Artist's Statement

Dario Calmese

Harlem socialite, Lana Turner.

Lana Turner and I were introduced to a few years ago at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem when I was looking for few hats for a fashion story while still in grad school. Upon meeting and chatting with her, I realized quite quickly that it was actually she who needed to be photographed, in her wardrobe, and in her hats… of which there are upwards of 500.

Hat boxes line the top shelf of her personal library and are stacked ceiling-high in her foyer; each labeled and organized by colour and content. Her gowns and gloves are meticulously stored with tissue paper and ribbon, each with a label indicating where and when she wore it, at times with a note about who she met. “It’s like being amongst friends,” she says while sifting through a lacquered box full of millinery.

But a strange thing began to occur. Over the years, I observed that Ms. Turner, who describes dressing as her artistic medium, or “painting the body canvas” as she likes to call it, began to actually abstract herself. What began as the process of Sunday presentation, over time began to exaggerate itself. Traditional veiled felt hats transitioned to umbrella-shaped fascinators, and then 3-D printed helmets. Simple lace gloves morphed into 3-tiered satin gauntlet creations.

Styled by me, exclusively using Ms. Turner’s existing wardrobe, this series seeks to dig deeper into the idea of the Black Church being an activator for not only imagination but a crucible for the construction of self.