandable.  Now, I enjoy trying to understand my own work and happy to hope that others understand aspects of it too! My creative process is always evolving, and I’ve become fascinated with breaking my processes down and then recreating from that new place…construction to deconstruction to reconstruction…from fabric to fibre to yarn to fabric.  It seems random, but it’s actually very thoughtfully and carefully orchestrated.
celeste 5
When asked what she envisions for her creations in the future, she definitely has a plan:
One of my goals is to use 100% U.S. made/grown materials – from fibres to fabrics- extending my current sustainable design model.   Using sources from Ohio or within the Midwest would be ideal, for a smaller carbon footprint as well as to support local businesses.  Another project I’ve been throwing around, since working on my Master’s thesis on small U.S. businesses use of post-consumer textiles, is to develop a program that links small designers to local manufacturers, so that they may obtain materials for use in their work.  Through my research, I discovered that many local designers would like to use these “waste” materials which otherwise would likely end up in landfills.  However, they feel like the sources are not easily accessible.
Time flew by and next thing I knew was it was time to leave.  Both Celeste and I decided that one meeting was not enough.  We have plans to get together soon to just gab and get to know each other better on a friendship level rather than as interviewer/interviewee…can’t wait!

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