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Designer Victoria Bartlett on styling and the difficulties of producing cruelty-free fashion

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Designer Victoria Bartlett has a long relationship with the fashion world. From designing to styling and back, Bartlett's extensive knowledge helped propel the fluid move to creating her own brand, VPL, in 2003. This Tuesday, January 29 -- one day only -- hand-selected styles from VPL's 2013 runway and commercial lines will be available for purchase at Goldyn.

In advance of the VPL Resort + Spring Trunk Show, Westword spoke to Bartlett about her fashion history and struggles to stick to her cruelty-free roots within the mass-produced world of the fashion industry.

See also: - Meet sustainable jewelry designer Maxandra Short at KORA trunk show - Preview Cartel Noir's fall 2012 collection before its debut this Saturday at Goldyn - Jewelry designer Pamela Love on mysticism as inspiration and her dream client, Neil Young

Westword: Your spring line -- like your majority of your work -- is all about movement. Seeing the clothes on a body in motion -- it's so different than seeing them in your lookbook.

Victoria Bartlett: It's one on my obsessions; it's always been about movement and body geography. It's like, inherent in my collection every season. I always think it's important -- for me, anyway -- to see it in motion. The choices Vanessa (Barcus, owner of Goldyn) made for the trunk show are a mix from my runway collection and more commercial pieces.

How did you get connected with Vanessa and Goldyn?

We were connected with Vanessa through Marina (Contro), who worked for us for years -- she knows her. She thought it was a perfect fit. She thought Vanessa would love the collection, and the store is just great. Having someone who knew the collection already -- it was a nice way to get to know a store. It's more personal in that way.

Throughout VPL's almost decade as a brand, you've focused on utilizing cruelty-free materials. Has it at any point been a difficult process?

I've worked with the Humane Society for years and one of my issues was, it is very complicated. There's not an index system for designers to find the sourcing for all of these cruelty-free products. A lot of the time, the problem is it's just too big a world. For instance, with Italy, where we were getting our shoes, we had problems (ensuring they were made cruelty-free.)

We've had to be very clever with certain things. Like, with the re-launch of our bags, we've had to intermix. Now we use a cross of both (cruelty-free and not) in the collection, the shoes and the bags. There's just not enough information or assistance to help people who can't make thousand-unit minimum orders. That's where the complication lies.

I've brought it up with the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) that there needed to be some way of people being able to have an index where they can find the information. Anyone who is a designer who isn't in the big commercial entity is not able to reach those minimums. That's where there is, you know, an issue. I do it in beauty products as well -- we sell, exclusively, OCC (Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics) which is cruelty-free nail polish. We've developed our own colors to sell. It's been an integral part -- I have quite a few socialite (clients) who are vegans; Arden Wohl has always been a muse for me. And it's just important, which is why I've always been proactive about being cruelty-free.

I hear women who are into fashion and are vegan or don't wear fur or leather say, "There's no one but Stella (McCartney) who works with that." I do use leather as well; but I'll only use byproducts (of animals) that have been eaten. I'll never use anything that's farmed. That's my issue.

It's been really hard to make shoes -- it's been a hard maneuver, even with the factories in Italy. They can do fabric (exteriors) but they use leather inside. It's been a huge project to change and convert, bit by bit. Every season there's issues. It's complicated and it shouldn't be. But it is because it's the nature of tradition and what people are used to. You're coming up on the ten-year anniversary of VPL. Prior to creating the brand, you were a stylist. What brought you to making your own clothes back then?

I actually started in design and crossed over into styling; I worked with designers prior. I took a sabbatical and decided I wanted to go into styling and I wanted to learn that side of the business. So for me, it was stepping back into design, which is one of the most beneficial assets to have.

I know from when I styled with designers and consulted before, the hardest thing for them was, you can design but you don't always know how to place (a piece) into a story. You can do a skirt, you can do a top, but actually creating a whole unit is the hardest thing. So for me, I almost work backwards -- I work from a concept into the pieces.

I think that (it's important to have that) background knowledge of styling and understanding how to unite the two entities and really create a whole, full story. The rhetoric crosses over better, there's a much better dialog if you know both sides of the tracks.

You do a lot of collaborations with artists, musicians, dancers, filmmakers. What drives you to collaborate?

For me it's an integral part of VPL; motion, movement, performance. The whole concept of movement within the clothes. Being able to have comfort but being modernist with it. It's functional and still beautiful.

Yeah. We just did (a shoot) with Wendy Whelan, principal dancer at the New York City Ballet -- dance has always been a big thing. Caroline Polachek from Chairlift has performed in our pieces. Eleanor Friedberger is a friend and just told me she used one of our swimsuits for the cover of her new album (due out later this year on Merge Records.) A lot of musicians like Rihanna and Lady Gaga have worn (our clothes) for performances.

The VPL Resort + Spring Trunk Show takes place tomorrow, January 29, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Goldyn. The event is free; drinks and snacks will be served throughout the day. For more information, visit the shop's website.

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