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NEW YORK — Marcella Mullins and Lillian Ludlow met at Imitation of Christ, fashion’s house of quirky creativity that draws artists from a variety of disciplines, and it wasn’t long before they decided to collaborate on a project.
“We would show up in the same outfits, admire the same authors and collect the same types of images,” said Ludlow, explaining their simpatico relationship.
Ludlow, 35, is a painter. Mullins, 29, modeled after graduating from high school and found her way to Imitation of Christ in 2000 when Tara Subkoff was getting the label off the ground. She collects antique garden tools, which she incorporates into her art, and writes poetry. Both women like to sew.
They also like Blaise Cendrars, a Swiss novelist and poet who was part of the Montparnasse literary scene and a friend of Henry Miller and Ernest Hemingway. They have an abiding affection for linen.
Somnus, their work-in-progress, which encompasses fashion, film and art, began in 2004. More recently, Ludlow and Mullins curated a group show at Canada, a gallery at 55 Chrystie Street here, that runs through Sunday.
When searching for a title for the exhibition, Ludlow consulted Cendrars’ 1926 “Moravagine” and picked a sentence from the novel, “I Throw Herring to the Dog.”
“I opened the book and randomly chose it,” said Ludlow. “It stuck out to me. I did the research and found that throwing the red herring is a diversion. The attempt of the show is to be a diversion from irony.”
Several of the artists in the show have been associated with Imitation of Christ. Aurelio Valle, a singer and photographer, accompanied Mullins as a translator on an IOC trip to Mexico City. The collaged photos on transparencies he made for the show, “Grace,” “Fundamental Tactics” and “Guerra Declarada” (2005), feature some of his lyrics. “His singing is very heartfelt,” said Mullins. “He’s a very tender person.”
Another IOC alum, Joshua Leffel, made three ink-on-paper pictures, “Untitled 1-3″ (2005), which tell complex stories that touch on religion, mythology and patriotism, layered with Arab themes. Subkoff’s brother, Daniel, who does the silk-screen designs for IOC T-shirts, is represented in the show by two ink-on-paper drawings, both untitled, and a mixed media piece, “Have You Seen ‘The Great Escape?'” (2005).
Benjamin Sturgill, a fashion editor for Purple magazine, wrestled with the theme of good taste in two untitled magic marker-on-linen drawings. His other entry to the exhibition consists of a black ship and heart-shaped anchor connected by rope to a bottle that says “I [Love] N.Y.” The best-known artist, Rita Ackerman, who is represented by Andrea Rosen Gallery, made two framed drawings and a mural for the exhibition.
Ludlow was working on a painting, but it wasn’t finished in time. Mullins’ small dolls, created from fabric and objects with intricate costumes that resemble Somnus outfits, are clustered on the wall.
For Mullins and Ludlow, everything comes back to Somnus. The collection was modeled at Canada and a Somnus film was shown as part of the exhibition. Their next presentation will be in February. So far, Loveless, a Tokyo boutique, has bought the line, which is available by special order at Canada.
“The clothing we make is very wearable,” said Mullins. “We use a lot of linen. Several pieces can be worn different ways and it gets better with age. It’s all hand-done. We won’t use a machine.”
Ludlow, who painted on chiffon dresses for IOC’s show held in Paris during the couture, paints shoes for Somnus. “Her hand is amazing,” said Subkoff. “Whatever she touches is beautiful.” Mullins, meanwhile, incorporates her poems into clothes and lacquers them onto footwear.
“I think Somnus is beautiful,” said Subkoff. “I really want Lily to paint because she’s such a fantastic painter. They’re both really creative people and two of my best friends.”