“Each Garment Is Layered With Imagery That Is Queer…”

Michael Sylvan Robinson, known to friends as Sylvan, as had quite the year! Sylvan who goes by the pronouns he and them had both his first museum show and first foray into the New York City Art Fair, at the Spring Break Art Show. In addition to that a wearable art gown he created was selected by photographer Guinevere Van Seenus for her photography series in the April issue of Vogue Germany. Sylvan describes the gown as “deeply personal. I created {it} in the dark winter of the pre-vaccination pandemic months.”

It was this collaboration that Sylvan says “inspired me and brought back to the foreground the fashion intentions within my more contemporary fiber art practice. It also brought me into the guiding hand of Michael Philouze.” Philouze, a men’s editor at Vogue, introduced Sylvan to theater producer and self-proclaimed “couture devotee” Jordan Roth. These three powerhouses shared a vision for a garment; the finished product is nothing short of breathtaking. Roth and the garment famously walked down the red carpet of this year’s Met Gala.

Sylvan’s started his education at Bennington College earning a B.A., going on to earn an M.F.A. from Goddard College in 2008. He currently is the Head of Arts at the Poly Prep School in Brooklyn. He started out as a costume designer, their 2D, and 3D contemporary fiber art has been shown in galleries and exhibitions including Rome Art Week 2019 and 2021, the National Queer Arts Festival in San Francisco, and as a semi-finalist for the prestigious Sondheim Prize in Baltimore. Eight of their recent works were included in “Remnants” at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts.

In his artist statement, Sylvan expresses where his inspiration comes from,

“My work includes two-dimensional works, sculptural pieces and installation in which the question of scale is heightened by an intricate surface detail that draws the audience/viewer inwards from a larger conceptual structure.The sculptural garments and fashion art/wearable art pieces from my #urbanfey series are created as interventions of healing and activism amidst the challenging times in which we are living right now. Each garment is constructed from a textile collage layered with imagery that is Queer, and of the wild, but also inspired by the urban settings of my home landscape; hand-stenciled poetic text fragments printed on the clothes name intentions, offer reminders of the fragility of our world, and provoke a call to healing, to action, to remembrance.

Creating the garment for Roth to wear at the Met Gala obviously took weeks and weeks of preparation. Sylvan discussed with me the entire process from start to finish. He spoke of his initial meeting with Roth,

“When Jordan Roth and Michael Philouze first met to discuss my proposal for this project, I immediately had a strong identification with Jordan’s vision of exploring identity as something that is a shifting, sometimes restrictive or more visible experience, other times more private – how one’s clothes can share or express (or conceal) those explorations of self. I’m grateful for the investment and care in working with me, as a contemporary fiber artist whose work intersects decorative arts, queer activism, fashion and street art and for a designer like me, one also deeply engaged with arts education and working with younger generations.”   

As the date of the Gala approached there was a photoshoot at Vogue. Sylvan, feeling the importance of both this moment and the garment was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude and happiness.

“It was an opportunity to work with the whole team of stylists, hair and makeup, the jewelry was there, and the incredible filmmaker Mac Premo, photographer for the shoot. I kept watching myself in this incredible experience, and would just put my hand on my chest as a touchstone to be present, to just open to the excitement and the amazement of such a moment. Already I knew I knew I’d manifested something very special, and what I mostly remember from that day was the joy of watching Jordan wearing the garment outside of the fittings sessions, embodied and so creative in his own movement and understanding of what he wanted to express.”

The synergy between Robinson and Roth can be seen throughout the garment. Sylvan has nothing but adoration for Roth,

“Jordan’s own poetic text and intentions for this garment are layered throughout the textile collage layers in a variety of different techniques – embroidered, hand-beaded and sequined, stenciled, appliqued pieces, and wood blocked by hand. In many ways, it is the most Sylvan-spectacular thing I’ve ever created, but that is also because it was co-created and tended and cared for by a stellar team as it evolved, changed and finally manifested in the magnificent form worn by Jordan for this special event.”

Sylvan describes the whole experience as nothing short of magical, “Working with Jordan, Michael and Bill Bull { the dressmaker, who worked with me as part of the Vogue/Roth team – constructed the actual garment, alterations and fittings} has been such an incredible, amazing opportunity of collaboration and interweaving visions.”

Wrapping up our conversation, Sylvan, continually praised the efforts of all involved, speaking directly to Philouze, “I’m so appreciative and grateful for the support and guidance and belief in my work, and for the stewardship of the amazing opportunity to work with Jordan and you and the masterful Bill Bull over these months!”

To Sylvan, this was “a joy and a totally life-changing experience!” We cannot wait to see what he does next. Keep creating these amazing garments that represent the queer community. Our struggles.Our victories. Our very existence. Keep making us proud!   

(**all photos in this article are provided courtesy of the artist.)




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