Artist Interview

Shedding Light on Cari Borja, clothing designer

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cari blog shot

Cari Borja has been in the business of making spectacular outfits since 2000.

In 2006 we became friends when I was in need of a very special piece for a big jewelry opening, and I commissioned her to make something.

In addition to a beautiful jacket, a beautiful friendship ensued. Here are a few snippets from a recent conversation;

Where did you start out in life?

I was born in an Army hospital in Shirley, MA… but I was conceived in Oahu!

What’s your first light memory?

Roller-skating. The disco ball and laser shows, the shadows. Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker’s light saber. And strangely that all came together at Roll-On-America in Leominster, Massachusetts.

Light has always been about reflections mirrored, illuminated and refracted. Whether it was the rhinestones on my roller-skating outfits refracted in someone’s face, the broken glass of the disco ball at the roller-rink during couples skate, illuminating those going by, or the glass windows of the skate shop that reflected the state of your hair during practice sessions… all of this, dependent on light and its rays.

You’re a designer – what do you remember as the first project you ever built?

The first art project memory I have is of a nativity scene collection I built when I was about 7 or 8 years old. There were very elaborate painted details on the folds of the garments and the faces of the children playing their parts…

Tell us a little about your philosophy and your work background.

Thinking about art, before vs after children, the importance of practicality – my mantra = DO MORE, BE MORE, DO/BE…

The biggest fear is losing your memory – recognizing the importance of doing with your own hands to help retain memory before it fades. It makes me think of the Kierkegaard quote:

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

I think about the way we layer memory and the importance of documentation, and the necessity of circling back around. 

What’s the most fun part of what you do?

Hmm… I think of that Twyla Tharp quote that has to do with the everyday… which is especially true right now with developing my FashionFilmFood blog, but for sure in my clothes over the past decade…

Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, use it.

~ Twyla Tharp


[Mariano] Fortuny. Madeleine Vionnet. [her daughter] Royal! I learned a lot about color dressing Royal, via Baby Gap. Baby Gap was really the first with the fabulous sensibility of particular color combinations. That inspired me – especially for adults – those combinations had really only been used for kiddos until then.

What influences you most?

My influences are structurally organic. Punctum – the element within a photo that makes it *ART* rather than mere documentation… The infinite possibilities of reading, unlimited options available – which one to choose? – possibilities and unknowingness.

Thoughts on your business, describe Cari Borja in 2020.

Focused, traveling, doing everything that I love, with intervals of elsewhere… and books written, collections made, salon dinners around the world. 

Be sure to check out Cari’s fabulous new blog FashionFilmFood to read about all of her latest adventures!


Shedding light on Gil Stancourt, Lighting Designer

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By Deb Durant 

In November 2013, Gil and I began scouring salvage yards for the materials that would later become the focal elements of our collaborative project. In the subsequent months, the project has been developing nicely, so we took some time out to sit down and discuss his thoughts on process, inspiration, and how – at the end of the day – it all gets done.

Where did you start out in life?

On the Long Island Sound – in Huntington, New York.

What’s your first light memory?

Lightning bugs. We’d collect them in a jar – it was fun to see how many we could catch – (typically never more than 5 or 6). We’d just stare at them, endlessly, flying around the jar. I guess it was our version of a redneck lava lamp.

You’re a lighting designer – what was the first project you built?

The first lamp I actually built was made from an Almandine Wine bottle. I’d bought a “Lamp Building Kit” at the local hardware store. It turned out to be nothing more than a pre-wired socket with a cork jammed in it. I kept that lamp for 10 years…

Tell us a little about your philosophy and your work background.

Two sentences: ‘finding new ways to bring old things back to life’ and ‘if you can stack it on a stick, you can turn it into a lamp’. I’ve made a life out of building things from other people’s castoffs. When I was younger and still living at home, I’d announce “I’m going to the dump”, and my parents would cringe because they knew that meant I’d be coming home with more than I left with.

Back in the ‘80’s I noticed that salvage yards and antique shops were charging an arm and a leg compared to what I could find and put together myself, so that’s how my business was born. And here it is 30 years later.  I wake up every day looking forward to what cool thing I get to make next. My shop was one of the first small lighting shops in the Bay Area with a full production studio. It turns out I wasn’t as interested in making production pieces though, what I really wanted to focus on was one-of-a-kind pieces.

OK, tell us. What’s your best trash picking find ever?

Hmmm, tough one. There’ve been a lot of good ones. My best though would probably be a series of fixtures I built from old kitchen appliances, incorporating the old mechanisms into functional new lighting switches. It sounds simple and looked the same as in the original state, but was actually pretty tricky to get right. Using materials in unexpected ways, not the way they were intended to be used – I love that.

What’s the most fun part of what you do?

This one’s easy: lighting a lamp for the first time. It doesn’t matter what project I’m working on or how long I’ve worked on it, that moment when you see it lit up for the first time…


Sometimes, out in the world, I’ll just see a line. Anything can spur an idea. Salvage yards. Glass. I started making my own a few years ago. Now, I’ll make a glass shade and it will end up dictating what kind of fixture it becomes.

I had no formal art training – I dropped out of school at 16 and am completely self- taught. I taught myself how to learn. This route can lead to a lot of insecurity, because society isn’t handing you proof of your achievements, or even acknowledging you.

It took a really long time to accept the idea of calling myself an artist. A client once called my work art and I said, No, it’s not art. But he corrected me, he said, Yes, it is, and you’re an artist. That moment really affected me – it was a pivotal moment.

What styles influence you most?

My influences are largely organic. I don’t aspire to emulate anyone. I like looking, but they’ve already done what they do. Generally speaking, I do like the lines of Nouveau period. Also Mission, which came out of Empire but straightened all the lines. Also the heaviness but flow of Empire…

Thoughts on your business, now 30 years later?

I feel blessed waking up every day getting to do what I love. In the past, I’ve had office jobs that made my stomach twist in a knot just thinking about starting my day. It was soul sucking, really. But now, to tell you the truth, I don’t even feel like I’m working while I do this.