Educating the Digital. How Mentor Sarah Coleman Breathe New Life into Objects

Sarah Coleman

The column Educating the Digital aims to connect students and the creative industry. Here, our readers can find interviews with tutors from Istituto Marangoni Firenze, active fashion and art professionals talking with students about their careers, their approaches to education, and the new challenges provided by digital innovation.

Sarah Coleman, Mentor at Istituto Marangoni Firenze for the year 2021-2022, is a visual artist who is inspired by both high luxury and everyday items. Leveraging designer materials, playing off logos, and combing through brand archives, she gives mundane objects an ironic highbrow air.

Although she frequently collaborates with brands and retailers, Sarah Coleman is not officially affiliated with the companies, as she repurposes their items into unique works of art. 

Sarah Coleman


by Viktoriia Stanieva. Images courtesy of Sarah Coleman.

I’MF: As a visual artist you have made a clear choice in using sustainable and upcycling methods to create your artworks. Can you define the moment when your interest in sustainability started? 

SC: I like the idea of blurring lines between fashion, art and design. My work is very organic, humorous and ironic. Nothing is too calculated or planned. A lot of trial and error. See what works and what doesn’t based on how I feel after I’ve made something. The chairs upholstered in designer material came about very naturally because I loved the idea of mixing the ordinary with the extraordinary.

The logo materials I use are high-quality coated canvas from preowned luggage that is usually falling apart from time spent in the backs of closets or basements. They are no longer used, and I have a desire to breathe new life into them. To give these pieces a second chance.

The detailed upholstery techniques of the pieces are lasting and very utilitarian. Most of the things I make are things I want people to use and touch. There is nothing so precious about them. But there is great care and time put into each piece because I want them to last.

When I was about 12, my mother had a leopard pony hair baguette. I remember how much I loved it because as she wore it the little hairs wore off where she held it under her arm. It was meant to do that. That to me was so beautiful.

Sarah Coleman
Courtesy of Sarah Coleman

It got more beautiful as it became more worn, and the tan leather underneath got so soft. It’s like when you find a really soft spot on something, and you just want to touch it. Like a blankie or a part of your wrist.
I loved that it was so light and feminine, but it wasn’t fragile. You could wear it and living put its own look and feel. It’s like these pieces live their own life.

I love that about things. Pieces that stand the test of time through wear and become better, softer, more wearable, are the highest form of luxury to me. My interest in dis-cycling has been a cultivation of many moments in time. It’s the love of the ordinary, the second chances, the importance these objects have that is lost when they’re discarded. 

I’MF: At the beginning of your career, where were you finding the materials and resources for your work? And since now you are also working with established fashion brands, how has your research changed when looking for ideas and materials?

SC: I like working with recycled materials, things that are everyday and rare. I’d use what I could find. I started off with one chair and it sort of came naturally. I made more and more furniture repurposing materials and it just felt right every time, so I kept taking it and running further.
I just find it exciting because I have not put myself in any box. I feel free to keep repurposing in my work and it will never get old. Bring the past and present into the future and just allowing it to become what it needs to be. I love the idea of industrial design and high fashion coming together.

Sarah Coleman
Courtesy of Sarah Coleman

Making pieces that exist in many areas that they don’t usually exist in. Utility and luxury are not often concepts that go together but I think that’s interesting and necessary. It’s important. The idea of folk craft dying is something that makes me very sad. I find it very important to have everyday items respected and treated with care.

Folding chairs for instance are not something we take care of and it’s sort of funny that if we put expensive designer materials on them we now want to take care of them in the same way we do the things we cherish. They should be cared for no matter what.

I see so many things being made that break apart or don’t work the way they could because people want to cut corners and minimize costs in order to increase profit. It’s killing the artisan world.
I am so inspired by Japanese culture because of this. There is an innate respect when it comes to making everyday objects that I really admire and try to live by in my own work. 

Sarah Coleman
Courtesy of Sarah Coleman

I’MF: As a Mentor at Istituto Marangoni Firenze, what are the main ideas you would you like to bring to the students? Would you like to encourage them to generate more projects with upcycled media? 

SC: Follow your intuition fully – if you embrace your creative side, you can do anything. Having an agenda to please other people or working purely to make money is evident in the final product. When you are aligned with your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing you can do anything! There’s so much we overlook. The more we can work with what we have, the more we will value the final output. 

Sarah Coleman
Courtesy of Sarah Coleman

I’MF: Now that we live in a digital world as well as a physical one, how is this current state influencing the experience of your artworks? Do you have any specific digital tools to spread awareness of your projects? 

SC: This period feels like an awakening and shedding of all of the expectations we have built up around ourselves. We have built up so much pressure for so long in such a collective way that it is now time for us to breathe and break down all the intensity that is only separating us—all the tension—so we can be human. Being human means being ironic, serious, free, imperfect and humorous at times. To have the ability to laugh and cry in the same day, to be fluid and experiencing all different things at the same time—to be ironic. I guess being ironic just means being purely human. 

Sarah Coleman is an American visual artist. At Istituto Marangoni Firenze she is a Mentor for the year 2021-2022.
Viktoriia Stanieva is an undergraduate student in Fashion Styling & Creative Direction at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.

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