The Unconscious Mind

Exploring memories via fashion

At the age of eight, Jon Coffelt’s grandfather taught him to paint. His journey into art catapulted him into the fashion industry that led him to design clothing and fabric for Willi Smith during the 1980s. Coffelt always considered himself a colorist and segued his way out of fashion to create art after he received a commission to paint more than 100 works for the department store chain Parisian.

His foundation in fashion and how he uses memory associated with clothing launched the Minature Clothing Project. In his statement concerning the project he writes, “People have such strong memories associated with certain clothing. They keep them for a reason. I'm taking a memory and making it more precious to them. I stand back in this process and let people tell me their stories. Their stories are just as important to them as mine are to me. This work is experiential in it's very nature. I produce miniature clothes as an intimate homage to acquaintances, and friends. Each surrendered garment becomes a miniature portrait of the individual it represents. All are hand-sewn. I use as much of the original seams and hems to keep as much of the integrity of the original as I possibly can.”

The small garment sizes would fit a child, but each one is packed with memories and stirring stories. For “424” Cofflet was commissioned by three daugther to create a green and lace dress that had been a hand-me-down and given to their mother as a four year-old. The dress, although given to a child, evokes both maturity and sophistication. An ideal combination for a little girl who wants to look more grown up.

When I visualize Westchester County during the summer as a pre-teen, I can see many mothers with their pastel-colored madras dresses and matching headbands shopping in the Grand Union. This Stepfordwives’s fashion is exemplifed in “151”. Coffelt’s mother was no different from those living outside of NYC (at least when it came to fashion), sporting a Lily Pulitzer cotton summer dress.

Collaborating with  Marie Weaver for “372,” Coffelt created because the fabric reminded Marie of the pajamas her brothers when they were young. “I was envious of their cowboy pajamas! And I always wanted to be doing what my brothers were doing because they were older. But when I look back on the time period when I wore that dress, I think I kept the dress partly because I wore it pretty early in my marriage to Steve and that was such a wonderful time in my life (although marriage to him is still wonderful). I had finally found my true love after two miserable relationships that took up the whole of my 20s, and I felt attractive and full of vitality in the dress. Maybe that cowboy pattern represented the young girl with all the world ahead of her, who through blood, sweat and tears found a fulfilling life and finally got to wear the cowboy print!,” Marie Weaver said about the dress.

Just like a tattered stuffed bear, the smell of a favorite book that’s been read so many times that the pages are falling out, Coffelt writes, “These pieces become precious in a way that may not have been previously conveyed. Through miniaturization, the originals are transformed in a way that lends a positive experience to the person who surrenders the garment, keeping intact the memory of each piece while allowing the viewer to explore the reasons and ideas of transitions in time and place.”

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