Kate Cusack: Zipper Jewelry, Costume Design and Window Dressing
by Ezra Natalia
For Kate Cusack, the New York-based jewelery designer, costumer and wig-maker, her iPod's shuffle setting is an apt metaphor for the ups and downs of her hectic lifestyle, âThe shuffle bounces all over the place and reminds me of music I like, but don't always remember to choose. Sometimes the song transition nicely from one to the next for a while, but other times there is a streak of things I am not in the mood for.â
Kate is one of those lucky NYC creative types, cobbling a living from various related pursuits, for whom every day is different. You can often find her at home steadily working in her studio or rushing all over Manhattan shopping for a show. But the young designer says her favorite days are those that combine everything, âwhen I can pick up supplies I may need for my zipper Jewelry while I am out looking for fabric for costumes.â
Her first Zipper Pin came about in 2002. Having recently finished designing and creating costumes for a children's dance theater company, she got her hands on bags and bags of zippers. Picking up on the current trends in fashion, the iconic Chanel Camellia and the sartorial thrift from the 1940s (designers used extra fabric from dressmaking as decorative elements), she started experimenting.
The resulting accessories reference the elegance of depression-era resourcefulness while simultaneously deconstructing fashion and costuming—not to mention their readymade aesthetic appeal. The curving, layered forms that Kate comes up with celebrate the sparkle of the metal teeth and the endless possibilities that the linear construction affords. A zipper is, after all, little more than a line, perhaps the simplest of design building blocks.
Her costume design career and zipper jewelry have grown on parallel, sometimes intersecting, tracks over the past few years. After spending four years studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art, creating costumes made of unlikely materials and collaborating with the community on parades and festivals, she moved back to New York. There, she found work designing costumes for a number of small off-off-Broadway shows, as well as at top NYC costume shop Parsons-Meares where she made costumes for Broadway and Disney.
Squeezing in stints as a window dresser, it was when creating five Marie-Antoinette-style wigs made entirely from plastic wrap for Tiffany & Co.'s 5th Avenue store, that her zipper jewelry first got noticed. The woman in the visual merchandising department who hired Kate admired the zipper pin she'd affixed to her jacket so Kate made the second zipper pin as a thank you.
Since graduated from a rigorous three-year MFA program at the Yale School of Drama, Kate continues to produce her line of zipper jewelry and recently finished designing costumes for a series of short plays based on the life of Barack Obama called "Obama Drama." And, of course, the one-woman wonder also finds time to maintain a blog called âKate Update" for her most current work and magazine features, etc. To buy zipper jewelry (the hand-sewn, one-of-a-kind pins, bracelets and necklaces start at $85, $110 and $400 respectively), shop through her Etsy store . Custom designs based on style and price are also possible by contacting Kate directly.