Q&A with Alicia Zenobia



Anyone who attended Alegria or the Fashion Week New Orleans designer competitions probably remembers Alicia Zenobia’s line. Beside being almost pyrotechnic in its sequined, whip-cracking pageantry, it won both contests. I caught up with the Rhodes Island School of Design graduate to find out what inspired the collection, how the wins affected her and what she’s working on next.

  • Zenobia hard at work in her Mid-City studio

Your most recent collection was really something else. What inspired it?

The collection was inspired by a sculpture that was found in ancient Crete by some British archeologist. It is a snake goddess sculpture; she is holding two snakes and her breasts are exposed. Nobody has determined what it was used for — whether it was a spiritual figure or art or something else. I always was fascinated by the sculpture, and I figured I would get closer to its meaning by recreating her outfit in my style and riffing off that. Because clothes can tell you a lot about a person.

This Cretan snake goddess inspired Zenobias winning design (right)
  • Runway image courtesy of Fashion Week New Orleans
  • This Cretan snake goddess inspired Zenobia's winning design (right)

What kind of reactions did you get from the crowd?

People were very excited. They were pumped up from seeing something well executed and different from the norm. A lot of people thought it was a giant leap to do that kind of thing, but the runway is a stage like any other. If you are going to have people look at the stuff you make, you might as well make them want to keep looking.

Zenobia flanked by her models after the Alegria show
  • Photo by Jason Kruppa
  • Zenobia flanked by her models after the Alegria show

Were you excited to win both competitions?

I was very flattered that I won, but it made me feel awkward as well. I really don’t like competing with colleagues. It's a lot better when we work together and collaborate. All of us have individual strengths and weaknesses. I was glad that the judges admitted they like the sexy stuff and weren’t going to write it off as costume, because that doesn’t happen all the time. In New Orleans, there is more than one occasion where you could wear any of those pieces.

How did you get started as a designer?

I studied sculpture at Rhode Island School of Design. I have been sewing since I was pretty young. I just like three-dimensional mediums, and I started getting more into fashion because I wanted my art to be accessible to more people. Sculpture was limited in its audience, so I then got back into making clothes. My thesis project- a series of sculptures made out of human hair — was very close to fashion.

  • Zenobia's hair sculptures

What are you working on next?
I'm going to be selling separates and dresses in Hemline. The pieces are going to be from a spring collection I showed last fall, and it's all sorts of ghostly, oceanic type stuff. There are a lot of ocean references and colors, ethereal, sheer fabrics, that kind of thing. Hopefully, within three months it will be available. (Hemline owner) Brigitte (Holthausen) gave me freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. She was incredibly accommodating, sweet, professional and real. And I am selling on Etsy as well under my label Autonomous Clothing.

I'm also doing the costumes for Wild Game, a new piece written by Wu, my choreographer, and directed by Dennis Monn. It's an apocalypse story, so it's totally appropriate for this time, and it's a musical. There's going to be dance. All the characters are part human, part animal, but they are going to be loud, Alicia style.

You've also done costumes for the 9th Ward Marching Band's flag girls. How do you draw the line between costumes and fashion?
We're born naked - anything we put over our nakedness is a costume. Everyone is wearing something that either portrays who they think they are or what they want everyone to perceive them as. For me, fashion has gotten kind of uniform and boring. There's a lot of beige going on, where there used to be more exciting stuff. If you are going to be out there doing something, you should do something unique.

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