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Farr Bryant on Color, Creativity, and Strength

STORY BY RACHEL SCHWARTZMANN –  PHOTOS BY KATIE JAMESON FOR THE STYLE LINE

Farr Bryant blends creativity and color seamlessly. We

first met the Austin-based style maven earlier this summer while we were in town for our 4th birthday party celebrations. Perched behind the counter at Olive, the city’s beloved contemporary fashion destination and one of our interviewees, we were immediately taken with Farr’s friendly spirit and colorful style. Needless to say, we kept in touch with Farr, and upon inviting her to participate in today’s story, we soon learned that her penchant for color stems beyond her love of aesthetics. In fact, you could even say that Farr’s bold approach to life (and style) originates from a place of strength.

As you’ll discover more of in this story, Farr tragically lost her mother Selby at an early age but found solace in her mother’s unmatched curiosity for the world around her. Over time, Farr has slowly unearthed chapters of Selby’s incredible life and story – and moved by Selby’s inherent creativity – Farr has made it her mission to cultivate that same, warmth (and of course, color) in her home today.

Coupling this with her work as a creative, Farr has also found a way to create a space in her life to honor her mother’s memory – as she eloquently put it in our interview below, “It feels hopeless to come to terms with the fact that you’ve lost a part of yourself. I felt disappointed in myself that I hadn’t created something as visually meaningful as my mother’s clothes and I truly wanted to feel worthy of being her daughter. So, Selby Now began – my very own clothing and home goods line.”

Speaking more to the above, we’re honored to have been invited into Farr’s colorful world, where she kindly shared more of her story, her thoughts on creativity’s role in some of the world’s bigger conversations, and the common thread that runs throughout her sartorial and interior style. Get to know Farr below and enjoy exclusive and beautifully-captured photos from our time together by Katie Jameson for The Style Line.

“The amount of joy I get from simply being next to a color is irrational and I can’t quite explain it. Sometimes I’ll just put my hand up to a colorful wall and pretend to absorb some of the potency and strength of that color.”

I am and always will be a kooky mix of things: I am

an artist, an expert on late 19th-century wallpaper, an avid Elvis fan, a collector of 80’s plastic dinnerware, a New Englander playing at being a cowgirl in Texas, and someone who would take looking interesting overlooking fashionable any old day.

But first and foremost, I am the proud president of the self-created Color Cult. I am always hunting for a striking color everywhere and anywhere. However, I believe the most defining thing about myself is that I am without a doubt my mother’s daughter. She died when I was 9, yet I feel she had formed every inch of me ever since. There was a while when no one really talked about her and I stomped in and demanded that change. So now I won’t shut up about her. I’ve had many people think she is still alive because that is how animated I get when discussing her. Imagine the most forthright, sassy, strong-willed, artistic, intrinsically stylish and insanely beautiful woman and that’s my momma, Selby!

She is so much of my identity and I am so proud that that is the case. She always was my inspiration but I didn’t quite realize how ingrained she was in my emotions, personality, and style until I spent a long week pouring over several boxes containing these letters she had both received and written spanning from the early 1970’s till her death in 2000. It was an insane experience, to say the least. It is such a weird insight to acquire on your parent – one that is almost never achieved. In a strange way, I felt like I was reborn and became her through reading old love letters and correspondences with her closest friends and now estranged family members. I got to hold the ticket stub from a train she took in Burma in the ’80s and gaze at a photo of her in khakis in front of a palace in Budapest. I found pattern doodles from high school and every ID card she had ever had with every iteration of her hairstyles and eyebrow plucking. I got to know her lovers, friends, siblings, and parents from her perspective and it was equal parts difficult and beautiful. Within those boxes were remnants of this clothing line she had in the ’80s which she had ended as soon as she started having babies. I found her original line sheets, fabric samples, pattern sketches, even letters handwritten back and forth between her and a buyer at Barney’s department store. Then the spark was really planted and I went searching through our attic to find her fabrics and uncovered not only pieces from her clothing line but her hang-tags and even reams of unused fabric. Through her letters I discovered that during a trip in the early ’80s with her boyfriend (who I later reconnected with because he randomly lived in the office above the auction house I worked for) to Thailand.

She worked with local woman to create unique dyes for Thai silk and linen she had sourced. She then brought all this material back with her to Nashville. She was a printmaking major in college so she used screenprinting techniques to transfer patterns onto the material. Her best friend told me that my mom used to batik dye in her bathtub of her apartment. I love picturing her all covered in dye and brushing her hair back from her freckly face.

Anyways, I was overcome with this sense of awe and excitement over seeing and physically touching this material she had created. Then the sense of loss set in and I was pretty incapacitated for some time. It feels hopeless to come to terms with the fact that you’ve lost a part of yourself. I felt disappointed in myself that I hadn’t created something as visually meaningful as my mother’s clothes and I truly wanted to feel worthy of being her daughter. So, Selby Now began – my very own clothing and home goods line. I started just on a lark. I was looking at all this densely vibrant silk and linen that had just sat in boxes untouched for 15 years and I knew I needed to breathe life back into them. I wanted to pick up where Selby had left off. I had no background in screen printing and instead decided to just start hand painting the fabric. I didn’t really intend to take it any further than making painted wall murals out of the fabric but I was given a tremendous amount of support and encouragement from a few female friends to try and turn the fabric into clothing.

I hesitated at first because I didn’t know the first thing about sewing but I told myself that I didn’t have to share anything with anyone if I didn’t like it. So, I pulled my grandmother’s old Iron Swinger out of the barn and taught myself to sew. I didn’t start with traditional clothing patterns, I just thought about what I would want to wear and set out to make it. Clothes were always a significant part of my identity and I think after years of wearing and stylizing pieces I just intuitively knew what shapes I wanted to create. Now here I am making these pieces as a way to not only create but maintain a relationship with the one person I feel the closest to but who is gone. Selby lives on because I need her to. She is who drives me and who makes me want to be creative. Through her, I have come to understand that what I truly value: honestly, humor, warmth, a nurturing nature, intuition, and being apologetically bold and colorful.

“Clothes were always a significant part of my identity… Now here I am making these pieces as a way to not only create but maintain a relationship with the one person I feel the closest to but who is gone.”

What an incredible story, and it makes sense especially as it relates to your love for color. How does it fuel your motivation when it comes to personal style and interior style?

I’m a Cancer so I’m the most sensitive little thing ever. I absorb everything, it all just seeps in one way or another. What exacerbates it is that I’ve always been an aesthetically motivated person and as silly as it sounds I’ve come to my obsession with color very much as a form of self-therapy. My father always told me growing up that some people are more sensitive to color and that my mother would go gaga over certain colors and no one ever understood why. He would say that I’m the exact same way. After being in NY for years I just felt stifled and overwhelmed and like I had to keep my inclinations especially when it came to clothes and the way I presented myself in check. That broke my heart a little bit. Austin is like The Two Girls of Rochefort (1967) or Girl Happy (1965), it’s technicolor compared to NY. Everywhere you turn there is some weird lost patch of paint in a crazy color or a house painted like a watermelon. I think I just felt so at home here so quickly because in a strange way coming to this colorful city was like returning home to me. I got to be washed in color constantly. And now, when I feel sad or overwhelmed or uninspired I will literally go on color quests which could be as simple as walking around my neighborhood and finding a crazy colored old playground or an abandoned warehouse that is the most luscious shade of yellow. The amount of joy I get from simply being next to a color is irrational and I can’t quite explain it. Sometimes I’ll just put my hand up to a colorful wall and pretend to absorb some of the potency and strength of that color.  And then I guess that just translated into the way I dress. The richer and more vibrant the color the better. I want it all!

I think my advice when thinking about fashion and interior design is that it doesn’t have to be one thing. Your closet (and certainly not your home) doesn’t and shouldn’t need to have a concrete finite label. I am not one particular thing so neither can my style or my design aesthetic be. I embrace the fact that my style is a hodge-podge. It is an accumulation of all the time periods, places I’ve been, people I’ve loved, and fascination I’ve had. My closet is primarily vintage at this point and in the same regard so is most of my furniture. As kids, we would get hauled off in our parent’s Volvo every week to some antique mall or flea market. I hated it as a kid but now that’s what I do almost every day off. I’m addicted to the treasure hunt! As a result, I like creating spaces that have unique and weird objects from different time periods, and then working to combine them all in a coherent and interesting way that isn’t just Mid-Century, or Art Deco or Memphis – it is a whole new thing, all of its own!

With the above question in mind, what are your thoughts on the synergy between fashion and interior style and do you feel you have a similar approach to both your wardrobe and interior preferences?

I feel inherently rooted in my aesthetic persona both in fashion and interior design because of my upbringing. My mother was an artist and designer and my father collects 18th Century British Militaria. Plus, both my parents in their own right are insanely stylish people. When you grow up in a house with purple velvet curtains, collections of pink luster ceramics, antique dueling pistols on the kitchen table and swords in the umbrella rack you are going to end up with some style manifested in you. I also believe that when you move as many times as I did as a child (13 times) you learn to cherish your home and the items inside which bring you comfort and ground you. I think the only issue that comes with growing up with style oozing from every corner of your life is identifying your own personal style. For me, this took some time and honestly I only really feel like I’ve just reached a place of utter joy style-wise because the way I am dressing (and creating the space I live in)  is at long last truly unfettered me. Color is the root of all of this. I spent 3 years living in Brooklyn before moving to Austin and felt so suffocated working in design jobs where everyone was expected and encouraged to be neutral and even worst dress in all black. That, in my opinion, is the least inventive stance you can make. I would show up to work in some crazy red jumpsuit and immediately felt like everyone wanted me to temper myself and that tore me apart. Here in Austin, I’ve found that everyone is a little haphazard in the way they dress. Nothing is too thought out which I appreciate. Style should be intrinsic and intuitive. When you think too much about it that is when the self-censoring comes in and that is no good. Here I get to dress the way I want without feeling judgment or ridicule. If I want to dress like a prairie girl no one minds, rather they smile, and that has allowed my imagination to run wild.

Working at Olive must also inspire your penchant for bold aesthetics. Would you agree? How do you think Austin, in general, inspires your life and style?

I’m such an Olive fangirl I can’t even begin to express what a magical place it is. I kid you not Olive was the first place I went to when I came to visit Austin for the first time. When I moved here I knew I had to be a part of it. Then I ran into Laura, the owner, and was dressed like a pastel-clad old lady with a polka dot fetish and we hit it off. People want to be a part of the world that Laura has created with Olive because it oozes personality, color, and character. I can’t name another store that has a cobalt blue fringe curtain.

“We are at a place in history where everything seems uncertain and I believe creativity is not only how we can ground ourselves but also how we can come together to build communities.”

People walk in and gasp, it’s that unique and playful. She makes bold, incentive decisions and that translates to what clothes, shoes, and jewelry she picks for the store. They are all the vibrant colors, and quirky silhouettes that I believe others would be intimidated by but instead she embraces them and that is what I love about her and Olive.

I joke that I feel like I am going home when I go to work because the store is so stunning and dynamic I couldn’t have dreamed up a more idyllic environment. Laura is like a rainbow, there are no two ways around it, she makes me smile every time I see her and I believe people want to be a part of Olive because of all the goodness, genuineness and good vibes (as silly as that sounds) which she puts out in the world. 

Talk to us about a few of your go-to independent or local (clothing) designers. If you could choose any three to design interiors who would you want to furnish your home and why?

Dusen Dusen: DUH! I’m like halfway to living in an all Dusen dwelling with all the clothes I’ve hoarded by her over the years. I feel like Ellen has a sense of humor when it comes to fashion and man oh man, the Pattern Police would stop dead in their tracks when faced with the sensational prints she produces. She isn’t just creating designs she is delighting in her designs and that is so incredibly worthwhile. Her prints would transition so beautifully to wallpaper, carpet, curtains, upholstery, and I would give anything to have an interior completely covered in those colorful colliding patterns.

Eloi: Paige is a local Austin gal and I met her maybe the second month after I moved here and took one look at her scarves and felt an instant pang of jealousy because I thought for a second, “I wish I had made this”. Her stuff is that good! It’s playful, it’s colorful as all getup, and I just cannot stop smiling when I see her creations. I have two of her scarves and was like how do I get this on my body? So I whipped up a makeshift crop top from one of her silk-cotton blend scarves and viola an outfit was born! I can pretend to be wearing clothes in this balmy Texas heat but also be wearing a piece of art. I could gush about Eloi forever. Plus, I’m the most curious person ever so when I asked what the name was and Paige told me it was the name of an alien race from some 1970’s space thriller I was like I abdicate any cool points I thought I had and give them all to this girl. She is amazing and I feel like she would design an interior straight out of my favorite movie The Queen of Outer Space(1958) with pink chaise lounges, lime green shag carpet, and chrome chandeliers!

 

Faris: It’s architecture for your ears! Need I say more? Plus she has a hashtag that is #FarisJewelersDayOff. Only a gosh darn genius would think of that! Jewelry was always kinda unapproachable to me growing up. It was either to fussy or too bulky. I found Faris maybe 5 years ago and I literally stopped in my tracks. A Faris piece is so recognizable that it just simply cannot be mistaken for anything else. I could imagine her designing the most serene, tactile interior complete with metal sculpted chairs with inlay pearl details and geometric-shaped side-tables and credenzas quietly conversing in every corner.

What is one question you wish people asked you more often?

Who are your style role models?
Zsa Zsa Gabor: If you don’t know the magic that is Zsa Zsa, you are missing out. Go find yourself a copy of How to Catch A Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get rid of a Man and settle in to get sucked into the most majestic, witty, and captivating wormhole that is the Gabor family.

Jerry Lewis: He does primary color better than Godard in my opinion. Plus he is the unofficial Monarch of Mustard. Watch Ladies Man (1961) if you need a color buzz!

Elvis Presley: Before 1968 of course – that is my Elvis cutoff! Even for a girl who loves herself a jumpsuit 70’s Elvis is too much. 50’s and 60’s Elvis though is insanely charming and has the most vibrant sense of style. He required that for all his movie he was dressed in punchy colors like red, purple, yellow as he felt these enhanced his dark features. Plus his temperament for very high-waisted pants (little-known fact: he didn’t like his belly button showing so all his costumes including swimsuits were made with a high waistline to cover up his belly button) and shocking color combos (his favorite being pink and black) make me weak in the knees.

Dolly Parton: She modeled her look after her childhood town tramp and is darn proud of it too. I truly admire that she is well aware of her gaudy style but never apologizes. She isn’t dumb, she is just being her unapologetic self! Now, cue her 1967 hit Dumb Blonde!

 

My brother Bingham: He is a filmmaker and when I saw his first film For The Plasma at BAM Cinefest a few years back I kept continually gasping in excitement. Not only did he write and direct the movie, he also did all the art direction and costumes. I had a weird pang of jealousy after seeing the movie because he had created the most interesting but also the unexpected pairing of patterns and colors for the female characters. He combined pieces from our mother’s closet but mostly found and thrifted pieces from different eras to create a wardrobe that is not only enviable but unlinked to any specific decade and therefore undefinable and that blew my mind.

How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and what role do you hope your many design endeavors play in this shift?

I believe now more than ever art and creativity need to be embraced and encouraged. Art is therapy and whatever form that brings forth be it the way you dress the painting one does, the creation of a short film, the way you curate your Instagram even, is a way of expressing oneself and one’s imagination which is very necessary right now. We are at a place in history where everything seems uncertain and I believe creativity is not only how we can ground ourselves but also how we can come together to build communities. We need to feel connected more than ever and even more so as women, I believe. There is so much that can tear us apart and we need to express, to emote, to find joy, and creativity can and will bring that about if you nurture and embrace it!

How would you advise the next generation to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love?

I’m a sap and my favorite childhood book was Miss Rumphius (1982) which follows the retelling of a grandmother’s travels to her granddaughter. At the end of the book, the granddaughter asks her to explain why she insists on spending her time scattering lupine seeds along the Maine coastline and Miss Rumphius explains that there is only one thing we should do with our lives and that is to “try and make the world a more beautiful place”. I love that simple phrase because it has such a straightforward sincerity to it. When I was feeling lost and overwhelmed a few years ago, I literally went and bought packets upon packets of lupine seeds and drove around with my uncle scattering them. It was so elementary but it gave me this glowing warm feeling inside. You can’t change the world, you can’t change other people, but you can scatter lupine seeds and strive to create the quietest but sincere form of beauty.