1+1=1, a footwear and handbag collection from Brooklyn-based Jaipur designer Saumya Sharma, is a study in functionality. The pieces, which Sharma made herself by hand, are at first art objects. They are unwearable until the viewer/wearer pulls the tab that unstitches the opening. From there they can continue to customize the fit and fall of the piece.

It’s a strange, at times absurdly funny collection that demonstrates the interplay between form and function. Kajal spoke with the designer about how 1+1=1 came about.

Kajal: How did you first conceptualize the collection?

Saumya Sharma: I’ve always been interested in our interaction patterns with everyday objects, and wanted to create a collection of wearable items that kind of defy their own purpose. I was inspired by ideas of Dada, where the viewer’s expectations are taken and thrown back at them in a distorted way. The silhouette of a pair of boots that are connected to each other was stuck in my head, and I took that as a starting point.

I wanted to break down the “essence” of fashion objects we wear everyday and question their function and go from there. So the conceptualization process sounded a lot like “what makes a handbag a handbag?” or “what happens if you can’t really wear a beautiful pair of shoes?” But I didn’t want to limit it to the shock value, I wanted to give the viewer a chance to spend more time with these objects, and that’s when the interaction aspect came into the picture. And it was important to me that the alteration process be a one-time-act, so that once you have changed the form of the object, you can’t really go back to the original.

Photos by Sambit Biswas

This point is that you, as the viewer, are intended to have the final say in the process of these pieces. You have the choice to alter the shape of these objects, and decide whether they need to be worn or not. Once you have made that choice, you can’t really change it back. Some of the pieces will invite you to rip apart their seams to make them wearable, and unless you do that, you can’t really wear them.

What inspired the color palette? I feel like there’s an interplay between the brightness and colors of single use plastic (like juice jugs, plastic bags, etc.) and these pieces.

That is a very interesting observation! I think that for me it was important to keep the colors solid, to emphasize on the silhouette of the pieces and on the entirety of their form, rather than the details. The use of solid color brings attention to the space filled by each piece, and if you notice, they are based on the primary color palette. The colors would play a part in making you interested at first, so you would take a further look at the objects. But the thing with color is so interesting because everyone has their own experiences that give meaning to how we see certain colors and I’m always intrigued to hear how the same thing has different impacts on different people.

There’s a duality to the customization ability and the action of pulling out the thread, which reminds me of ripping off the plastic seal on a packet of food or picking the stitches that seal a pocket shut on a new suit – customizing the item means it loses its sort of “everymanness” or its ability to be used again in the same way. Are you invoking an investment the wearer has to put into the piece before wearing it? Is that a commentary on fast fashion and quick use or single use waste?

Yes! Absolutely. That was another angle to the whole process of interaction between the object and the viewer/wearer. I wanted there to be a choice, so there is a moment where you decide to change the form of the object. That forces you to step out of the cycle and think about the life of a piece in your wardrobe. I wanted to talk about the undeniable pile of stuff that is manufactured but maybe never bought, or bought but never worn.

There is also an interplay between art and fashion in this collection – you can’t just admire the piece as an art piece, you have to interact with it. Just like a page having a perforated edge that begs to be ripped, these pieces also invite the viewer to become the wearer. 

It is definitely done on purpose. I love to see our interaction with everyday objects and how, over time it becomes quite mindless. We don’t really think about how or why a fork or a toothbrush, or even a pair of shoes, looks the way it does or functions in a certain way. We get used to interacting with these things. So the first step was to catch someone’s attention and alert them that maybe ‘something’s off.’ So I designed these objects in a way that breaks our internal idea or expectation of them and nudges us to look again. And I also wanted to explore concepts of “work in progress,” and the value of alteration in the process of construction itself. At what point is a piece considered finished and do you, as a wearer, have a role in its completion? In fact, the viewer becomes the wearer, by choice.

I was born in Jaipur, and that’s where I grew up as well. I now live in Brooklyn. A lot of my work is about breaking things down to their very core and having fun with what you get from that process. It’s kind of like taking something and peeling its layers, especially in terms of how we are told to interpret and see it. This collection was a play on that approach as well. I think there is something that jolts us back into consciousness when we see absurdity with a certain familiarity. It is all about expectations.

You can watch the fashion film that accompanies the collection at Film Noir Cinema in New York City Friday, January 14. RSVP here.